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“This is our day!” Hundreds of black small business owners demand their seat at the table at Black Entrepreneurs Day at the capitol

Standing on a stepstool to see over the podium, Sheletta Brundidge looked out over the crowded Rotunda at the Minnesota State Capitol and greeted 500 of her fellow Black small business owners gathered there.

 

 “Y’all look so good, it looks like Easter Sunday over here,” she said appreciatively.

 

The Black business owners were at the seat of state government on Feb. 16 at Brundidge’s invitation. For the second year in a row, she conceived and presented Black Entrepreneurs Day at the Capitol, presented by her podcasting platform and production company, ShelettaMakesMeLaugh.com.

 

Like last year, the event was aimed at introducing Minnesota’s Black business owners to policy and decision makers and then activating them to flex their collective political muscle.

 

“Nothing like this had ever been done. The special interests have lobbyists to look out for them; nurses, doctors and teachers have lobbyists. There is not a lobbyist for Black entrepreneurs and I know we needed to fix that,” Brundidge said from the platform.

 

“I am deputizing each and every one of you. You are your own lobbyist. Speak up for yourself and your business,” she urged. “This is our day!”

 

In attendance were a who’s who of Minnesota elected leaders and state lawmakers, including Senate President Bobby Joe Champion, Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy, Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman, State Auditor Julie Blaha and Lt Gov Peggy Flanagan.

 

“For far too long, policy decisions have been made without communities in the room, specifically without the Black community in the room. You are in the room today,” said Flanagan.

 

During last year’s session, the legislature responded to calls for greater equity by using the budget surplus to fund numerous programs aimed at boosting minority owned businesses through new or enhanced programs, grants, and low and no interest loan programs.

 

 

 

This year, Black small business owners from Duluth, Rochester and St Cloud traveled to St Paul, adding to the number of Black entrepreneurs who stepped away from their businesses to attend, press the powerful for additional considerations and advocate for more resources.

 

“Your presence here is going to shape our decisions,” said Murphy.

 

The call for additional support to strengthen Black businesses came from entrepreneurs who are striving and surviving. Shaunie Grigsby, owner of Flava Cafe in St Paul, offered a reminder that historic barriers and gaps remain, frustrating entrepreneurs of color in their efforts to scale their businesses and build generational wealth.

 

“Black entrepreneurs face formidable obstacles on the path to success. They cite limited access to funds as the most significant barrier impeding their growth. This is a stark reality that underscores the systemic challenges Black entrepreneurs face,” Grigsby said.

 

“Furthermore consider this. Single black women are 4 times less likely to inherit assets compare to single white men. This glaring disparity also perpetuates the wealth gap across generations,” she added.

 

After the Rally in the Rotunda, Brundidge had prepared a customized agenda for every Black business owner in attendance, pairing them with their own state representative or senator or connecting them with a policy maker who could help them with concerns facing their business.

 

Last year, 12 state legislators participated in the event; this year 52 came to connect with their constituents of color and listen to their needs and frustrations with persistent inequities.

 

“When you talk to your legislator, no matter where you live, tell them it is good to invest in Black entrepreneurs because what is good for Black entrepreneurs is good for the rest of the state as well,” Champion said.

 

After the rally and the one-on-one meetings, all of the Black entrepreneurs and their allies joined with the political contingent to break bread together in The Vault, solidifying new relationships, making additional connections and networking over lunch.

 

“Not only did I get blessed with direct access to my local legislators at this event, I got to talk with business owners from all over the state of Minnesota,” said Michael Roberts, a residential properties owner/co-founder (with his mother) of ButtaRolls. “I also was able to establish so many new contacts and possibly partnerships and resources that I still can't believe it.”

 

“There is so much power in showing up. I left feeling inspired and confident that I can finish what I’ve started,” added artist Crystal Sokuu. “Together we can and together we will!”

 

While gratified by the turnout, Brundidge said that drawing a large crowd was only part of her goal for Black Entrepreneurs Day. She said she wants lawmakers to remember that the Black business owners they met with will be watching their decisions and holding them accountable.

 

“This is an event that brings us together to take us from just surviving to thriving,” she said. “Money has been flying over our heads for far too long. We gonna reach up and grab some. They’re not going to be able to pat us on our head and rub us on our backs and send us home hungry any more.”

 

Sponsors for Black Entrepreneurs Day at the Capitol included Comcast, AARP Minnesota, Clockwork, Northwestern Mutual and Clear Channel Outdoors.

 

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