Philadelphia’s young professional crowd is on the move and finding their niche. These budding entrepreneurs are sustaining their own businesses, starting new ventures, and SEEM to be involved in every organization around town. However, the presence of young professionals seems to be significantly lacking within the African American Chamber of Commerce (AACC). The AACC, formed in 1993, is a non-profit that aims to enhance the growth and effectiveness of African American owned businesses in the Delaware Valley. Furthermore, it is the leading advocate for minority owned businesses.
Members of the AACC reap invaluable benefits such as mentorship opportunities, notifications about business opportunities, job search assistance, professional development workshops, and a chance to become part of an extensive network of top businesses and corporations across the region. Sounds like a young entrepreneur’s dream, right? Yet, for such an organization dripping with opportunities, the presence of the young professional network is still alarmingly low. This raised some concerns and led AACC Chairman, Steven S. Bradley, to reach out to a woman with a plan: Danielle Jeter.
Danielle Jeter, a Spelman graduate (C/O 2010) and AACC member, was honored when asked to spearhead the initiative to create a niche within the AACC for young professionals to call their own. Being a driven entrepreneur, who just launched her event planning company, Affair of Isis Events, LLC, she could not understand why there were so many empty seats when it came to the young professionals. Why would her peers not want to be a part of such a beneficial network? To get down to the heart of the matter, Danielle thought it would be important to analyze the reasons that organizations such as the AACC are lacking youth leadership within their network. How did this disconnect come about to begin with?
On November 29, 2012, Danielle brought 18 young professionals together (myself included) for a “Think Tank” in an attempt to gain some understanding about this issue and possibly provide a solution. This “Think Tank” was a highly organized roundtable discussion that had a zero tolerance rule against interruptions and side conversations by way of a ball that granted “speaking rights” to whomever had it in their possession. The room was filled with Philadelphia’s young leaders, all of whom had ambitious entrepreneurial dreams and efforts.
When asked the simple question: “What do you know about AACC?” Only ONE person had prior knowledge. Could this perhaps be part of the issue? No one knows that it’s out there? Danielle decided to dig deeper and ask the group: “Why do you think many organizations are lacking young professional leadership?” Some of the responses were:
-Uninformed of the opportunity: Many of us simply don’t know what’s out there. 1 out of 18 individuals knew about the AACC and what it had to offer.
-Lack of communication: There is simply not enough communication that these opportunities are available. “If we don’t know, we won’t go.”
-Disconnect between the young and the old: The age gap is real.
-Young professionals are worried and busy with individual and personal endeavors: Simply put- Everyone is busy “doing them”.
-Price of dues: As BLOSSOMING entrepreneurs, it’s safe to say that we have not yet arrived financially and a $100 membership fee could easily deter someone from wanting to join. Could a lower fee cause a change of heart?
Danielle stated that she truly believes that the heart of this issue lies in the lack of communication and relationship building. Opportunities are not being communicated enough beyond the inter-networks of organizations. Ms. Jeter also explained that from the AACC’s experience and perspective the young professional is NOT a consistent professional. Danielle’s statement made me wonder if we as young professionals need to take part of the blame? Are we not rising to the occasion? Do we truly understand the value of being involved in organizations such as the AACC? As with all issues, the causes and solutions are not always black and white. However, if both parties accept and acknowledge our roles in this issue we can progress as a whole.
The meeting closed on an optimistic note and actually motivated most of the attendees to sign up for AACC membership. Danielle asked further: “What would you like to get out of your AACC membership and what would you need to help you with your professional career?” Some responses included:
-Mentorship from older professionals
-Resources and help with initial start up businesses
-Help with marketing and business plans
-Networking opportunities with government officials, politicians, VPs, VIPs
-Business etiquette and training
This all should sound like music to the average young entrepreneur’s ear. We definitely need to understand the value of these benefits and take full advantage of them! Nothing compares to or can replicate the mentoring relationships that we can gain from such an organization. We all have so much to learn from each other, especially from those who have already walked the path of where we are trying to go. The “baton” is literally being passed onto us, and it’s up to us to play our part.
One thing is for sure: Danielle Jeter is a young LEADER. She has helped to plant the seed of change within the AACC’s youth network. This “Think Tank” has provided the AACC with ideas of what Philadelphia’s young professional network needs and ways to implement this change. Ideally, Danielle hopes to see the AACC provide consistent programming for young professionals and more branding and recruiting efforts to thrust membership. She has submitted the “Think Tank” minutes to the AACC officials and believes change will be coming for the young professional network soon. VERY soon.
Interested in learning more about the AACC? : http://aachamber.org/
For more information on Danielle Jeter check out her website: http://www.affairsofisisevents.com/
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(Posted by Nikkia Moss)