Economic Empowerment through Enterprise Development


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.