Nearly 300 Black Colombian and African American entrepreneurs gathered this week at Morehouse College for the U.S.-Colombia Binational Summit for Afro-Descendant Leaders, the first conference focused on fostering business relationships between the two communities.

“Even with the difference of nationality or language, the Afro-descendants of the Americas have similar cultures and, unfortunately, similar obstacles and challenges,” Luis Gilberto Murillo, Colombia’s first Black Ambassador to the U.S., told the audience. He said Black people from both countries face systematic discrimination and second-class treatment.

“By elevating the voices of Afro-descendant communities and promoting inclusive policies, progress can be made toward a future where opportunities and representation for all become the norm,” he said.

icon to expand image

Government and business leaders from the two countries gathered Tuesday for pre-summit workshops to foster connections between the two communities.

About 30,000 people in metro Atlanta are of Colombian descent, according to U.S. Census data. The country is not a new trading partner for Georgia. In 2013, the state established a trade office in the country. In 2022, Georgia exports to Colombia totaled $458.9 million and was the state’s 25th-largest export destination, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

Wednesday was a day of panels and networking. The event was hosted by the Global Black Economic Forum, a U.S.-based organization focused on advancing economic opportunity for marginalized communities, and produced by Atlanta-based, Black-owned business consultant the Whittley Agency.

About 60% of the attendees were Colombian and the rest were American, according to the summit’s organizers. One of the entrepreneurs who traveled from Colombia was Heidy Parra. She is from Chocó, a department or state on Colombia’s Pacific coast that is home to the largest population of Afro-descendants in the country.

She owns a cosmetics laboratory and manufactures products for other business owners as well as her own beauty line, Báttaua. She said owning a business as an Afro-Colombian is “a great challenge” because they have different access to opportunities and higher rates of poverty.

She came to the Atlanta summit because she hopes to establish relationships with African American cosmetics brands that need a low-cost manufacturer.

Alphonso David, president and CEO of the Global Black Economic Forum, said the organization decided to host this summit to break down barriers and silos that exist among the African diaspora.

“Unless we spend some time investing in our own communities, we will never truly achieve economic freedom,” David told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I also wanted to break down the barriers that exist in the minds of some in this country as to what is Black and how we define Black.”

Activist Alphonso David poses for a portrait during the first U.S.-Colombia Binational Summit for Afro-descendant Leaders at Morehouse College on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (Natrice Miller/ AJC)

icon to expand image

He decided to host the summit in Atlanta because of its special place in the history of Black Americans as a birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement. He hopes the summit leads to new partnerships and collaborations between business leaders and inspires from Americans to travel to Columbia and explore opportunities there.

Panels covered a range of topics, including how to empower Black businesses in both countries and the landscape of affirmative action legislation. Speakers flowed between Spanish and English.

Nubia Carolina Córdoba, Governor of Choco, Colombia, speaks during a panel discussion at  the first U.S.-Colombia Binational Summit for Afro-descendant Leaders held at Morehouse College on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (Natrice Miller/ AJC)

icon to expand image

The ties between the Black business communities in Atlanta and Colombia have been growing for some time. Last fall, a group of Black entrepreneurs from the metro traveled to Colombia for the first trade mission of its kind.

Ricardo Berrís, an Atlanta business owner and chair of the Atlanta Black Chambers’ Global Opportunities Committee, helped organize the previous trade mission and was also at Wednesday’s summit.

“As long as there are people who do not know the relationships that exist between our diasporic communities, we need events like these to happen,” Berrís said.

For Parra, she will hopefully be going back to Colombia with some partnership commitments.

“I feel this is the beginning,” she said.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Report for America are partnering to add more journalists to cover topics important to our community. Please help us fund this important work here.