John Bible

By Susan Bean Aycock

President/CEO, Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce

He’s a man with a mission that’s both personal and community-driven. President and CEO of the Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce, John Bible is a soft-spoken man who speaks volumes with his actions. That involves tirelessly advocating for small businesses — particularly Black-owned ones — and creating resources for them to succeed, all over central Texas but especially in the Chamber’s home neighborhood of East Waco.

Assertive but not overbearing, John Bible keeps a firm hand on the organization’s steering wheel, guiding it towards increased equity in business opportunities, racial and gender parity and community leadership. He’s a small business owner himself, pastor of a local church and family man who is also a community leader with all eyes upon him — a role that he actually relishes.

Wacoan writer Susan Bean Aycock sat down with Bible recently to talk about East Waco past and present, the Chamber’s role in growing and keeping local businesses and how change will really happen.

WACOAN: How did you get started in the Cen-Tex African American Chamber and how long have you been president?

Bible: Former Chamber president Laveda Brown heard me speak at a luncheon where I was doing a financial planning presentation, and asked me afterwards if I’d be interested in becoming a board member to share my expertise in helping to build community. I started as a board member with the Chamber in 2008. Over the next decade, I served as treasurer and chairman, and in May of 2019, I became president and CEO.

WACOAN: Tell me about the career path that led you here.

Bible: At first, I wanted to be a lawyer, but then got my degree in finance and found that it suited me. I became a financial advisor at a financial firm in Waco, which was back then called PaineWebber and is now UBS. After three years in the financial field, I decided to become a teacher and coach. I taught fifth grade in the Chilton ISD, and coached seventh-grade girls’ volleyball, basketball and track and field. After three years of teaching, I went back to financial planning and was an advisor for AIG and New York Life for 15 years. In 2018, I started my own RIA [Registered Investment Agency], Bible & Sovereign Partners, LLC. It’s great being both a business owner and president of a Chamber of Commerce, because it gives me insight into what business ownership entails and what business owners endure daily.

WACOAN: How does your career experience play into your role as the Chamber president?

Bible: A financial advisor has to talk about personal and sensitive issues, and having that experience has made it easy for me to speak in front of people and know how to deal with people who are different from myself. My experience as a teacher also helped to shape me. In your twenties, you don’t know what you really want and what you really love. When I graduated from college, I tried teaching and coaching — I love sports and I played basketball in high school. Although I loved teaching, I still had a passion for finance and still wanted to figure that into my career. When I became a financial advisor, I assisted teaching professionals for grades K-12 and higher education in planning for their retirements. I still shake my head and marvel at how that came together. I’ve been a part of helping people to achieve their personal financial goals ever since.

WACOAN: Where did you grow up and go to school?

Bible: I’m a Wacoan and have lived here all my life — attended and graduated from University High School, went to MCC for two years, and transferred to Baylor University, graduating with a BBA in finance in 1999. I grew up in a family-oriented household that was spiritual and hardworking. Those are necessary characteristics to serve and advocate for community and businesses, as is faith that your hard work and resilience will overcome any obstacle. Most of my family is all still here, though the father who raised me passed a couple of years ago: my grandmother, mother, sisters and many cousins all are here. We have huge family events and holiday celebrations, and that supportive environment is hard to leave. I truly believe that outside of God, if you don’t have family, you don’t have much at all.

WACOAN: Tell me more about your family — extended to nuclear.

Bible: My family is also from Waco. I have two sisters; I’m the middle child and the only boy in the family. But I also come from a large extended family where I grew up alongside cousins who were like brothers; their children refer to each of us as uncle and auntie. That’s not strange within the Black culture — everyone is like one big family. Having extended family around meant always having a support system, with people rooting for me and wanting the best for me, which was such a blessing. That support system was one of the main reasons I never left Waco.

I’ve had the amazing privilege to raise four beautiful daughters from a first marriage; Yasmine, Hannah, Zipporah and Kezia, who all live in Houston and who are working professionals. I’ve remarried to one of the most intelligent, beautiful and talented women I’ve ever met, Saundrea, and we’re raising three boys — Shemar, Aydon and Benjamin — and a daughter, Eden. I feel so blessed to have so much love around me — there’s never a dull moment for our house.

WACOAN: What’s your leadership style?

Bible: I was always self-motivated and ambitious, and wanted to be the first to accomplish things. My mother graduated from Baylor and was a driving force for me to go there. Being able to work independently is a good trait, but I never want to be so independent that I forget to care about people and their concerns. I didn’t get to where I am today all by myself, but through the support of my family and others who showed concern for my growth. It’s imperative to pay that forward and give that back as a role model for those around me. My leadership style is to allow others to fly, become who they are meant to be and accomplish all they’re capable of. I’m not a micromanager. I want the people around me empowered and confident in using the skills they’re gifted with. I love seeing people grow into their better selves.

WACOAN: The Cen-Tex African American Chamber has come full circle, back to its original location on Elm Avenue in East Waco, right?

Bible: We had been temporarily in a small building on the historic Paul Quinn College campus. The first of May this year marked a great day when we moved back to the Chamber’s original home at 715 Elm Avenue, once the [Eastern] Waco Development Corporation Building. That address was the birthplace of the African American Chamber and provided [a] meeting space for residents and organizations throughout the community for many years. Now we can begin working on our vision to renovate nearly 15,000 square feet of space to build out a resource hub with the Center of Business Excellence, Esther’s Closet boutique and workforce development programs.

WACOAN: How is the Chamber forging relationships in the business community?

Bible: Laveda Brown, my predecessor, became the chamber president in 2008 and had a hand in restoring and creating much of the foundation the Chamber is building on today. The Center of Business Excellence, as well as the Esther’s Closet program, began during her tenure as president of the Chamber.

The Chamber has had its hand in many community programs to help small businesses. One of the most important things is that major businesses like our local banks; educational institutions such as Baylor, MCC and TSTC; and major corporations such as Magnolia all need to know our passion and vision. Everyone in the community has a responsibility to do all we can to make sure that people and small businesses here can grow the economy even more. We’re actively working on expanding our Center for Business Excellence program to create a hub where people can access necessary resources without going outside their community. That includes networking, training, small conferences, workforce development opportunities, digital marketing, office and meeting space and more. We want to see the East Waco community be vibrant again, and to have people on both sides of the river have a reason to come to East Waco. We’re hoping to have this small business and community development center completed by the end of 2024.

WACOAN: Can you elaborate on some of the specific programs the Chamber supports?

Bible: One is the ‘We All Win’ program, overseen by the city, which gives out small grants to small local businesses through the federal American Rescue Plan; it was initiated by the Chamber along with the East Waco Business League. Since it began in November 2022, it’s given away more than $3 million to local small businesses. During Covid, the Chamber created the Cen-Tex Minority Business Equity Fund to sustain businesses during the unique challenges of lockdown. That fund created by the Chamber received donations from community businesses and individuals, with money given out to a business for hardships suffered in the pandemic. It was started in December of 2020, and has granted more than $175,000 to minority businesses for emergency operations.

Esther’s Closet, started in 2014, is a self-sufficiency program to help women get back into the workforce with free business attire, workforce development skills and career pathways. We connect with community partners to ensure that under- or unemployed women have access to career opportunities to ensure their economic success.

In 2019, the Chamber started a program for businesses called Small Biz in Sports — small businesses don’t have the funds to advertise at major sporting events like Baylor football games. We’re getting big corporate businesses to help sponsor small businesses to have a presence at these events. For example, Allen Samuels Dodge dealership sponsored three small local businesses last year for this program.

The Chamber is involved in preserving our physical community, too. I’ve been to several meetings on the proposed restoration of William Decker Hall on the old Paul Quinn College campus, to make sure we’re part of the process to restore the historical building and help weigh in on how it will be used in the community.

WACOAN: How are you all involved in community events?

Bible: One of our major annual events is sponsoring and putting on the annual Juneteenth parade, which has become one of the largest in central Texas. I remember when there was only a handful of people in the parade and just over 100 people in attendance. Now, we draw more than a thousand people participating in the parade, including community and businesses across the city, and more than a thousand spectators. It’s become a multi-cultural celebration within the whole community, not only significant for Black people celebrating independence from slavery, but also recognizing the need for equality for all.

We supported the first Waco Harambee Revive event in mid-September this year, though we weren’t the creating organization behind it. It’s important for us to find time outside our own programs and events to support our partners and neighborhood associations, who are doing great work in community engagement and preserving our culture. [Author’s note: ‘Harambee’ in the Swahili language means ‘all pull together,’ the concept of valuing community above the individual. The phrase came to prominence during the African nation of Kenya’s fight for independence in 1962. Waco’s first Harambee celebration in September was initiated by the North East Riverside Neighborhood Association to revive the internationally-known cultural event and included vendors, food, live music and performances, and resources to network and volunteer within the community.]

WACOAN: What resources does East Waco still need for its population and small businesses to thrive?

Bible: Most people know that East Waco is predominantly Black and has been underserved for many years. The household median income is less than $25,000 a year. There are so many gaps and disparities that exist within the community: we still lack a grocery store, hospital, viable schools and large job manufacturers, key factors that contribute to growth and prosperity in any community. Just recently, after over a 100-year drought, a financial institution was finally established in the community, TFNB Your Bank For Life. The community is seeing change all around them, but if it doesn’t include the people and businesses who the change was intended for, it’s not really successful revitalization. We’re at the heart of trying to bring about positive equitable change and development to East Waco.

There are so many pillars and community leaders here who have been in business well over 50 years, like Miss Marilyn’s Gift Gallery and the Jockey Club Barber Shop. These long-established businesses encourage others to bring their businesses to the heart of East Waco, and even start their own business. We need more financial institutions and professionals like lawyers, doctors and accountants so that people don’t have to go far to get the services, expertise and resources they need. The Chamber plays a huge part in building up the business community economically and providing access to these resources.

WACOAN: What has surprised you most about your role as Chamber president?

Bible: That it can be very political sometimes. I didn’t understand at first how political civic and community service could be, and how carefully you have to tread not to get stuck in the middle of it. The Chamber doesn’t get into politics with respect to voting, but we seek to build a working and business relationship with our local leaders and politicians because legislation is important. Laws affect business owners and the people that we advocate for.

WACOAN: What do you think are some of the Chamber’s biggest challenges ahead?

Bible: Building a network of small businesses, especially Black-owned businesses, to pull together and benefit from the programs and resources we’re working to establish. It’s challenging to grow under-served businesses within a changing economic environment where inflation, rising cost and taxes, supply chain issues and workforce deficiencies are high, within a city that is becoming more tourist-driven and gentrified.

WACOAN: For you, what is the best of the best of Waco?

Bible: The people. We have great and intelligent people who care about the success of others. Waco is the perfect size — I’m not a big city guy. If you want to enjoy a bigger city vibe, Dallas and Austin are only an hour-and-a-half away, but you don’t have all the headaches of traffic and congestion here. It’s a perfect size to be able to do community work; the people here are close-knit and it feels more like a village in that aspect. People can draw close to each other, know each other and help each other in a way they don’t in a larger city. The village means everything.

WACOAN: What do you do for fun? Do you have time to have fun?

Bible: I make time for things I enjoy. Early mornings are my times to decompress when I’m busy and need some personal space. I work out, play basketball with friends, hang out and do fun things with my family on the weekend. Late nights are my reading time; I’ve got to find time to read. I just read ‘Poverty in America’. I read every day, to keep current on economic issues, and I read and study my Bible — the King James version — to keep fit spiritually.

WACOAN: How do you keep it all together?

Bible: I’m getting better at it, but it’s still a challenge to keep a good balance between family, business and leadership. I get my family involved in community activities so I can spend time with both. I’m also a pastor of a local church, Waco Sovereign Grace Baptist. I had been an associate minister there since 2014 but became the pastor in November of 2022 after the loss of my childhood pastor and spiritual mentor. Time management is very important to me, and it’s still a learning process. I keep a calendar both in my phone and in my head — when you have to get things done, you just make things work in the time allotted. Staying consistent and on track is the key.

WACOAN: Do you feel a responsibility to serve as a role model in the community?

Bible: I’m always aware of setting a positive example. It’s good to know that eyes are on me. I’ve accepted the responsibility that I’ve been called to be a leader, so I pride myself on being the best example that I possibly can be, to inspire hope in those watching me. I enjoy the responsibility to be a role model to my own children and others, and as a Black community leader.

WACOAN: What are three words you’d use to describe yourself?

Bible: Spiritual. Selfless. Visionary.

WACOAN: Statistics show Waco demographics about equally Anglo, Hispanic and Black. What unique opportunities does that even mix present?

Bible: When you have such a good split of demographics, there becomes a real need for equity. Everything one group does affects the others; we each have different tools, resources and skills, all necessary to yield success. We need to offer each other a hand up, not a handout, and provide equal and equitable opportunities in order to be a cohesive and inclusive community. If we truly want to see what Waco can be, it will take everyone working together to make that happen. The way our city is growing, we can’t afford to ignore any community; each is important to the success of Waco, Texas. This is a fast-growing city, growing at a rapid pace: there are changes in dealing with inflation, supply chain issues, taxes . . . all that makes it a lot tougher for people to start businesses, sustain and grow them. If we don’t provide businesses with opportunities to do all three — start up their businesses, sustain them and grow them — we will ultimately lose the pillars of our community. Small businesses are the driving engine behind the Texas economy, its backbone. Those mom-and-pop shops are so important to the local economy, and we want to make sure they stay here.

WACOAN: So how does real change come about?

Bible: We have to start looking at things besides just through our own personal lens. If anything is going to change, we have to see life from other perspectives than just our own. One of the most important things I’ve had to learn is that just because I believe or think it, doesn’t make it so. I’ve learned we can accomplish way more when we put all of our thoughts and talents together.