On Monday night recently, a group of black business owners, businessmen and activists gathered at Gregory’s Soul Food in northwest Lansing. They exchanged stories. Shared business ideas. I listened to presentations from a life coach, a bodybuilder, a tour guide, and a plant store owner.
His goal was simple: black economic stability for the great Lansing.
Since last fall, Gregory’s has been the meeting place for Lansing’s Black Wall Street, a networking group aimed at building a self-sufficient black economy in the city. The group takes its name from Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Greenwood district (also known as Black Wall Street), a black business neighborhood that thrived and was burned by a white mob 100 years ago this week.
Lansing Black Wall Street co-founders Leo Brown and Ahsahki Guy started the group in November to address issues they say stem from black property ownership in Lansing, including the lack of black-run educational institutions, shops of groceries and community programs.
“We try to create an incubator in our city to build people’s businesses and use it as a networking center to achieve people’s great desire – give people a sense of hope and unify our dollar to build economy black here in Lansing, ”Guy said.
At the start of the group, Guy and Brown attempted to reproduce what was destroyed in the Tulsa massacre, which lasted from May 31 to June 1, 1921. At that time, the Greenwood district of Tulsa was the richest black community in the United States. After violence erupted over the arrest of a black man for assaulting a white woman (charges later dropped), a white mob ravaged the black neighborhood, burning businesses and firing from above into planes. private.
The crowd destroyed 35 islands, 1,250 homes and virtually every business. Experts estimate that up to 300 people died.
100 years after the riots: Entrepreneurs regain the spirit of “Black Wall Street”
The Lansing group wants to prevent something similar from happening again and be prepared the next time a world-changing event like COVID-19 exacerbates existing racial inequalities.
“We’re trying to start something so big that when COVID or any kind of tragedy happens again, we have a place where we can look for financial stability, agriculture to be able to eat, shelter so people don’t go homeless,” Brown said . “Because anything can happen.”
So far, Brown has hosted five monthly networking events, which he calls Gregory’s “think tanks.” This month’s event, May 24, focused on Tulsa’s centennial and how to network.
Joy Gleason began GLAD Tours in 2016, offering walking and cycling tours of Lansing and East Lansing. As a speaker at Monday’s event, he noted that there were more young residents learning about small business ownership.
Gleason wants to see Lansing’s Black Wall Street build black wealth organically. She sees the group as a way to help entrepreneurs “get off the track, but with the help of Black Wall Street of Lansing.”
Brown, a professional by all trades who works as an actor, designer, promoter and barber at Mo-Cuts, began organizing sporadic networking events at his home in 2014. They took over, but he didn’t have a specific action plan . dit. So he paused at meetings while perfecting his ribs in design and cosmetology and relaunching Black Wall Street with the mission of improving Lansing from the inside out.
“We’ve established a lot of genuine connections with people who are willing to help others,” Guy said. “And that’s what we want to start seeing more of, not the competition, but the people coming together to help each other collectively, because we all want Lansing to thrive.”
His next community-facing event is a 5K walk / race on June 20 at the Capitol. The race celebrates both Father’s Day and June 19, a holiday that commemorates the emancipation of enslaved people in America. The group is soliciting donations on Black Wall Street before the race.
Quesha Taquay, who consults on credit repair under the name Thriving Credit Solutions, joined Lansing’s Black Wall Street to help turn her city into a black business hub. He said Monday that while there are barriers to getting wealth for black Lansing residents, the pandemic and a greater focus on racial equity have encouraged many to take action.
“People (have been) challenged a lot during the pandemic. There have been so many blessings and (so much) heartache,” Taquay said. “(But for those who have persevered, it is the right time to get some movement going.”
He added that not everyone who attends a Black Wall Street think tank should be an entrepreneur or activist. In Monday’s session, she heard a recent college student express gratitude to others for sharing their ideas and building each other up. For him, it was a networking event: a way to meet and connect with people with similar affections.
The next step on Lansing’s Black Wall Street is a “everyone teaches one” program, in which established business owners will partner with young people to mentor the entry of different industries.
The program, Guy said, will allow older business owners to pass on the wisdom gained to young blacks, such as devising a business plan, raising funds and getting a loan. Guy also hopes to lead extracurricular programs on gardening and food cultivation to focus young people’s minds on “positive things,” he said.
As for Lansing’s Black Wall Street, the sky is the limit.
“That’s the beginning, and they’re in the phase where they need the community to rise,” Gleason said. “My hope is that they don’t run out of steam and move on; they stay focused and make gentrification in the city done by black businessmen and not other elites.”
Contact journalist Krystal Nurse at (517) 267-1344 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @KrystalRNurse.