Atlanta MBDA Centers Connects MBEs Regionally with Southeast Connections

When the Atlanta Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Centers first launched the Specialty Trades Aiming at the Right Targets (START) to Build program in 2018, their team envisioned a robust, regional program that provided client Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) firms in construction with contracts, connections, and opportunities.

In its three years of operation, the program has generated over $15 million in awarded contracts and connected MBEs with general contractors to create long-term, sustainable relationships. Corporations such as Microsoft, Skanska, Brasfield & Gorrie, Turner Construction, and Leapley Construction have participated in the program and connected MBEs with opportunities in their project pipelines. In the past month, staff of the Atlanta MBDA Centers took a large step in scaling START to Build to a regional level, as they led a collaboration with five MBDA Centers to launch a five-day matchmaking event with Southeast Connections (SEC), a subsidiary of Artera.

During the week-long event, MBE contractors were given 15 minutes to pitch their services to Valerie Ballew, SEC’s director of procurement, providing an opportunity for SEC to increase its contractor supplier base with diverse companies. “I think that this initial matchmaking event was a success,” said Valerie Ballew, “I’d like to thank the MBDA Centers, for their collaboration. I look forward to participating in future matchmaking events and establishing connections with more MBE firms.”

What was unique about this event in particular was its broad reach. Not only did it provide opportunities to clients from the Atlanta MBDA Centers, but it also provided opportunities to Centers and their clients throughout the Southeast.

“It’s one of our more ambitious teaming arrangements in our national network to date,” explained Donna M. Ennis, C.P.F., director of the Atlanta MBDA Business and Advanced Manufacturing Centers at Georgia Tech. “We collaborated with MBDA centers in Columbia, Miami, Memphis, Orlando, and Washington, DC to provide opportunities to 37 MBEs.”

Thus far, reviews have been favorable. “Our matchmaking connection with Southeast Connections was very informative and fruitful,” reported Sondi Henry, marketing coordinator with UJAMAA Construction. “We’ve made a connection that we believe will greatly benefit both companies. We truly appreciate the Atlanta MBDA Centers for putting this virtual event together.”

UJAMAA’s sentiments were echoed by Josef Powell, the CEO and president of Orlando-based parts distributor Mapex USA, who found the event to be “very useful, productive, and relevant for our business.”

“We look forward to future events like this, as well as following up with SEC to create a truly mutually beneficial relationship going forward,” he reported.

Likewise, Laurita Jackson of Memphis-based Enfinity Supply was also enthusiastic about the matchmaking event, calling it “a great opportunity for us to demonstrate our ability to provide a value-added solution for SEC.”

“Our meeting with Valerie was very focused, resulting in a clear understanding of SEC, potential opportunities and a definitive timeline for follow-up,” she added, “We look forward to developing a mutually beneficial relationship with Southeast Connections.”

“It’s opportunities like these that open doors and relationships for MBEs,” said Ennis. START to Build helps to foster long-term relationships for both subcontractors and primes.  Now that we have completed this first regional effort, we have a blueprint for going national.”

Understanding the Origins of Black History Month

Contributed by Lauren Roberts, Program Specialist

The United States has observed the month of February as Black History Month for over 45 years, since its first national celebration in 1976. Yet the historical roots of Black History Month, and the field of black history itself, can be traced even further back in time to the landscape of early twentieth century America. To fully appreciate Black History Month’s historical and cultural significance, we must first understand events and people from over a century ago.

In 1915, Dr. Carter G. Woodson and Jesse E. Moorland established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), an organization still in existence to this day as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). The mission of the Association was, per its Statement of Purpose, “to promote, research, preserve, interpret, and disseminate information about Black life, history, and culture to the global community.” Dr. Woodson was a professor and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Howard University, and is regarded as one of the earliest known scholars of the African Diaspora and the African-American community. Likewise, Moorland was a prominent minister, civic leader, and community executive, and devoted his life to the advancement of several Black social organizations.

In 1916, one year after founding the ASNLH with Moorland, Woodson began The Journal of Negro History (known today as The Journal of African American History), a quarterly academic journal published by the University of Chicago Press. Like the ASNLH, the purpose of the Journal was to study, preserve, and chronicle the history of America’s Black community. Woodson felt strongly that Black history should be taught nationwide, and he fought to have the subject taught in the nation’s public school system. Yet as time went on, Woodson observed that his colleagues, as well as organizations such as the American Historical Association, did not harbor any serious interest in studying or preserving Black history, nor did they seem interested in including it in school curriculums.

Thus, in 1926, Woodson established Negro History Week, which is commonly regarded as the precursor to Black History Month. He chose the second week of February for this observance, as it coincided with the births of Abraham Lincoln on February 12th and Frederick Douglass on February 14th.

Woodson recognized that this initiative was vital not just for the broader study of black history, but for the long-term prosperity of the African American community. Per his autobiography, Woodson states: “If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”

Following the 1930s, Negro History Week gained more widespread popularity throughout the United States and even spread to many places worldwide. Yet, it wasn’t until over 40 years later that Negro History Week evolved into its modern iteration as Black History Month.

Owing largely to the influence of the Civil Rights Movement, Black educators and students at Kent State University first conceptualized Black History Month in 1969. The first official celebration took place one year later in the winter of 1970, as reported in The Kent Stater, Kent State’s independent student newspaper.

Six years later, Gerald Ford formally recognized the annual observance of Black History Month during a speech celebrating the United States’ Bicentennial Year. His full address, which emphasized the need to preserve and understand black history as an integral part of U.S. history, was as follows:

In the Bicentennial year of our Independence, we can review with admiration the impressive contributions of Black Americans to our national life and culture.

One hundred years ago, to help highlight these achievements, Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History. We are grateful to him today for his initiative, and we are richer for the work of his organization.

Freedom and the recognition of individual rights are what our Revolution was all about. They were ideals that inspired our fight for Independence: ideals that we have been striving to live up to ever since. Yet it took many years before ideals became a reality for black citizens.

The last quarter-century has finally witnessed significant strides in the full integration of black people into every area of national life. In celebrating Black History Month, we can take satisfaction from this recent progress in the realization of the ideals envisioned by our Founding Fathers. But, even more than this, we can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.

I urge my fellow citizens to join me in tribute to Black History Month and the message of courage and perseverance it brings to all of us.