Thirty years in, the Colorado Springs Black Chamber of Commerce is seeing a renaissance.
“We’re starting from scratch, so just imagine this as a brand new business,” said Rodney Gullatte, Jr., who was elected president and CEO of the Black Chamber, or CSBCC, in January.
“We kept the 501(c)6, but everything else is brand new — new board, new bylaws, new logo, new website (cosblackchamber.com), new email, everything.”
Since the start of the year, Gullatte has been leading efforts to rework and reinvigorate the Black Chamber to become “the strongest, most influential entity in service to Black businesses and Black professionals in the Pikes Peak region.”
“We’re getting our feet under us. [The new board of directors] had to gel as a team and choose the new public image that we want to have, and talk about our strategy moving forward,” he explained. “We wanted to take our time and do this right and take great care of it — because the need for the Black Chamber is so profound in this community.”
Gullatte’s résumé is tailor made for the work ahead: He serves on the board of directors for the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC, Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado, and Colorado Springs Conservatory. In 2020 he was the first Black president in the Rotary Club of Colorado Springs’ 104-year history, and this year he’s a Colorado Governor’s Fellow. Gullatte is also an Air Force veteran, certified ethical hacker, CEO of Firma IT Solutions, a consultant for Pikes Peak SBDC, CSBJ 2020 Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Award winner and 2020 Mayors Young Leaders Award winner. But what he really wants to talk about are the business and community leaders on the Black Chamber’s board: Dr. Kenya Lee, Air Force veteran and co-owner of PureLee Redefined; Lt. Col. Angelique Simpson, a 15-year active duty Air Force officer and board-certified nurse executive; Natasha Hutson, business access advisor with U.S. Bank; Ellie RedCloud, owner of Technically Social Marketing; Ramiere Fitzpatrick of Kimley-Horn & Associates; Juaquin Mobley, VP of programs for CommunityWorks and owner of The Community Barbershop; and Kendall Godley, attorney at Davis Graham & Stubbs LLP.
“The Black Chamber is in its 30th year and the need for it is stronger than it’s ever been. This board that we have now, they’re all incredible people,” Gullatte said. “Collectively, we’ll be able to shine a light in this community that our people will be able to rally behind — and then we’ll be able to impact and influence this community so everyone feels like they belong.
“We spend a lot of time feeling like we don’t belong, but in the Black Chamber of Commerce, we want to make sure that Black business owners and professionals know that they got a place they belong,” he added. “We’re going to show them the ways that you can make this place reflect you and include you and make your voice heard — and, you know, make some money.”
Gullatte talked with the Business Journal about collaboration, cultural change in the Springs, and tripling the Black Chamber’s membership.
You mentioned a profound need in Colorado Springs for the Black Chamber. Tell us about that.
There’s a couple things that jump out in my mind when I think about need. When I first moved here, I started networking in town. I was meeting some really amazing people … Black professionals and Black businesses … and as I start meeting these people, I start to notice that they don’t know each other. Some people do — but there’s more people that know me than know each other. And to me, that’s a problem. So I’ve been spending my time trying to bridge that, and I think the Colorado Springs Black Chamber of Commerce is a great catalyst to facilitate those connections between Black businesses and Black professionals, so we know that we’re all here. A lot of Black people feel lonely here like, ‘There’s not a lot of Black people here,’ or ‘No, I only know one or two.’ When you look at the demographics, I think it’s like 6 percent, since this new census. It sounds like a small percentage, but it’s actually a lot of people — and if we’re able to connect those people, there could be a lot of impactful change that we could do as a collective. So part of what we’re doing is facilitating that. The next part is integrating us into the rest of this community. We all know [The Men’s Xchange founder and CEO] James Proby, [community leader] Donna Nelson, [President of Fidelity Charitable] Jacob Pruitt, Dr. Kenya Lee, Ellie RedCloud — but there are so many great Black leaders here that are missing from boardrooms, they’re missing from economic development conversations, they’re missing from urban renewal conversations, they’re missing from financial assistance. There’s so many conversations, so many rooms that we’re not in. So with this Black Chamber of Commerce we want to help people to be unafraid to go forward and get involved in the greater Colorado Springs community. We want to give them something they’re proud to be rallying behind. There’s a lot of decisions being made in rooms that we’re not present in — let’s change that. This town will look a lot different if more of us are engaged. There are a lot of relationships that are missing, that could change the way this town is. I think through the Black Chamber, we can be the linchpin to connect all those dots with the Black business community.
What will attract Black business owners from outside the Springs?
The Chamber & EDC had an article that they posted from Travel Noire about this being an attractive place for Black businesses to move to. … We have to fulfill that promise. During COVID one of the things that I experienced is that the world is really small when you leverage technology to bring people together. So I had a chance to meet Black professionals, Black influencers, Black businesses from all over the country during COVID with all of our virtual meetings that were happening — and you know, there’s a lot of Black money in this country. And Colorado Springs is ripe for a cultural revolution — we’re in the middle of it right now. The city is being built to handle it: We’ve got some great housing developments coming in Downtown, you’ve got [Weidner Field] and you’ve got ICONS, you’ve got [Southern Colorado] Juneteenth Festival, OneBody Ent, the Black History program in February — and now we’re going to have a Black Chamber.
That culture is here and it’s going to start getting louder. And as a Black Chamber of Commerce we can be a great catalyst to help make this place alluring to Black enterprises across the country — not only to start up, but to expand here. … I want them to see, ‘OK, there is a Black presence here.’ Companies coming into Colorado Springs to set up headquarters are looking for a diverse workforce — ‘Are they here?’ Yes. ‘We’re looking for companies to partner with, to give contracts to minority-owned businesses. Where are they?’ I’ll show you. I plan for us to be the hub for all Black-owned businesses.
You don’t have to be a Black business owner to become a member of the Black Chamber, right?
Everybody’s welcome. Everybody’s welcome. I mean, just as we have a Women’s Chamber, when you become a member of that organization. you know who you’re there to support; you know who you’re there to empower. I am a proud member of the Southern Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce. I believe in women having no limits and I believe in a world where women are paid an equitable amount for the work they do. And women being made to feel like they’re less-than is stupid. So I’m for breaking every glass ceiling that stands in the way of women being as great as they can be. And as president and CEO of the Black Chamber of Commerce, [membership] works the same way: Everybody’s welcome, but understand that you are there helping support the economic vitality of the Black business community.
What challenges are at the front of your mind?
At the [Colorado Springs Business Journal] Rising Stars event I made a speech and I ended it with, ‘In a world that doesn’t want to change, we are the changemakers.’ What we see is, there’s always going to be people resistant to change. We’ve seen that in the civil rights movement, we’ve seen it before; those people haven’t gone anywhere. I’ve read a lot of John Maxwell [leadership] books and in one he talks about: 25 percent of the people will be your biggest fans and you’ll lead them into the future, no problem; 50 percent of people don’t know what to think about you; and the other 25 percent, no matter how well you lead them, they’re not gonna follow you — they just think you’re garbage. You can’t really worry about that 25 percent that isn’t going to be for you. That 50 percent in the middle, they’re going to come around organically. So work with that 25 percent you got in your corner, and then proceed to the future. That’s a very successful strategy. I’ve used it in some other things that I’ve done since I’ve lived here, and it’s worked pretty good. So I’m excited about bringing together a team of really stellar individuals and doing this at a chamber of commerce level for the people — for all the people.
What’s your membership at this moment?
Right now, we are tracking about 33 businesses that are members of our chamber — this is after the transition from the previous leadership to the new one — and that’s a good start. I think 100 by the end of the year is an attainable goal. As we engage the community in meaningful ways, we’ll earn the people’s trust. People want to be associated with winning — so if we can prove to the people that we can accomplish these things together through the Black Chamber of Commerce, it’ll be a win/win for everybody.
The Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC has new leadership. How do you anticipate working together?
[New Chamber & EDC President] Johnna [Reeder Kleymeyer] is awesome. She’s different in the way that Colorado Springs needs different. Her position is one of the most impactful ones in this region in the way she has approached change, the way she has approached people, the way she has approached this community. She has the experience, the tenacity and the strategic partnerships to take the Chamber & EDC into the future. Her openness to collaboration is something that’s very important for this region, and it’s something that’s very important for all the chambers here to believe in. You know, there’s been a lot of ‘silo working’ here in the past, and having somebody like Johnna who’s willing to see the chambers as allies and see this region as a responsibility of all of us to make better — it’s important. The opportunity lies in all of us working better together. I’m excited about the role that the Black Chamber will play in that integration of services, resources and economic prosperity for everybody here.