The agenda of the local chapter of the National Black MBA Association is singular: economic empowerment through education.
But its application through community outreach is wide-ranging, from mentoring high school students to business networking to supporting entrepreneurial ventures.
Saturday, those multifaceted initiatives will merge under one creative umbrella called "Soul Bowl."
The 1970s-themed bowling dance party at Kerns Bowling Center in Buffalo doubles as a fundraiser for the group's youth education program and as a showcase for the bowling business owned by an African-American entrepreneur.
"It'll give the business exposure by introducing new people to the venue," said Thomas Beauford Jr., president of the local chapter of the Black MBA Association. "And the money we raise will be used for our youth programs."
The national organization has 8,000 members and 45 chapters, including ones in Toronto and London. Since 1970, members of the nonprofit African-American organization made up mostly of MBA degree-holders have used their professional training to build wealth and strengthen businesses in black communities.
"We want to leverage the value we got from a good education and bring it back to our community," said Beauford, who received his MBA from the University at Buffalo and is vice president of a financial institution. "We have a lot of well-educated members who have skills that can benefit the community."
The local chapter includes Rochester, Syracuse and Corning, and has a membership of 375. It was started in Rochester in 1984 by recent MBA graduates who were dejected over a lack of employment and networking opportunities for blacks.
"After spending all that money to get their master's degrees, they couldn't find jobs," said Lavon Stephens, the local group's immediate past president. "And since more minorities were starting to pursue MBAs, they needed access to employment and professional development."
So the local chapter was formed. Since its inception, the Black MBAs have organized seminars covering marketing strategies, the crafting of business plans and other areas of business management and development. The chapter has forged partnerships with other professional groups, major corporations and colleges. It provides guidance to individuals embarking on entrepreneurship and assists business in preserving community wealth by devising a plan for family businesses to continue to succeed for generations.
While it has seen success over the years recruiting dozens of high schoolers to its Leaders of Tomorrow Program and drawing a full house to its regional conference in 2008, the local chapter is a relatively unknown entity to an East Side business community made up mostly of self-taught entrepreneurs. "I'd never heard of them," said Dan Adams, owner of the bowling alley.
And that's why the group chose an East Side establishment. Beauford said that will become a practice for future events. In the past, its events were held at hotels and other downtown venues.
Increasing community awareness of the chapter's existence and its programs also will involve dispelling some misconceptions. First, you don't have to be black to join. And second, you don't have to have an MBA.
"We are about diversity and inclusion," said Stephens, a retired Army counterintelligence agent who earned his MBA from Medaille College.
The organization's various levels of membership allow other professionals and entrepreneurs without business degrees to join. Adams, who bought the bowling alley four years ago, plans to join the organization. He said his business will benefit greatly from the cash flow and exposure that Saturday's event will bring. "I have had limited funds for advertising, and this will put me in touch with a huge segment of the population," he said.
"Soul Bowl," an adult party inspired by "Soul Train," will be held from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased by calling 803-8602 or at the bowling center the day of the event.