Economic Empowerment through Enterprise Development



| January 26, 2017 | ♃ Recent Stories ☄, Business, Local, Person | No Comments

By Robert Dickerson, Jr.

The thirteenth annual A. G. Gaston Conference will be held at the BJCC February 14-15.

I’ve written some op-ed pieces on A. G. Gaston in the past which have appeared in local news publications so, as I thought about what to say here, my concern was that I didn’t just regurgitate what I and others have said before.

Most of us know Gaston’s rags to riches story; know that his acumen as a business man was “par excellence.” We know the types of businesses he started; we even remember the names of his enterprises (although most are closed by now), so as I considered this piece, I contemplated a different angle.

I received an opportunity to speak to the Bessemer Chamber of Commerce and spent a few minutes during my remarks reflecting on how crossing paths with A.G. Gaston changed my life for the better. As a man of faith, I fully recognize that my meeting Dr. Gaston, seeking and obtaining employment at the bank he ran and impressing him and others enough to be elevated and promoted within the company and within Birmingham’s business community was God’s plan and executed by His hand.

Then I thought about all the things I was able to do while employed at Citizens Federal, like helping to start the Birmingham Association of Urban Bankers which allowed me to interface with senior level bank executives throughout Birmingham and other parts of the country. The Urban (code for Black) Bankers chapter we created gave us exposure and allowed us to interface with and get to know influential elected officials.

I believe it was because of those interactions that I was asked to participate on a task force that helped craft Mayor Richard Arrington’s “Birmingham Plan.” So there’s no doubt the benefits I received while running the loan department at the bank Gaston founded during the 1950s catapulted my career.

As I look back I see clearly that I started to become the man I am now at Citizens Federal, A. G. Gaston’s bank. My next two positions in banking, my ability to enlist support for Community Reinvestment initiatives, the creation of the Birmingham Community Investment Partnership and the Birmingham Business Resource Center were direct results of my crossing paths with, working for and being promoted by Gaston.

Just to be clear, during my time in Dr. Gaston’s employ, I was not his protégé. It would be incorrect to assume that he followed my career. The fact is, Gaston probably never realized what he did for me. But, I believe in giving credit where credit is due. So, to demonstrate my gratitude, my colleagues and I will once again honor this great human being at the Thirteenth Annual A. G. Gaston Conference to be held at the BJCC February 14-15.

The conference is a “think tank” venue where conversations are held and ideas are formulated which are focused on economic empowerment through enterprise development. For more information on the conference visit

I believe we must elevate entrepreneurs to heroic status. In much the same way we cheer for athletes and entertainers, we must honor entrepreneurs, past and present. Gaston’s attributes, his philosophy, his example is to be memorialized and immolated. Our annual conference does that. Business ownership is key to elevating our communities. Enterprise, commerce, self-employment, and entrepreneurship are vital to community, human and economic development. In my opinion, there is no better hero, no better role model, no better example of overcoming obstacles than Gaston. He had big dreams and acted them out, created opportunities for others, surrounded himself with talent, and he found needs and filled them. Arthur George Gaston, the man who helped me become the person I am today is absolutely one of my heroes.

Robert Dickerson is executive director of the Birmingham Business Resource Center.


Contact Ashley Sutton
Telephone 205-250-6380



February 8, 2017

Birmingham, AL, February 8, 2017– The 13th Annual A.G. Gaston Economic Empowerment Conference is proud to announce the 3 recipients of the 2017 Community Service Award. This year’s conference theme is “Closing the Wealth Gap Through Entrepreneurship and Policy” dedicated to the economic strengthening and civic enrichment of our society.

“In choosing the recipients, several things are considered, including leadership, character, exceptional courage and devotion.

This award is given annually to individuals who embody the characteristics of A.G. Gaston. It is a prestigious award that serves to recognize the best of the best within our community”

Bob Dickerson, Conference Host

The much-anticipated recipients include, Dr. Stephanie Yates, Director of Regions Institute for Financial Education. Dr. Yates’ leads UAB’s efforts to provide programs and services aimed toward increasing financial literacy throughout Alabama.

Deontee Gordon, Director of Business Growth at REV Birmingham. Deontee helps shape programs, services and tools that assist entrepreneurs and small business owners in their quests to take an idea from concept to creation.

Dr. Linda Chambers, Accounting Professor at Miles College.  Dr. Chambers’ has helped launched a business research non-profit (Better Business Better Communities Research Inc.) to deliver relevant information to help local business owners.

The worthy award recipients will be honored at the 13th Annual A.G. Gaston Conference luncheon to be held at the BJCC—3rd Floor East Meeting Rooms on February 15, 2017.

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If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Ashley Sutton, Director of Communications at 205-250-6380 or visit


A. G. Gaston Community Service Award

Make It Happen Theatre at the A. G. Gaston Conference



January 26, 2017

LaShanna R. Tripp
Phone: 205-837-3075



Birmingham, AL Make It Happen Theatre Company, Inc. (MIH) is still making it happen. The MIH Youth Ensemble was commissioned by Bob Dickerson of the Birmingham Business Resource Center (BBRC) to present its original play, A. G. Gaston: The Man, The Mogul & His Mission, at the 2017 A. G. Gaston Conference. The performance, which is free and open to the public, will take place at the historic Carver Theatre on Tuesday, February 14 at 6:00 p.m. 

make-it-happen-birmingham-al-1The MIH Youth Ensemble, which staffs certified theatre educators and guest artists, trains young performers who may not otherwise have access to theatre. The Youth Ensemble has been performing in and around Birmingham since the late 1990s, and secured a prominent support system via a partnership with the UAB/ArtPlay Education and Outreach program formerly under Kimberly Kirklin. However, after a strong run of eight years at the Alys Stephens Center, funding for the MIH Youth Ensemble became unavailable and the group sought out other sources of funding. Thankfully, there are arts advocates, such as Mayor William Bell and the City of Birmingham, The Dannon Project, and the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Graduate Chapter who value arts education, and have wholeheartedly supported the efforts of this phenomenal multicultural arts organization.


“Words cannot express how thankful we are to Jeh Jeh and Kerri Pruitt of The Dannon Project, who immediately stepped in to provide a place for our young performers to rehearse,” said MIH Founder and Artistic Director, Alicia Johnson-Williams, who also wrote and directed the positively-reviewed production. “These students are extremely talented and dedicated. It speaks volumes to them when they can see that there are others out there who believe in them and truly support them.”

mih-birmingham-alFor details on how to make a tax-deductible donation or sponsorship to this creative and educational organization, please contact Alicia Johnson-Williams at 205-915-0863 or Valerie Reed at 205-907-6986 or visit For media information, contact LaShanna Tripp at 205-837-3075 or

About Make It Happen Theatre Company, Inc.

Make It Happen Theatre Company, Inc. is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide on an annual basis, a season of quality theatrical productions, cultural diversity workshops and arts events for adults and children. To bridge the gap among the cultures, promote literacy and provide positive, productive performing arts experiences for adults and children in the greater Birmingham Area. As well as, to establish itself as one of the Southeastern region's premiere multi-cultural theatre companies, to provide quality theatrical productions. Visit MIH at and

©2016 Make It Happen Theatre Co. The 2015-16 MIH Youth Ensemble performing A. G. Gaston: The Man, The Mogul & His Mission at the Alys Stephens Center for Black History Month.


By Donna Francavilla
Special to The Times

A. G. Gaston, Birmingham ALThe A.G. Gaston Conference was born in 2004 when Robert Dickerson Jr. of the Birmingham Resource Center and Gaynelle Adams Jackson of Advanced Planning Services launched it in an effort to focus on economic empowerment. Every year, hundreds visit Birmingham to attend the A.G. Gaston Conference which begins on Tuesday, Feb. 14. Registration is underway. 

The Economic Empowerment Luncheon will be held Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017 beginning at noon at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex. The purpose of the conference is to help more businesses become more competitive via workshops, speakers and hands-on demonstrations.

This year’s attendees are slated to hear from three nationally recognized business leaders, Janice Mathis, Dr. Dennis Kimbro and Ramon Ray. Mathis is the executive director of the National Council of Negro Women. Kimbro is a best-selling author and master trainer for the prestigious Napoleon Hill Foundation, and Ray, Editor of Smart Hustle Magazine, and author of the best seller, “Facebook Guide to Small Business Marketing,” which is currently getting rave reviews from across the nation.

The conference was born in 2004 when Robert Dickerson Jr. of the Birmingham Resource Center and Gaynelle Adams Jackson of Advanced Planning Services launched it in an effort to focus on economic empowerment. Their goal was to present an annual conference that would motivate attendees, strengthen entrepreneurs and address concerns of those in the workplace.

“My desire to develop an event honoring A.G. Gaston began in 1996, the year he passed away,” Dickerson said. “I started doing research, attending business expos and ended up with a folder in my desk drawer labeled A.G. Gaston Expo.”

Dickerson knew Jackson and that she and her husband Vernon had started an event planning business. “I mentioned my idea about an event honoring Gaston,” Dickerson remembered.

Jackson saw his vision right away. She recalled, “Bob and I were sitting in his office when he literally pulled out a folder labeled A. G. Gaston Expo and asked me to look at its contents. I immediately thought it was something I’d be excited about and I eagerly agreed to join forces”.

Dickerson said, “by then I’d transitioned from the idea of an expo with booths, displays, etc. to more of an event that educated and inspired.”  Said Jackson, “Even though we’ve shortened the name, our conference is, and always has been about empowerment.”

What began as an expo has transformed into a vibrant discussion about economic empowerment. The conference serves as a catalyst to inform, educate and inspire business owners and advocates.

Jackson said, “At the center of many conference discussions are lessons leaders can learn to cultivate the next generation of business owners committed to serving the community.”

In Jackson, Dickerson found a partner who had the expertise in putting on events and the passion. “We were both advocates for small, minority, black and historically disadvantaged and underutilized businesses” he said. The plans to honor the Birmingham millionaire and business owner, in part, were inspired by Dickerson’s personal experience having worked for Gaston at Citizens Federal Savings Bank in the late 1980’s.

“Having worked for Gaston’s bank for a few years, I developed a greater admiration for what he had accomplished after seeing it first hand,” said Dickerson.

Dickerson, who said he felt privileged to have known Gaston and is pleased to continue his legacy, and Jackson decided that it was only fitting that a Birmingham conference which was focused on helping the black business community be named for Gaston. The late executive knew that successful business ownership was a key to making communities more viable. Gaston believed that the entire marketplace wins when business owners from all walks of life receive help to become more successful.

Each year, a select group of business owners, civic leaders and educators are honored during the conference for what they’ve done to improve the community. To that end, the conference hosts are seeking unsung community heroes for this year’s Community Service Awards. Nominations will be accepted through Jan. 31, 2017 on the conference website.

Registration for the A.G. Gaston Conference is underway at by clicking here.