How can a person thrive in a system that, at best, wasn’t built for them to succeed?
For Khamil Scantling and Samantha Black, the answer lies in empowerment and education. When the Pittsburgh entrepreneurs met, they commiserated over the fact that there was no easy way for people like themselves to access basic information about how to start and sustain a small business.
“We were essentially trying to find our way as Black business owners,” Black said, “and we were like, there’s no place where people learn how to do simple things like marketing or accounting.”
Black moved to the United States from Jamaica at age 10 and later spent years in the Army before founding Support Your Local Artist (SYLA) Pittsburgh, a consulting and curating organization that tackles socioeconomic issues through local arts and culture promotions.
Scantling, a University of Pittsburgh graduate, is the CEO and founder of Cocoapreneur, a consultancy that maintains a directory of Black-owned businesses in the area. In May, she started a Black Business Relief Fund to support Black-owned businesses damaged in protests against police brutality, raising over $60,000.
In 2018, they realized they shared many of the same aspirations, as well as frustrations, so they confronted the problem head-on, partnering with the law firm Cohen & Grigsby on a monthly educational series, “Minding Your Black Business,” which taught Black entrepreneurs how to work through the key parts of running a profitable business.
These standing-room-only sessions became the inspiration for 2019 Greenwood Week, a weeklong educational seminar whose motto is “rebuilding Black economics.” (The name of the event comes from the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, when white mobs destroyed the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma, so affluent it was known as “Black Wall Street.”)
Initially planned for Pittsburgh’s East End, year two of Greenwood Week, October 4-10, will occur virtually, on the Black-woman-owned Wofemtech web platform. Attendees’ $200 entry fee will be covered by donations and sponsorships to help offset the financial burden caused by the pandemic.
Ten different sessions will cover topics from accounting and business planning to fundraising, tech solutions, self-care, and strategic growth. Presenters are experts in their field and share similar life experience and background as many of the participants, to ensure culturally relevant information in what traditionally is not a diverse space.
“Every single time I walk into any type of VC event, any type of tech founder event, I am the only Black person in that role. Well, maybe there’s another, but it’s just the two of us,” Scantling said.
Out of more than 100 Greenwood Week participants in 2019, over 83% identified as women, 98% identified as African American, and 72% were already small business owners.
Last year’s event was organized by Scantling and Black alone, while this year includes six additional organizers who worked as instructors in 2019, all of whom will be paid for their efforts.
And while this year’s conference is remote, year one featured free meals and on-site childcare to ensure that participants could focus on the presentations without distraction.
“Greenwood Week is a networking, educational, and healing experience that should be curated for Black people everywhere on a national scale,” said Julius Boatwright, Greenwood Week presenter and mental health advocate. “The rich learning and deep fellowship that happened was beyond transformational for everyone in attendance. I’m truly grateful to have been involved in such a vital, uplifting event.”
Scantling and Black said they recognize that entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone, but stressed the importance of presenting potential business owners with an honest opportunity that might not have been available to them before.
“You know, it doesn’t matter your experience level, it doesn’t matter your age,” Scantling said. “But if you’re at a point where you have a skill, or a talent, or creative art, anything that you do that brings you joy, and you would like to move into something where you can sustain yourself doing that thing, we want to help you do that.”