Baptist Convention kids grown up, now running their parents’ businessesJune 27, 2017
Each Summer, Christians within the Baptist Denomination meet up for the annual Congress of Christian Education. It’s a week of classes, workshops, preaching, and teaching to help cultivate Christian principals, Church protocol, and Bible education. The congress week is sponsored by the National Baptist Convention USA, which launched in 1895.
While the daily classes and worship services are the foundation of the convention, a big extension of the convention are the vendor spaces. Christian business owners and churches promote their products, ministries, and their brands all week.
As the convention celebrated it’s 107th Congress Week most recently in St. Louis, participants noticed a difference in the exhibition center. Many of the booths, which have been traditionally operated by longtime adult business owners of the convention, were being managed by their children.
The adults who attend the Congress of Christian Education Week can remember when it was called the “Sunday School and BTU” convention back in the 70’s. Many of those adults were raising young kids while kickstarting their businesses. Due to the financial strain of building a company while raising a family, most of them had to bring their children along with them to the annual Summer conventions.
This year, it was quite noticeable. Many of those kids from the 70’s and 80’s are now adults and they are still coming to the convention with their parents, except now… they run the business.
Debbie Williams (Atlanta, GA) have been bringing her three kids to the convention with her since she first signed up 30 years ago. Williams owns Debbie’s Fashions, a traveling women’s clothing boutique based in Atlanta.
“I wanted my kids with me. I dont believe in dumping my kids on anyone for a whole week. So, in the beginning… while it was work, it also became a family vacation.”
Her daughter, Erica Williams, began attending the convention when she was 5 years old. Erica is now 30 years old. “I remember getting fussed at for riding up and down the escalators in the convention centers. Each year mom would give us the rules but as soon as we set the booth up we’d take off running,” she laughed as she remembered her childhood years attending each Summer.
“I remember being in Detroit one year and seeing fireworks. I remember walking around seeing stuff I like in other booths and begging my mom to buy it for me,” she said.
Debbie, like most parents, made pallets under her booth tables and made her kids take naps during the day. It was very common for the vendors to lay blankets and pillows down on the floor behind their counters to give their kids a play space rather than running unsupervised throughout the convention center.
The kids would still sneak out to find kids from other booths. The little posses would roam all over the building together and wouldn’t return to their parents’ booths until they were hungry.
One of the kids Erica saw every year was Demetrius Jones. His grandfather is Dr. H.L. Jones, owner of Christian Goldmine. The company sells Christian books and bibles. Demetrius has been coming to the convention with his “Paw Paw” since he was 6 years old. Today, Demetrius is 27.
“When I was a kid it was fun going to the different cities each year with my grandfather. I couldn’t wait to go chase the girls up and down the isles,” he laughed and smiled. “The convention was just a big playground for me.”
Demetrius says as he got older he learned important business principals at the convention.
“When I turned 16, I realized the importance of my grandfather’s business. A pastor told me my grandfather had blessed him with books to help him get his ministry started. I found out later my grandfather had been doing it for a lot of people. I’ve learned that our business was not just about making money. We supply the products that help pastors and churches build the kingdom of God,” he said.
“It is serious and important and I am grateful for a grandfather who was patient enough to teach these principals to me,” he said.
Erika Williams is now part of her mother’s management team and Demetrius now owns his grandfather’s bookstore. “My grandfather has even gone so far as putting the title to the store in my name.”
Not only does Demetrius own the bookstore but he has expanded it to T-Shirt pressing as well and began his own brand called “Dedicated Grind”.
Dwight Scott has been working at the convention with his mother, Sharron Scott, for 21 years. He began coming when he was just 11 years old. His mother owns, SD Designs Embroidery Service. It’s one of the signature booths of the convention. “When I was 15 she taught me the paperwork side of the business. That immediately evolved into floor leadership,” said Dwight. He is now the COO of their company and he helps keep it altogther for his mother back in East Chicago, IN. “I was given the role so my mother could concentrate on sewing and embroidery,” he says.
Scott recently stepped down from a full time position in Corporate America and he says he is “never going back to that.” He realized working with his mother at the convention each year was preparation for him to help build their family business. “Being involved from day one has taught me how to start and grow a business. The convention life is fast with long hours. It taught me how to persevere through long work hours and never quit until the job is done.”
One of the first souvenirs convention participants buy are the Congress T-shirts. The shirts have the Congress year on them with scenery from whatever city hosts the convention. Those shirts are usually made by Bethel Global Network of Riverside, California. Patricia Tokoto has been selling these shirts for 15 consecutive years. She started bringing her son, Josh, with her when he was just 4 years old. Today, Josh is 18.
“I want my son to know you can do business in an environment of people who believe in the same Spiritual Principals as we do,” said Mrs. Tokoto. When he turned 15, she started giving him more responsibility. “He handles the booth by himself now,” she said.
Not only does he operate the booth alone but he also keeps up with the books, updates the accounting, and stocks the shelves. “Selling T-shirts at the convention has inspired me to begin my own clothing line. I want to make clothes that people are proud to wear because they believe in what the brand stands for,” said Josh.
This Fall, Josh will begin studying Computer Science at Georgia St. University.
Rev. Roosevelt Wright, Jr. has been a lecturer for the convention for 40+ years. He began attending the convention in 1979. He and his wife, Joslyn, own Wright’s Publishing, Co. It is the umbrella for their newspapers, books, and their featured product… “Sermon Ideas”.
“Sermon Ideas” has been a vendor at the convention for four decades. The booth offers sermon guides and study materials for ministers. It is one of the largest booths at the convention. When Rev. Wright first attended the convention, his wife was in the middle of her fourth pregnancy. They can remember having all their kids with them each year.
One of those kids was Rev. Wright’s oldest son, Pastor Roosevelt Wright, III, commonly known as “Ro Wright”. Ro is now the National Marketing Representative for Wright’s Publishing, Co. and has a been writing contributor for books and sermon materials which are now carried under his father’s brand name.
“I was maybe 5 when I first started coming with my parents. For my brothers and I, it was a chance to see the world. We knew every Summer we would get to stay in hotels in different cities. That was exciting and we waited all year for it,” said Ro. He is now 40 years old and is also the Pastor of Metro Assembly of Faith in New Orleans, LA.
“It has always been my vision to build a company that my kids could carry further one day. Bringing them to the convention was an easy way of teaching my sons our family business. Now, they all have equal responsibilities in our company according to their skillsets,” said Rev. Wright.
“My dad taught me the fundamentals of business growing up at the conventions. I have learned you can do business honorably if your heart is rooted in the principals of God,” said Ro.
One factor all the young business leaders agree on is the convention leaders should consider talking to vendors about ideas which would boost convention attendance. “Many of us grew up in this convention. We remember when there were traffic jams trying to find parking spots. We remember when it was hot in the exhibition center due to how many people were in there. This is no longer the case,” said Ro.
The attendance decline in the convention has increased for various reasons. One major factor is the emergence of other conventions. Now there are several Baptist conventions, not to mention the Full Gospel Baptist Convention. They are all generally planned around the same time of the year.
“We do have ideas and we do care about the future of the convention. Our voices shouldn’t be taken for granted when events are being planned. Our families’ livelyhoods depend on the success of the convention. We are deeply invested in the convention and we all want to see it prosper and evolve,” said Ro.
Wright believes a delegation on behalf of the vendors should be included in the planning stages to help increase revenue for the convention and also the involved businesses. They know it won’t be long before they are passing the family business down to their own children.