Group with Dr. Willie Wilson. (Photo courtesy of Malcolm Crawford)

James Johnson has owned his sheet metal business for 10 years but says the past two years have been a struggle.

Johnson, 49, recalled that when he started his business he didn’t know he was the only black-owned sheet metal business in the city. It wasn’t until years later that his business began to struggle and is now $2 ½ million in debt.

“I would sit back and the businesses would just come to me. It was to the point it was like I was almost brainwashed by how things were going,” said Johnson, who was among the attendees at the 3-day business summit hosted at Sankofa Cultural Arts Center, 5820 W. Chicago Ave.

Saturday’s event focused on “building trades and commercial businesses.” The summit began on Friday with a focus on “empowering black youth” and wrapped up on Sunday featuring “100 economic-minded ministers.”

The weekend summit was sponsored by Austin African American Business Networking Association.

Founded in 2003, AAABNA works with new and current business owners in the Austin community. It has since created scholarships and established relationships through networking with businesses and organizations.

About 50 people, including Johnson, attended on Saturday. Johnson says he’s got “everything tied to my business,” including his pension and his house. But with the community’s support, Johnson’s business has held on.

“People would come to me and ask me how do I stay open,” he said. “I was supposed to close a long time ago, but with the grace of the man up stairs and the support I’ve been getting from the community — I am still here.”

Malcolm Crawford, AAABNA’s executive director, told attendees Saturday that the community must find out what the trends are and get ahead of them. Many attendees stressed that the more jobs and opportunities that’s available, the less violence and youth disinterest they’ll be.

Crawford invited attendees to help support the newly-blacked owned Subway located on Pulaski and Lake. A May 10 press conference is being scheduled to support the restaurant.


Twitter: @Austinweeklychi

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