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The A.G. Gaston Business Institute: Fueling Entrepreneurship 365 Days a Year

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The A.G. Business Institute is a tribute to the late Arthur George (A.G.) Gaston, a legendary African-American entrepreneur who Black Enterprise hailed as the Black Entrepreneur of the 20th Century. Gaston owned several successful businesses in Alabama, many started during the Jim Crow era. He amassed a fortune worth more than $140 million from a business empire spanning communications, real estate and insurance.

The A.G. Gaston Business Institute originally served as the fiscal manager of the A.G. Gaston Conference. It has now evolved into as an organization that fuels entrepreneurship and focuses on identifying, promoting and training business owners 365 days a year.

Honoring Dr. Gaston is Personal to Me

Everything I’ve done over the past two decades to promote the name of A.G. Gaston and to honor him and his memory have been done because I have first-hand knowledge (having worked for him as a bank lender) of the kind of man he was and the impact he had on Birmingham, the state of Alabama and the entire nation. Starting the A G Gaston Conference in 2005, continuing it for the past 17 years, and establishing the A.G. Gaston Business Institute were two ways to pay tribute to the impact my minor connection to Gaston had on me.

Gaston’s positive contributions left a lasting legacy that still benefits society today in metro Birmingham and beyond. One example: his creation of the Booker T Washington Business College.

When there were no well-trained black clerks and typists, accountants and bookkeepers, Gaston started the Booker T Washington Business College to make sure that his businesses and others had access to black people who were trained and capable of doing the types of office work needed in the business world. Minnie Gaston, A G Gaston’s wife, served as the school’s leader and 1st Vice President beginning in 1939. The school served initially as the training ground for the clerks and typists for Gaston’s insurance and funeral businesses.

Gaston’s activities as a businessman empowered black people by providing services and skills not available elsewhere due to racism during the Jim Crow era. He provided access to life insurance through the Booker T. Washington Insurance Co., creating financial security for individuals and their families. He established Citizens Federal Savings & Loans Bank, allowing black people, black churches and black businesses to have access to loans that were not available from white institutions. That allowed blacks to foster ownership, created wealth and empowerment. The business college helped students receive the training and develop the skills allowing them to have opportunities to work in jobs and for companies that were previously unavailable to them.

The Name “Institute” is Significant

There were significant reasons that we called our organization an “Institute.” First, the word Institute makes you think of an organization with many particular objectives, chief among them being education. The A.G. Gaston Business Institute, although it started as the fiscal agent for the conference, has now fully embraced its role as a vehicle for educating black and other minority entrepreneurs. We use the business principles pioneered by Gaston to provide minority entrepreneurs with the information through training which is critical for their success.

One of Gaston’s heroes was Booker T. Washington, founder of my alma mater, Tuskegee Institute (now known as Tuskegee University). Not only was Gaston’s insurance company named for the iconic black educator, but so was the business college. Obviously, the thread between A.G. Gaston, Booker T. Washington and an Institute connected to business education, training and development seemed, to me at least, to be natural.

We Believe in Education

There is no way to understate the value of education. We must be committed to educating young people by teaching them how to take their rightful places as leaders in society, educating workers so that our labor force is capable and competent, and training budding entrepreneurs how to be better positioned to succeed in business, and teaching individuals how to create wealth for themselves, their families and their communities.

One key to keep in mind is that our success is often tied to continuous education: you are never too old to learn. There is no field of endeavor where continuous education, leading to increased and superior knowledge, is more important than in business. Education is the seed that fosters empowerment. The A.G. Gaston Business Institute is the place that has the platform and the environment to help create, locate and incubate the great entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

The Birmingham Business Resource Center has, since its inception 25 years ago, been involved in helping people start, grow and develop small businesses. We proudly adopted that as our mission and have branded ourselves as a “one stop for small business finance and related technical assistance.” Each month, dozens of small business owners take advantage of our services as they attempt to attain small business loans, improve business practices, or gain better access to market opportunities.

We’ve heard many facts – and even some clichés – about the importance of small businesses. They include:

  • Small businesses are the lifeblood of our communities
  • Small businesses create more employment combined than large businesses
  • Small businesses give our neighborhoods, communities and cities their character
  • Small businesses allow the founders and owners to express themselves in ways that employment at large companies never could.

All of those statements are correct; therefore, we concerned about and preferably involved in small business growth and development in some way. Consumer support for small businesses is vital for their success. Advocacy on their behalf is as well. Everyone who reads this blog who has the power to do so should consume goods and services from small businesses in your community and advocate for others to support them as well.

At the BBRC, we strive every day to help as many small businesses and their owners succeed as we possibly can. We are aware that each business is different, and how entrepreneurs view success depends on where they stand financially and what their perspectives are. To best meet their needs, we’ve developed a philosophy that allows us to measure success from the standpoint of the business owner.

We want to help business owners achieve their personal goals and operate at their maximum, but most comfortable level. Whether it is maximizing value for the entrepreneur, allowing the freedom to have a certain lifestyle or just following a passion, our desire is to help business owners reach their potential. We pledge to help businesses set attainable, realistic goals, and bring them to reality.

All of us are committed to this work and are committed to small businesses whoever they are, wherever they are, and whatever they do. Just like many of the businesses that we provide assistance to, those of us at the BBRC are following our passion to serve the public as well.