Black business owners discuss unity

Published 10:36 pm Saturday, December 13, 2014

Describing a desire to promote unity among the African-American business community in Suffolk, a group of about two dozen black business owners gathered Thursday night for what they hope will be the first of many meetings.

Organized by Domenick Epps and Roshawn Holland and publicized on social media, the group’s first meeting at N’Dulge Eclectic Soul Cuisine included networking, self-introductions by each person in attendance and discussion about how the group can positively influence the community.

“We wanted to try to show unity in our own community,” said Holland, an event planner and television host who said the group was a response to well-publicized negative incidents across the country. “We’re hoping the positivity will overflow to the Seven Cities and to the whole region.”

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“We’re specifically trying to reach the black business community,” Epps said Thursday.

On Friday, he further addressed the exclusivity of the group.

“No one said it was exclusively to blacks. Did we market and reach out to black business owners? Yes. But we certainly would not have turned away an owner who wasn’t black from joining us. Ultimately it’s going to take a village, not a tribe, but this certainly is a good starting point,” he wrote in an email, adding “…please note that our gathering is to bring forth a solution and not further divide.”

On Thursday, Epps brought up what became a recurring theme throughout the night: the group’s aim to have a positive effect on local young people. He said many black youth feel pigeonholed into becoming athletes or entertainers.

“Those things are great, but we’re not limited to that,” Epps said, adding he hopes the group can start some sort of mentoring program. “I want (young people) to be able to look up to the business owners and say, ‘That’s who I want to be when I get older.’”

Tonya Miller, who runs a home daycare called Free to be Me and also sells gift baskets, said she believes inspiring young people is important.

“We can show them that you can start a small business if you stick with it and be persistent, but you have to start somewhere,” she said.

Danita Hayes, a real estate agent, said she hopes the group can “bond together in some way to help the community.”

She and Miller both said the networking opportunity at the first meeting was helpful.

In the discussion forum, Frazier Godfrey Jr., who owns a business selling hand-dipped strawberries called Junior Berries, characterized the local black business community as “a dog-eat-dog world.”

Bob Stephens also said it’s “very fragmented,” and added the primary reason for that is a lack of resources.

“The resources you’re able to harness collectively far exceeds anything you can do by yourself,” Stephens said, urging those in attendance to formalize the group into a business alliance or Black Chamber of Commerce.

“When you give to others and support others, it comes back to you many times over,” he added.

The group decided to make the second Wednesday of each month its regular meeting date. A time and location have not yet been announced.