Black professionals are claiming their space in the economy. In 2021, the number of Black-owned businesses in the U.S. grew 38% from pre-pandemic numbers—becoming the fastest-growing entrepreneurial group, according to Bloomberg.
In Baton Rouge, the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce is seeing—and helping foster—a similar trend. All over town, Black entrepreneurs and professionals continue to open new virtual and bricks-and-mortar businesses at an increasing rate.
The chamber, founded in 2018, provides Black professionals and people of color opportunities to build their network and community, as well as gain access to funding, professional development and financial literacy. It aims to empower business owners to be successful and sustainable.
“We are entering a renaissance era in Baton Rouge,” says executive director Myra N. Richardson. “There are people under the age of 40 developing property all over town. Baton Rouge is at a moment to pivot.”
Richardson, who also coaches businesses on strategic planning and marketing through her firm Red Torch Consulting, became the chamber’s executive director in January 2022.
In May, the organization opened its official headquarters at the ExxonMobil Community Center on Scenic Highway.
“Our office is now housed at the ExxonMobil Community Center, because they’re one of the organizations who stepped up and said they want to have a critical role in moving Black and brown businesses forward,” Richardson says. “So now we’re able to have programming, and we’re serving businesses every day.”
Since she became director, the chamber has grown by the hundreds, surging from 28 to 370 members. She plans to continue widening its network as the organization celebrates its five-year anniversary in 2023.
Even beyond membership growth, 2022 has been the organization’s most active year yet.
It has hosted a community bike ride with Geaux Ride, as well as in-person and virtual workshops on taxes, financial literacy and the art of marketing for small businesses. And just last month, it hosted a business market and festival at the Main Library at Goodwood, with vendors, live music and food trucks.
This flurry of activity is making an impact.
“Engaging, building and supporting minority-owned businesses is the key to peace, prosperity and progress in our city,” says Mayor Sharon Weston Broome, whose administration has aimed to grow small, local businesses and increase opportunities for socially and economically disadvantaged groups. “Partners, such as the Black Chamber of Commerce, are essential to this work.”
The Chamber’s online members directory is a resource for those looking to shop, support or collaborate with Black-owned businesses.
It features entrepreneurs, organizations and companies from all areas. It’s categorized by business type, including advertising and media, finance and insurance, legal, health care, transportation, real estate, and wellness and personal services such as beauty salons, childcare and counseling.
“Even if you’re not Black, community partners can support the chamber,” Richardson says. “You can create space for opportunity. I have been counted out for so long in my life. I don’t want any young person to feel that way. In this organization, there’s a place for everybody.”
There are many ways to get involved with the Black Chamber of Commerce.
Locals can apply online for a membership as an individual, student, university, church, nonprofit or business.
Members have the opportunity to be spotlighted on the organization’s website and social media, included in the online directory, get notified about upcoming local events and have their announcements broadcasted to the Black Chamber of Commerce network.
Moving forward, Richardson plans to engage with new partners, continue fundraising, and complete the chamber’s strategic plan for the future of the Black Chamber of Commerce.
“This is the opportunity for us to stop surviving and start thriving,” Richardson says. “Everyone can have a piece of the pie.” brmbcc.org
This article was originally published in the August 2022 issue of 225 magazine.