De Asa Nichols wants to make a positive impact on race relations in Cincinnati. But you won’t see her marching in a protest or boycotting any businesses. Quite the contrary, in fact. Her approach is from the other side—support, assist and build up the businesses so they become large and powerful enough that their whispers are louder and heard more clearly than the screams of those on the street.
The business administration graduate became the executive director of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce in April. At 33, she’s the youngest person the chamber’s ever hired as its leader, but she already has the track record of a seasoned veteran in Cincinnati’s black business community—and the energy to push it to new heights.
Last January, the chamber began searching for an industrious business professional who knew the region to replace its outgoing executive director. Nichols, meanwhile, was searching for a new challenge professionally. The two seemed destined to cross.
Nichols’ career actually got its launch while she was still at Xavier. She earned an internship at Applause! magazine, and after graduating in 1992, management of the black lifestyle magazine hired her full time. She was put in charge of special pro-jects, including its prestigious Imagemaker Awards, which honors the region’s outstanding African Americans. The job introduced Nichols to many influential people in the black community—and them to her. Over the next several years, her efforts and skills brought her quite a bit of notice and recognition. She went on to garner her own Imagemaker Award in 1998 as an emerging leader; she was featured on the cover of Minority Business News USA; and was named the National Association of Women Business Owners’ 2000 Public Policy Advocate of the Year.
After leaving Applause! in 1995, she started her own public relations and promotions business while also heading the Greater Cincinnati Chamber’s minority business mentoring program. Her work caught the attention of the Lexington, Ky., chamber, which lured her away in 1999 to become its first minority business development director.
Now she’s back in Cincinnati, where she expects to expand the Greater Cincinnati African Amer-ican Chamber, which just turned 5 years old and already has 700 members. Other challenges she faces include educating people who confuse it for the NAACP or the Urban League, teaching those who question the need for a separate African Amer-ican chamber, and fighting for the area’s black-owned businesses, which still face prejudices.
“Times have changed, yes, but mindsets haven’t,” she adds. “If the Chamber and I have anything to do with it, minds are going to change. We have to advocate, agitate and aggravate to let people know that we want to be involved in the community we live in. I’m energized by the work I do because I know it will make an impact on this community for generations to come. When this region is ready to grow, expand and develop, we want to be there.”