ALTON — A new chamber of commerce chapter goes beyond the city limits to provide opportunity to minorities and small businesses.

The Black Chamber of Commerce of Illinois’ Alton chapter recently formed, offering resources, advocacy, outreach and networking to all minorities, particularly African-American entrepreneurs and small-business owners, but also women, Hispanic and all other minorities. The Alton chapter formed in mid-November and is one of nine chapters of the Black Chamber of Commerce of Illinois, based in Decatur, led by its founder and the organization’s state president Anthony “Corey” Walker, a Decatur native.

Alton pastor, William Christopher Harris, who works full-time as a mechanical corporate engineer for Zoltek, a carbon fiber manufacturer in St. Louis. Rev. Harris is president of the Alton chapter of the Black Chamber of Commerce of Illinois and leads Brown’s Faith Temple Church of God in Christ, 2603 Main St., Alton. Harris, a Carbondale native and graduate of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, moved to Alton 14 years ago, where he lives with his family.

“Pastor Harris is doing some amazing things in Alton, Illinois,” Walker said last week to The Telegraph. “He’s a great visionary, has his own team in Alton. They have some great ideas.”

The Alton chapter has a handful of members already and plans for a major roll-out of the chapter this month through the first part of this year. The state office of the Black Chamber of Commerce of Illinois, the third to ever have formed in Illinois as a black chamber, is located in Bloomington, with satellite offices in Chicago and Decatur. Walker started the organization in 2003 in his hometown and formed the chamber as a state Chamber of Commerce in 2015. Other chapters are active in nine cities at this point.

“Our mission is to be a clearing house for black businesses and entrepreneurs, enterprise and commerce, here in the area,” Harris said. “But, not just as a a call for a greater need in one sector, but extending to all minorities in the area to better help them leverage what they bring to the table in business, commerce and small business administration. That’s how we see it, anyone underrepresented, particularly African Americans.”

The Alton chapter membership drives to recruit members, board members and partnering organizations soon will begin in force, Harris noted.

“We offer several different incentives to small businesses and entrepreneurs’ business plan development from obtaining financial resources for financing to alternative funding to help get businesses certified as either a Black Business Enterprise, known as BBE, or Women Business Enterprise, known as WBE. These certifications are beneficial because a lot of contracts are available for these certifications, whether local or federal, within the state for small business owners, particularly for African Americans.

“Substantial allocation of funds are available for BBE and WBE. We want to facilitate and bridge that gap to help small business owners to expand, grow and get to that next level and in business and enterprise.”

The Black Chamber of Commerce of Illinois Alton chapter also will act as an advocate on behalf of minority-owned businesses throughout the region.

“We will look at what is needed in our community that’s not there, not only for funding, but through policy, legislation,” Harris explained.

The Alton chapter also will conduct business mixers, which are a tremendous tool for chambers of commerce in St. Louis and the Rivebend, for networking and adding members.

“We’ve attended many of those, an opportunity to network in an after-five setting, with business owners and not just the owners but also other individuals, such as someone in the working class who can come, connect and partner with these businesses. We want to bring that here, so that we again can really, not just do something here in Alton, but something within our region here, including East Alton, Wood River, Granite City, Edwardsville, Grafton, Bethalto, all the towns and cities in the area to be a blended family here, as well as across counties, the Metro East, which is East St. Louis, and farther up to Springfield and Decatur.

Harris’ own personal mantra that he lives and aspires to is, “In power to make an impact.”

“That’s what I feel I’m here for, is to empower others. After empowering, help others to make an impact,” he said. “I want to leave something after I’m gone, after I’ve moved on.

“When we started the Alton chapter, I’ve aligned with different organizations and different state and national entities, so we formed with their support. I’m currently actively connected to all of the Black Chamber of Commerce of Illinois chapters.”

The Alton chapter currently is housed at Harris’ church on Main Street. Harris and his wife, Jocelyn, also are entrepreneurs who operate a seasonal shaved ice business that they open at the latest June and run through the end of September at 2500 Locust Ave., in Alton. The couple also this month are launching a tax agency providing consolidated products that are not just for taxes, but also offer health care benefits, and real estate and business services for entrepreneurs.

The Harrises also have on that same site a group of billboard signs that they market to different businesses from time to time.

In addition, Christopher Harris also is an author, whose book, “A Sports Illustrated Strategy for Success, A Christian Perspective,” will be re-released this year, along with a new workbook and a devotional also written by Harris. Currently the book is available at Amazon.com and at the church’s website www.brownsfaithtemple.org.

“We’re looking at a big project before the year ends but can’t say anything else about that right now,” Harris said. “We’ll announce this project before the year ends. I can say it’s community-based and family-oriented. It’s going to be a tremendous blessing to the communicated and it’s really needed.”

Harris got involved with the Black Chamber of Commerce of Illinois through his church, which has several ministries, including the outreach ministry, founded by the Harrises, Life Empowerment Outreach Ministries, or LEO Ministries, that concentrates on bridging the gap of the message of Jesus Christ, or the gospel of Jesus Christ, and re-format it to fit in an out-of-the-box environment.

LEO includes the “Sunset Concerts and Crusades,” which features different genres of gospel for four consecutive Sundays during the summer at Liberty Bank Alton Amphitheater. Genres include choir, quartet, rap, rock, instrumental and many more. The night tapers off with words of exhortation, then closes with a mass community prayer. The first year of the concerts, more than 1,200 people attended over the course of six Sundays. Since then, the concerts have been four consecutive Sundays’

“Based in Alton we can connect joining cities and towns through this chamber and really offer something for this region, that’s one of pieces that sold me on it, like the church,” Rev. Harris said. “When doing ministry, it’s reaching out, and this is part of my gift — to reach out, into industry, build and grow this region. I’m excited about that.”

The Harrises have two children: William Christopher Harris II, 12, who attends Alton Middle School, and Ava Julian Harris, 10, who attends North Elementary. William, whose family affectionately calls him “Two,” plays football, Ava plays soccer and both are on honor roll.

“My two wonderful children to keep us busy,” he said proudly.

Visit www.bcciinc.org or email bccillinois.inc@gmail.com for more information and email altonareabcc@gmail.com for more information about the Alton chapter.

From left to right, the Black Chamber of Commerce of Illinois’ founder and state President Anthony “Corey” Walker, of Decatur, the organization’s Vice President Creola Davis, and Alton chapter President Rev. William Christopher Harris, of Alton.

Walker

Harris

Reach Jill Moon at 618-208-6448 and Twitter @jill_moon.





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