The Madison Black Chamber of Commerce is growing and expanding in a hurry and they will be showcasing those efforts at the Madison Black Chamber of Commerce’s Re-Launch/Grand Opening at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center Aug. 28.
Formerly the African American Black Business Association (AABBA), the Madison Black Chamber of Commerce (MBCC) is a self-help group of Black business owners and entrepreneurs who believe in the value of sharing information and resources, helping one another prosper, the positive energy that comes from networking together, and sustaining entrepreneurship to create a basis of wealth in our community. Cathy Smith is the brand-new executive director of MBCC and she has been quite busy since taking over.
“We are working on many things now as fast as we can. We feel like there is a certain place that we should already be at and we're not,” Smith tells The Madison Times in an interview at Jade Mountain Cafe on Madison's near east side. “So my job is to make sure that we get there and that we go beyond that .... to grow and build the African American community. Economic power is the key to success in our community. We're here to pull those African American businesses up.”
The name change from AABBA to MBCC has helped to give the organization a more serious tone.
“I call it a 'growing up' stage when we moved from AABBA to the Madison Black Chamber of Commerce,” says Madison Black Chamber Board of Directors Vice President Toni Kirkendoll. “This [Aug. 28 celebration] will be the formal launch. Many of the things that Cathy has implemented we have talked about to death, but our resources were always limited. Cathy brings a lot of energy and ideas to the table and she will help our organization be successful. We feel like this is the agenda that we want and that there's a place we want to get to and with Cathy as our executive director, it's just really an exciting time right now.”
The Madison Black Chamber of Commerce promotes the economic and social development of the African American/Black community by facilitating access to capital and empowering African American and Black business owners to build, expand, and assist entrepreneurs and businesses in the community.
Since becoming executive director, Smith has solidified partnerships with all of the state's black chambers of commerce.
“So when you're talking to us, you're talking to those other chambers as well. And we share information and support for each other,” Smith says. “For instance, if one of our members has an issue with contractual [problems], we know that we can talk to [Chairman of the Board of the Wisconsin Black Chamber of Commerce] Ruben [Hopkins] who handles civil rights and contract policy battles.”
MBCC has also forged a partnership with the Latino Chamber of Commerce. “We've established a couple of events that we will be doing together,” Smith says. “One of those being the Minority Marketplace in May where all the businesses — Latino, African American, Asian, American Indian — will come together and we will solicit and share our products and give information.”
Too often, minority businesses struggle on their own and don't take advantage of the expertise of others who have gone through the same trials and tribulations. “As a former president of the Latino Chamber of Commerce, it only made sense to me that we forge that partnership and to help each other out,” Smith says.
Smith already has the whole year planned out for MBCC.
“We have so many events, power networking, a business pep rally, a boot camp,” she says. “We are going to get people to rethink about their standing in the community and we're going to give them the tools that they need to succeed.”
Minorities are often reluctant to enter the business world. “Entrepreneurship is a way to success. Anybody can do it. We can help people cut through those barriers and we can help people navigate the business world,” Smith says. “We're giving people a different thought process. There is a silver lining, despite everything that you might have heard. There is a future for you. There are opportunities out there for you. One of the problems is that society dictates to us what we need to be. Sometimes even our teachers tell us we can't do something.... [they say] 'why don't you go do this [instead]?' But I think that as long as you have passion, you can do whatever you want to do.”
The MBCC provides financial, educational, legislative, and networking resources to its members and potential members. But Smith is adamant that the member, for their part, must provide the daring, the confidence, and the willingness to work hard.
“Being an entrepreneur and a businessperson is being, in actuality, a risk-taker,” Smith says. “You can't be a scaredy-cat when you're jumping into a field to start a business because you have to have all backbone when you're doing it ... it's hard!,” Smith says. “If you can't be a risk-taker, a dreamer, and inspired ... if you can't be someone who is willing to take that leap, how can you ever think that you can become successful?”
The Madison Black Chamber of Commerce Re-Launch/Grand Opening will be a chance to see how far the organization has come in a little time.
“We will have Governor Walker or somebody from his office at the event. We are still confirming. Congressman [Mark] Pocan will be there,” Smith says. “[Madison] Mayor [Paul]Soglin will be there and [Fitchburg] Mayor Shawn Pfaff will be there. All of the presidents of the Black Chambers of Commerce will be there along with the Urban League's Kaleem Caire, the DOA's Godwin Amegashie, and Nasty Mistele.”
At the event, the MBCC will be presenting awards to former professional athletes Al Toon, Haywood Simmons, and Tim Jordan. “Somebody asked me why I would bring in a professional athlete,” Smith says. “Because they are the best businessmen you can think of in our community because they use their brand for long-term business success.”
They will also honor Milele Chikasa Anana with the Icon Award for her lifetime of work and give MBCC Hall of Honor Awards to Ray Allen and Nedra Bobo.
“Membership is coming in daily for MBCC ... we want to get up to 200,” Smith says. “Our reach now is further than Madison and the partnerships with other black chambers of commerce are working and it's starting to have a positive effect.
“I'm really proud of how everything is coming together. We want people in the business community to know that when they do join the Madison Black Chamber of Commerce that they will getting value for their money and they will get promoted,” Smith says. “I think people are going to be really impressed by this big event and optimistic about where we are going as an organization.”
The Madison Black Chamber of Commerce's Re-Launch/Grand Opening will be Wednesday, Aug. 28, 6-8pm at the Monona Terrace.
For more information, contact Cathy Smith at Csmith1.firstname.lastname@example.org or call Cathy at (608) 698-4450 or Toni at (608)695-2102.