Jennifer J. Parker is a woman who wears many hats. At home, she and her husband, Melvin, are busy raising three children in Buffalo’s Hamlin Park neighborhood. Typically, that’s enough to keep anyone on their toes 24/7, but for Parker, that’s just the beginning.
When it’s time to roll up her sleeves and get to work, Jennifer steps into the role of owner of Jackson Parker Communications, a local public relations firm known for developing campaigns that incorporate all types of media platforms, both traditional and social.
Additionally, Parker is founder of the Black Capital Network LLC. Her first business enterprise, she describes BCN, which opened in 2002, as a small business consulting company that provides services to support minority business development.
A 1984 graduate of the University at Buffalo School of Law, Parker is understandably proud to carry the title of business owner.
“Problem-solving and the desire to make things happen has been a driving focus in my life,” explains Parker. “Entrepreneurship and innovation are in my DNA. My father and his three brothers were expert brick masonries who built a two-state (North Carolina and South Carolina) construction firm that is now operated by the second generation of Jacksons. And of course, my grandfather, a skilled brick mason and sharecropper farmer, was very entrepreneurial. As the CEO of Jackson Parker Communications, I love what I do daily. There is never a boring moment when representing an array of clients.”
Reflecting back on her first business venture, Black Capital Network, there were, of course, many obstacles to overcome.
“When building the Black Capital Network, my target audience was African-American business owners in the Buffalo area. However, I observed that many business owners were not quite at the stage of believing they could grow sustainable businesses in Buffalo. The largest challenge was that I underestimated the number of African-Americans who had embraced the modern technology of the internet. The digital divide was an issue with a business that focused on building a digital network to promote and connect African-American businesses.”
The obstacles may have changed over the years but, nevertheless, they still exist. “Today, I would say my biggest obstacle is the ugly history of stereotypes,” she adds. “The challenge … larger companies owned by white males seeing the value of diversity and understanding that minority-owned firms are capable and talented. In other words, it’s overcoming societal stereotypes. However, anyone who truly knows me knows that I will never succumb to this obstacle.”
Parker noted that, despite the obstacles, there have also been many successes.
“I am very proud of the minority and women entrepreneur brands I have developed while working as the inclusion consultant for 43North. They include Think Big with 43North and the collaborative business competition – THE PITCH. My task was to encourage a diverse pool of applicants that were founders of minority and women-owned enterprises. In addition, I had the challenge of devising a plan to cultivate a culture of entrepreneurship among minorities and women in the Buffalo area.
“I am also proud of the brand I created for a philanthropy organization, the Communities of Giving Legacy Initiative, that I chaired for three years,” Parker adds. “To raise awareness among minorities and the Buffalo community of the importance of building an endowment to create social change, and change the lives of youth living in low-income communities of color, I developed Success Looks Like Me (SLLM).
“Success Looks Like Me is a program designed to provide urban youth of color living in low-income communities with access to successful professionals of color. Through this program, local and national leaders of color interact with youth through mentoring opportunities, panel and group discussions, tours of workplaces and college campuses, as well as one-on-one meetings.
“In 2014, I introduced the SLLM GM STEM Trip to introduce teens to an array of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers available at General Motors and to introduce them to professionals of color who share their journey and obstacles to success. Success Looks Like Me Role Model Program initiatives have been supported by the First Niagara Bank Foundation, General Motors Foundation, and General Motors Powertrain Tonawanda Engine Plant, and CGLI donors.”
Obviously, Parker’s success as a business owner is well-documented. As for advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, she shares the following:
“It’s important to know that you must be ready and willing to work hard and embrace lifelong learning to reach your goals. All business owners must visualize, plan, and execute the plan for business growth and sustainability. As a public relations consultant, I must also stress the importance of developing not only your personal brand, but your company’s brand. You must be in the business of excellence. One cannot open doors to opportunities without being able to communicate your value as a business owner and the value of your service or product.
“I am happy to witness that the entrepreneurial spirit is catching on in the Buffalo area! We now have an emerging class of business owners in diverse industries, such as commercial and residential developers, small manufacturers, and tech startups. I am in awe of the growing number of African-American millennial business owners I have witnessed at each Think Big with 43North event and other business-related events. If you interview many of these young entrepreneurs, you will find that they have either returned to Buffalo or they are new residents who heard about the business magnet Buffalo is becoming.”