By fifth grade, while living in Japan, James M. Stewart knew he would join the Air Force and fly helicopters.
But Stewart actually “fell in love with airplanes and speed” during his training, and ended up flying fighters — including F-4 Phantoms during the Vietnam War — throughout his 23-year Air Force career, before retiring as a colonel.
Growing up in Europe and Asia, Stewart did not encounter racism until he moved to the United States after high school. But after he couldn’t access resources or information from the local chamber of commerce, he founded the Black Chamber of Commerce.
Back then, he said, “minorities had no access to business resources.”
Stewart recently took time to tell CSBJ about himself and his organization.
Organization: Colorado Springs Black Chamber of Commerce
Hometown: Born in Massachusetts, but spent most of my life overseas in Japan, France and Germany. I attended 17 different schools before graduating from high school in Poitiers, France.
How long have you lived in Colorado Springs: Twenty-five years.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in aeronautical technology from Boston University and a master’s degree from the University of Southern California in systems management.
A few words about your organization: The Colorado Springs Black Chamber of Commerce was founded during 1993 to assist African-American business owners in addressing the challenges of starting or growing their business in the Pikes Peak region.
Barriers to business success then included education, networking, partnerships, finance/resource issues and leveraging talents not only of the business owner but those who also might be providing professional support.
These factors continue to be critical in business development for all communities but are especially difficult when ethnicity becomes a social and business discriminator.
The Black Chamber has worked closely with other area chambers to foster relationships, share information and ensure that our members have access to opportunities throughout the region. The Black Chamber was a founding partner in the new Pikes Peak Regional Business Partnership.
Recent accomplishments: I continue to work on behalf of the chamber with major Colorado Springs organizations to support and nurture minority business growth and development.
The chamber has assisted businesses in the Small Business Administration and state certification processes. Our presenters have been of value in helping businesses receive initial contract awards by understanding the bid and award processes.
Biggest career break/accomplishment: Organized and implemented Ronald Reagan’s presidential visit to Bitburg Air Base, Germany, which was the precursor to the removal of the Berlin Wall between East and West Germany. This event, on May 5, 1985, marked 40 years after the end of World War II.
The toughest part of your job: Keeping people focused on the value of education, participation and commitment when pursuing business and personal goals.
Someone you admire: Colin Powell overcame many barriers in both his military and civilian careers. He was an exceptional leader and public servant who worked through a very difficult part of American history.
About your family: My wife, Shirley, is a pediatric nurse practitioner and retired Air Force officer. We have no children.
Something else you’d like to accomplish: I would like to bring to market a small personal jet powered aircraft which is affordable, efficient and practical to the ordinary general aviation pilot.
How your business will change during the next decade: Technology will continue to change not only the products we use, but also how we create and market our goods and services.
There will be a change in the composition of our work force, in which education and flexibility will be essential talents.
What book are you currently reading? “Say It Plain,” by Catherine Ellis and Stephen Smith, to put some of the current distrust and high-pitched rhetoric into perspective with our changing times.
What is the one thing you would change about Colorado Springs? I would more efficiently employ our police and fire resources using existing technologies and insist that Colorado Springs be on a sound financial footing, guaranteeing the delivery of those essential services citizens have come to expect.