Ten years since its inception, the Austin chapter of the National Black MBA Association is the city’s premier Black business collective, but you don’t need the degree to join.
“We don’t want to exclude talent,” said Deone Wilhite, a chapter founder, “we really have to pull-in people who are masters of business, who know what they’re doing. That’s our main way to stay relevant and vibrant.” Wilhite is also the executive assistant for Precinct 1 Travis County Commissioner Ron Davis.
Connecting talented people was what Wilhite had in mind when he sent emails to 330 people to see if there was interest in starting a Black professional organization in Austin. In 2006, the odds were against him: Austin’s Black population was in decline, the national association hadn’t approved a new chapter in more than five years, and only 20 people showed up at his interest meeting.
Seven of those initial 20 pushed to create an African American networking group. They planned and programmed social and networking events as though they had an Austin chapter of the National Black MBA association. Their efforts attracted business professionals, entrepreneurs, and members of the creative class.
The fledgling group held a reception at City Hall that included prominent figures in business and city government. They also invited association leadership from Chicago to witness the community support for a chapter in Austin. The national organization granted an interim, and eventually, a full charter to the founders.
One of the key programs of National Black MBA Association is Leaders of Tomorrow, a business, college, and community leadership preparedness program for high school students who are African American. Students are matched with mentors from the business community. They meet regularly to discuss and learn about diverse topics, from public speaking to goal setting.
Leaders of Tomorrow members also gain practical experience by working on a case from the Harvard Business Review. At a national competition, the students present their findings and proposed solutions to a panel of business leaders. In only their second year of existence, the Austin group won the national competition and the five-person high school team was awarded $31,000 in scholarships for their efforts.
Belinda Matingou, who was the president of the Austin chapter during its first four years, said she is proud of what the chapter has accomplished.
“People have told me that our chapter has been instrumental to keeping them and other African American professionals here in Austin,” Matingou said. “That’s significant when we’ve seen our African American population decline as our city has grown.”
When current president Gregory Gibson, Jr., joined the national association he was looking for a networking group. What he found was a community, and he wanted to keep that going. He explained the difference this way: “People come to networking events because they want to get a job, or they want to meet someone new…It’s more of a selfish motive. Community is more what we can do for each other.”
There is something that is here for you; and if not, we’re here to help you build it.
Gibson went on to say that Austin requires you to build a community because many Black professionals come here by themselves or with only their immediate family, and that with a population so spread out, “oftentimes Black professional think they are alone.”
Austin’s chapter of the national association attempts to bridge the community, getting people together for professional development opportunities like the Leadership Empowerment Institute and social activities, comedy shows and happy hours.
“There is something that will connect with you,” Gibson said. “There is something that is here for you; and if not, we’re here to help you build it.”
The National Black MBA Association – Austin Chapter will mark 10 years of connecting Austin’s Black professionals with an awards and scholarship gala on June 16 at One World Theatre. The event theme is Vision: Celebrating Our Past, Building Our Future. Robert F. Smith, Marilyn Johnson and Deone Wilhite will be honored for their contributions to the community.