The Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses organization made its debut recently with a special reception at The Richard App Gallery.
The new organization was created to advocate and promote the development of black-owned businesses. Its goal is to create a firm economic base that supports urban neighborhood communities by connecting black business owners to consumers and supporters.
“There is no sustainability in African-American businesses without support of the community,” said Thomas “Tahj” Gillespie, whose company Limited Edition Development Group collaborated on the launch with GRABB CEO Jamiel Robinson.
“We have been so disenfranchised for so long by supporting every other culture or nationality, other businesses, because we haven’t had any. When we do, when people of African-American descent do take off and start a business, it’s kind of difficult for it to be successful or for it to thrive because the community doesn’t invest into it.”
The organization plans to provide African-American business owners with resources, training and exposure opportunities to help them grow and thrive in the community.
“We are going to have small business round tables where we are going to talk with other business owners and professionals,” Gillespie said. “Not just the business owners but the professionals as well are going to be a necessity because we are not the only ones that know the solutions.
“It’s about getting people to understand the need of community support first for new small entrepreneurs and businesses. If you go to any other community that starts a new business, their community supports them for them to start thriving.”
A handful of entrepreneurs and business owners were present during the launch showing off their products and services, as were several leaders from the Grand Rapids African-American community.
Artists Derrick Vito Art Hollowell, Gil Ielazhe Jariq and Jim Jackson, whose work make up the 3G Summer Pop Up exhibition currently on display at the gallery, attended the event and spoke about the importance of visibility and helping successive generations.
Jackson noted that when he first began creating artwork, he had never met a black artist, and the idea that he could become a full-time artist wasn’t even something he considered. Today, he is an acclaimed sculptor whose work has been exhibited nationally and internationally. He also is a mentor to other African-American artists starting their careers.
Jackson’s story provided a strong parallel to how African-American entrepreneurs and business owners often face the unknown with little mentorship from seasoned veterans.
GRABB hopes to elevate these stories and models of success to help others in the African-American community envision their own success and to encourage support from others as a powerful piece of that process.
Business owner Britney Collins, owner and founder of new business Allure Limousines, spoke about the successful collaborations she’s undertaken with other businesses in the Grand Rapids community and the need for more African-American business owners to find ways to work together for mutual benefit of their businesses.
Gillespie said collaboration has not historically been part of African-American business culture.
“It goes back to the crab in a bucket mentality of ‘I don’t want to help you because it might take away from what I’m doing,’ instead of allowing the collaboration to work in its best interest for each individual, because when you collaborate it’s a win-win situation,” Gillespie said. “If you don’t have the mentality that it is a win-win situation, then it’s going to be a lose-lose because no one is going to collaborate, no one is going to support, and from there you’ve got to think no businesses are going to last.
“When she spoke about the collaboration, it is so much needed. … ‘Support my business, I’ll support your business’ and we come together and we support each other’s businesses. The longer we do that, the better our businesses grow, the more that we are able to do, the more we are able to help our families, and the more we are able to help the community. Those are the hurdles. It’s the mentality you have to shift … with African-American culture more than anybody, because everybody else supports their culture and their businesses — it’s us that doesn’t.”
Gillespie noted GRABB is launching at a critical time for the African-American community.
“Jobs are being replaced, computers and technology is enhancing so there is not too much need for regular labor. The majority of us are laborers because we come from a slave mentality … and we are not getting the proper skills for the technology. We have to figure out a better way to (bridge) the economic gap. It takes those from the community to do it.”
He added, “We’ve got work to do. We can’t depend on everyone else to do what we should be doing for ourselves. … We need to have some accountability, some responsibility, and we’ve got to have some ownership. Without ownership, anything can be taken from you. … I can take your job and you can’t say anything. … That is the times we are coming to because jobs are becoming so limited. A lot of people don’t even have the qualifications or skills. We just want to provide the resources, skill sets, for those that lack it.”