The Blueprint: A Conversation with Christian Wise Smith, Esq.

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Christian Wise Smith, suthor, smiling and holding up his childrens book

By Santura Pegram

(SP) – Tell people a little about Christian Wise Smith…who you are, how it all began, and what you’ve accomplished so far in life?

(CWS) – I was born and raised in the justice system. I saw my mother get arrested several times before she lost custody of me. My Uncle Steve was sentenced to life in prison for murder. I witnessed my grandmother stripped down to her underwear and handcuffed. Ultimately, my family and I experienced several traumatic encounters with law enforcement and the justice system during my childhood. Determined to break the negative cycles of my upbringing, I was able to turn my pain and tragedy into triumph, becoming the first in my family to graduate from college, ultimately earning my Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Juris Doctor degrees. The horrors experienced during my childhood ultimately led me to devote my career to working with our youth.

(SP) – Realizing that poverty, idle time, a lack of opportunities, and peer-related pressure often entices and influences disadvantaged people of all ages (especially teenagers and young adults) to get caught up in turning to ‘street life’ for survival, how were you able to avoid such desperate measures and traps during your youth, which could have negatively affected you later in life?

(CWS) – Before finishing high school, I saw several family members and friends destroyed by murder, violence, drugs, and other crimes. At 17, I was kicked out of school. Headed down a path leading straight to a jail cell, Officer William Dean Sr., a Black police officer, took an interest in helping me to break free of the low expectations inherent in my situation. Due to his mentoring and support, I learned that I was capable of changing my path.

(SP) – Researchers have proven there is a direct link between socioeconomic disadvantaged individuals and crime. Additionally, there are those who believe that “over 90% of crime in America and around the world takes place due to economic disadvantages and the remaining percentage involves mental illness, social disagreements, and/or other miscellaneous reasons.” If those precipitating factors are true, why have more prosecutors and court systems not taken these seriously and opted to explore better strategies and proven solutions which reinforce teaching positive behavioral change and empowering people – economically, mentally, socially, and otherwise?

(CWS) – I visited the King County Prosecutor’s Office in Seattle, Washington in 2018 to study a program they created called ‘LEAD’ (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion). Instead of booking people into jail for criminal activity that stems from poverty or behavioral health needs, officers instead take people to case managers who provide crisis response, immediate psychosocial assessment, and long-term wrap-around services that include substance, disorder treatment and housing. By the time I visited the program, they’d already had hundreds of success stories where people completely turned their lives around. Instead of being trapped in the system of recidivism, they now had jobs, housing, and lived productive lives. The program has also significantly improved their community overall. Once people are off of the streets and working, employment rates and property values increase. They’ve proven that this kind of justice system can work.

Unfortunately, most prosecutors and court systems have not opted to explore better options to help people break free from the system because of money. In 1865, we saw southern states enact Black Codes to ensure that newly freed Black Americans could be sentenced to labor for crimes such as vagrancy or “poor living conditions” after slavery was abolished. Today, many states use prisoners to manufacture license plates and other products. The prison industry is a multi-billion-dollar system. Think about bail bonding companies, probation services, and corrections officers just to name a few. Most elected prosecutors are financially supported by people who benefit from the prison industry. We need to see more prosecutors elected like Larry Krasner, Rachael Rollins, Aramis Ayala, and Deborah Gonzalez, and consider the advice of experts like Dr. Brandon Mathews and Adam Foss to see significant changes in our system that will ultimately help people break free from the system and live better lives.

(SP) – Police departments across the country have long been the primary instigator of public backlash for abusive tactics by law enforcement officers, especially acts committed against minority individuals. However, most often, prosecutors and court systems throughout America have played an equal or far more destructive role by primarily pushing for greater numbers of convictions or guilty pleas, versus considering life-improving alternatives and opportunities to dismiss cases that reveal little or no evidence to warrant prosecution. How do we get more prosecutors and judges to understand the role(s) they play in shaping or destroying communities, and make better decisions in pursuing restorative justice?

(CWS) – Our justice system has been driven by a “conviction by any means necessary” approach for several decades. This approach is cruel, costly, and counter-productive. It has created a hamster wheel cycle of incarceration that has especially destroyed the Black community, communities of color, and low-income people. This approach has destroyed lives, over-crowded jails and prisons, and has done nothing to keep us safer. The way we get more prosecutors and judges to understand the roles they play in the system is by no longer voting for prosecutors and judges who aren’t willing to change things. Voters have to be more vocal about the kind of people they want leading our local justice systems.

(SP) – A growing number of professionals in the areas of law and government are beginning to embrace the ideas of “criminal justice & prosecutorial reform visionaries” such as: Larry Krasner of Philadelphia; Rachael Rollins of Suffolk County, Massachusetts; Diana Becton of Contra Costa County, California; Jonathan Rapping of Atlanta, Georgia; Professor Jody D. Armour from the USC School of Law, and Judge Bruce Morrow of Michigan. Could you share your thoughts on some of the unique concepts any of them have implemented and how you might contribute to such growing trends?

(CWS) – I respect and appreciate those folks and everyone else who is willing to acknowledge the significant issues within our justice system and do something about it. Larry Krasner made headlines when he fired 31 staff members (which included trial attorneys, supervisor-level staff, and assistant prosecutors) on his fourth day in office to honor his promise to change the culture of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. He promised to never seek the death penalty, end cash bail, and end the mass incarceration model that has plagued the justice system for entirely too long. He was recently re-elected for a second term, which makes me hopeful that more and more voters across the country will become more aware of what he and other progressives are doing and start to vote more likeminded candidates into other local offices.

(SP)– Throughout the United States, there are legal professionals and legislators who would argue that “debtor’s prisons, exploitive labor arrangements, and/or Peonage laws” no longer exist. However, if that were true, overzealous tactics such as charging parents (typically fathers or men identified as one) with a criminal offense instead of a civil one for nonpayment of child support; suspending the driver’s licenses of a parent who is unable or unwilling to pay support; branding them with unnecessary employment-dismissive criminal records; placing them on probation, and even incarcerating such people (most often only fathers) who are unable to pay a biased, expected amount to the child(ren)’s other parent (typically a mother) has been nothing short of a fruitless abuse of law practice and a gross waste of time and public resources. Fathers who find themselves in these circumstances refuse to speak out on this touchy subject for fear of being scrutinized further or mislabeled as a Deadbeat Dad as opposed to properly being recognized as a Dead Broke Dad. A 2019-2020 study in Baltimore which is often ignored, revealed an eye-opening perspective about how this “system” has continued to do more harm than good in many instances. What are your thoughts on better ways to move away from the criminalization of child support delinquency, which adversely impacts a family’s dynamics through increased poverty and the destabilizing of (father) parent-child relationships?

(CWS) – I haven’t encountered any child support cases during my legal career thus far, but I do believe that things can improve significantly to ensure that policies aren’t counterproductive. For example, suspending someone’s driver’s license and incarcerating them because of nonpayment makes it harder for that person to maintain employment. I guarantee you that nobody is using the same cell phone they used 10 years ago, but our court systems are operating the same way they did several decades ago. Technology always evolves and we adapt to it. Unfortunately, big systems that play vital roles in our everyday lives like the justice system, the education system, and the child support system don’t evolve and improve. If we valued improving these systems as much as we value advancing technology, our country would be in much better shape. The Baltimore Sun article you’re referring to (At what cost? For Baltimore’s poorest families, the child support system exacts a heavy price — and it’s hurting whole communities – Baltimore Sun) was published in March of 2020. It reveals how counterproductive the current child support system is in Maryland, and I think that article paints a pretty good picture of how bad things truly are across the country.

(SP) – In your opinion, what would/should the ideal “prosecutor’s office-court system” look like in terms of methodologies, operations, and intended outcomes?

(CWS) – Just as our culture changes and moves forward, our justice system must use innovative and commonsense solutions that respond to the issues we face today. We must rewrite history and create a paradigm shift in the justice system to value people over conviction rates. We can accomplish this if prosecutors prioritize resources on serious and violent crimes and end the revolving door model of mass incarceration by no longer using jails as ineffective and inhumane mental health treatment facilities, homeless shelters, and drug rehab centers. Diversion programs should be implemented for low-level non-violent crimes with paths to employment and educational opportunities. Prosecutors should right the wrongs of the failed war on drugs that disproportionately ruined Black and minority communities by no longer prosecuting possession of marijuana. Prior marijuana possession convictions not attached to violent crime or drug sales should be pardoned to help several people across the country obtain employment and housing opportunities.

Prosecutors should hold police officers accountable for any misconduct or abuse. Prosecutors should never take campaign money from police unions to maintain total independence and eliminate any conflicts of interest when it comes to prosecuting police. Cash bail should be eliminated because it keeps poor people detained simply because they can’t afford bail, putting them at risk of losing employment and/or housing, which eventually leads to re-offending. Every local justice system should have a Military Veteran’s court unit to get our brave men and women who suffer from psychological or substance abuse issues the proper tools they need to be productive citizens after encountering the system. Prosecutors should be transparent and accountable. Prosecutors should also partner with public school systems to do more to divert the school to prison pipeline. These things would get us on track to seeing an ideal justice system where everyone is treated equally.

(SP) – You have accomplished quite a bit in your 38-years. It’s refreshing to note that after deciding at the last minute to run for the highly coveted District Attorney position for Fulton County-Atlanta (the largest county in the state of Georgia), you went on to maximize your skill set by launching the National Social Justice Alliance. What led you to embark upon this endeavor and what do you hope it will achieve?

(CWS)The NATIONAL SOCIAL JUSTICE ALLIANCE – HOME (nsja.org) was created to bring prosecutors from across the nation together for a common effort to fix the broken American criminal justice system. NSJA believes prosecutors are the answer. Prosecutors are the gatekeepers of our local justice systems, and are responsible for holding everyone, including police officers and other prosecutors, responsible for the acts they commit. The 2020 police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the aftermath of protests for equality, justice and calls for police reform highlight the need for prosecutors to step up. Together, the gatekeepers of the system can finally end police brutality and ensure that equality and justice are the standard for everyone.

(SP) – People have been expressing their appreciation for your new children’s book, WISEUP Adventure Series: Chris & Key Go Vote! Tell those who are unfamiliar with it what was your motivation for writing it and what is the intended outcome?

Christian Wise Smith smiling dressed in suit and tie
Christian Wise Smith, Author

(CWS) – When I ran for District Attorney in 2020, I met so many people who believed their vote didn’t matter. Recognizing this as a byproduct of voter suppression, I wanted to do something to eliminate the negative thinking that people have about whether their vote can make a difference. The answer: our kids, the next generation. By teaching our kids now about the superpower of voting, they’ll grow up knowing their votes will matter one day soon. I also wanted to do more than just tell them about voting, so the book is interactive. Young readers and their parents learn the voting process in a simple way by completing a voter registration card and casting a ballot for their favorite color. Teaching kids and their parents how to vote with an interactive children’s book is a new and direct way to increase future voter participation, fight against voter suppression efforts, and encourage the normalization of a culture of consistent voting in local and national elections.

We also just launched a community outreach program through NSJA called VOTING IS A SUPERPOWER to teach children in public school systems about the voting process. Students will receive a backpack complete with supplies and most importantly a copy of the book. We also provide a pizza party for each school we visit and appreciation gift cards for the teachers and staff. If anyone would like to donate towards helping us reach our mission of teaching millions of kids across the country how to vote, please visit njsa.org and click on any of the donate buttons to make a 100% tax deductible donation.

(SP) – You’re clearly a sound decision-maker. What do you want or plan to be doing when you’re in your 50’s or 60’s?

(CWS) – I pray to be alive, healthy, and still using everything God has blessed me with to help all of us live better lives together.

Santura Pegram (santura.pegram@yahoo.com) is a freelance writer and socially conscious business consultant who has helped to advise small businesses; nonprofit organizations; city, county, and state governmental committees; elected officials; professional athletes; and school systems.

Texas News Station Hires All-Women, Black Anchors

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A local news station in Texas, has hired Black anchors who are all women

By B.E.T

Starting back on May 2, Jasmin Caldwell, Taheshah Moise and meteorologist Ashley Carter began hosting Texas Today. The weekday morning news show airs on KCEN, which is an NBC affiliate serving Temple, Waco, Killeen, and the surrounding areas.

Caldwell, who joined the station in 2017, told KCEN, “Growing up, I always saw all-white news anchors. I didn’t think that there would ever be Black newscasts. I knew there was always room for one, but I didn’t think that I would see three African Americans — male or female — permanently, all at one time. No way.”

Carter revealed how she heard the news that KCEN would hire Black women anchors, “Maybe about three weeks to a month after I decided to come here I got an email saying Jasmin is going to be joining Texas Today, which is going make the show you’re a part of all women.”

She continued, “It was pretty cool. I was like wow. It was just the icing on the cake. Not only be able to advance my career to where I wanted, but to be able to do it next to these two.”

Moise added, “I just think back to when I was a young girl and I used to watch the news with my parents and I never saw anyone who looked like me. If I did, they were outside reporting in the cold.”

Texas Today airs Monday through Friday from 4:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m.

Click here to read the full article on B.E.T.

Black female-owned supplements brand builds on partnership with The Vitamin Shoppe

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Samia Gore, CEO and Founder of Body Complete Rx

By Cision PR Newswire

Body Complete Rx (BCRX), the first Black female-owned supplement company to break significant ground in the male-dominated, nutritional supplement industry, is proud to announce it will be launching its exclusive plant-based, vegan weight management supplements at The Vitamin Shoppe on August 1st. BCRX will introduce their TRIM line in over 700 retail locations nationwide, making them the first Black female-owned brand to launch in the retailer’s weight management category.

Founded by Samia Gore in 2017, BCRX is a self-funded wellness brand which has grossed over $10 million in sales in just under 4 years. Their natural, vegan supplements, which enjoy a celebrity following, provide a range of benefits based on customers’ specific needs, including weight management and improving energy, skin health, and nutrition. Products include vegan protein powders, supplements, a Vitamin C serum, collagen-boosting powder, women and men’s multivitamins, and superfood bars.

BCRX’s launch at The Vitamin Shoppe’s brick-and-mortar retail stores follows the brand’s recent rebranding and repackaging campaign, which included the launch of five new product lines of plant-based, vegan supplements, including TRIM, THRIVE, GLOW, NOURISH and PERFORM.

BCRX’s TRIM line, designed to empower customers to “power up and slim down,” features the brand’s best-selling weight management supplements. The plant-based, clinically proven supplements will help make customers’ weight loss goals achievable by curbing their cravings, revving up their metabolism, and supercharging their energy.

The TRIM line includes:

  • Boost Metabolism Drops ($50) – Adaptogenic metabolism boosting drops made with African mango and natural herbs like rhodiola, maca and astragalus.
  • Control Appetite Suppressant Capsules ($40) – All-natural appetite suppressant capsules.
  • Renew Energy Drops ($40) – Energy drops made with Riboflavin, Niacin and Vitamin B12.

BCRX’s partnership with The Vitamin Shoppe reflects the ever-growing position of the company within the wellness market.

“We are so excited to be launching at one of the top retailers of nutritional supplements in the country because it’s a true testament to the efficacy of our brand and products,” explains Samia Gore, founder and CEO of Body Complete Rx. “As the first and only Black female-owned brand in The Vitamin Shoppe’s weight management category, I am excited to make these wellness products more accessible to customers across the country and support their journey towards wellbeing.”

Click here to read the full article on Cision PR Newswire.

‘Sex Education’ actor Ncuti Gatwa will be the first Black lead in ‘Doctor Who’

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Actor Ncuti Gatwa at the premiere of the second season of the Netflix series Sex Education. Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images

By , NPR

Actor Ncuti Gatwa will play the role of The Doctor in the show Doctor Who, the BBC announced Sunday, in a historic casting selection that marks the first time a Black person has been cast to star in the show’s central role full-time.

The 29-year-old Gatwa, best known for his work in the Netflix series Sex Education, is also among the youngest Doctors yet.

“There aren’t quite the words to describe how I’m feeling. A mix of deeply honoured, beyond excited and of course a little bit scared,” Gatwa said in a press release. “Unlike the Doctor, I may only have one heart but I am giving it all to this show.”

Gatwa was born in Rwanda and raised in Scotland. He began his professional acting career eight years ago after graduating from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, one of the world’s top performing arts schools.

In Netflix’s warm-hearted series Sex Education, Gatwa plays the vibrant Eric Effiong, a gay high school student.

As a gay Black teen who is the best friend of the show’s main character, the role of Eric could have been a trap of cliches as the “gay sidekick” or “Black best friend” for a straight white male protagonist.

Instead, Gatwa’s Eric stands out from the ensemble cast with a fully realized personality and inner life. The actor has twice been nominated for Best Male Comedy Performance at the British Film and Television Awards.

He becomes the 14th actor to be cast in the iconic role, following the departure of Jodie Whittaker, who was the first woman to play the role when she was cast in 2017.

In 2020, a Black person played a variation of the Doctor role for the first time when Jo Martin was cast as the Fugitive Doctor.

The new season of Doctor Who is also marked by the return of showrunner Russell T Davies, who helped revive the show in 2005 after a 15-year hiatus. Davies stepped away from the showrunner role in 2009.

Click here to read the full article on NPR.

Kevin Hart Signs $100 Million Investment Agreement To Create HARTBEAT, Which Will Be Led By An All Black Leadership Team

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HARTBEAT Team L to R: CCO Bryan Smiley, Chairman Kevin Hart, CEO Thai Randolph, and CDO Jeff Clanagan

By Corein Carter, Forbes

Kevin Hart, trailblazing entrepreneur, executive, and entertainer, has now combined Laugh Out Loud and HartBeat Productions to create one of the leading sources of comedic storytelling and experiences with HARTBEAT, after more than a decade of leveraging his individual success to build the two high-growth companies.

With the mission of keeping the world laughing together, the multi-platform company creates entertainment at the intersection of comedy and culture. Hartbeat Productions’ best-in-class television and film production capabilities are combined with Laugh Out Loud’s extensive distribution network, as well as marketing, sales, experiential, branded content, digital, and social capabilities.

HARTBEAT was established with a $100 million investment from Abry Partners, a private equity firm that took a minority stake in the new company. Evolution Media Capital and a team from Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP led by Sophia Yen, a partner in the Entertainment Group, advised HARTBEAT on the deal.

The creation of HARTBEAT and the capital raised with Abry Partners mark the beginning of a new era in comedy. Hart is proud of what has been delivered. As part of the agreement, Nicolas Massard, a partner at Abry Partners, will join the HARTBEAT board as part of the agreement. Peacock, NBCUniversal’s streaming service, will remain a shareholder in Laugh Out Loud after signing a multi-year, first look deal and taking an equity stake in the network in 2020.

Hart discusses his commitment to building the most innovative and inclusive comedy storytelling company. “In an industry where people love to say no and shut doors, I’ve been confident in forging our own path and using our success to open doors for others. We’re taking the new entertainment blueprint we’ve built to the next level with this merger and funding, paving the way for a new generation of comedic talent. I can’t wait to bring more comedians, experiences, and heartfelt stories to the world.”

HARTBEAT intends to use the funds to expand its team, accelerate growth for existing brands and franchises, and develop a new IP that will appeal to a global audience. This will be accomplished by collaborating with today’s most influential stars and rising comedic talent, both in front of and behind the camera, using HARTBEAT’s creative engine, relationships, and resources.

The existing leadership from Hartbeat Productions and Laugh Out Loud will continue to oversee day-to-day operations. Thai Randolph, who previously served as President & COO of Laugh Out Loud and COO of Hartbeat Productions, has been appointed CEO of the new entity. Hart will serve as Chairman in the interim. Bryan Smiley of Hartbeat Productions will become President & Chief Content Officer, and Jeff Clanagan of LOL will become President & Chief Distribution Officer. Leland Wigington, co-founder of HartBeat Productions, will lead a new production banner under HARTBEAT.

Randolph spoke with For(bes) The Culture about the emergence of HARTBEAT.

“Commercially, it’s a milestone moment. In terms of the company’s capitalization and valuation, as well as the possibility of expanding the team to create more content. We are breathing rare air when it comes to scaling companies of this size, especially when it comes to having a company that is minority owned and run by people of color.” Randolph continues, “We don’t consider diversity to be an initiative because, the composition is more than half women and half people of color. We are diverse by design because it’s just good business. With the mission of keeping the world laughing together, we have a team that looks like the world around us, so we can program relevantly to those audiences.”

The LOL! Network was named one of the top 10 media publishers in an April 2021 Conviva report that ranked the size of social media audiences across Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube. It came in ahead of major players like Hulu. The merger and capital raise will allow HARTBEAT to expand and invest in the future of comedic entertainment, producing more in-demand content and experiences where comedy meets culture.

HARTBEAT is a full-service entertainment company that develops, markets, and distributes the most culturally relevant IP and experiences in comedy and beyond. The company is divided into three divisions:

● HARTBEAT Studios led by Bryan Smiley finances, develops, and produces comedy and culture-related film, television, and content.

● HARTBEAT Media, under the leadership of Jeff Clanagan, connects with consumers all over the world through events, gaming, music publishing, Web3 initiatives, and a vast distribution network.

● PULSE, the company’s branded entertainment studio, works with companies like P&G, Lyft, Sam’s Club, Chase, and Verizon to provide creative and cultural consulting.

Operating under HARTBEAT Media, the LOL! Network will continue to be the company’s flagship consumer brand, reaching audiences across its O&O social media, audio (SiriusXM) and OTT partners (Peacock, Roku, Tubi, PlutoTV, Vizio, Redbox, Xumo, and more).

With projects featuring Tiffany Haddish, Hasan Minhaj, Amanda Seales, Deon Cole, and Affion Crockett, HARTBEAT creates hit vehicles for A-list comedians and brings the next generation of comedic voices into the mainstream.

HARTBEAT is currently working on more than 60 projects with 15+ entertainment partners, all of which are in various stages of development. The company also has several multi-year strategic partnerships, including the unscripted first look deal with NBCU’s Peacock, a film deal with Netflix, a partnership with SiriusXM, and a deal with Audible via the joint venture SBH Productions with Charlamagne Tha God.

Among the upcoming projects include: Me Time (Netflix) with Mark Wahlberg and Regina Hall, “Storytown” (HBO Max), the F. Gary Gray action heist Lift (Netflix), #1 on the Call Sheet documentary (Apple TV+), “Die Hart” season 2 (Roku), “So Dumb It’s Criminal” with Snoop Dogg (Peacock), and a new season of the Hart-led sports talk show “Cold as Balls” (LOL Network).

Click here to read the full article on Forbes.

Pharrell Williams wants to fund minority business leaders who want to uplift their communities

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Felecia Hatcher, CEO of Black Ambition, and Pharrell Williams, Founder, Black Ambition.

By Talib Visram, Fast Company

In a lighthearted moment at Fast Company‘s Most Innovative Companies Summit, the CEO of Black Ambition, Felecia Hatcher, suggested that the concepts behind today’s biggest crowdfunding businesses, like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, were invented years ago by Black communities.

“All you had to do was look at the Black church,” she said. “We pass a plate every Sunday from one pew to the next. That’s how we funded scholarships. That’s how we fixed the roof.”

But there was a more poignant message to her comment, too. “We’ve had to be innovative out of necessity,” she said, given the lack of historical financial support for communities of color.

Innovation among minority communities has existed but hasn’t received due credit, capital, or support. Filling that gap is the aim of Black Ambition, a nonprofit organization and pitch competition founded by musician and record producer Pharrell Williams, which distributes startup capital and mentorship to Black and Latino entrepreneurs. Williams and Hatcher spoke to multimedia editor KC Ifeanyi about the competition returning for its second year, what they learned from its debut, and why they’re not looking for entrepreneurs who only want to line their own pockets.

The concept behind what they’re doing is the “uninterrupted founder.” That is: “What would your life look like if nothing stood in the way of you achieving success?” Hatcher explained. Throughout history, minorities in America have been faced with systemic racism that’s locked out opportunities for capital. Of the $148 billion that venture capitalists provided in funding in 2020, only about 3% went to Black entrepreneurs. “I always say [that] most Black and Latinx entrepreneurs, we get a round of applause from everyone, [but] we don’t always get the round of funding,” Hatcher said.

Williams added that the lack of networking power has also blocked success. “I know people [who] have had much better ideas [than me], and because they just didn’t have the ecosystem to go knock on the door, or pick up a phone, or send an email and get the codes, they lost out on genius ideas.”

Black Ambition hopes to provide both the capital and the networking. It’s awarding prizes of up to $1 million to founders. Last year, the organization gave its top prize, $1 million, to Livegistics, a Detroit-based software company whose operating system provides real-time digital records to stakeholders in the construction industry. It invested in 34 companies, and trained and supported 300 with mentorship by partners including Adidas, Chanel, and the Visa Foundation.

In a separate category, it’s also awarding up to $100,000 to founders who currently attend historically Black colleges and universities. “HBCUs have always been the fertile ground for growth in the Black communities,” Williams said. “They’re like little baby cities of potential.”

Click here to read the full article on Fast Company.

Strengthening Black businesses is good for CT, America

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black businesses: female ceo leading a conversation at a conference table

By Anthony Price, Hartford Business

Capitalism works best when businesses innovate and create jobs.

This was not the case when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020. While all small businesses (companies with fewer than 500 employees) were affected, it flattened Black businesses like a tornado, impacting them far more than other companies.

From a public policy perspective, two questions come to mind: Why were Black businesses impacted more than other businesses? What can be done to strengthen Black businesses?

The answers are essential because Black businesses play a vital role in their communities.

When the U.S. House of Representatives Small Business Committee released the report “The State of Black-Owned Businesses in America” in February 2022, Chairwoman Nydia M. Velázquez stated, “I’m hopeful that this report will provide a sober look at the reality facing Black business owners and help provide a path forward in terms of recovery.”

According to the report, “In 2020, Black business ownership rates dropped 41% between February and April 2020, the largest [decline] of any racial group.”

While “Black Americans owned 124,551 employer businesses, they represented just 2.2% of all employer businesses (the 5.7 million employer businesses with at least one employee),” the report found.

The challenge

The Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, D.C., released a report in December 2020 entitled: “To Expand the Economy, Invest in Black Businesses.”

A key finding is that “The underrepresentation of Black businesses is costing the U.S. economy millions of jobs and billions of dollars in unrealized revenues.”

Black people comprise 14.2% of the U.S. population. At a time when America is becoming more “racially and ethnically diverse,” Black-owned employer firms are not keeping up with the pace of the country’s population growth.

Historically, Black businesses have faced challenges and gaps in three areas: Access to capital, mentorship (access to a mentor), and access to business opportunities. Compounding these issues, Black businesses face “institutional discrimination and social inequalities.”

Most Americans build wealth through homeownership. Black homeownership lags behind that of whites. Furthermore, “The median Black household’s wealth ($9,000) is nearly one-fifteenth that of non-Black households ($134,520),” the Brookings Institution report said.

The report states that Black homes are “devalued by an estimated sum of $156 billion — the equivalent of more than 4 million firms, based on the average amount Black people use to start their businesses.”

Available resources

Capital is necessary. Connecticut is helping.

The state Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) provides financial support to HEDCO, a nonprofit lender based in Hartford that lends at reasonable interest rates to small businesses throughout the state, including many Black businesses.

Technical assistance is needed to help build up businesses. The Black Business Alliance (BBA) is a statewide organization based in Milford, supported by DECD funding. The BBA provides access to capital, technical assistance, space to showcase retailers, and networking opportunities.

Ann-Marie Knight, the executive director, says, “We’ve become a catalyst for change. We can be an organization that speaks on behalf of Black businesses.”

Led by volunteers, ShopBlackCT.com is a free, online Black-owned business guide. Founder Sarah Thompson and her colleague Yvette Young work at The Village for Families in Hartford. ShopBlackCT.com has over 1,700 businesses listed on its website.

Young says, “We offer Black businesses visibility and marketing support.”

Click here to read the full article on Hartford Business.

Major retailers boost Black female entrepreneurship as employment gap lingers

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Ulta Beauty has doubled the number of Black-owned brands that it carries.

By Maia Vines, CNBC

Major beauty retailers are boosting small, minority-owned businesses as Black female entrepreneurship helps bridge an employment gap.

As of last year, 17% of Black women in the U.S. were in the process of starting or running new businesses, according to the Harvard Business Review. That outpaces the 15% of white men and the 10% of white women who reported the same.

Yet, only 3% of Black women reported running mature businesses.

And the traditional workforce unemployment rate remains high among Black women, at 5.5% in March, compared with overall U.S. unemployment of 3.6%, according to the Labor Department. The unemployment rate among Hispanic women during the same period was 4.2%. For white women it was 2.8%.

In an effort to assist small businesses and advance Black entrepreneurship opportunities, major retailers such as Ulta, Sephora and Target have created start-up incubators and diversity programs, providing mentorship, financial support and new business opportunities.

This month, Ulta Beauty partnered with incubator Rare Beauty Brands and Black Girl Ventures, a foundation that funds and scales Black- and Brown-founded businesses, on the group’s second pitch competition for minority-owned beauty start-ups. The competition is a live, crowdfunded event where founders create a three-minute pitch in hopes of elevating their businesses.

The first-place winner will receive accounting consultations, $10,000 and a spot on Ulta’s product shelves for at least six months. Winners are picked based on audience votes. Voting between the seven finalists closed on April 14. The winner will be announced next week.

The competition also promises the chance at key mentoring. Black Girl Ventures offers coaching to applicants prior to the pitch, and Rare Beauty Brands works with business owners after their win.

“We already know that in the beauty industry, Black women consume more than their fair share of beauty products and yet, funding for Black female entrepreneurs is dramatically underdeveloped relative to where it should be,” said Rare Beauty Brands CEO Chris Hobson. “This is less about adding brand value to us and really more about righting a wrong and a way to say ‘Thank you’ to a big chunk of our consumers and try and be part of the solution here.”

Kim Roxie, founder and CEO of Lamik Beauty, the first Black-owned clean beauty brand to be featured at Ulta, won last year’s pitch competition from Rare Beauty Brands and Black Girl Ventures. She said the partnership with Rare Beauty Brands was transformative for her business.

“It was game-changing for me as a founder, and it was game-changing for my company,” Roxie told CNBC. “They allowed me to utilize their team in a way that I would have had to try to hire all those different people and it would have been out of my reach.”

“They sort of subbed in and filled in that gap for me.”

Ulta Beauty has pledged to spend $50 million this year on diversity initiatives, including the launch of an accelerated program to support Black founders and putting money toward marketing their brands.

In February, the company said it is roughly halfway toward reaching a goal of 15% minority representation on shelves as part of its broader diversity initiatives.

Scaling brands
Sephora runs similar accelerated programs for entrepreneurs, aimed at improving representation of brands from BIPOC — Black, Indigenous and people of color — founders. The company’s Accelerate program, which launched five years ago, received more than 600 applications from small business owners this year.

“The Accelerate program serves as a springboard for nascent brands to become visible, viable, stable, and financially solvent,” said Rauvan Dulay, vice president of global merchandising, business development and strategy for Sephora. “Business growth in communities of color creates jobs, opportunity, stability and generational wealth — having the potential for decades of positive impact.”

Big-box retailer Target launched Target Takeoff in 2016 with similar objectives but aimed more at mature consumer packaged goods companies. Five years later, the company added Forward Founders to its portfolio, an incubator initiative designed to engage Black entrepreneurs much earlier in their start-up journeys by helping them navigate critical stages, such as ideation, product development and scaling to serve mass retail, according to the company.

The incubator announced its second cohort in January.

“Target has a longstanding, successful track-record of Accelerator programs and we saw an opportunity to do more, and think differently about how we support underrepresented entrepreneurs,” the company said in a statement to CNBC.

Target’s Forward Founders program received about four times the number of applicants it anticipated this year, the company said. It tripled the size of the annual cohort and created an all-new virtual program so all applicants could benefit.

Click here to read the full article on CNBC.

Putting Black Women First Starts With Entrepreneurship

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co black women business owners for the crabby shack wearing teir company t shirts and smiling at the camera

By Fifi Bell-Clanton, Yahoo! News

For nearly a decade, I’ve been the co-owner of a Black-owned seafood restaurant, The Crabby Shack. What initially started as a barbecue sensation and personal passion has transformed into a Brooklyn-based seafood joint where everyone and anyone can enjoy great food made with love. Despite the challenges that Black women entrepreneurs face, we persist and continue to fulfill our entrepreneurial dreams. But now, more than ever, we need an investment in resources, access to professional networks, and the business education needed to survive and thrive. My entrepreneurship journey was completely self-started. I went to local restaurants and researched what it takes to run my own. To fund the restaurant, my business partner and I had to crowdsource from friends and even relied on personal finances to get The Crabby Shack off the ground. It was a tough journey in the beginning but we kept at it. And through a labor of love, we built a seafood haven that speaks to the determination and power of Black women business owners.

The struggles we faced opening and maintaining the business aren’t unique. Research has shown that many Black, women-owned small businesses initially financed their business with their own personal savings. Also, roughly 17% of new businesses are started by a Black woman but only 3% eventually become mature businesses, ultimately leading to Black women owning their own businesses at a rate 24 times lower than white men.

Through business ownership, we can begin to close the racial wealth gap. With less than 1% of Black women owning a business, it’s clear that in order to pave a better future for Black women, we must invest in Black women entrepreneurs, particularly sole proprietors. Sole proprietors make up 96% of Black businesses and over half are women-owned.

Supporting Black entrepreneurship, and Black women solopreneurs, will help our entire economy thrive. Reducing the wage gap for Black women can create 1.2 to 1.7 million U.S. jobs and increase GDP by $300 to 525 billion. The numbers reveal a simple truth: when Black women succeed, we all succeed.

Participating in Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses was the best thing I ever did to help my business thrive and become the successful entrepreneur I am today. The program gave me access to resources and a network that allowed me to take The Crabby Shack to the next level. Programs like Goldman Sachs’ One Million Black Women: Black in Business are taking a critical step in providing the tailored resources needed for Black women sole proprietors to thrive.

Click here to read the full article on Yahoo! News.

SERENA WILLIAMS BACKS BLACK WOMEN-OWNED STARTUP PROVIDING CUSTOMIZED WIGS THROUGH AI

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Serena Williams in a brown dress bent down in a seated position

By Days Tech

Serena Williams is a trailblazer in additional methods than one. This time she’s backing a enterprise aimed toward using synthetic intelligence to supply magnificence customers with custom-made wigs.

Parfait is a brand new wig customization platform aimed toward disrupting the business by being the primary to make use of facial recognition and synthetic intelligence to supply consumers with customizable wig merchandise. The firm raised $5 million in funding spearheaded by Upfront Ventures and Serena Ventures, in keeping with experiences.

“Parfait’s mission to leverage Al to solve core issues for both the tech industry and communities of color is something we, at Serena Ventures, have believed in since the beginning,” Serena Williams stated in a press release.

“She went on to say, “It’s been inspiring to witness their incredible achievements so far, and we’re proud to invest in this next phase of Parfait’s growth.”

Founded by former Target and Amazon government Isoken Igbinedion, the primary seed of funding will assist enhance Parfait’s manufacturing and enhance its provide chain to enter new markets throughout the globe. Through the improved facial recognition Parfait makes use of, the tech-based magnificence model goals to make the wig business extra inclusive to fulfill the hair targets of magnificence customers from all backgrounds.

“Training models used in facial recognition technology are largely unbalanced, often relying on training datasets that are similar in makeup, and do not represent the visual composition of faces worldwide. This often results in poor performance for users who do not fit into that dataset, often represented by white faces and male features.”

Williams shared her pleasure for the brand new funding in an Instagram Story put up, as captured by Essentially Sports. With Parfait aligning with Williams’ rules for her VC agency, the brand new firm is on the highway to success with the total help from one of many best athletes and Black feminine traders of all time.

Click here to read the full article on Days Tech.

Brooklyn’s New Black-Owned LGBTQ Club Is a Safehaven

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Owners of lgbtq club, Lambda Vodka, Lambda Lounge and Club Lambda Brooklyn

By Kalyn Womack, The Root

New York got another Black-owned LGBTQ+ bar in late April. Owners and couple Charles Hughes and Richard Solomon opened Club Lambda Brooklyn on April 28th. The lounge is an expansion of their first location, Lambda Lounge, located in Harlem. Hughes and Solomon felt it was obligatory to create a safe haven where all are welcome and also create a safe space for queer people of color.

Years ago, the two attended a club in New York where the DJ said, “Men don’t dance with men here.” That moment catalyzed the creation of Lambda Lounge. From there, they decided to expand Lambda and ultimately plan to open 10 Lambda locations spanning across the east and west coast. Big names who have attended Lambda Lounge include Lil Nas X, Meagan Good and DeRay McKesson.

Charles and Richard Spoke to The Root about the grand opening of their second location and what inspired them to set out on creating Black-owned queer spaces in New York.

Charles: So if we take it all the way back, prior to Club Lambda in Brooklyn, and Lambda lounge in Harlem, we started Lambda Vodka. We saw a need for spirit within the LGBTQ+ community that they were lacking that was created by us and specifically targeting us. The only issue with trying to sell and promote it was we didn’t have a strong enough following to make substantial amounts of money that we wanted to, to kinda have freedom within our life.

So we said, well, “Why not create a bar to sell our spirit directly to ourselves?” That’s where the idea of this came into play. Lambda lounge…it shocked us the way it took off. The first day of opening during COVID outside, we had to stop individuals from coming in. The community definitely came out to support us and we saw that a lot of cities around the country didn’t have Black-owned queer spaces targeting them. So that’s why we decided to move into Brooklyn next. And that’s where we are right now.

We felt we had to give our community a location of quality. We couldn’t speak for any other location that was out there, but there’s enough room for all of us to survive and all of us are surviving. It was like – if we’re gonna do this, we’re not just going to throw paint on the walls and open the doors, but give them a place that’s comfortable to them and for them.

TR: what were your experiences trying to find a safe space to enjoy nightlife in NY?

Richard: I’m a native New Yorker. I came from a time when it was very easy to go out to Christopher Street and find a space for people that look like me – and what I mean by that is people in the urban community, people of color. And all of those spaces are gone, long gone. So what I found very difficult is trying to resurrect those spaces within New York. We got a lot of pushback but we found a very comfortable home in Harlem.

Of course, Harlem, very safe space for people of color, it was very easy to incorporate queer people of color into that circle. We were welcomed with open arms. We thought we would run into a lot of adversity within the community being a queer space, but it was the complete opposite. We were welcomed, they actually assisted us, they had our back and it made it very easy to make that transition from the downtown nightlife to the uptown nightlife.

TR: Why is it so crucial for Black LGBTQ+ members to have spaces like these?

Charles: I think it’s important because now we are accepted in a location and not just tolerated. What we normally have to deal with within New York, and I’m sure in a lot of other cities, is we get one night a week and it’s between certain hours. I also noticed that if going to any of [their] social media, there was no presence of us on there but we would generate a large number of the income for them.

That’s why we feel the need is theirs. Every community owns their own and why not for us? And what we are starting to see now is being young, LGBTQ+ individuals, a lot of other young people are starting to or wanting to move into the nightlight or the restaurant industry or actually owning their own businesses because they’re starting to see examples of that now.

TR: What makes Lambda stand apart from other clubs/bars?

Charles: So people call it the “gay cheers” (laughs). With that being said, a lot of times you don’t go into a location and you see the owner having a drink with you or taking a shot with you. Ricky and I are very prevalent in the location. If you’re in there, there’s a strong chance you’re gonna see us sitting on a couch having a drink with some of the patrons who come in on a regular basis. It’s a place we call home.

TR: What can visitors look forward to at Club Lambda Brooklyn?

Charles: In Harlem, I do know that 100% of our DJs are a part of our community. We do currently offer karaoke night once a month. We also have a “big boy party” which is for our plus size LGBTQ+ men within the community and that’s really big for us. Outside of that, it’s normally a male demographic. In Brooklyn, however, we are trying to change that narrative – we have brought on a trans party where Thursday nights, once a week, is going to be dedicated to the people within the trans community, which I think is pretty awesome.

Sunday, we are trying to work with a lesbian promoter to where she will come in and bring her following. Now we’re, we’re broadening our market segment to not just target males, but pretty much all the letters within the LGBTQ+ community.

TR: Some straight women feel safer attending gay bars. However, sometimes they can take up space created for queer people. Will allies be invited to the new club?

Charles: We have an open door policy. Surprisingly enough, we are starting to get a lot of heterosexual females coming to the bar to kinda enjoy themselves and let their hair down. They come, they get sections and sometimes they’ll even bring their boyfriend in which is kinda shocks us that heterosexual males feel so comfortable within the establishment. We don’t have any restrictions. All friends of the community are welcome.

Click here to read the full article on The Root.

Viola Davis on Hollywood: ‘You either have to be a Black version of a white ideal, or you have to be white’

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Viola Davis speaking to audience standing behind podium

By , The Guardian

Many of us had existential thoughts during lockdown, and assuaged them with new hobbies. We did thousand-piece puzzles. We crocheted and knitted. We learned new songs on our guitars, baked overzealously, and connected with our plantlife. For Viola Davis, knocking around in her $5m mansion in Toluca Lake, Los Angeles, it was writing, though the nature of it was less assuagement than staring into the coalface of an existential crisis. Who am I? What is my life supposed to mean? If this isn’t it – the Oscar winning, the formidable trail of accolades, the palatial bathrooms and saltwater pool – then what is?

“I lost my mind during the pandemic,” she tells me from her bedroom, dressed pre-photoshoot in a grey sweatshirt and loose woollen hat. “I just wandered around this house like Mary Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” She laughs about it (she has a deep laugh and a deep, mighty voice inherited from her grandmother), but the memoir resulting from the time spent writing is anything but light. She has a story to tell, a gripping, emotive, at times spine-tingling story, with pathos and pain, triumph and redemption, setting a new benchmark for the celebrity confessional. Finding Me is a page-turner, written with narrative knowhow and stylistic competence.

Over a matter of months – interrupted by the filming of The First Lady, in which she plays Michelle Obama, and The Woman King, a historical drama set in the Kingdom of Dahomey (now southern Benin) in west Africa, both projects from her company JuVee Productions – she grappled on the page with the spectre of her poverty-stricken childhood and her subsequent thorny rise to the top, a place that turned out to be less comfortable than imagined.

“Whenever you’re still, whenever you’re quiet, whenever you put everything down, then everything in your life comes into full focus. It comes at you like a jackhammer,” she says of the big, Covid-induced pause. But it was not only the pandemic that led her to the blank screen. The crisis was already in process. “I think it’s been happening ever since my status started to rise,” she says. “When it first rises, it’s nothing but excitement, nothing but an understanding that this is a culmination of your hard work, your talent. You just feel like God has blessed you – I still feel that.

“And then it moves along: what no one tells you about being ‘on top’ is the minutiae of it, the cost of it, the pressure of it, the responsibility, and finally the disillusionment. You feel like you’ve found something you love to do and you’ve made it, your life’s all sewn up – and then you hit it, and it’s just a level of emptiness, of wondering what your life means, and then you crash and burn. I had to go back to the source and revisit my life, revisit my stories, to sort of catapult me into something so I could find home – find me. I’d been lost in it all.”

In 2016, with her Academy Award win for best supporting actress for her role in Fences, based on an August Wilson play, Viola Davis became the first African American to achieve the triple crown of an Oscar, Tony and Emmy for acting (the Tony was for a Broadway role in Wilson’s King Hedley II; the Emmy for the TV legal thriller How to Get Away With Murder). She is the most nominated Black woman in the history of the Academy Awards (she received nominations for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, another Wilson adaptation, as well as The Help and Doubt) and has been ranked in the top 10 of the New York Times’ list of the greatest actors of the 21st century. Her execution of her roles is both exacting and magnanimous, ever astute, possessing a haunting integrity that makes each character seem profoundly known, tangible and self-possessed.

The consummate humble artist, she deems fame and glory secondary to the work; she is modest about her trophies, and dismissive of efforts by her actor husband of almost 19 years, Julius Tennon, and their adopted daughter, Genesis, to splash them around the house. “If it were up to me all the awards would be in the garage,” she says. “I mean, it’s just not my style – it’s a bit too much. Listen, it’s not that I haven’t looked at the Oscar or whatever and thought: wow, that’s pretty awesome. I’m very grateful, but, you know, you can’t live there. Soon as you get it, you walk off the stage, you’re an Oscar winner, but then it’s like, and now what? And then you gotta go on to the next job, and start all over again with that impostor syndrome.”

Click here to read the full article on The Guardian.

Essence Black Women In Hollywood Event Celebrates Black Stars While Shining A Light On The Lack Of Diversity In Hollywood

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Honorees Nia Long, Quinta Brunson, Chante Adams, and Aunjanue Ellis during the 15th annual

By Dominique Fluker, Forbes

On March 24, Essence Magazine hosted their 15th annual Black Women in Hollywood luncheon at the Beverley Hills Wilshire Hotel, coming off the heels of a tumultuous pandemic and virtual ceremony in 2021. The star-studded event, held several days before the Oscars, recognizes the iconic achievements of Black Hollywood luminaries and up-and-coming starlets, and this year’s award ceremony did not disappoint as the theme was “The Black Cinematic Universe.” This year’s honorees are entertainment industry veterans Nia Long (You People) and Oscar-nominated actress Aunjanue Ellis (King Richard), along with newcomers Quinta Brunson, creator of (Abbott Elementary) and Chanté Adams (A Journal For Jordan.)

There was a sense of belonging, community, and sisterhood in the air as the stars ushered in from the gold carpet into the Beverly Hills Wilshire ballroom to celebrate the honorees at the luncheon. In the midst of the excitement, a looming sentiment rang in true throughout the day, the lack of support from Hollywood regarding diverse storytelling and uplifting Black women artists and professionals behind the scenes, which left us wondering how far Hollywood has come since #OscarsSoWhite?

According to the 2022 USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative report by Katherine L. Neff, Dr. Stacy L. Smith, and Dr. Katherine Pieper, while white women and men of color have seen increased opportunities in the entertainment industry, this trend did not extend to women of color. Only five women of color directed a top-grossing film between 2020 and 2021, and fewer than 2% of all directors across 15 years were women of color — even though women of color earned the best critical reception for their work. The researchers say the results suggest that the quality that women of color bring to filmmaking is not an explanation for their lack of participation in top-grossing films.

The research results extends to women of color actresses as well. Of the 100 top films in 2021, only 32% featured an underrepresented lead/co-lead. This figure is slightly higher than 2020 when only 28% of movies had a lead/co-lead of color. 2021’s findings are still below proportional representation, as people of color make up 40% of the U.S. population.

While on the Essence Black Women In Hollywood Awards gold carpet, I asked Natasha Rothwell, writer, and Insecure actress, her thoughts on what the industry needs to do to diversify Hollywood. She said, “This is a question that white cis executive males in the industry should be answering. They need to ask themselves what they are doing to have representation in their projects to reflect what the world looks like. I want to see Black cinematographers and directors. I want to see more of us behind the screen.

Robin Thede and Courtney A. Kemp echoed a similar point of view. Courtney Kemp, former writer, and showrunner for Starz, brought up the constant scrutiny and doubt amongst white executives in Hollywood. She said emphatically, “Great question; I was saying as we’re watching with the Supreme Court hearings, we (Black women) are doubted and constantly undermined. It’s always so difficult for us to arrive and achieve and be appreciated for that arrival and those achievements. Today is about the opposite. Today is about celebrating us overcoming. It’s so exhausting sometimes to still have some of these same conversations. We’re still talking about firsts in 2022.”

Robin Thede, the creator of HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show, believes Hollywood is missing the diverse narratives of Black women. She said, “What’s missing in (Hollywood) are modern, normalized representations of Black women. We’re not a monolith. Whether it’s internet, TV, film, editorial, those things represent us, such as our sizes, shapes, color ranges, hair textures, matter. Black women have got to embrace our beauty and force the world, too, as well. We do such a great job of that, and events like Essence Black Women In Hollywood is a prime example.”

Click here to read the full article on Forbes.

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Upcoming Events

  1. City Career Fair
    January 19, 2022 - November 4, 2022
  2. The Small Business Expo–Multiple Event Dates
    February 17, 2022 - December 1, 2022
  3. USPAACC’s CelebrASIAN Business + Procurement Conference 2022
    May 25, 2022 - May 27, 2022
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    June 14, 2022
  5. 2022 Airport Minority Business Development Conference (AMAC) Annual Conference
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    June 21, 2022 - June 24, 2022
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    June 22, 2022
  8. NAACP National Convention
    July 14, 2022 - July 20, 2022
  9. Business Beyond Barriers Conference + Expo
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    August 18, 2022 - August 20, 2022