Voice of Black Business: Southern Georgia Black Chambers creates resources, initiatives

·5 min read

May 6—VALDOSTA — Small Business Month is celebrated in May of each year. The month marks the importance, community efforts and hard work of small businesses.

For more than 50 years, the U.S. Small Business Administration has observed National Small Business Week, this year Small Business Week was recognized from April 30 through May 6.

Black businesses have often been overlooked or undervalued in many communities throughout the United States. Many early communities of Black businesses were threatened, robbed, burned, or worst, especially in the South.

While Black people continue to be resilient and persevere, many Black entrepreneurs and business owners struggle to make connections and network in spaces that are deemed important.

The Southern Georgia Black Chamber serves 18 counties in Georgia as the "voice of Black business," to provide opportunities for individuals to engage in business, community and government activities.

This year during Small Business Week, the organization hosted various events to educate local Black business owners and allow for networking opportunities.

DeWayne Johnson, SGBC president and chief executive officer, said the chamber creates resources and initiatives to support a network of African American businesses in South Georgia.

In August 2022, Mayor Scott James Matheson proclaimed August as Black Business and Black Philanthropy Month in the City of Valdosta in honor of National Black Business Month, Black Philanthropy Month and Pan-African Women's Month.

The proclamation was presented to the SGBC, formally known as Black Business Alliance of Valdosta, in an effort to recognize local businesses and 2.6 million Black-owned businesses across the nation, while highlighting the economic impact in their communities.

Johnson accepted the proclamation on behalf of the organization and said the achievements and nationwide influence of Black businesses are well worth celebrating.

"We know that we have Black businesses, but even in our area, we're not necessarily aware of how many we have. So this effort with the Black Business Month celebration, that does recognize and highlight the efforts that we've made, especially in this community," he told The Valdosta Daily Times.

"We just want to make sure that it is known this is definitely an opportunity that we're thankful for. For this to be an annual celebration every August, this provides an opportunity for us to celebrate it in a way that increases the tourism industry here in Valdosta as we grow.

"So, that is something that we are asking for, and we want to ensure that we're supported in a way that brings economic impact, education, economic resources and technical systems to our business partners."

In December 2022, the Black Business Alliance of Valdosta officially became the Southern Georgia Black Chambers as the organization held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the South Georgia Regional Library.

"We've organized in order to create a business ecosystem that is designed to provide equitable access to a variety of resources, targeted to improving the experience of the Black Business Community," Johnson said. "The nation's African American buying power has risen to over $1 trillion. Our state of Georgia is the nation's third-largest Black consumer market with over 70 billion in African American spending."

The goal of the chamber is to create opportunities for members, ensure businesses and organizations bring value to the marketplace, remain relevant and competitive and are sustainable for future generations.

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Michael T. Hill, Georgia Coalition of Black Chambers executive director of strategic initiatives, said, "This is about serving your community and improving the way of life for the business within.

"We have to change our mindset in order to make a change in our communities, ask yourself 'what are you doing to advance the community.' Don't be afraid. We need to advocate for Black businesses."

Johnson said, "Our team has done a great job and I am grateful for those at the table to develop this community."

SGBC Executive Leadership Team and Chairs: Johnson, president/CEO, business affairs; Marlon Ramsey, vice president of operations; LaKisha Fitzpatrick, vice president of administration; Juan Turner, vice president of finance; Kimberly Grisson-Dixon, vice president of events and programs; Adrien Dixon, vice president of technical services, MCAT; Angela Ward, vice president of sponsorships, military affairs; Dr. Beverley Richardson-Blake, community affairs; Valdosta City Councilmember Sandra Tooley, government affairs; Amanda Johnson, workforce development.

SGBC board members are Johnson (chairman), Bryan Sermons (vice chair), Katrena Sermons, Alchanda Harrison, William A. Branham, Hope Brown, Charles Gloster, Nicholas "Big Nick" Harden, Dr. Demetria Hill Cannady, Allen M. Lane Jr., Shelby McKnight, Brittany Weaver, Ramsey, Tooley and Ward.

In February 2022, the alliance held a Black Business Showcase, the City of Valdosta ARPA Small Business Committee from March until October, Small Business Workshop in May and Black business meet and greets from March until November.

The chamber propelled to the next level in 2023, hosting several education programs for high school and college students, as well as business owners; connecting events for entrepreneurs, business owners, sponsors and members to network; continued to advocate for Black businesses in important spaces.

Education Programs

Monday Movement: Bi-weekly virtual roundtable.

How To Do Business: Contracting seminar (March 16).

GA Department of Education information session.

VECA, VSU and Lowndes High visits during Entrepreneurship Week.

Membership discussion with Dr. Cloise Williams, LHS CTAE director, during CTAE Month.

Advocating Activities

Georgia Eggs & Issues event.

Lowndes County Bird Supper.

Moody Air Force Base Industry Day. Panel discussion with other chamber presidents and with Georgia Municipality Association leaders from across the state.

Inaugural "Black Commerce Day" proclamation at the Georgia State Capitol Building.

Connecting Events

Black Business Takeovers: Every third Saturday of the month.

Black Business Expo: Coming this fall.

Golf tournament: Coming this fall.

Annual SGBC Gala: Coming this winter. The SGBC has already grown since its development with more than 50 members — executive partners, premiere, business, nonprofit, associate and student-level memberships.

The Valdosta Daily Times is a media sponsor, Clearwave Fiber is a corporate sponsor and presidential-level partners are Bright Start Preschool and Bree's Creative Learning Center.

Johnson said the chamber is focused on sharing the opportunities and resources to help entrepreneurs succeed, especially young people as they prepare for their future.

The organization will host an "Off the Clock" networking mixer as part of Small Business Month at Xenquility Therapeutic Massage, 6-8 p.m. Friday, May 19.

Learn more about SGBC at sgablackchambers.org.