Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Conference a Huge Success

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Cheryl Grace, Richard Mark and Michelle Muhammad

The Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce (ILBCC) hosted two days of insightful symposiums and impactful workshops during its annual convention, themed “Surviving the Pandemics Virtual State Convention.” While the current climate has forced most organizations to scale down operations considerably, the Chamber has been able to continue providing services and fulfilling many of its 2020 initiatives.

The Chamber’s flagship event exceeded expectations by providing high-caliber information and networking opportunities. Many attendees and participants reported that the conference was the most balanced, impactful experience of 2020 that included a stellar lineup of panelists and content. The conference kicked off with the “Black Media Symposium,” which was co-presented by the Coalition for Black Media Equity. It provided a narrative of historical and contemporary context of the importance of the Black media in today’s society. Wynona Redmond of Wyn-Win Communications moderated a panel featuring industry trailblazers Dorothy R. Leavell of the Crusader, Melody Spann-Cooper of WVON Broadcasting, Denise Pendleton of BBUnite, Carl West of TBT News, Cheryl Grace of Nielsen, and Hermene Hartman of N’Digo.

The “Utilities and Energy Symposium” featured the CEOs of the top utility companies, including Richard Mark of Ameren II, John Hudson of Nicor Gas, Terence Donnelly of ComEd, and Charles Matthews of Peoples Gas. John Harmon, president of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, led a discussion on “The Future of Corporate Diversity and Inclusion.” Panelists included Justin Ladner of Illinois American Water, James Gellert of Rapid Ratings, Arthur Mothershed of Wind Creek Hospitality, and Winfred Sanders of Neta Scientific.

Both the “Construction Contracting Symposium” and “Contracting with State Agencies Symposium” were standouts and among the most highly requested by attendees. Nosa Ehimwenman of Bowa Construction, Malcolm Weems of Weems Way Consulting, and Rod Young of  The Will Group moderated the sessions which featured these panelists: John Yonan of the Bureau of Asset Management, Jose Alvarez of the Illinois Tollway, Jessie Martinez of Capital Development Board, and Cory Thames of the Chicago Department of Aviation, Shaunna Sims-Davis of the City of Chicago, Aaron Carter of Illinois Public Higher Education Cooperative, Raffi Sarrafian of Cook County, Sharla Roberts of University of Illinois, and Eric Occomy of the Illinois Tollway. Other forums included “Live Matchmaking” sessions, which offered private one-on-one relationship building meetings with nearly 20 major corporations, state agencies, and universities. Local mayors Sam Cunningham of Waukegan, Richard Irvin of Aurora, and Leon Rockingham of North Chicago participated in the “Black Mayors Forum.” Top community advocates and physicians provided insights in the “Re-Imagining Healthcare for the Black Community” session that featured Dr. Jeffrey Sterling of Sterling Initiatives/SIMPCO, Dr. Niva Lubin-Johnson, Dr. Carol Adams, Mario Kemp and Arnold Crater.

Three industry leaders were recognized for their significant contributions to advancing and supporting diversity and inclusion for Illinois’ Black-owned businesses. The ILBCC 2020 honorees include: Cheryl Grace, Senior Vice President of U.S. Strategic Community Alliances and Consumer Engagement, Nielsen – Outstanding Media Partner Award; Michelle Muhammad, Director of Supplier Diversity, Southern Company Gas/Nicor Gas – Outstanding Procurement Partner Award; and Richard Mark, President, Ameren Illinois – John Rogers Lifetime Achievement Award.

The ILBCC expresses heartfelt gratitude to Infrastructure Engineering, Ameren Illinois, IDG Architects, Peoples Gas, Ardmore Roderick, Doug & Diane Oberhelman & Cullinan Properties, Nicor Gas, ComEd, Camelot, and all of the sponsors of the 2020 conference. “Thank you so much for seeing us through this year’s capstone event in high fashion,” says president Larry Ivory. “You helped make the 2020 ILBCC State Conference a success.”

The mission of the Illinois Black Chamber of Commerce is to empower Black enterprises in order to strengthen Black communities. Their goal is for all Black businesses in Illinois to become sustainable, high-growth enterprises by assisting with building their capacity to compete effectively for local, state, and federal commercial contracting.

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