The Tri-Counties Afro-American Chamber of Commerce, a fledgling group of black business owners and professionals from Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, met Friday to introduce itself to area residents and businesses.
"We felt that this has been needed for a long time in the tri-county area," chamber President Chuck Royal, an Oxnard car dealer, said. "It's an opportunity for black people to come together and help each other out."
About 150 people attended Friday's meeting at the Oxnard Community Center.
The percentage of blacks in the three counties is small but growing, 1990 U.S. Census figures show. Since 1970, for example, the number of blacks in Ventura County has increased from 11,373, or 1.7%, to 14,718, or 2.2%.
Santa Barbara County is about 2.54% black, and San Luis Obispo County is 1.99% black, according to the census.
But most of those residents live over a wide area, from Ventura and Oxnard to Camarillo to Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley. And many blacks who live in Ventura County commute to Los Angeles to work, chamber Vice President Vi Williams said.
"Our main purpose is to serve as a welcoming committee for new black families that come to the area, and as an information station for them," said Williams, an Oxnard resident and a saleswoman for a pharmaceutical company. "Right now, most of our efforts have been here in Ventura County because that's where 90% of our members are located."
Outside of black churches and black-owned businesses, it is sometimes difficult for blacks to meet each other, Williams said.
"Initially it was difficult for me," said Williams, who moved to Oxnard in 1989. "Previously, I was living in Los Angeles, where I was active in community things, including my church. When I came here, I didn't have that feeling. Things were very sparse."
Williams said she visited black churches and used them as a springboard to meeting other blacks and discovering the black community.
The chamber was formed last June after the Ventura County chapter of the NAACP received requests from employers and contractors seeking minority workers and contract bidders, Williams said.
So far, the group has about 40 members, including doctors, attorneys, real-estate agents and small business owners, Williams said.
According to its charter, the chamber aims to encourage trade between black-owned businesses, as well as other businesses, Royal said.
The chamber hopes to attract members from all racial groups and from other business and community groups.
"This is obviously an area that's growing," Royal said. "We're trying to get as many members as we can."
FYI Membership in the Afro-American Chamber of Commerce--Tri-Counties costs $150 and is open to business owners from Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. For information, write to the chamber at P.O. Box 7878, Oxnard, Calif. 93031, or call (805) 985-3369.