Whatever it takes: Volunteers are our lifeblood

COMMUNITY SUPPORTED: Though Black Wall Street AVL got its start amid the COVID-19 pandemic, founder J Hackett says the organization continues to grow thanks to support from the community as well as the organization’s dedicated group of volunteers. Photo courtesy of Hackett

Editor’s note: For our fall Nonprofit issue, we invited local nonprofit leaders to reflect on the successes and challenges of operating a 501(c)(3) in Western North Carolina. 

J Hackett is the founder of Black Wall Street AVL. The nonprofit works to expand Black-owned businesses and networks.

Xpress: What about this year’s volunteer/staff work gives you hope about your nonprofit’s mission and its overall impact on the community?

Hackett: Black Wall Street has benefited from hundreds of volunteers that have supported our mission from before our day one. In fact, one of our volunteers stayed on board to become a board member. We’ve had over 38 members from the Rotary Club of Asheville volunteer their expertise through consulting and valuable services. Over 200 volunteers make GRINDfest possible yearly. Volunteers have been the lifeblood of our program and make our mission possible.

What has been the most challenging aspect of operating your nonprofit this year?

The uncertainty of the pandemic and changing dynamics of the economy have been a challenge. This, while establishing ourselves as a solid nonprofit organization, has given us growing pains. We have to provide the service while also building capacity without having paid staff — another reason our volunteers are so critical.

How have the last 2 1/2 years reshaped the way your nonprofit operates, and do you see these changes as permanent?

Our nonprofit started in 2021, born in the midst of tragedy. Still, we have built a solid program, served over 125 BIPOC businesses, strengthened dozens of partnerships and scaled our program regionally. What did not kill us only made us stronger.

It was Pema Chödrön who said, “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.”

One hundred and one years ago they burned down Tulsa’s Black Wall Street. But we assert that it will never be destroyed. Black Wall Street still lives.


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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

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