By Karen Stokes
On Thursday, May 26, Wisconsin Democrats (Wisdems) hosted a Black -owned small business roundtable event at Sam’s Place, 3338 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Dr. Their goal, to connect with Black entrepreneurs, create networking opportunities and have conversations about the struggles and successes of being a Black business owner.
According to U.S. Census data, African Americans own 12.3 percent of all small businesses in the greater Milwaukee area.
“What I am hoping to get from this event is to showcase the Black businesses that we have in Milwaukee,” said Emire Sewell, Black Coalitions Manager, Wisdems.
Moderating the panel of business owners was County Executive, David Crowley.
“I want to pay attention to what is happening on the ground and figure out how we can better support minority owned businesses,” Crowley said.
The panel, led by Black business owners from around the Milwaukee area, included Ashley Valentine, founder of Rooted MKE, Alan Goodman, owner, A Goodman’s Desserts, Rosha Brister, founder of Style Pop Cafe and Nadiyah Johnson, CEO of Jet Constellations.
Throughout their conversations they shared their perspectives and experiences, discussing different aspects of starting and maintaining a small business in Milwaukee.
One of the questions asked was what are some of the difficulties in starting your business?
Johnson shared, “Being in a male dominated space comes with these organic barriers. Once a white guy came up to me and said, Black people are not interested in tech. I told him that wasn’t true. I also was once told by a boss that he didn’t want me on a stage giving a speech until I tamed my hair. I learned then that there needs to be a change in tech.”
Goodman spoke on capital, “I would say one of my biggest challenges was capital. So already Black and Brown folks are so far behind as far as wealth. We shouldn’t always have to depend on loans. There are funds that are coming from Black banks. The new infrastructure bill should have some funds coming for black and brown businesses.”
The discussion featured questions concerning what the city, county and state can do to help minority owned businesses.
Brister replied, “We would need the city, county and state to keep us top of mind. Just do the research, look to see what Black businesses are out there to see who can we support. If you’re looking to get coffee, think about Style Pop Cafe. MKE Black has a ton of Black businesses listed on it. Just keep Black businesses top of mind.”
At one point an audience member asked “How do you feel comfortable taking a risk to start your business?
Valentine shared her thoughts, “If you’re scared about losing your income, you need to pause, it’s not the time. You always need a steady stream of income. Being a struggling entrepreneur, sleeping on couches, figuring out how I’m going to pay my bills is not good. First you need good credit if you’re going to need to borrow any money. Keeping your stream of income until you get to the point where you make more money not going to work while you do your business, that’s a good place to be. As long as you can do it as a side hustle, maintain that until your side hustle makes more than what you’re doing during the day.”
There is a need for resources in order for Black people to start and continue their businesses to build wealth in the community.
Crowley added that Governor Evers has supported many small businesses in Wisconsin but particularly he supported many minority businesses. He has done this through different grants. Fifty million dollars from a $86 million grant went to the Chamber of Commerce that directly support minority owned businesses.
Sam Belton, owner of Sam’s Place alongside with his wife Lazonnie, have years of experience in business and shared some nuggets of wisdom with the audience.
“There’s a big difference between being a business owner and an entrepreneur and the difference is passion. The passion keeps you moving forward. It’s a learning experience through failure, you can’t be afraid to fail. An entrepreneur has a business but has the passion to move forward,” Lazonnie said.
“In starting my business I had to do research,” Sam added. “You have the passion but you have to do your homework. It took a long time to get here, there was failure, being denied loans, doors closed, doors opened, I am now probably the only Black coffee roaster in the state. I support Black owned businesses. If you have a storefront, I will come to your business, support it and encourage you.”
“Throughout this event it was a learning journey for me,” Sewell said. “A journey of the different businesses in Milwaukee and how they all work in conjunction with each other.”