Gullah Geechee Chamber sets up policy institute, expands mission

[The Gullah Geechee Chamber of Commerce is a member of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber (SCSBCC).  Marilyn Hemingway serves on the Board of Directors of the SCSBCC.]


Post and Courier
September 5, 2020


The Gullah Geechee Chamber of Commerce is expanding its mission and reach by starting a separate policy-focused nonprofit.

The Gullah Geechee Leadership Institute will develop a training and advocacy program to empower African Americans living along the South Carolina coast to better understand and address the environmental and cultural issues facing them, according to chamber founder and CEO Marilyn Hemingway. “When I founded the Gullah Geechee Chamber of Commerce in 2018, I knew our advocacy would focus on the environment,” she said. That includes three main focuses: the impacts of environmental pollution and degradation, business opportunities in renewable energy, and the effects of climate change. “But we have grown from that point. The world is changing … I have always said the Gullah-Geechee community is the canary in the coal mine.”

The new institute, organized as a 501(c)4, will be led by James Felder, an activist, state legislator and solicitor. Felder is an Army veteran, past president of the Columbia NAACP branch, former member of Allen University’s board of trustees, author of several books, and an inductee of the S.C. Black Hall of Fame. “I felt it was necessary that we need to be more formal and organized when it comes to advocacy,” Hemingway said. “The community needs a resource to help them get educated. We need to own our story and we need to advocate for our community. We have things to say about issues that some think might not impact us.”

The institute will function as the policy arm of the chamber of commerce, she said.

Her efforts now include production of a social media program called “A Gathering Place,” viewable live at 4 p.m. Sundays. The show (which remains available for viewing online) features discussions with civic leaders and others about issues that concern the Black community, such as cultural appropriation, civil rights activism, health care concerns, business development opportunities and sustainable energy solutions.

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