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Legacy of L.A. Black Businesses Honored at VSEDC 2018 Black History Celebration 
By Sentinel News Service 
Published March 1, 2018

Left to Right: Joseph T. Rouzan, Executive Director VSEDC; Percell M. Keeling and Apryl Sim, Simply Wholesome Restaurant Community Rejuvenation Award; Ethel Hooper, Hooper Shell and Mini Mart Legacy Business Award; Ivan J. Houston, Golden State Insurance (retired) Legacy Business Award ; Margarita Garr Walker and Israel Garr (grandchildren) Leon T. Garr Estate of Family Businesses Legacy Business Award; Sonya Kay Blake Director of Community Business, Mayor’s Office of Economic Development and Karim Webb, MC and Co-owner and Operations Partner of PCF Restaurant Management. ( Photo courtesy of Ian Foxx, ifoxx Media Group)

 Empowered by the theme “Still Holding It Down…. Keeping the Legacy Alive,” on February 21, the Vermont Slauson Economic Development Corporation (“VSEDC”) held its 2018 VSEDC Legacy of African American Owned Businesses Celebration & Panel (“VSEDC Business Legacy Celebration”) in the Fellowship Hall on the campus of LA’s historic Holman United Methodist Church.   

An annual VSEDC signature event held during Black History Month, each year the VSEDC Business Legacy Celebration recognizes an esteemed class of honorees for their contributions as businesses or entrepreneurs in Los Angeles, despite the unique economic and business challenges often faced by African American and family owned businesses. This year’s 3rd annual class that kept the hall full of corporate executives, small business owners, entrepreneurs and other attendees in rapt attention throughout, were: 

  • Pioneering Legacy Business Honoree: Ivan J.  Houston, (retired) CEO of the historically iconic, Golden State Mutual Life Insurance, co-founded by his father, Norman O. Houston in the early 20th Century 
  • Community Rejuvenation Honoree:  Percell M. Keeling and Apryl Sims of acclaimed vegetarian restaurant, Simply Wholesome 
  • Legacy Business Honoree:  Billy J., Hopper Sr. & Family, who own the first and only Shell gas station and mini-mart in Los Angeles. (Represented by his widow, Mrs. Ethel Hooper) 
  • Legacy Business Honoree:  the late Leon T. Garr & The Garr Family Estate of Businesses (including the Founders Bank, The Garr Childcare Learning Institute and more. Represented by Mr. Garr’s grandson, Israel Garr and his granddaughter, Margarita Garr-Walker). 

The event began with a networking breakfast catered by the award-winning, Black-owned Dulan’s Restaurant, followed by opening remarks by VSEDC’s Executive Director, Joseph T. Rouzan. “Small businesses are the economic life blood of America.  In the African American community, they are also the heart and soul,” stated Rouzan. He continued, “By convening these businesses and professionals within this type of platform, VSEDC continues to promote our free comprehensive business resources, training, access to capital and a vast network of business services so that VSEDC lives out its mission and commitment to help small business build, thrive and grow and continue the legacy generational wealth within the African American community.”  

The Master of Ceremonies was acclaimed business powerhouse in his own right, Karim Webb, Co-owner and Operations Partner of PCF Restaurant Management.  His duties also included being the moderator for the special panel featuring the honorees or honoree representatives, all sharing stories of the respective honoree’s business journey. Webb led both the panel and the audience through an engaging, interactive and inspirational exchange, that included an informative Q&A.  Webb—who grew up in a family of entrepreneurs with enterprises throughout the Southland—was a very insightful and valuable addition.  Afterwards, Webb lauded, “The VSEDC event was powerful!  It was amazing to learn the legacies of several African-American entrepreneurial families.”. 

Other stories about the honorees were also revealed, with special meaning for Black History Month, including that of Mr. Houston, who was a member of the first African American Army combat division in WWII. Called the Buffalo Soldiers, they were based in Italy and fought to liberate villages in the Tuscany Valley. To this day, Mr. Houston noted how one of the villages host him and his family in their annual recognition of their liberation by his unit.    

The event concluded with each honoree receiving an award from VSEDC and a special proclamation from the Office of Mayor Eric Garcetti.  The VSEDC awards were presented by Rouzan, with the proclamations presented by Sonya Kay Blake, Director of Community Business, Mayor’s Office of Economic Development.  Both the VSEDC awards and the proclamations recognized the honorees for their commitment to economic development, job creation and community philanthropy. 

In addition to VSEDC, the event was sponsored by The Los Angeles BusinessSource and the Los Angeles Economic Workforce Development Department, who’s General Manager is revered former LA councilmember, Jan Perry.  Co-Sponsors also included: The Black Cooperative Fund, Access to Capital, Holman United Methodist Church, Torrey Pines Bank and UAW WorksourceCenter. 

Categories: Local | News | News (Business)
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