ABLE's conceptual beginnings go back at least two generations, if not earlier, as African American business owners in Chicago, and across the country, struggled to succeed against the odds. The impetus to create an entity to address these challenges came to one of ABLE's founding members, Don Jackson, while attending a very insightful meeting of African American executives in the corporate arena.
Jackson recalls that in 1990 he attended the Executive Leadership Council's (ELC) annual retreat at the invitation of Mannie Jackson, the group's founder. Mannie was an executive with Honeywell at the time and subsequently became the proprietor of the Harlem Globetrotters. Jackson was very impressed with the success of ELC - especially their ability to attract top African American executives from corporate America. The forum provided a wonderful networking opportunity. Mannie and other ELC members expressed a desire to network with African American business owners because for many of them, their next professional stride after hitting the glass ceiling would be to become entrepreneurs. While at the retreat, Jackson gained the commitment of the ELC group to mentor a group of African American businessmen and to send their founder, Mannie Jackson, to Chicago to explore the possibilities and lend his assistance. With the commitment from Mannie and the ELC, Don Jackson approached Moore and the two set out to make the concept a reality.
Ralph Moore had outlined a similar concept for an organization focused on African American economic empowerment based on the fact that the black business community lacked the cohesiveness of other ethnic communities. He concluded that although there were a number of viable organizations, none focused solely on economic and political power. Other ethnic groups did not face the shackles of segregation and discrimination uniquely faced by African American, so our leaders understandably were focused on the fundamental issues of equal opportunity in employment, housing, voting and education. The economic gap needed to be addressed, and Don Jackson and Ralph Moore began discussing the formation of what would become ABLE, the Alliance of Business Leaders & Entrepreneurs.
A series of preliminary meetings ensued in the boardroom of Quaker Oats. William Smithburg, the CEO of Quaker at the time, liked the concept of the formation of the organization; he was supportive, providing meeting rooms, secretarial and other office support. Of the 50 initial invitations sent, a total of 10 Black business owners attended the initial meeting. Mannie gave a high impact presentation on the success of the ELC and how valuable an African American business organization would be for networking with the ELC. All of the prospective members attending the meeting committed to formalizing a business group. The initial attendees included: Don Jackson, Ralph Moore, Jim Hill, Cynthia Johnson, Larry Hollins, Jim Lowry, Ron Damper, Leon Jackson, Jory Luster and Tom McLeary. The organizational and structural support donated by Jim Hill was instrumental in establishing ABLE, which had its first formal meeting as an established organization in 1992.
ABLE is Born:
The organization, initially called the African American Business Association, grew from 10 to 25, and held its first retreat at the Gleacher Center in downtown Chicago in May 1992. At the retreat the creative task of formerly naming the organization was assigned to ad agency executives Tom Burrell and Barbara Proctor, which resulted in the current name. Shortly after the retreat, the name was officially registered and ABLE was established as an ongoing association in November 1992. Jackson agreed to serve as the president for the first two years. Burrell suggested that monthly meetings be held at each member's business locations. Initial meetings were conducted at Burrell Advertising Agency on Michigan Ave. For years, this was the format until late 1999 when ABLE's membership grew beyond the capacity of the members' offices
A debt of gratitude is owed to the exemplary leadership provided over the years by the past presidents.
ABLE is thought to be the only African American business organization of its kind in the country. The organization meets regularly with CEOs of leading corporations, non-profits and governmental entities to establish and develop strategic relationships. ABLE is dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship as a pathway to building wealth and economic independence in the community.