YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — The list of hotels, stores, restaurants and taverns published in The Negro Motorist Green Book provided a guide to safe establishments for black Americans to frequent in segregationist towns across the country.
New York postal carrier Victor Hugo Green created the guide in 1936 so black people could travel and do business despite Jim Crow laws. The Green Book ceased publication in 1966-67.
Fifty years later, and a year before a movie of the same name won the Best Picture Oscar, Youngstown native Charles Colvin was inspired to create the Youngstown Black Business Directory in 2017.
“We felt the minority community needed to understand the importance of supporting minority-owned businesses,” Colvin said. “We wanted to put all companies on the same playing field.”
Colvin has worked with the Minority Business Assistance Center through the Youngstown Business Incubator to help listed businesses complete needs assessment surveys, improve business skills, and connect business owners minorities to community resources through YBI.
The guide was no longer a print version but became an online tool at YoungstownBlackBusinessDirectory.com allowing people to easily identify minority-owned entrepreneurs, communications and advertising businesses and others, especially business owners. black businesses.
Three months ago, Colvin took down the website as he started looking for a new developer and recently started getting messages asking for the site.
The investigations coincided with the May 25 death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, in Minneapolis, implicating police. Four white police officers were fired and later charged in connection with Floyd’s death. Video of former officer Derek Chauvin using his knee to pin Floyd’s neck to the pavement for eight minutes and 46 seconds sparked protests around the world.
“I believe there is great energy in supporting Black-owned businesses and African Americans in general. Energy is driving the underground economy and we need that support,” says Colvin. “We have been at a disadvantage for a long time. It is necessary to build a better economy.
Colvin graduated from Youngstown State University with a bachelor’s degree in information technology and business management, a minor in religious studies. In 2019, he was named one of the 25 under 35s for the Mahoning Valley Young Professionals club.
Working in the community and with area leaders, Colvin says he wants to improve quality of life issues and health disparities for African Americans who typically find themselves in disadvantaged positions.
“Enough is enough. We are tired of having to prove that we deserve equality,” he says.
Much of the work Colvin did with the repertoire came through contacts he made in the entertainment industry. Colvin is perhaps best known as DJ Chip Banks, who has provided music for events across the country, in Mexico and Canada. He is also the Musical Director of Youngstown State University Athletics and a radio personality on Loud 102.3.
Colvin says his plan was to launch the Black Business Directory, which he did by working from similar models used in Detroit and Maryland. A video was created and posted on social media to explain the directory and how businesses can be part of it.
“It spread through social media like wildfire and we got registrations immediately. To date, without intensive campaigning, we have 155 registered agencies for businesses in Mahoning and Trumbull [counties] and some Pennsylvania companies that have registered,” he says. “We wanted it to be organic where I wasn’t going out and making these contacts. When it’s organic, people care about the information and react better that way. »
Colvin is working on the next phase of his directory concept, which is to create an incubator for black business owners to use offices, conference rooms and other services for free.
Eventually, Colvin says he wants to develop similar directories for Hispanics and other ethnic groups.
While he is encouraged by the diverse groups and races showing their support during the recent protests, he wants white people to be better informed about the history of racism and inequality that black citizens have faced since the first slaves arrived. were brought here 401 years ago.
“Various groups are showing up to support us, but we need you to put your phones down for an hour and just google or do a deep dive and research the inequalities in this country and then let your white peers know that this is not is not fair. We deserve equal opportunity,” says Colvin.
National calls for racial justice and education also inspired Carmella Williams.
“I am an entrepreneur. Starting a business is the fastest way to initiate change,” says Williams, owner of Carmella Marie Hair Products. “I have a master’s degree in public administration, so I know how long it takes for change to happen in the public sector. It’s super slow and we don’t need super slow right now.
On May 30, Williams launched Black Periodt, a company focused on black education, business, health and wellness, neighborhood beautification, home ownership and more.
Williams, who is director of diversity and inclusion at YBI, envisions BlackPeriodt.com as a place where non-black allies can find resources and tools to use in the fight against racism.
His new business venture focuses on selling t-shirts online that feature three designs: Black Periodt., I Stand Against Racism, and Black Men Are Not Weapons of Mass Destruction Periodt. She says more models will be added.
Williams says half of the proceeds from the sale of the t-shirts will be donated to the community to support Black-owned businesses, neighborhood beautification projects, voter registration initiatives and other projects. She hopes that jobs will be created to carry out the clean-up projects and that people will be able to see immediate changes.
The name Black Periodt. is vernacular, according to Williams.
“Dark period. is the end of the story. There’s always a ‘t’ at the end of the ‘d’ to emphasize it, and the dot means there’s nothing more to say,” she explains. “The shirts are meant to continue the conversation of black struggle.”
An overwhelming response for the shirts prompted Williams to temporarily shut down the website after encountering issues with its supply chain.
His desire to better equip white allies against racism was fueled in part by the diversity of protesters today, not just by race, but also by age. That’s why Williams believes Floyd’s death can be a catalyst for lasting change.
“For so long people, including black people, will do a little, but not fully immersed. I saw friends completely immersed. That’s it. We must be the change we want to see. We can’t wait for someone else. They take the initiative because if we wait for someone else, we will wait forever,” she says.
“It’s a difficult thing to do. “Everyone needs a teachable moment,” she says. “These shirts will create more learning moments.”
Dark period. was created so people wouldn’t forget, says Williams, explaining that when the news cycle moves beyond Floyd’s death, the conversation about racial inequality continues.
“We’ve had meetings and conversations about it before and there’s never been a follow-up,” Williams says. “We can’t afford it anymore.”
Pictured above: Charles Colvin, creator of Youngstown Black Business Director.
Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.