This post is a call-to-action for melanin-rich people across the globe, in an effort to truly support one another as we charter new territories as business owners, wealth-builders, and legacy-minded people.
As a child, my most vivid memory of Black History Month was celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy of being a pastor from Atlanta, with big dreams. I recall learning about Rosa Parks and how she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger— which led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. I remember learning about Harriet Tubman, and her bold attempt to free slaves through the Underground Railroad. I even recall learning about Madame C.J. Walker, the wealthiest African-American woman of her time, and true pioneer of today’s billion dollar beauty industry. That’s what I remember about Black History Month, as a student in the public school system of Alabama the Beautiful.
As I grew into my womanhood, I noticed something very apparent— the black history in the making was nowhere near complete. In fact, there were thousands of untold stories of people around me, making history that I’d never heard of before!
During a speaker series in college, I was fortunate enough to hear a lecture from Civil Rights Activist Nikki Giovanni, and she said something that has been near and dear to me, since I heard it:
“We didn’t fight for Civil Rights and get this far for you to walk in fear. You are the integrators, we need you here to integrate.” -Nikki Giovanni
Ever since then, I realized my true purpose was to be the change I want to see in this world– as a pioneer woman and representation of what it means to be young, black, and gifted in America. Today, I’m writing this post as a call-to-action to melanin-rich people across the globe, as a guide to learn ways to be more supportive of our own.
When It Comes To Representation from Other Brands— Expect Less
In recent news, African- Americans nationwide were outraged when we saw Gucci releasing products that look like black face. And here’s my response: building your own table is GREATER THAN begging for a seat at someone else’s table. In fact, there is no better feeling in the world than to create your own brand, with a lasting impact. Seeing your dreams manifest into reality, all because of your faith, grind, and determination is something that can only be explained through experience. Don’t be upset when big brands don’t represent what you want them to, simply build your own.
Building Your Own Table > Begging For A Seat at The Table
The truth of the matter is, many Africans in America have not seen successful black people first-hand, so we downplay our natural skills and strengths. Of course if you went to college, especially an HBCU, you may be familiar with the legacy of Black Excellence. But what about everyone else? A large population of us did not attend college, nor were raised in a supportive, melanin-rich community– so how can they see our true power? As I ascended into full-time entrepreneurship, I’ve made it my business to attract like-minds. As Pastor T.D. Jakes describes it, destiny flocks together. One of my peers in business, Charis of The Dorsey Firm, introduced me to the legacy of Herman J. Russell. Charis is an Atlanta-native, and 2X HBCU graduate, so his story is very common within her network. But, it wasn’t so familiar to me.
I want to briefly shed light on one untold story in Black History that supports my theory of what it truly means to be a successful black business owner in America.
Spotlight On The Late Herman J. Russell, of Atlanta, GA
Herman J. Russell was a nationally recognized entrepreneur and philanthropist, and was a highly influential leader in Atlanta. Born in 1930, Russell lived a life committed to community development, wealth-building, and philanthropy. Russell purchased his first property while he was a sophomore in high school and leveraged the funds to pay for his tuition at Tuskegee University. Russell’s legacy is filled with notable businesses across industries, including construction, property management, communications, and sports. Today, the Herman J. Russell Sr. International Center for Entrepreneurship at GSU’s J. Mack Robinson College of Business is named in Russell’s honor.
He was also the First Black Man to be invited to become a member at Atlanta’s Premier Business Club, The Commerce Club Atlanta. As a member of The Commerce Club myself, I was so inspired to learn of his legacy and priceless contributions to society. His story is one of many untold stories of successful black business owner in America.
3 Ways To Support Black-Owned Businesses This Black History Month… And Beyond
#1 Word of Mouth Marketing
Believe it or not, the best way to market a business is still word of mouth, or as Marvin Gaye says– “I heard it through the grapevine.” Referring a friend, peer, or co-worker to a business is a great way to drive traffic to a small business owner. Think of a time where you saw a woman with a new hairstyle and you couldn’t resist asking her: “Girl, who does your hair?!” By sharing your experience as a satisfied customer, it increases brand value and may result in your hairstylist earning a new client!
As a small business owner, every penny counts. So don’t be shy about sharing your pleasant experience with a small business. Know someone trying to start a new brand, but they don’t know where to start? Encourage them to visit me on Giselle Ave.
#1 Refer a friend to their business. Word of mouth marketing is still one of the most valued ways to market and grow a business.
#2 Social Networking & Storytelling
Ahh, the digital age is upon us and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Social media is overflowing with small– and large businesses doing whatever they can to capture the attention of potential customers. There is so much money to be made on social media, but you have to actually be social about your business, in order to successfully sell and engage new customers on social media. One easy way to support a business owner is to simply share, like, or retweet their posts. You’d be surprised what (1) like will do to someone who is committed to the daily grind of entrepreneurship and building their business from the ground up. In addition to sharing content with your social networks, it’s also important for business owners to share your STORY within your social media strategy. Why are you in business? What types of problems do you solve? What are your clients saying about your business? Your story is your most unique selling point, period. We help clients find their voice, and be heard. If you need help with figuring out your brand’s story, let us know!
#2 Simply like, share, or retweet their content with your network on social media. You’d be surprised how far (1) like goes for someone who is committed to the rocky road of entrepreneurship, and building their business from the ground up.
#3 Purchase Their Products & Services
Lastly, I’ll state the obvious– INVEST IN THEIR BUSINESS! If you like their product or service offerings, invest your hard earned money into their business. Do this before you are “so happy” to see a “Black History Month Section” in big box retailers like Target, or Wal-Mart. Purchase their $30 t-shirt or $15 bronzer from their cosmetics line. But most of all– don’t ask for a discount. I’ve heard one too many stories of black business owners having to defend their prices because people who look like them are almost always looking for the hookup, or can’t afford their rates. But there is a bigger picture here, every business should have a target audience.
Dear Black-Owned Business Owner, There are TONS of customers eager to invest in your company! All you have to do is produce high-quality work, be open to serving a diverse clientele, and focus on results.
When it comes to investing in a black-owned business, here’s the catch: don’t invest out of pity, do it with purpose. If their product or service offerings aren’t for you, then revert back to tip #1 and #2. There is so many ways we can support one another, and it doesn’t always have to be about money. And do not GUILT someone into investing in your company, that’s just not cool.
#3 Purchase their products or services, but only if needed. Do it with purpose, not out of pity. If you’re not an ideal customer for their business, revert back to tip #1 and tip #2.
Show Your Support
I hope this post inspires you to learn how to creatively support a black-owned business this Black History Month. We must keep the legacy of notable historical figures in black history in mind, as well as the stories of successful black-owned businesses that have gone untold. There is so much power in ownership and supporting legacy-minded individuals.
So, how will you show your support this month and beyond? Let me know in the comments section!
Committed to helping clients find their voice and share their story,
-Belle in the City