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African American Chamber takes new thrust

Focuses on outreach to other groups

Jo Ann Baker | 6/28/2013, 10:16 a.m.

Richard Poston has a dual role at the Antelope Valley African American Chamber of Commerce.

Not only is he president and CEO, he is also acting chair while the chamber puts on its new face.

“I am past chair, but I am also acting chair while we are going through our reconstruction,” said Poston, who says he has about 23 years of chamber experience, which includes past board membership with the Monrovia Chamber, former membership with the Arcadia Chamber, where he was recognized in 2001 as Business of the Year, and a former member of the Inglewood Airport Chamber.

The Antelope Valley Black Chamber, which has been under reconstruction since January of this year, needed a paradigm shift, he said.

“We needed to market our chamber a little different, maybe soften it up and call it the African American Chamber, because when I looked around the nation at all the different African American chambers, the majority of them were called African American instead of black.

“We needed to reach out to a larger audience. We don’t just cover one city. [Now] we cover the entire Antelope Valley. That’s our goal. Not just Palmdale, not just Lancaster, but Quartz Hill, Acton and Sun Village. Not one city, but the entire Antelope Valley is our goal.”

Poston, who also founded the “Taste of Palmdale” in 2009 for the Palmdale Chamber while he was vice chair of governmental affairs and vice chair of membership, says one of the African American Chamber’s new goals is to reach out to the demographics in the Antelope Valley.

“When we look at the demographics for the Antelope Valley, we have 55 percent Hispanic and 17 percent African Americans. Those two ethnic groups are the majority. So why are we still trying to go mainstream?”

“You need to be reaching out to the Hispanics and the African Americans and you main-stream altogether inclusively,” he said.

According to a 2007 U.S. Census report (most current figures available), Los Angeles County has the second largest number of African American-owned businesses, totaling 59,680. Cook County, Ill., where Chicago is located, has the largest, at 83,733.

Although chambers exist to offer exposure and networking opportunities to businesses, membership benefits vary with each organization, and Poston said one of the chamber’s new goals is to provide more benefits to its members.

The chamber plans to offer certification classes for minority-owned businesses as well as micro-lending. “Minority doesn’t mean you have to be of color. A woman is a minority. A handicap person is a minority. Veterans are minority, so we are reaching out to those businesses because these projects are mandated,” he said.

“That means small businesses can come to the chamber and get a micro loan from us. Your credit doesn’t have to be good. I mean you’re not going to get $50,000, but maybe up to $10,000 or $15,000 at a very low interest rate.”

Appointed by Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford in April 2012 as the community-business representative of the North County Transportation Coalition, Poston said one of his first projects for the new chamber was a transportation summit, held earlier this year, in partnership with the city of Palmdale, to get the word out that there’s another bullet train coming to Palmdale.