BY JOHN HOWARD SHAW-WOO – FOUNDER & CEO OF NOIR BLACK CHAMBER OF COMMERCE INC.
As we Black Americans retool after a year of racial and economic unrest and a fight for equality and social justice, we are left with the realization that the “system” is not and will likely never be totally fair towards us. Therefore we must now rise up to the challenge of creating opportunities for ourselves to move Black America forward. One way to do this is by black entrepreneurs and business-minded individuals moving from a "hustle" towards establishing a true "business."
A hustle is a term that has had neutral, positive, and negative connotations, but over time it has changed and evolved within urban settings to mean working hard in the short-term for monetary gain.
From the beginning of slavery until today, Black Americans have lacked formal business and financial training on how to start, grow, and sustain a business, compared to their white brethren. In lieu of their lack of formal business education and training, Black Americans developed quasi business practices through A HUSTLE, which very few hustles have led to long-lasting growth and sustainable businesses.
A business is an organization or enterprising entity created to engaged in commercial, industrial, or professional activities to produce and sell goods and services for profit.
Because of formal business knowledge and training, white families have been afforded the opportunity to pass knowledge down from generation to generation, which has led to continuous economic growth and wealth-building that has led to white children enjoying “basic norms” of going to college without thinking about it; access to affluent corporate connections that lead to high paying careers; and easier access to financial institutions to secure business and home loans.
By moving away from creating hustles and towards developing sound businesses, black entrepreneurs and business-minded individuals will be able to outline their business concepts and long- term growth strategy through the creation of a well-thought-out business plan which lays out the who, what, why, where, when, and results that define the business concept.
Noir Black Chamber of Commerce Inc. is a vehicle by which black entrepreneurs, small businesses, and black corporate professionals from across the country can engage with, to assist them with such services. The chamber also provides it members with opportunities to collaborate within member-led consortium group to collaborate and build relationships to grow their industry. Currently, the chamber offers the following consortium groups: Black Construction & MBE Group; Black Filmmakers Group; Black R&B Music, Black Realty Group; and Black Voter Education Group. The chamber is focused on moving “Black America Forward” through innovative programming that will lead to economic and social mobility.
To contact Noir Black Chamber of Commerce Inc., visit noirbcc.org, call 1-844-NOIRBCC, or email us at [email protected]
Before ascending to her current role as the first female President and CEO of the Louisville Urban League in its 100-year history, Sadiqa Reynolds worked as Chief for Community Building in the Office of the Mayor and served as Chief Law Clerk for the late Chief Justice Robert F. Stephens, where she was the first Black woman to clerk for the Kentucky Supreme Court. She was also the first African American to serve as Inspector General for the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Prior to that, she owned and founded her own legal practice and served as District Judge for the 30th Judicial Court. Above all, she's a mother first. Her beloved children are her greatest point of pride.
Sadiqa isn't driven in her career by personal ambition as much as a calling to create and sustain a positive impact. "I want to see America be as great as I know that she can be," she says. "I know that means meeting people where they are. The Louisville Urban League is a nonpartisan organization. It's not about any sort of 'us versus them' attitude. It's simply about fairness. In so many ways, my' workday' never ends. There's no boundary for personal life in what I do; it's about myself, my family, and our shared community. There's a personal strain. It's challenging to lead a civil rights organization and continually balance the needs of a community you both serve and are also a part of."
While the killing of Breonna Taylor and other events the last several months have been traumatic and troubling for all Louisvillians who value their conscience and carry a sense of concern for social justice, Sadiqa sees a silver lining and is optimistic for our shared future. "None of these racial injustices or the ways they were handled by those in power are anomalies," she says. "I've seen it throughout my life. As a lawyer, I saw the very different way that the criminal justice system treats white people and Black people. There are so many ways we are treated differently- minimized, marginalized, our dignity desecrated. It happens every day. But for exhausting as that is for us -and it has been exhausting- it's this exposure that's new. What's new are social media and cell-phone cameras. What’s new is how clearly we have seen things play out before the public eye. We recognize very clearly that there have always been good white people who mean well and want to help, and those people lend their voices. Going back to and before the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, standing up against inequality has always been about picking the battles you have the strength and resources to fight, and we have more, now. I feel like now that we're addressing some of these problems head-on, we can finally start to see progress together. I am going to see this city changed. Black people will have access to bank loans because I pushed for ten million dollars to finish the sports and learning complex. I know that my ability to secure forty-three million dollars in less than two years has inspired other leaders to push harder. We will create more affordable housing in Louisville and ensure that those who have been bent by bad policy will not be pushed out as their city grows and changes. In a nutshell, I have found the thing I'm willing to die doing and it is the thing I was born to do."
As President of HJI Supply Chain Solutions and as a Community Advocate, Condrad Daniels is working to build a better future through leadership and pushing the community to be a better version of itself. HJI is one of the few scalable Black-owned entities here in Louisville. They hold a Minority Business Enterprise certification and were founded on ideals of philanthropy. “The founders of this company held ambitions for fighting the good fight, even if it was somewhat under the radar,” Condrad says. “We’re a second-generation company trying to ensure that there will be a third generation. The loss of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery, among others, has pushed us out of our comfort zone. There’s great sorrow about the lack of justice, but what we all witnessed and continue to see allows us to push for a kind of transformational equity.”
HJI has pledged not just to give aid to minority-owned businesses but also to create opportunities for community activists to connect with the world of commerce and amplify their voices. “Grassroot, nonprofit leaders who live and breathe this every day don’t get the platform they need, and we need them to give their perspective in order to grow,” says Condrad. “One thing I know for certain is that if the business community wants something to get done, it gets done. I hope that they have an appetite for affecting the kind of change we need. We can turn tragedy into an opportunity to thrive and heal if we can only all make it our mission to step up together.”
Condrad hopes to bring insight, transparency, and social opportunity. “We have to ask ourselves how can we reserve a seat at the table for the Black entrepreneur,” he says. “Even working for a large company, people of color too often struggle with not feeling that they have a place. There’s often a pressure to assimilate or leave a job. There’s nothing like a feeling of belonging. What would Louisville feel like if it became so deliberately inclusive that other cities wanted to do the same? It’s one thing to talk about this, but another to put it in action. This will take courage. I’m excited and encouraged about trying to do this. I hope we normalize a better way. “
Towards this end, Condrad has made time to partner with the GLI Business Council to create a Black Equity Pledge, establishing formal training as well as inclusion, mentoring, and retention programs for local companies to commit to making a difference. He’s driven to make it work. “If nothing changes, my generation will hold the blame,” he says. “I hope that we can look back in ten or twenty years and be proud of what we did.”
"I want to demystify the belief that Black men are monolithic," says Aaron Jordan. "I want to show and share the diversity that we have within ourselves." Aaron is a forward-thinking musician, activist, and entrepreneur, devoting his creativity to making a change for the better in Louisville. He's the CEO of Recording Arts and Science Bootcamp (RASB), devoted to teaching scholars not just how to make music but also to be their own best advocate in its publishing, copyright, and distribution, a matter that has long plagued Black artists who lost the lucrative rights to their own work.
Music has always been of tremendous importance to Aaron; it's part of a family tradition. He can trace his musical origins back to an early enthusiasm. "My grandma was a pianist at St. Jude Missionary Baptist Church located in Nulu, formerly the Clarksdale Housing Projects," he recalls. "I would play drums along with her. I've always been interested not just in music but in the process behind it. There's a relationship between business and creativity, and understanding the keys to that can make a big difference, especially for Black folks who are just starting in the industry."
Aaron is a proud part of GEDDI and gives high marks to Tawana Bain. "It's very exciting to see a Black woman doing the work, and it feels good to stand behind her," he says. "It's long overdue." He's the founder and CEO of Black Complex, the vanguard for innovative new concepts in urban planning, politics, community engagement, programming, tech, professional training, and the development of business leaders. It's a collaborative effort and business incubator creating a vital space to create. Investors in the idea include Gill and Augusta Holland. With this initiative, Aaron aims to create a sustainable business model providing intuitive programming and resources, building a stronger community around entrepreneurs and creatives. "We are proud to announce our first partnership," he says. "It's with Microsoft and Louisville Future of Work Initiative, providing programs to Louisville residents to build valuable skills in data analytics, digital marketing, software engineering, and user experience design. Be on the lookout for our rollout of new events; Meetings, Beats and Mimosas, as well as Black Business and Bourbon."
February 16, 2021, marks the first birthday of local community activist Travis "Cairo" Nagdy since his tragic murder on November 23, 2020. Travis was a friend to Aaron, and Aaron calls on all of us to make sure that his life continues to be important and mean something. "It's in that same spirit of Muhammad Ali that we continue to try to inspire," he says. "I want to do all I can. I have a real love for people, a desire to keep fighting for liberation, and I'm willing to sacrifice. I challenge everyone to step up and do something. Now is when we must engage more than ever. It's time to get people together. There's so much more to be done. It's time to get up and go to work."
To invest or donate to Black Complex and to sign up to receive a monthly newsletter, please visit geddi.org/the-black-complex.
Nikki Lanier grew up in Hampton, Virginia, as the only child of parents “steeped in the civil rights movement.”
Her father is from Cincinnati, Ohio but was involved in the movement as a college student while attending Philander Smith College. Her mother, though from Marietta, Georgia, became immersed in the movement while working in Montgomery, Alabama. “So I’ve been fairly anchored to civil rights my whole life,” says Nikki. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Hampton University and then graduated from the University of Miami School of Law.
“Attending a historically Black college gave me a sense of pride and understanding of what it means to be Black. The environment was rich with exposure to well-rounded, well-traveled, well-read, proud, confident, and brilliant black people.” After law school, I felt a duty to represent the full potency of my intellect and cultural pride. Motivated by my desire to right the wrongs of racism, sexism, bias, and discrimination, I began my career in labor and unemployment law in Boca Raton, Florida. The progression of the first ten years of my resumé was once described as ‘choppy’ as I lived in different states, working for various employers. But those moves and exits were largely compelled by how I experienced “belonging” concerning my gender and race. If I experienced themes of marginalization, diminishment, stereotypes, or exclusion, I left. I have always needed to align with an employer anchored to diversity and inclusion in their behaviors, culture, and promotion choices. I didn’t want to have to mute any part of what makes me black in order to thrive in any workplace”.
Nikki has lived in Louisville for the last 17 years and has two children and three stepchildren. In her role as Senior Vice President and Regional Executive of the Louisville Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (covering metro Louisville, southern Indiana, and western Kentucky), she connects “the public, business leaders, community bankers, community development organizations, and educators—the groups representing Main Street—to the Fed.” Nikki says she is motivated in her work by righteousness. “I am firmly rooted in what is right, true, and honest, and I love exercising these values in my community work.” Nikki serves on the boards of Greater Louisville Inc., the Louisville Regional Airport Authority, the University of Louisville School of Business Board of Advisors, and is Chair of the Board of OneWest. Nikki is also a member of the LEAD360 Business Development Team, the UNCF Louisville Leadership Council, and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Nikki says she looks up to people who are true “servants,” those in service to communities and people, especially while facing incredibly difficult headwinds. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., her parents, Michelle Obama, and Jesus Christ serve as a few of her role models.
As for the future, Nikki greatly enjoys her work with the Fed, but would welcome the chance to host a talk show. “I would love to marry my background in law, human resources, community affairs, and public speaking, with my passion for equity and anti-racism in some kind of widely broadcast opportunity. Regarding U.S. race relations, “I hope race will eventually become a non-existent factor in the tapestry of the American experience. We need to use this last year as a catalyst for a new normal where we advance equity and address reparations to pour un-fettered resources into Black hopes and dreams. We need to stop saying we don’t see color. Not only is that untrue, but it is also unhelpful. It prohibits us from doing the work that equity requires.” Nikki sees Black History Month as an opportunity “to rededicate ourselves to learning about Black History, but also to see the same value in that exercise beyond February. Every day is a day to learn about the lived experience of Black Americans.”
In 2014, OneWest won a competition through the Bingham Fellows program of Leadership Louisville for $10,000 donated by UPS. The local leaders used that money to develop a nonprofit called OneWest to bring “new and vibrant commercial retail opportunity to grow and enhance businesses already operating in the West End, and to recruit more.” In 2017, OneWest’s Board of Directors searched for a new President/CEO to help direct their community’s economic development. Evon Smith filled the bill with over 25 years of experience in banking, finance, community development, commercial lending, and as a mortgage specialist.
Evon’s family moved from Springfield, Massachusetts, to Duplin County, North Carolina, when she was a child. She attended Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Executive Leadership Training with Harvard University in 2007 and Duke University in 2009. Initially, One West conducted research into community spending and how far West End families had to travel for the goods and services they needed. They discovered that 60% of $475 million was leaking from the community due to a lack of infrastructure. “Parcels of land needed to be remediated environmentally, and existing structures were undervalued and under-maintained.” The four pillars of OneWest are building capacity, advocacy, community engagement outreach, and community and economic development.
Evon says she is motivated in her work by young people and women of all races. “We are working very hard to ensure that they have multiple career choices and opportunities. I am hoping women of color don’t see limitations for themselves and will dispel myths about what constitutes their value.” In turn, she seeks to inspire others in her role as a mother and be an example to her two daughters and granddaughter. “I am authentic and represent myself to be approachable. I strive to be a servant leader and to enjoy what I do so that joy becomes infectious.”
“I am on a mission to bring about meaningful change to communities in the West End,” says Evon, “to serve in a higher capacity that is not our vision but what the community desires. I want to bring resources and people together in a collective manner for the good of the whole and strategies to sustain ideas across the racial divide.” Evon also feels a personal responsibility “to avail myself to young women and build an alliance of like-minded women to provide each other with resources and assistance.”
Evon speaks to the need for “initiatives of wealth creation and equity in communities of color to positively impact the city. We should cease to see these as handouts but instead as investments with a great rate of return for the entire city. We invite people to come to the table with difficult conversations. We are seeking to be a place people can bring their authentic selves for bridge-building. Continue to work with us to change the inequities of the past.”
For more information, visit www.onewest.org and follow @OneWestLouisville on Facebook.
Long time readers of TOPS will quickly recognize Tawana Bain. An entrepreneur who is always on the go, she’s a business owner and project manager who continually makes big ideas into big things. After Breonna Taylor’s death and its impact on the city she loves, Tawana put everything on the back burner and devoted herself to making a difference. “The spiritual toll it would take to turn a blind eye just wasn’t worth it. I don’t have the ability to function that way,” she says. “It’s a time to take a step back and lean in with the community, to make sure that our city is being accountable and creates a sense of transparency. Like in any broken relationship, you can never get closure unless hurt is acknowledged. Once we effectively do that, together we can change the trajectory of the future.”
Like any Black person in America, Tawana has experienced systemic racism on a first-hand basis, as has her family. It leaves a scar on a soul. In a moment several years back when her son, Tyshawn, was innocently troubled and in desperate need of comfort and guidance, an all-white LMPD squad acted correctly and helped him to receive the assistance that he needed. However, Tawana was left to wonder how things might have transpired with just a small switch in circumstances. “I believe that my zip code saved his life,” she reflects. “If he were elsewhere, things might have escalated, and he could have become a statistic.”
As an effort to help build a better community, Tawana started the Global Economic Diversity Development Initiative (GEDDI). It’s a 501(c) with the mission of building economic wealth for the Black community through workforce opportunities, economic empowerment, supply chain opportunities, leadership, and the development of business acceleration. “GEDDI is not a want, it’s a necessity,” Tawana says. “Along with GLI, we’re creating a scorecard for community level and corporate level businesses to help them to measure progress through the lens of black people, as well as raising money through licensing to fund our endowment- the Remediation of Injustices fund (ROI). GEDDI will need to be creative about building wealth because the reality is that history has shown that people don’t leave large sums of their wealth to combat racism, and even when they begin, it becomes paternalized. I want to ensure that those who request funds have people with their shared life experience in control, providing a healthier assessment of how it’s doled out. Towards that end, we’ve created a program called Equity Vested. It’s a tool designed to assess an organization’s racial equity efforts annually and connect them with experts who can assist where it’s needed.”
With this tool, Tawana plans to help build a better tomorrow. “We are committed to gaining a comprehensive perspective into social factors that are a barrier to individuals attaining their fullest human potential,” she says. “We’re also conducting a Social Determinants Assessment to understand the broad needs of our communities. We listen to better understand their needs and make the best decisions in offering strategies. We invite the community to get involved with the rollout of this program, which we plan to launch during the week of the next Kentucky Derby.”
Dr. Beverly Gaines has run her pediatric practice, Beverly M. Gaines, MD & Associates, PSC, in Louisville since 1984. She has served in many local, state, and national professional leadership positions, including the executive board of the National Medical Association (NMA), where she was appointed Chair of the Finance Committee and elected as national Vice-President. Dr. Gaines joined Leadership Louisville in 1987 and has also served as Vice-Chair and Vice-President of the Jefferson County Medical Society (now known as Greater Louisville Medical Society). Additionally, she was the only provider appointed by Governor Brereton C. Jones to serve on the independent five-member Kentucky Health Policy Board created by HB 250. She organized an African-American Health Jamboree in Louisville to address racial disparities in health care and has received numerous professional and community awards and honors. “I feel very supported here in Louisville and Kentucky.”
Dr. Gaines’ long-established practice grew quickly after opening. However, her lack of the business acumen to run a practice caused early financial difficulties in the beginning. Her generous nature led her to allow patient families to delay payment if they struggled to pay their fees. Eventually, she hired a practice management consultant that worked with her for two years to “get a handle on how to run the business.” Since then, her practice has grown and thrived, now one of the largest, independently-owned private practices in Louisville.
Dr. Gaines attributes the practice’s success to patient and staff diversity, staying centrally located and accessible, as well as an uncompromising standard to providing excellent care. “I have seen patients from 13-year-old mothers to state senators, doctors, and dentists. Our patients are racially, ethnically, and economically diverse. “I have seen patients from all walks of life, and I love and treat everyone the same.” The practice is now seeing its third generation of patients and offers to retain them until the age of 21 to “bridge the gap” between pediatrics and general practitioners.
Dr. Gaines is originally from Columbus, Ohio, moved to Kentucky for medical school, and never left. She has two children who are both involved with the practice. Her son is responsible for practice administration, while her daughter serves as clinical manager and is studying to be an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN). After three episodes of cancer, Dr. Gaines has worked part-time since 2006 in a primarily administrative role.
Dr. Gaines says she entered medical school when they were seeking more diversity in their classes. She never let her identity as a Black woman limit her opportunities. “I worked so hard to be a good doctor and a good citizen so that others felt confident in me. You can’t affect change from the sidelines.” Dr. Gaines is still motivated by “the pursuit of excellence” and having her “heart in the right place.” In turn, she strives to be a role model for her patients through participation in the community. “I derive my living from the community, so I feel compelled to give back. I have been blessed.”
Dr. Gaines’s practice now employs three additional providers and 17 staff members in her Highlands office. For more information, visit www.gainesandassociates.com