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Cleveland Black History Month: A Salute to Black Business

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At noon on Wednesday, February 8th, we went to the Rotunda at Cleveland City Hall for a City of Cleveland Black History Month program titled "A Salute to Black Business" which featured a panel discussion amongst four very successful entrepreneurs/businesspersons who were Ms. Gwen Jackson of "Handmaiden by Gwen J" which puts forth a line of beautiful handbags and clothing; Ms. Chandra Ford-White, President/Founding Artistic Director of the "Cleveland Inner City Ballet"; Mr. Alton Tinker, Founder of the "Society of Urban Professionals" or SOUP as well as the Chairman of the Board of the "Cleveland Urban Film Festival"; and Ms. Kim Thomas who has worked in the beauty industry for 30 years and is the President of the "Christopher Almira Studio.

This discussion was moderated by Ms. Sharon Evans, Manager of Marketing, Sales, and Events for the City of Cleveland and organized by Ms. Esha Hand of the Economic Development Office. 

In the course of the conversation, the participants were asked to suggest tactics that budding entrepreneurs could make use of. Among their suggestions were to work smarter not harder, adopt very effective networking strategy, thoroughly familiarize oneself about her/his chosen industry of choice, find a mentor that one is compatible with, make use of resources that can be found at local colleges to help create and promote a business.

Certainly the subject of choosing the right business plan came up and Ms. Ford-White said that she believed that the most important thing was to get one's "morals, goals, and values" straight and then it was possible to plug into any plan available.

Ms. Jackson spoke about how she has found success by tabling at all venues possible and wearing the clothes that she designed as much as possible; she even designed a pair of boots that could be worn in winter instead of her trademark sandals.  

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Mr. Tinker considered himself a "social entrepreneur" who was using business to help to bring about social change and promote inclusivity. He spoke about how he was born in Jamaica where he lived until he immigrated to the United States when he was 12 years old and made it a lifelong goal to be a force for good in his community and how rewarding this has been for him.

All of the panelists agreed that the most important element of success was to really love the career that one has chosen. Ms. Thomas said that if one has passion about her/his work then it won't seem like work because one's heart will be singing. She, herself, has always had an attraction to the beauty industry-in fact she starting braiding hair for her acquaintances when she was in high school (if not before) and charged $5 a head! Based upon our own experience, we feel that she was exactly right when she noted that when one consistently chooses a particular place to get a service done (i.e. a haircut) it is not because of the service itself but because it is a good experience obtaining the service.

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In addition to the panel discussion, there was a free lunch provided by a prominent local company although we preferred the veggie tacos created just for us by Ms. Erin Conroy, Office Manager of the Economic Development Office, who was selling them as part of a fundraising effort for United Way.

There were also several vendors in the Rotunda selling their wares including Mr. Rico Baker of "Ricochele Imports" who was selling African walking sticks and "authentic handcrafted African Art" imported from such countries as Senegal and Cameroon. As an accomplished artist, Mr. Baker was also selling several of his own very colorful paintings. He impressed us as being a very spiritual man when explained that the act of creating his art was a kind of therapy and a way of relaxing.

By all counts, it seemed to us that Mr. Baker was already doing the very thing that the panel was advising people to do which is to find one's passion and run with it.

By:

Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC.

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