Their convention could open the door for more Black gatherings here
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Minneapolis, for the first time, is hosting the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) Annual Convention August 5-9. The MSR recently interviewed convention organizers, NABJ officials and others about the group coming to town as part of our pre- and post-convention coverage.
An estimated $7 million is expected to be generated from next week’s visiting Black journalists in town for the 2015 NABJ annual convention, say Meet Minneapolis officials.
“That’s an excellent number for a group that size,” notes Betty Williams, a national account executive for the city’s convention and visitors’ bureau. Her primary responsibilities include seeking multicultural groups to hold meetings and conventions in Minneapolis.
From her downtown office, Williams told the MSR that she first approached NABJ in 2003, followed by a six-year process that included “five or six” presentations during that time span. “African American [groups and organizations] today still don’t have a lot of knowledge on Minneapolis as a destination place.”
As a result, whenever Williams and Meet Minneapolis CEO Melvin Tennant make “sales pitches” to Black organizations, they in essence are the “face” of Minneapolis. “I cherish the opportunity to represent my city,” said Tennant in a brief MSR interview. He added that his taking a lead role in bid presentations to such groups as NABJ is very important “because it is not often that they interact with African Americans in my position.”
Minneapolis in recent years has hosted Black fraternities, the National Baptist Convention, and earlier this summer a national Church of God in Christ women’s group, added Tennant. The 3,000-member NABJ is among the largest Black professional organizations to hold its national convention in Minneapolis that his office has successfully worked to attract.
Continued Williams, “I’m not [representing] an Atlanta. I’m not some of the southern or eastern cities where there are African American historical destinations — we don’t have all of that here. So I have to look at these [Black] organizations that haven’t been here…these [groups] that have a business component –— Black journalists, Black accountants…”
She included in her presentations to NABJ that Minneapolis would be ideal to hold their convention because of the availability of hotels, because it’s a major airlines hub, and because it’s “a great drive market” for those attendees who are traveling by car. “We’re right in the middle” of the Midwest, she pointed out. “That’s not just for NABJ, but any conference.”
Williams’ persistence eventually paid off as NABJ in 2009 voted Minneapolis as the 2015 convention host city. She proudly credited the enthusiasm of Twin Cities Black Journalists (TCBJ), NABJ’s local chapter, as well as a new executive director who “had booked a couple of conferences here in Minneapolis. We still had to get the votes [from the NABJ board], but it certainly helped that [the executive director] could advocate for us, too,” said Williams. “I think that carried a lot of weight.”
After being selected, Meet Minneapolis also helped NABJ with various arrangements, including negotiations for local venues and corporate sponsorships, and provided other pertinent information such as on local Black-owned restaurants and other businesses as well. “We provide all those sorts of services and let the client decide,” said Williams in noting that it’s part of her “servicing the client” duties as an account executive.
At next week’s convention, a “critical information booth” will be set up and manned by Meet Minneapolis at the Minneapolis Convention Center to assist attendees. Minneapolis, for the first full week of August, will be the center for Black journalists, an estimated 2,000 or so from all parts of the country as well as internationally. Having NABJ in town is a win-win for both the city and the organization, stated Williams.
“They definitely will leave an economic impact on the community” during the five-day convention. An estimated $7 million will be spent by the visiting Black journalists, predicts Williams. “They may not stay for the whole conference. Some may stay for a couple of days, maybe three.
“For a group that size, you can’t beat $7 million for four-and-a-half days,” she said.
“When we come to town, we get approximately 3,000 hotel rooms,” said NABJ President Bob Butler. “Folk are going to be eating. We will be spending quite an amount of time at the local establishments. Like a lot of organizations, you have your sessions and work hard during the day, but in the evening we do tend to get together around the bar, and that’s where a lot of good networking takes place.”
Even more so, “This particular group presents a great opportunity because they’re journalists who tell the story from their point of view,” said Williams. “You have on-air personalities, travel writers, and a number of [various] journalists here in Minneapolis that could really tell our story about the entire African American community.
“NABJ is very important because they will help us tell our story about the great amenities in our city, including our world-class hotels, state-of-the-art convention center…shopping with no sales tax on clothing, unique and family-friendly activities, and a vibrant and safe downtown in a city with a diverse population.”
“When you see African American professionals in our city” involved in various activities downtown and other parts of the city, said Tennant, “I believe this will open the door for us to host more African American gatherings.”
Williams said Minneapolis in 2018 will host a national Black church ushers convention, and in 2020 the United Methodist Church general conference, where 7,000 of its members are from Africa and South America.
“My job is ongoing, which is a good thing,” said the Meet Minneapolis account executive. “I’m looking at a lot of big groups” like NABJ to bring their conferences and conventions to Minneapolis. “I will continue to keep my relationships with NABJ because I want them to come back…for a regional [conference] or board meeting. I definitely will look to rebook NABJ for the next six to 10 years. We want to make it very special for them.”
MSR’s convention coverage continues next week with a preview of NABJ’s public town hall on Minnesota’s below-par achievement of Black K-12 school students.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.