Building Economic Freedom in the Black Community of Richmond

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RICHMOND, Virginia (WWBT) – There is no Richmond without Jackson Ward.

By the early 1900s, the community was filled with black-owned businesses and creative entrepreneurs.

Maggie Walker was in charge, guiding the Black Richmond to economic independence, doing it all from inside historic St. Luke’s Hall – a building that stands today.

Over 120 years later, that’s where we interviewed the Jackson Ward Collective.

“All of our ancestors trampled on this whole building and when we were sort of trying to find out who owned what and why we technically didn’t own the block, we started asking the question. What opportunities were not offered to black entrepreneurs, ”said Kelli Lemon, the cultural curator who defends and amplifies the voice of the Collective.

Rasheeda Creighton lays out the objective:

“Our mission is not only to help people become owners of their businesses, but also to help them become owners of the building where their businesses are located. We all know real estate is the key to generational wealth, ”Creighton said.

Creighton covers operations, connecting black entrepreneurs to a larger network of people with the funding to invest and create opportunities.

And Melody Short evaluates each business to make sure their business is in order and seeks to maximize performance and profitability.

“To go to town hall, get your business license, secure your tax ID number online, get incorporated in the state, take care of the zoning and planning, I mean all of that,” said Shorts.

Together these women are known as the Jackson Ward Collective, and they say their voices were born out of necessity.

“Black businesses are not priority or focused and so we say enough is enough, it’s time to make sure we’re self-sufficient. What we’re looking to do is fill the void in terms of leveling the playing field, ”said Short.

These three black women pool their in-depth knowledge of the city and its culture, to harness the power and potential of black business owners.

“We let some black business owners literally say let me see if it works and we’re with you from start to finish, it’s not pressure,” Lemon said.

Telisha Woodfin is the owner of LivLoved LLC – a postpartum doula support service for families. She received a grant from the collective to put her accounts in order.

“Everything you can think of to really build your business on a solid foundation is what JWC is all about. So what the collective did was put me in touch with another business owner within the community who could help me do that, ”said Woodfin.

A storefront isn’t necessary for Telisha to grow her business, but that’s the beauty of the Jackson Ward Collective – whether you’re developing your ideas or expanding an existing one, they can help.

“I often have a common joke that if you want to open this Aqua Fitness place that sells cookies, let’s go. Why are we hiding behind these multi-million dollar ideas because we don’t have the support or the resources, ”Lemon said.

Studies have shown that the average white household earns at least eight times the amount of the average black household. The Collective believes that the real way to close the racial wealth gap in America is through property.

For them, it is time to reinvigorate themselves and reinvest in the community which has already shown itself capable of supporting.

“Black people in this country have been late, if you will, for a very long time. So we are making an intentional investment in the black community to support, uplift and continue to encourage, ”Creighton said.

Lemon agrees: “The ancestors literally come to us and tell us okay, go ahead … and we have to go when they say go.”

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