HOUSTON / ATLANTA / MONROVIA

Val Thompson, Liberia Trade Mission

DENISE: Tell me a little about your background?

VAL: I was born in Houston, Texas, a native Houstonian, a rare breed today. I grew up as a teenager in the 1960s during the civil rights era. This was a time when an Anglo American could kill an African American in broad daylight and nothing would be done about it. Not the justice system nor law enforcement. You might ask why I began an interview with such a negative view of my background. The answer is as an African American of my era, and any of my contemporaries would agree, the rest of your life is seen first through those lenses. That’s not to say it should direct my life in any way, rather as any human being to know your past is to know you, and in some ways, what makes you tic. 

As a teenager, to own a business and be my own boss was within me a deep burning desire. By 19 years of age I bought an old truck and started junking old cars. I also had what most would say a very good job working for the Atlantic Richfield Co. The thought of staying on a job taking orders and working for 40 years and retiring was a horrifying notion. A few years later I couldn’t take it anymore so I left the security of a well-paying job and started a recycling company with my name sake, VALCO Recycling! It was modestly successful and I ran it for 30 years before selling the company. During those 30 years I was also involved in community empowerment. I joined the Houston Citizens Chamber of Commerce (Black chamber) and offered my leisure time to serving the African American Community rising to Executive Director before leaving and launching Houston International Trade Development Council, Inc.(HITDC) where I’ve organized many trade missions and trade forums around the world. And as you know, five years ago, launching the International Focus (iF) Magazine.

DENISE: Where do you think the best business opportunities are globally for African Americans?

VAL: That’s an easy one. First, I’ve visited many countries around the globe, and without question, the best business opportunities for African Americans are on the continent of Africa. And the best country for business opportunities for African Americans without question is the Republic of Liberia, West Africa. As you may know, Liberia was founded by freed African American slaves in 1847, however, the first settlers freed slaves was in 1822. These freed slaves in pursuit of liberty took with them an American culture which exists today. 

Liberia is an English speaking country. Their constitution is very similar to the US which allows African Americans an ease of understanding how the Liberian government functions. Liberia is mostly coastal with many development opportunities. Its people are very friendly especially with African Americans who the Liberians feel a shared kindred spirit, and frankly, we do. Also, as you know as one of our participants, members of HITDC are diligently working to establish a Sister City relationship between Houston, Texas USA and Monrovia, Liberia West Africa. With the Sister City relationship we will bring development, business opportunities, cultural exchange and goodwill to the Republic of Liberia. Two of our major projects are to help facilitate a Cultural Center for the Liberians and build a museum recognizing the freed African Americans slaves who first settled on the continent.

DENISE: Why are you certain about Liberia’s geographic piece?

VAL: The Republic of Liberia is located on the western coast of the African continent which is geographically one the closest points to any of the US coast. As I’ve mentioned it is mostly coastal with a 360 mile coastline of white sand beach, A developers paradise! A relatively small population of 4 million people most range in age from 17 to 27 and a very eager workforce.

Map of West Africa

DENISE: How did the capital of Liberia get its name?

VAL: Let’s begin with how Liberia got its name. The Republic of Liberia was founded by freed African American slaves in pursuit of liberty. Thus, the name Liberia derived from the word “liberty”. Around about 1820 the freed African American slaves who demanded liberty were enabled by the American Colonized Society, US Congress and US President James Monroe who raised 100K to assist the freed African American who wanted to return to the continent of Africa. Hence the Liberian capital city Monrovia named in honor of US President James Monroe.

DENISE: As you know, I have been on several trade missions with HITDC; does HITDC have plans to travel to Liberia and if so, when?

VAL: Yes, I’m glad you asked. We plan to organize a trade mission to Liberia mid-November 2021 …post CORONA of course. We hope to be led by an elected Texas State Senator and a Houston City Council Member making it an official visit. Hopefully our Sister City relationship will be established and we can then start planning our proposed projects. Understandably I don’t have a solid date for you, however, you will be the first to know when I do!

DENISE: Since you are planning a trip to Liberia, as Protocol Services International has done before with some of your previous mission trips, we will plan to incorporate tips on doing business in Liberia to your potential business attendees.  

VAL: Yes, trade mission participants visiting any country should learn about its business, social and political cultures to be successful.

DENISE: Val Thompson, thank you for your time.

Denise Adjei, President, Protocol Service International

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