For the first time, city of Minneapolis officials are dedicating a week to highlight black businesses.
The city’s inaugural Minneapolis Black Business Week is a 9-day event that aims to celebrate and promote black-owned businesses. Various nonprofits and advocacy organizations are partnering to host the event, which kicked off festivities Friday at Mama Sheila's Soulfood Kitchen in South Minneapolis.
The University of Minnesota’s Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center is among the partners, specifically through its Northside Job Creation Team, which seeks to bring sustainable-wage jobs to North Minneapolis.
Bill English, NJCT consulting project director, said the event helps to promote black-owned businesses, which can support the community by stimulating the economy in North Minneapolis.
"Black entrepreneurs, they tend to hire black people, they tend to carry black people and they inspire their children to become entrepreneurs," English said.
He said this type of outreach is especially important in Minnesota, which has some of the greatest disparities in the country between white and black individuals.
“It's about lifting up the remarkable black-owned businesses that we have here,” said Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who announced Black Business Week on behalf of the city alongside City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins.
Frey said one of the week’s goals is to make resources available to businesses and help black entrepreneurs navigate city processes so they “can quickly get up and running and then scale.”
Black Business Week includes a business expo, a career fair and an online city directory of participating black-owned businesses in various industries. While the event is taking place in Minneapolis, businesses in St. Paul and surrounding suburbs have been included in the directory and may be involved in the events.
Among those businesses is Strive Publishing, a Twin Cities-based company that publishes black authors of children's and young adult literature centered around African American culture.
Mary Taris, publisher and CEO of Strive, said she connected with Black Business Week to raise awareness about the presence of black publishers in the Twin Cities. A reader since childhood, she said she felt a lack of black representation in literature.
“When I was a little girl, I always used books as an escape,” Taris said. “But then as an adult, I realized that I could have done much more with my life if I had books that validated who I am and inspired me to be all I can be instead of, like, you know, pretending to be someone else from a book.”
Taris founded the company in August 2018. Later this summer, Taris will host a dinner celebrating African American children’s books and featuring more than 200 local African American authors, educators and publishers.
“My mission is to get more books by and about African Americans into the hands of all children, basically,” Taris said. “The main thing I learned is that we can't work in silos. We have to work together.”