Leona Barr-Davenport speaking at an ABL event. Image provided by The Atlanta Business League.

This month, SaportaReport will highlight Atlanta-based women making a difference in their fields. 

By Allison Joyner

As Covid progressed, more African American women made a pivot to leave their jobs and start their own businesses.

“Black women — African Americans across the board — start businesses out of necessity. I need to be able to be available for my children or I need to be able to control the time that I work when I work and how I work,” said Leona Barr-Davenport, president of the Atlanta Business League (ABL).

Davenport has seen the trend of the Great Resignation where men and women are leaving their jobs for other opportunities that give them a better quality of life and she knows that making the decision to be your own boss can be a rewarding experience for many. 

Leona Barr-Davenport, president of The Atlanta Business League
Credit: The Atlanta Business League

“Entrepreneurship can be unforgiving because of the time that you can put into it,” Davenport said. “It still allows you that flexibility; that’s where the necessity comes from.”

Since its founding by Booker T. Washington in 1933, the ABL has enhanced and expanded the business community in the state. It’s the first Black business organization in the Southeast and Davenport believes that the strong leadership they have gone through is the main reason for that. 

“Longevity comes from its leadership,” said Davenport. “Typically, when people get involved, they’re not involved, especially at the leadership level and even some members, when they do get involved, they’re in it for the long haul.”

After graduating from Benedict College, Davenport and a friend moved to Atlanta and started to look for work. She became an inaugural scholar at Clark Atlanta University’s new weekend working professionals MBA program. She said that Clark Atlanta gave her a $28,000 scholarship to go through the program and was honored to have received it too. 

After working in several positions in the telecommunication and accounting industries, Davenport accepted a position as an assistant at the ABL in 1988. 

What she initially planned to be a two-year endeavor at the organization ended up being a long-time career as Davenport wore several hats before wearing the one as president since 1997 and has been leading the organization for almost 25 years.

Over its 89 years, the ABL has secured over 10,000 members from various backgrounds and previous board members who later decided to lead the city. 

“Maynard Jackson served on the ABL board, Shirley Franklin was on the ABL board, Ambassador Andy Young was on the ABL board,” said Davenport. “So there are mayors who came through as a part of their leadership development. They may not have called it that at the time but I think that was part of it.”

Logo for The Atlanta Business League’s 37th annual Super Tuesday Conference.
Image provided by Atlanta Business League.

Being a businesswoman in the 20th century was not particularly accepting of minorities and Davenport had her fair share of racism and misogyny that negatively impacted her career.

A memory that she told SaportaReport happened to her when a co-worker started to tell an inappropriate joke  saying “I hope this is not going to be offensive…” But Davenport spoke up and responded, “if you think that it might be offensive, then it’s probably best that you don’t tell it.”

 “The room scattered because everyone realized how serious I was and I think it’s important to use your voice and to let people know how you feel in those kinds of environments,” said Davenport.

She dealt with several other experiences but standing up for herself made her comfortable enough to deal with them as they came up. That is why Davenport wants to help ABL members to use their voices in uncomfortable situations. 

Seminars, educational training and business forums teach them how to find their voice and create programs specifically for women of color to fill a void that other organizations leave out. For example, the annual Super Tuesday Conference is where the ABL celebrates influential African American women who are making a difference in our communities. 

“There was no conference, no forum in the city that was focused on them and rather than us trying to force our way into something that someone else has created, let’s create our own, which shows that leadership in women finding their voice and using their voice.”

The ABL’s website is currently being redesigned, but those interested in joining can apply here

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