As TalkBLACK’s moderator, Thomas presides over meetings at which invited panelists and attendees express opinions on a range of topics such as volunteerism, economic empowerment, healthcare, the music industry, fashion, and relationships. The meetings are free and streamed live on the group’s website (www.talkblack.net). Beyond the group’s stated goal of engaging in interactive dialogue, Thomas sees the meeting format as an opportunity to support black-owned businesses and give them wider exposure.
“It didn’t make sense to talk about economic empowerment but not give back to black businesses. That’s why we decided to hold our gatherings at black-owned venues,” Thomas explains. TalkBLACK has similarly put thought into action regarding educational empowerment by volunteering and developing support relationships at two Knowledge is Power Program charter schools in Atlanta.
With the exception of a six-month hiatus the group took to reorganize in 2007, TalkBLACK has met consistently since its first meeting at the legendary Paschal’s Restaurant, where Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists met. TalkBlack has grown from nine attendees at its first gathering to averaging 40 a month. February’s “Love and Relationships” topic nearly filled the meeting space to capacity with 80 attendees.
“For seven years young African American professionals have driven from all over metro Atlanta to have an intellectual discussion, but this image isn’t promoted in the media,” Thomas says. “I’ve had people come from Alabama. We had one woman come from Ohio just to be a panelist.” Thomas says that TalkBlack is open to starting affiliate chapters in other cities.
The number of black-owned businesses in the U.S. nearly doubled from 64,000 to roughly 127,000 between 2002 and 2007, according to the Census Bureau, and many African Americans consider Atlanta to be a black metropolis. Even so, finding black-owned venues where the group can meet isn’t easy. TalkBLACK has a list of such venues where it currently hosts its meetings, and it’s in the process of compiling a directory of Atlanta-area black-owned businesses. In the meantime, for most businesses, the only way to really know if they’re black-owned is by word of mouth.
With the venues the group does utilize, the mutual support can have a real impact; TalkBLACK representatives guarantee that 90% of its participants will patronize the business. Cassandra Ingram, owner of 5-year-old Urban Grind Coffeehouse, knows firsthand how beneficial hosting a TalkBLACK meeting can be for business. Ingram’s coffeehouse has hosted seven TalkBLACK events over the years and sees the experience as a win-win. She has experienced a 15-20% increase in sales during the meetings.
“We’re getting additional exposure to people who may not have ever been here before,” says Ingram. “Some people continue to visit, bring a friend, or host an event at Urban Grind after attending a TalkBLACK event.”