The new interim president and CEO of the Black Wall Street Chamber of Commerce said she is excited about invigorating the organization’s mission of economic development.
“As we move forward, we will foster a culture of robust entrepreneurship,” new leader Kuma Roberts said during a news conference Monday.
“Our commitment to inclusive economic development will not waiver,” she said.
Monday’s event, in which several officials spoke, was also a tribute to Sherry Gamble Smith, former president of the Black Wall Street Chamber of Commerce, who died in a murder-suicide a little over a year ago.
“Kuma, I need to tell you something,” said Gayle Singleton, Gamble Smith’s aunt. “Probably about two or three years ago, Sherry said, ‘You know, Aunt Gayle, … I’m thinking about just stepping down, doing something else with the Black Wall Street, and the person I would want to take this role is Kuma.’
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“So I’m so elated and so overwhelmed today because the person she had in her mind, two to three years ago, is the person who’s stepping into this role,” Singleton said.
Roberts, who is the chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at Arrowhead Consulting, has spent nearly a decade working with chambers of commerce and businesses in Tulsa. She will remain with Arrowhead while also serving as interim president and CEO of the Black Wall Street Chamber.
After Monday’s news conference, Roberts told the Tulsa World that the Black Wall Street Chamber would be shutting down operations and programs temporarily while officials plan a relaunch, set for Sept. 1.
“We’re just going to really strengthen and strategically plan the organization for the next few months,” she said. “And then bust out, ready to go, Sept. 1 with a whole bunch of programming focused on entrepreneurship, young professionals, generational wealth building, contractors, associations.”
The Black Wall Street Chamber of Commerce is a nonprofit membership-based organization formed to promote the economic well-being of African American-owned businesses.
Currently it has 211 members.
“We want to grow that, for sure,” Roberts said. “Not just in Tulsa or Oklahoma but across the nation.”
During the news conference Roberts outlined her vision of the Black Wall Street Chamber.
“I’m incredibly passionate about economic development. I’m incredibly passionate about workforce.
“Sherry was a trailblazer; (City Councilor and Black Wall Street Chamber board member) Vanessa (Hall Harper) is a trailblazer, a pioneer, and the legacy that they have shaped and left has been a part of the core of what this organization has been for the five years that we have been in existence.
“We stand for progress over personalities here,” Roberts said. “We are about collaboration over conflict here at the Black Wall Street Chamber.
“And these principles are not merely words to me or to us, but these principles are guiding lights that direct our every endeavor.
“As we move forward, we will foster a culture of robust entrepreneurship. … We will continue to invest in our entrepreneurs to provide them with the tools, the resources and support to turn their visions into reality.
“Our goal remains steadfast — to ensure every single African-American individual within our community … and by nature of supporting that community, we will raise all ships across this city regardless of background,” she said.
A photo of Gamble Smith and a plaque recognizing her hangs in the Black Wall Street Chamber offices, 1800 S. Baltimore Ave., where Monday’s news conference was held.
Mike Neal, president and CEO of the Tulsa Regional Chamber, said area chamber officials “dearly loved” Gamble Smith and miss her.
“I know that she’s looking down from above with a big smile on her face,” he said. “And know, Kuma, … that you can count on all your friends at the Tulsa Regional Chamber to be great collaborators, to be great partners and likewise to be great cheerleaders … and support everything that you guys are going to try to do and will do for this community.”