The Spirit of Birmingham Business Icon Dr. A.G. Gaston

By Jasmine Phillips
For The Birmingham Times

There is a spirit of anticipation growing in Birmingham. So many are seeking positive change in their communities and demanding equal opportunities to thrive. The current COVID-19 pandemic has changed the landscape for many entrepreneurs, business owners, community and corporate leaders. But what has remained the same through these prevalent times is the desire for many of us to find a need and fill it.

Does that motto sound familiar?

It should. If you know anything about the late businessman, Dr. A.G. Gaston, then you know that this is one of his favorite maxims to live by. He credits that maxim and others to his success as a leader, entrepreneur, and philanthropist.

Remembered in the Alabama Academy of Honor, The Birmingham Hall of Fame and most notably being named as Black Enterprise Magazine’s “Entrepreneur of the Century”, Dr. Gaston owned several successful businesses in Alabama during the Jim Crow era. Known as the richest Black man in America during the 1960s, his fortune was estimated to be worth $40 million from a business empire spanning across communications, real estate, and insurance.

Each year there is an opportunity here in Birmingham for entrepreneurs, community and corporate leaders to gather to honor Dr. A.G. Gaston and learn just how important it is to empower our community and neighborhoods.

The 2022 A.G. Gaston Conference is set to take place on Tuesday, February 22 and Wednesday, February 23 at the Medical Forum located in Downtown Birmingham. Registration for the conference is now open.

Coming into its 18th year, the A.G. Gaston Conference works to improve the state of African American businesses by addressing leading-edge economic trends and challenges. Conference co-hosts Bob Dickerson and Gaynelle Jackson, have worked intentionally over the years to promote economic empowerment and remain committed to remembering the life and legacy of Dr. A.G. Gaston.

“For the better part of the last two decades our conference has been a place where conversations about economic inclusion, economic empowerment, and black business development have taken place,” says Bob Dickerson, co-host of the A.G. Gaston Conference. “Our 2022 focus has not changed because the issues that our communities face have not changed. We hold true to our beliefs that economic empowerment through enterprise development is a key element, necessary to close the racial wealth gap, and events like the A G Gaston Conference where those topics are front, and center are vitally important.”

Past speakers during the conference include Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, Shelly Bell, founder of Black Girl Ventures, Dr. George Fraser, founder & CEO of FraserNet, Inc, Michael A. Graves, founder of Graves Advisory Group, Dr. Anthony Hood, Executive Vice President & Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer for First Horizon Bank, and many more. With topics ranging from economic justice, corporate responsibility, entrepreneurship, financial wealth, education, and others there is something for just about anyone to come and learn something new.

This year’s keynote speakers will include Dr. Andre Perry, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, a scholar-in-resident at American University, and a columnist for the Hechinger Report. He is a nationally known and respected commentator on race, structural inequality, and education. He is also the author of “Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities.”

Perry is also a regular contributor to MSNBC and has been published is several national media outlets including The New York Times, TheRoot.com, CNN and others. His recent scholarship at Brookings consists of analyzing Black-majority cities and institutions in America, focusing on valuable assets worthy of increased investment.

Other speakers during the conference will also include Cheryl McKissack Daniel, president & CEO of McKissack & McKissack, the oldest minority and woman-owned professional and design construction firm in the country. From commercial, healthcare, education and transportation, her firm has worked across various industries. She leads her firm with more than 30 years of experience in all phases of the construction industry and provides executive leadership for project implementation. One of her firms most notable clients includes Terminal One of New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport where the firm will oversee the $6 billion project design and construction of the new terminal.

“We started the A.G. Gaston conference because we believed that Dr. Gaston set an example that people should follow today and that he left a legacy that must be held up for people to remember,” says Gaynelle Jackson, co-host of the A.G. Gaston Conference. “We also wanted to bring to the forefront, the plight of Black businesses in Birmingham and to start the discussion on what we collectively can do to bring about a change. We feel that these goals are as important today and they were 18 years ago.”

I encourage any aspiring entrepreneur, small business owner, creative, or community leader to attend this year’s conference. There is something special about bringing us all together to share ideas on how to better our communities. Let us tap into the spirit of Dr. A.G. Gaston and help make our communities stronger than ever.

To learn more about the 18th annual A.G. Gaston Conference please visit www.aggastonconference.biz.

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