Three years ago we began a mission to accelerate the connections between Black business owners and professionals in the Pikes Peak region. The second part of the mission is to create pathways for this Black excellence to be integrated into the rest of the Pikes Peak region.
The network has been wonderfully successful since the start, and I believe this is because there was a silent hunger for these connections. It only took a spark and a little gas to turn this into an economic and cultural movement for the Black business community. Together, we have a very strong small business network, and the tighter we can make our connections, the stronger we become.
We faced some serious challenges in 2020. For some, that included COVID-19 and the issues arising from it. For others, social justice took center stage — for those who never thought it was an issue in the first place. There was an economic and cultural reawakening that resulted from this awareness. The key to the future of our community lies in our ability to have productive dialogue and put meaningful action behind the changes we want to see. This means healing fractured relationships that are preventing us from building the alliances necessary to work in our purpose. We have the power to make Colorado Springs into a place where “Everyone is welcome.”
The CSBBN has been working to change the culture in Colorado Springs so the Black business community has the encouragement, resources and courage to build new relationships and be successful. This work would not be successful without those who step up to serve the people.
The mission began with Frank Sinclair, Patrice Ravenscroft, Rachel Stovall, Lauren Shawcross and me. In the beginning, the strategy was simple: Create a business networking environment that is centered on the Black businesses and professionals in the Pikes Peak region. Through this engagement, others outside this group will come to network, and that builds the group’s relational strength.
We started getting feedback about the relationships that were being established. This resulted in new alliances and many new economic opportunities for the businesses involved with CSBBN. We’re grateful to our inaugural board of directors who saw us through the first phase of our mission. The community would not be where they are without you.
Over time, the mission became more daring. We began organizing ourselves to become a 501(c)(6), and a new team stepped up to serve alongside me to make this a reality: Dr. Kenya Lee, Harrison Hunter and Terra Smith. The trajectory seemed great — and then came 2020.
We found ourselves in the middle of a pandemic that continues to have catastrophic consequences for our business community and our personal lives. Then America’s ignorance and disregard for the injustice being suffered by her citizens reached a boiling point with the world broadcast of George Floyd’s murder.
The CSBBN, along with community partners like MyBlackColorado.com and the Colorado Springs Business Journal, launched a series of video teleconference events that shared critical information about resources and strategies to help us through COVID-19 and our continuing battle for social justice.
During one of these online gatherings, “How to Win the Seat,” we all experienced what a racist-fueled “Zoom bomb” looks like. We regained control of the room but our participants were visibly rattled by the disrespectful interruption. It was an opportunity for all of us to see the side effects of doing good work in our community. There will be people who don’t like what we are doing and want to distract us from our goals. In those situations, we just delete them from the room and move on stronger than before.
Colorado Springs is at a turning point as we begin 2021. There are some incredible new faces being placed in positions of influence and authority. We have to support those people, for the work they will be doing is challenging. We have to do our best to support each other and work better together. The CSBBN and the Colorado Springs Black Chamber of Commerce are working on such an endeavor. So far the work is positive but there is still more to be done. In the end, this community will be blessed with an organization that can truly advocate for a segment of the business community that has felt they have no voice. You do have a voice! Be loud, proud and use your voice to become the leaders you all want to see.
Cheers to a new year!
Rodney Gullatte Jr.
Founder, Black Business Network