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Black History Month convergence of current events and recent past

African American Studies Program celebrates entrepreneurs and pioneers

African American Studies Program Calendar February 2013

The national unemployment rate stood at 7.8 percent in December 2012. However, for that same month, the unemployment rate for African Americans was nearly double at 14 percent.

That means about 1 in 7 Black people in this country are out of work and looking for employment.

To offer an alternative to the unemployed and students considering their job options post- graduation, the African American Studies Program is hosting the Entrepreneur Expo series during Black History Month.

Every Wednesday during the month of February, the AAS program invites students and the community to learn from black entrepreneurs who have been successful in owning and operating their own business. Featured speakers include former city council member and restaurateur Jarvis Johnson and small business owner Shan Gregg.

“We wanted to create an event that would be beneficial to both students and the city of Houston,” said Lashonda Williams, African American Studies Program Manager.

According to a U.S. Census Bureau report released last year, the number of African American-owned businesses increased by 60.5 percent to 1.9 million, between 2002 and 2007. That’s triple the national growth rate for start-up businesses.

The City of Houston ranks third in the nation among cities with the most black-owned businesses, falling just behind New York and Chicago.

Ms. Gregg, owner of Simply Scents, has personal experience with a difficult job market. She started her candle company after being laid off from her job as a flight attendant.

Today, her candles are sold in a number of Walgreens locations in addition to her storefront, local boutiques, and online. She has two employees, turning her personal unemployment experience into gainful employment for three people.

“I love business and I love talking about my experience,” said Ms. Gregg. “I want to tell students that owning your own business is possible. You can turn what you are interested in and what you love into a career.”

The Entrepreneur Expo series starts with a 2:30 pm lecture on Feb. 4 in Agnes Arnold Hall 208 by Dr. Juliet E.K. Walker, founder and director of the Center for Black Business History, Entrepreneurship and Technology at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of The History of Black Business in America (St. Martin’s Press, 2003.)

The entrepreneurs who will follow during the rest of the month will share their personal experiences, offer advice, and answer questions. Some of the entrepreneurs offer internship opportunities, so students will also have an opportunity to interact with potential employers.

“We hope the attendees will come away from the Expo with an awareness of the opportunities available when someone has the passion, skills, support system and education needed to sustain any business,” said Ms. Williams. “Even if entrepreneurship isn’t for you, participants will come away understanding the work ethic and skills necessary to be successful in the workforce.”

In addition to the Entrepreneur Expo Series, the African American Studies Program is hosting other February events that celebrate African American pioneers:

  • Lecture by Dr. Raymond Doswell, Vice President of Curator Services, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo, at 11:30 am on Feb.5 in Agnes Arnold Hall Room 628
  • Lecture by Captain Paul Matthews, founder of the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum in Houston at noon on Feb. 8 in the Rockwell Pavilion of M.D. Anderson Library. Followed by 2:30 p.m. screening of the 2010 documentary “Inside Buffalo,” an historic account of the 92nd Infantry Division, the African American segregated combat unit who fought in World War Two.

The full schedule of the African American Studies Program’s 2013 African American Heritage Month commemorations can be found on the program’s web page.

~ By Monica Byars

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