When Nicole Lee moved to Asheville from Cincinnati two years ago with the idea of starting a consulting business for aspiring entrepreneurs, she reached out to Black Wall Street AVL for assistance.
“They helped guide me to get my name on the map here in North Carolina,” says Lee, who runs the for-profit Counsel to the Entrepreneur as well as the nonprofit Warrior Moms. “They’ve been an amazing resource for establishing fruitful connections.”
For instance, she explains, when she wanted to do a playwright reading at the Magnetic Theatre last year, Black Wall Street helped connect her with the right people. And the group’s pop-up shop series gave her a place to promote her 12 self-published books.
“Black Wall Street has been a gem for me,” she says.
Now the organization is hoping to get the financial resources to help even more “mompreneurs” like Lee, who is a single mother, as well as women who are reentering society after incarceration or substance abuse treatment.
Black Wall Street AVL is one of seven national finalists for the Truist Foundation’s first Inspire Award, given to nonprofits that support Black, Indigenous and people of color and women-owned small businesses. The first-place winner will receive $250,000 in grant funding, which BWS would use to aid women of color in starting, growing and scaling businesses in marginalized communities.
“In Asheville, the majority of women who are low income are single moms,” says J Hackett, who founded BWS in 2020. “And so how does this single mom take care of her family and still create a business when everything is already working against her? We believe that we have a solution, one that we’ve tested out for the last two years. And it’s proven to be successful.”
Let’s get started
The BWS solution includes paying the fees needed to set up limited liability companies and establish websites. The organization picks up the costs of accounting software, vendor fees and classes on business and finance and helps with social media and other marketing efforts. Black Wall Street also helps women work with nonprofits like Mountain BizWorks and Eagle Market Streets Development Corp., which have grant programs available for people of color to get small businesses off the ground.
The organization aids business owners in connecting with the area’s tourists and people who live outside the Black community, something Hackett says is vital in keeping such companies financially viable.
“For me, being a mom who doesn’t fully understand how to run a business, Black Wall Street has offered a structural support system,” says Naomi Waller, owner of Ayoki Styles Curl Academy and Ayoki Styles Beauty Collection. “So it’s a place where I’m safe to make the mistakes that I need to. “It’s a safe place to gain an understanding of how I can take my business to the next level.”
If Black Wall Street wins the $250,000 first-place prize from the Truist Foundation, it would be able to help about 50 women in the region get businesses started, Hackett says. A particular emphasis will be put on aiding women who have been incarcerated or in treatment for substance abuse, he says.
“We know that entrepreneurship is the quickest way for a marginalized group to establish financial independence,” Hackett says. “And for a lot of people, a past crime is a barrier to employment. So instead of them trying to be hired for a job, they can create their own job and then create jobs for other people.”
Lee says running a business allows “mompreneurs” to control their own schedule and spend more time with their children.
“It was entrepreneurship that allowed me to be able to maneuver throughout my children’s school activities,” says Lee, who ran a hair and beauty salon for many years. “It was very valuable as a single mom to be able to be home when they got off the bus.”
Waller, who is mother to a 2-year-old, says it is sometimes a challenge to be able to tend to her clientele full time. “I need to be behind the chair in order to really serve them, but that challenge actually produced a solution for me to where I can do things digitally and still serve my clientele. Black Wall Street actually helped me see that because of their hybrid way of doing business.”
Picking a winner
On Thursday, Oct. 20, Black Wall Street and the other six finalists will participate in a livestream event hosted by journalist and TV personality Lisa Ling from 7-8:30 p.m. Each organization will present its ideas to a panel of judges, and audience members will choose their favorite finalist, which will be awarded $75,000 in grant funding. Hackett encourages locals to participate in the livestream and support Black Wall Street.
“We really, really, really want Asheville to be represented,” he says. You can register to participate at avl.mx/c1r.
But even if Black Wall Street does not win any grant money through the Image Award, it will still go forward with plans to help women of color in starting and growing businesses, Hackett says. The group has received $15,000 this year through its banking partner First Horizon Bank and is seeking grants and partnerships through the Coca-Cola Co., the Truist Foundation and others.
Lee and Waller are confident the group’s efforts will continue to be a boon to women looking to start their own small businesses. Lee says she always encourages her clients to join the 117 Black-owned businesses who are members of Black Wall Street AVL.
Adds Waller: “I’m always so surprised when people have not heard about Black Wall Street. They are really for everybody, and I love the community’s efforts to support one another in this movement.”