By Sam Benjamin
JA Contributing Writer
Black vendors from across the state of Mississippi pulled into downtown Jackson this past Saturday, August 21, to help circulate the Black dollar. The 7th Annual Mississippi Black Business Expo took place at the Jackson Convention Complex (JCC). Co-sponsored by the City of Jackson, this marks the second year that the Expo was held at the JCC.
Mike Davis, Manager of the City of Jackson’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC), said it was important that there be a venue to spotlight Black entrepreneurial talent.
“Our task at the SBDC is to tell Black businesses about the tools we have to ramp up their business,” he said. “This is the perfect venue to reach a lot of our businesses at one time. It’s why we participate.”
The 2020 expo was canceled as an in-person event due to COVID. But, it did take place virtually. Organizers said that although the threat of COVID loomed, they took precautions to make sure vendors and shoppers were safe.
“By the midway point of planning for this year’s expo, the numbers were down to less than 100 a day,” said MBP Steering Committee Member Trina Blaylock. “Then, the Delta variant hit, and numbers shot back up again. We had several vendors who elected to back out this year. But, we thought it was important to continue. We had masks and sanitizer on hand for anyone that needed it.”
It was seven years ago that entrepreneur, George “Chuck” Patterson was sitting around talking with a few friends over drinks. It was in the wake of the murder of Eric Garner and the conversation took on a somber tone, one of anger mixed with frustration. That group, which consisted of Funmi “Queen” Franklin and Sabir Abdul Haqq, felt something needed to be done to harness Black spending power. It was at that table that the idea for the Mississippi Black Business Expo was birthed.
“We wanted to figure out a way to help the movement,” Patterson said. “Economic empowerment for us was the road to take, flexing our Black dollars.”
The Mississippi Black Business Expo has served as an outlet for Black businesses and entrepreneurs to showcase their products.
Patterson founded the Jackson Black Pages in 2012. He says that, at the time, the number of Black businesses in the metro area was growing and consumers – who looked to support them – needed a way to find them in a quick and easy manner.
In 2019, the steering committee made the decision to become statewide. There were growing movements of Black business networking groups popping up on the MS Gulf Coast and in the Delta. Patterson says it was time to connect the dots between the organizations and take things to a new level. The goal, he says, was to have a comprehensive directory that connects all the Black businesses in the state.
“We started with a hardcopy directory, then to a website, then to an app,” he added. “Accessibility and convenience are our keys to driving customers to Black businesses. Need a carpenter, DJ, accountant, or chef? We want to be your source.”
The first expo, in 2015, was held at Tougaloo College and had about 75 vendors. It was also the debut of the first edition of the Jackson Black Pages. That first edition had about 100 businesses listed. This year’s expo boasted 167 registered vendors. The website now has over 600 Black businesses in its database and the directory has just over 500 listings. Each vendor received a copy of the 2021 edition of the directory at Saturday’s expo.
Patterson said the plans are to expand in 2022 to two events: one in Jackson in the spring and a second Expo in Gulfport in the fall.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in getting a copy of the new directory.