How My Family's Story Inspired Me To Start My Own Black-Owned Business
The digital divide is real and is often a barrier to many Black-owned brands entering the marketplace.
August 25, 2020 at 6:02 pm
As a child, I remember going on Thursdays with my mother, an Ethiopian immigrant, to her small restaurant and jazz club, Twins, in Uptown D.C. to help get things ready for the busy weekend. I was pretty young, not even a teenager, but I did what I could to support my mother’s dream. This was a tough, risky business. If we had a bad showing over the weekend, my mom would have to hustle to get bills paid. But it was all worth it to see her face light up at the end of a successful run of packed-house performances.
My mother was proud of her business. She was proud of earning her own money for her family. She had worked as a waitress and cook in white-owned establishments for low wages and even lower regard. Establishing a small business with her identical twin sister meant so much to this African immigrant who came to America at 18. It gave her independence and, over the years, it allowed her to employ other young, Black immigrants who would go on to start small businesses of their own. This was her version of the American dream.
On the weekends I would spend the majority of my time with my father, who was separated from my mom, and his parents. My dad was a small business owner, too—a self-employed photographer from Baltimore, with a small studio near Logan Circle in the old D.C. Sometimes I’d visit his studio, and the other times I’d end up with my grandparents in Baltimore.
My grandpa was a handyman who made ends meet by working the paper route delivering newspapers and fixing stuff for the neighborhood. He didn’t earn much, but it was just enough to help send my father to Morgan State. He and my grandma, the descendants of slaves from the Carolinas, knew the struggle intimately. Nothing was wasted in that household, and my grandma would make miracles in the kitchen with little more than some baked chicken, green beans and some pokeweed my grandpa might scrounge up in their small garden or a local park.
Grandpa Joe was the most talented fixer-upper I’ve ever met in my life. The kind of man that under different circumstances might have used that talent to start up a chain of auto body shops or furniture stores — he was that good with his hands. But American history and racism, two things so inexorably linked as to be the same, denied him that opportunity, simply because he was a Black man born poor in the South. Yet he hustled on and lived to see his grandkids earn a living in corporate America. This was his version of the American dream, albeit, in the words of Langston Hughes, long deferred.
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, there have been many important articles written about the history of Blacks being denied the opportunity to thrive economically — Wilmington, North Carolina, and Tulsa, Oklahoma are often cited. A lot of Black thought-leaders have written think pieces about the necessity of Black economic empowerment. I am neither a philosopher, historian or expert in African-American studies. I am a Black woman business owner, the descendant of West African slaves and an East African immigrant, looking to my own historical narrative of hope amid denied opportunities, and doing my part to ensure that the struggles of my mother and the sacrifices of my grandparents were not in vain. This is why, along with my sisters and a circle of phenomenal women of color with expertise in digital marketing, eCommerce and UX design, I am launching HellaBlack.
HellaBlack is an online marketplace focused on empowering the Black business owner, and creating a best-in-class shopping experience for the Black-owned enthusiast. Our team of digital experts diligently researched the gaps that needed to be filled for Black businesses to reach its consumers. The digital divide is real and is often a barrier to many Black-owned brands entering the marketplace. By providing a platform to tell their story and toolkits to improve their digital presence, businesses on HellaBlack can reclaim their narrative.
We want to tell the stories of all of the Black entrepreneurs living out their dreams. We want to repackage your story in a way that’s authentic, navigate the digital space with maximum effectiveness, and optimize your business strategy to increase your reach and grow.
This is my story. HellaBlack wants to tell yours.
Love-Leigh Trimiew is the founder and CEO of HellaBlack, an online marketplace focused on elevating Black-owned businesses. HellaBlack is in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign in advance of its upcoming platform launch in Fall 2020.