(pictured above: Montinique Cager poses with his wife, Pam at the recent mixer.)
After a season of inactivity, The Winston-Salem Black Chamber of Commerce wants to write new chapters.
Once a strong networking avenue for local professionals, the Black Chamber’s vitality had waned in recent years, explained Chamber President Randon Pender, but a core group of leaders is working to restore the organization to its former glory.
“I’m committed – I believe in it,” Pender said of the Black Chamber, which she helped to launch more than a decade ago. “I know that there is a need for it. I just can’t let it rest.”
Last fall, Pender and a handful of newly-appointed board members began hosting mixers in hopes of attracting businessowners and professionals to the organization. The most recent mixer took place last Thursday evening at Carolina’s Vineyards & Hops, which is owned by Black Chamber member Christopher Megginson.
“This has been an eye opener for me, because I did not realize how many small businesses there are in this area that don’t even know that we exist,” said Chamber Secretary Telissa Ward, owner of the DST Boutique in High Point. “We are here, and we’re trying to reach out and get them to come in.”
For the duration of the month of February, the Chamber is offering yearlong memberships at an introductory price of $50. Dues-paying members will be highlighted on the Chamber’s Web site and included in its business directory, but the support the Chamber provides is arguably its most valuable asset, said Ward, who has operated her business since 2009.
“I think a lot of times, funding is a big thing, especially for African American businesses. A lot of those businesses don’t know where to go, and with the resources we have, we can get them contacts, funding, marketing – it doesn’t take a lot of money if you’re doing it the right way,” she explained. “We’re here to help guide those businesses to attract not only African American patrons, but abroad.”
In addition to business professionals, Valene Franco, a local attorney running for District Court judge, and
Curtis Osborne, a candidate for North Carolina’s 12th Congressional District, were on hand, as were City Council members Derwin Montgomery and James Taylor.
Pender, a nurse case manager since 1987, remembers the Black Chamber in its heyday, when it was home to close to 200 members, many of them veteran entrepreneurs and accomplished businessmen and women. (Pender would not reveal the Chamber’s current number of members.)
“I’ve met some wonderful people; I’ve learned a lot, because a lot of the people were older than I was, so there was a lot of wisdom at our gatherings,” she recalled. “They were sharing the history of the business community in Winston-Salem, so it was just a wonderful experience.”
Pender said the local organization will again soon be a dues-paying member U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce, which Pender says she played a role in starting.
A key mission of the revived local Black Chamber, Pender said, is to help cultivate the next generation of the local business community.
I tell everybody it’s simple: we’re just connecting the dots,” she stated. “We have businessmen and women and we have consumers. We’re putting the two together.”
Montinique and Pam Cager are among the new members the Chamber has been able to attract through its mixer events. The couple has jumped in with both feet. Mr. Cager, a professional photographer, serves as director of marketing for the organization, while his wife, a caterer and owner of For All Occasion Cake Kitchen, is vice president.
Mrs. Cager, who has been a part-time caterer for nearly two decades, recently set-up shop in a building and is now operating her company full time.
“Especially in trying to bring my business into a full service business, I wanted to get in with the Black Chamber, because their whole purpose is to empower small businesses,” she said.
“The networking opportunities are really the best aspect of the Black Chamber,” her husband, who manages the Chamber’s Web site and social media presence, observed, surveying the room at the mixer last week. “Where else can you get two (City) Council members, a potential Congressman and a potential judge in one night?”
Future mixers will be hosted at various locations, highlighting the skills, talents and businesses of local members whenever possible, the Cagers said. The group, which has over 300 likes on Facebook, is especially interested in attracting the under-40 set to its midst, Mr. Cager noted.
We really want to get the young professionals out there,” he remarked. “We’re trying to get business-minded folks that are serious about what they’re doing.”
Erica Lowery, a broker for Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, said she has attended two Chamber mixers, and has already made some contacts through the events.
“It’s ideal for me,” declared the Greensboro native. “I network constantly because of what I do. You never know where your next deal is going to come from.”
Chamber organizers say they are pleased with the success of the mixers, which have attracted as many as 30 attendees – most of whom are new to the organization – thus far. Despite its storied history, Ward said she believes the best is yet to come for the chamber.
“I’m just excited of what’s to come,” she remarked. “I’m excited and proud to be a part of the Black Chamber; I’m looking forward to new things, new beginnings.”
For more information about the Black Chamber, contact Pender at 336-575-2006. Find Winston-Salem Black Chamber on Facebook or visit http://wsblackchamber.com.