The African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey Celebrates its 10th Anniversary
John E. Harmon, Sr. | 5/28/2017, 4:57 p.m.
June 15, 2017 will mark the 10th Anniversary for the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey (AACCNJ), an organization founded by “yours truly” with a mission to provide advocacy for the 66,000 African American businesses and 1.2 million residents in New Jersey on issues of workforce development and educational excellence.
The effort to establish the AACCNJ started in 2003 following a meeting at Drumthwacket; the residence of then Governor James McGreevey. During this meeting of business leaders, educators and faith based representatives, it became apparent to me that no one in the meeting was discussing a statewide agenda that would strengthen the economic standing of African American business owners or residents.
At the time I was president/CEO of the Metropolitan Trenton African American Chamber of Commerce (MTAACC), a regional chamber serving a 25 mile radius of Trenton, NJ. Based on my conclusion, I immediately began conducting research which led me to conclude that there was not a statewide business organization whose mission was focused on African American Businesses in New Jersey or New York at the time. How unfortunate, given that chamber of commerce throughout the United States are synonymous with capitalistic activities and strategies to improve the economic well -being of its members; something I felt should be implemented to provide benefits to the African American population in New Jersey.
Further research led me to reach out to the National Black Chamber and the United States Chamber of Commerce both organizations with which I had relationships in my current capacity. These two national organizations were very supportive in providing me with critical information on how to construct, implement and execute the mission of a statewide chamber of commerce. I vividly recall the days and nights culling through data, which would eventually lead to the “Blue Print for Success”, the foundational document that would set forth the structure, governance and operational policies & procedures for the AACCNJ. Once that was completed, I begin my outreach for the initial board of directors, an essential component to having a successful organization. This maturation process continued for some time; supplemented by a number of meetings with government officials, corporate representatives, and prospective members.
Finally on June 15, 2007, I gathered the required information and secured the Certificate of Incorporation for AACCNJ; it was now official! We founded a statewide business organization to represent the interests of the African American community. However, operations for AACCNJ did not commence until following my resignation as president/CEO of MTAACC in 2009. This was a bittersweet transition for me; however it was time to move on with the implementation of our plans. Still there remained a lot of work to be done before we hosted our first event, which was held in the fall of 2010 at Rutgers University, at their Livingston Campus. The initial financial support to secure our leased office space and infrastructure came from The Northern New Jersey Black Chamber of Commerce, YUM Brands, Wells Fargo and PSEG, each of these organizations made significant contributions to get us started. The event held at Rutgers was our first Business Leadership Conference. There was a lot of energy and excitement in the room as I recalled that day, which left me with the sense that we might be on to something.