By Stacy M. Brown (NNPA Newswire Contributor)
Alan “AP” Powell is one of the nation’s greatest unsung African-American heroes.
Powell is a member of the Phoenix Aviation Advisory Board and the chairman of the Airport Subcommittee; he believes that he’s the only African-American to currently hold that position. The board meets each month to review airport policies, make recommendations on major airport projects, concession contracts and leases.
Oftentimes, it’s Powell who’ll say ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ to a billion-dollar deal with companies like Uber or Lyft or new concession stands for one of three Arizona airports.
People that know Powell call him a “serial entrepreneur,” who has developed vital relationships with Fortune 500 companies.
“I’ve been able to turn contacts into contracts,” he said.
Born in the inner cities of Louisville, Ky., a short walk from the home of the legendary boxing champ Muhammad Ali, Powell graduated from Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Mo., to become one of the country’s foremost authorities on multicultural content and leveraging brand connections with multicultural audiences.
An independent film and music career followed and Powell quickly left his mark.
Powell brought the Dallas-based rap artists Dirty South Rydaz to the attention of executives at Universal Records and scored one of the most lucrative deals in history — a six-album, $7 million deal.
According to Powell, it was the biggest contract ever in Texas, where Powell established T-Town Music.
“I think only ‘Cash Money’ has a bigger deal,” Powell said.
While working for the powerful, Los Angeles-based management company The Firm, Inc., Powell put Korn, a popular metal band, on BET and appeared on morning shows with the Backstreet Boys.
However, despite the success, Powell said his roots kept tugging at him.
“My mother was an educator and she told me to see the world in a more diverse setting,” said Powell, who was this year’s recipient of Arizona’s Martin Luther King Jr. Award. “Growing up in an African-American neighborhood and having served in Desert Storm and having played basketball in the Army and in college, really helped to motivate me to see the world different.”
Powell continued: “I’ve seen the things that I did growing up, and I knew that I could make a difference…that the principals of giving back and trying to do the right thing were always present.”
Powell started a program in Phoenix, Ariz., schools that provides 5,000 backpacks filled with school supplies to students at the beginning of each school year. He also ensured that 5,000 inner city students would receive free haircuts.
“We wanted to make sure that they had everything they need. Our model has been to ensure that every student and every veteran get a chance to cross the finish line,” Powell said of his Checkered Flag Run Foundation, which hosts the giveaways.
The mission of Checkered Flag Run Foundation is to provide diverse educational programs that impact underserved students, Powell said, noting that one of the objectives of his foundation is to develop and invest in educational tools specific to school readiness and multiple career pathways and to increase career aspirations that drive Arizona’s workforce. He also wants to raise awareness and increase student and parent knowledge and involvement in diverse educational opportunities.
Some of Arizona’s most notable business people have lauded the Checkered Flag Run Foundation and The Bridge Forum, a partnership between police and communities, founded by Powell.
“The success of our inner cities is dependent upon education, safety and jobs. Without the healthy relationship between our communities and law enforcement, safety cannot be achieved,” said Robert Sarver, owner and managing partner of the Phoenix Suns.
E.G. “Ken” Kendrick, the owner and managing general partner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, said that The Bridge Forum is an example of an important commitment to the community—one that professional sports can embrace.
“More than 50 percent of MLB players are from various ethnic backgrounds. Anything that brings together diverse communities and police is of value. I support any program that increases understanding and safety,” Kendrick said.
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said local law enforcement agencies and local communities must work together and The Bridge Forum demonstrates that “we are all on the same team and we share the goals of ensuring public safety and equal treatment for all in our criminal justice system.”
Johnny C. Taylor, president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and forum co-host, said the chasm between certain communities and the police responsible for serving and protecting them is growing wider every day.
“If we don’t identify ways to close the gap [quickly], our most fragile communities will suffer irreparable harm,” said Taylor. “The Bridge Forum, therefore, is not a ‘nice to have’ – it is a ‘must have.’”
In bringing law enforcement and community stakeholders together, Powell said he wanted to help affect change, particularly given the recent violence in his hometown and other communities of color across the country.
“I knew I had to bring this conversation back to the city I grew up in,” said Powell. The guest list for last year’s summit included officials from the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, Louisville’s police chief, the director of public safety for DeKalb County, Ga., and the deputy police chief of Detroit, Mich.
Powell, the first African-American to own a Napa Smith Winery and Brewery, has also overseen deals between Coca-Cola and NASCAR on several emerging products that promise to create diversity channels that allow for more African-American involvement in the sport.
“Do I ever have time for myself? No. But, that’s fine,” Powell said. “My motivation and the reason I don’t get distracted is that I come from the inner city and I understand obstacles and temperament and I can see it in people’s eyes.”