OGDEN When unveiling plans for a local arm of the Utah Black Chamber of Commerce here, executive director Stanley Ellington posed a question: "What are you doing to help others realize the dream?"
Quoting Martin Luther King Jr. Monday at the Ogden Branch NAACP's annual Prayer Breakfast, Ellington said, "Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness."
Ellington invoked the words of the late civil rights leader as he put out a call for volunteers to get over in-fighting and help each other build a vibrant business community.
"I see that black business development in Ogden is dying off," he said, adding that a lack of resources and development makes a community invisible.
As a case in point, he asked if any city officials were present. No one spoke.
"Look outside ... at that big old megaplex. We should have been part of that process," Ellington said. "If we don't pull ourselves together, we will continue to be non-existent."
Betty Sawyer, president of the Ogden Branch NAACP, remembers a day when black owned businesses were the staple of 25th Street. But Ogden's black businesses declined as broader shopping options became available and as people moved to outlying areas, she said. Businesses are key, not only for the economy, but for a community's foothold on society.
"We all know businesses, especially small businesses, are the backbone of freedom and empowerment," Sawyer said. "If we have no money, that limits a lot of what we do."
When Ogden's railroad days ended, the city's economy declined and many businesses closed, said Alan Hall, founder and chairman of the Ogden-based Grow Utah Ventures.
Hall said there are plenty of organizations like his with resources to help businesses establish a foothold, but there's also plenty of competition. Last year, his organization supported only seven of 700 companies it reviewed.
He'd invite black entrepreneurs to participate, Hall said, but like with any business, success takes advertising, networking and a solid business plan.
Hall said a local branch of the Black Chamber of Commerce can only help.
"I think it's good anytime people can network," Hall said. "That's what chambers tend to do. They help one another, if people join and go to meetings. Those are very powerful things."
On Monday, Ellington pledged to help the community develop a strategy for success."We are ready to have a full 2008, full of action," he said. "So that in 2009, I can have a report back to you."