Posted: October 01, 2009
State of the State: Leadership
Chamber Connect program grooms black professionalsBy Mike Cote
As a financial adviser for TIAA-CREF, Sterling Rowe wouldn't normally mix with Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, former Mayor Wellington Webb or Gov. Bill Ritter.
Through the Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce's Chamber Connect program, he's had the chance to meet informally with such political leaders and learn more about government. Perhaps more importantly, Rowe has had the chance to network with other young black professionals as well as chamber board members.
With its third class, of 33 participants, scheduled to graduate Oct. 23 at Mile High Station, Chamber Connect has grown into a leadership program designed not only to nurture executives and entrepreneurs but to give them more reasons to continue building their careers in Denver.
"Denver is a small town, but at the same time there are a lot of people you won't meet in your industry or your everyday work life," said Rowe, a 27-year-old New Orleans native who moved to Colorado 10 years ago.
Walter Gray, a sales division manager for Allstate Insurance in Denver, said it can be difficult in a corporate environment to talk about opportunities and challenges for black professionals. Chamber Connect offered him an outlet for 10 months.
"This was an opportunity to come to the table with the brightest blacks in the community and talk about the things we all experience in corporations," said Gray, 38.
The program also helped him renew his interest in politics, something that had been dormant since his days as vice president of the Black Student Alliance at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, he said.
Rowe and Gray participated in the first Chamber Connect class, chaired by chamber leaders Richard Lewis and Angela Williams, who after two years transferred their duties to Chamber Connect graduates Carrie Warren and Ryan Ross.
Warren, an executive assistant to the president at U.S. Bank, moved to Colorado more than a decade ago from Minnesota. For her, Chamber Connect was a way to learn about the Denver community and make business connections.
"It was good to find a program that connects you to other minority mid-level professionals but to also use it as an introduction for the community at large to get connected to some of the movers and shakers in the community," said Warren, 32.
She's most proud of working with Ross on a partnership with BP America (former British Petroelum). BP America, through its Helios Univesity, underwrote an executive leadership program it launched through Chamber Connect.
Ross, executive director of the Educational Opportunity Center at the Community College of Denver, is working on his Ph.D. in education. The 28-year-old Denver native found that Chamber Connect enabled him to mix with like-minded professionals outside his regular academia environment.
"I was able to make really great relationships with people in the medical and finance industries," he said. "Although the industries were different, we saw how much we had in common and how important our industries were to each other."
Participants must apply for Chamber Connect. Once accepted they meet regularly at seminars and other events designed to get them familiar with local government, civic and business leaders. They learn about leadership, serving on nonprofit boards and making the connections that will help them to success both in their professional and community lives.
Participants are generally in the 35- to 45-year-old range, and each pay $350 to join the program. Warren and Ross anticipate increasing the fee in the future to $500. They note that would still be cheaper than other similar programs, such as Leadership Denver, which
This year, Warren and Ross partnered with The Denver Foundation's Inclusiveness Project to introduce a board access and empowerment fair featuring 30 nonprofit organizations, scheduled for Oct. 22 on the Auraria campus, designed to give participants a chance to learn more about serving on boards.
Other upcoming events include a meet-and-greet about the program: 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., Oct. 29, at Brittany Hill, 9350 Grant St., Thornton. Deadline for applications for the next Chamber Connect class is Nov. 6.
For more information, visit www.chamberconnect.net or e-mail Warren at firstname.lastname@example.org or Ross at email@example.com.
Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.