The Atlanta Business League stays on track
The Atlanta Business League was founded 70 years ago, but the mission of the black business organization remains much the same, says its president and CEO, Leona Barr Davenport.
Founded in 1933 as the local arm of the National Business League begun by Booker T. Washington, the Atlanta group was created to encourage the development of the self-help, self-sufficiency philosophy espoused by Washington. "Back then," says Davenport, the ABL "focused on supporting and fostering the development of black-owned businesses. The Atlanta Business League provided a forum for black business owners to come together and form relationships. Today, the overall goal is much the same," she says. The group holds its monthly meetings at the Atlanta Life Building on the third Tuesday of every month.
What has changed are the types of businesses members own, as well as the "diversity of opportunities available to them," Davenport says. In the early days, the group’s membership read like a "Who’s Who in Black Atlanta." Among early member companies were Letitia Watkins Enterprises, headed by one of the first women to own a real estate company in the Southeast, Paschal’s, Atlanta Life Insurance, Henderson Travel and Citizen’s Trust Bank. Many early companies are still members. James Young, president of Citizen’s Trust, served as the 2003 chairman of the league.
Davenport believes that integration, which provided other avenues of growth and contact for black business owners, has helped rather than hindered the organization. "I don’t see that as a negative because of the amount of work to be done in creating entrepreneurs and developing opportunities for black business owners. I don’t think the Atlanta Business League can be the only organization to fill these needs."
In addition, she says the Atlanta Business League has reached out to the larger business community through events like its annual CEO luncheon that recognizes business and political leaders throughout the metro area "who have made difference encouraging business development at all levels and for the good of Atlanta."
Today the group focuses on educating business owners and is expanding its role as a facilitator between minority-owned businesses and other regional business organizations and government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Minority Business Development Council. Davenport notes that the Georgia Minority Supplier Development Council, which matches minority vendors with corporate buyers, grew out of the Atlanta Business League.
Member businesses range from at-home retail operations to multimillion-dollar companies such as H.J. Russell & Company and Baranco Automotive Group.
Small business owner and member Robert Hawkins says the Atlanta Business League is a great resource for companies like his. "The annual CEO luncheon gives me the opportunity to bring all my customers together and meet each other. It also provides me with the opportunity to meet potential customers," says Hawkins, president of R.L. Hawkins Group, a distributor and wholesaler of packaging materials.
The Atlanta Business League also has a membership level for associates, people who are contemplating starting a business. "Associates," says Davenport, "have access to the same services — meetings, seminars, networking opportunities — as regular members." They do not, however, receive business referrals. Those are reserved for regular members.
The group has also increased its services to women business owners in recent years. "About 20 years ago, a small group of female business owners came together to create Super Tuesday to recognize minority female entrepreneurs because no organization was devoting attention to black female entrepreneurs," says Davenport. "About six years ago, we added a breakfast series, Women of Vision, that focused on female entrepreneurs."
The league, which has a staff of four, publishes a quarterly newsletter, a member directory and a resource guide to African-American Female Business Owners and Professionals.
Future goals include increasing its programs for youth and developing more partnerships with corporations throughout the city, Davenport says.