Lakeysha Hallmon prides herself on following in the footsteps of O. W. Gurley, the founder of Tulsa’s Greenwood district, known as the original Black Wall Street.
Like Gurley, who moved from Arkansas to Oklahoma where he purchased the 40 acres of land upon which he’d build Black businesses, Hallmon left Mississippi for Atlanta 10 years ago with similar plans.
“Atlanta exemplifies mobility, and where there’s mobility there’s opportunity,” says Hallmon. “There’s an opportunity where there’s already unapologetic conversations around economic mobility for Black people.”
Hallmon founded the Village Market in 2016, an Atlanta-based initiative that aims to support Black entrepreneurs through marketing campaigns and marketplaces. She’s one of many Black leaders who are vowing to keep Gurley’s Black Wall Street vision alive 100 years after the Tulsa race massacre destroyed his prosperous Black neighborhood.
“A lot of my decisions are made by the way that he conducted business, the way that he truly galvanized the community,” says Hallmon.
To date, the Village Market’s annual “Buy Black in August” campaign, triannual marketplace and community retail store—which shares 80% of profits with those whose products are sold—have generated more than $5.3 million for local, Black-owned businesses. Hallmon has also launched a 12-week incubator called Elevate that’s provided more than 75 Black entrepreneurs with mentors and funding support to scale their businesses.
Actor Hill Harper saw an opportunity to digitize Black Wall Street. On Monday he launched The Black Wall Street: a cryptocurrency app that allows users to trade and convert cryptocurrencies. It also offers financial literacy resources for Black communities that are often underserved.
“O.W. Gurley originally founded the Greenwood district…and since then we’ve had this whole trend,” says Harper. “Nipsey Hussle talked about it with ‘buy back the block.’ Our thing here is: buy back the blockchain.”
“Black culture has empowered and emboldened so many tech companies,” Harper adds. “Yet that value has not yet made its way back into our community. Owning this platform is to allow individuals in the community to own their own culture and to benefit from it.”
Randy Wiggins is honoring Tulsa by putting down roots for a new Black Wall Street in the city. “We want Tulsa to be the world’s most Black entrepreneur-centric ecosystem, which is essentially what it was at the turn of the 20th century.”
Tulsa isn’t just rich in history, notes Wiggins. Geographically, it’s ideal for budding Black entrepreneurs. “[That’s] reality given Covid-19, high prices and cost of living on the coasts,” says Wiggins.
Through his initiative, Build In Tulsa, which launched Monday, he aims to attract and support Black businesses that choose to settle in Tusla. The organization’s advisory board includes Ariel Investments’ John Rogers, whose grandfather owned property that was destroyed during the massacre, and Loida Nicolas Lewis, widow of the late businessman Reginald Lewis.
Build In Tulsa is launching three accelerator programs, and within two years hopes to provide 30 companies with the funding they need to set up shop in Tulsa. Long-term goals include opening a dedicated Black Tech HQ in the city and launching a $10 million seed fund.
Wiggins is also in the process of acquiring an 11-acre property five minutes from the original Tulsa Black Wall Street. He wants to make this a hub for Black-owned stores.
“Black Wall Street to me means radical and intentional partnership and collaboration across every segment of Tulsa and greater Black America,” says Wiggins. “It’s about every part of the Black community in America thinking about Tulsa as what it was, which was the center a Black wealth creation, and everyone pulling an oar to make that a reality again.”
J. Hackett, owner of Asheville’s first Black-owned coffee shop Grind Coffee Co., wants to build a Black Wall Street in his city. He is reinvesting a $50,000 grant he received from the North Carolina Black Entrepreneurship Council to create an incubator for 25 Asheville Black-owned businesses. With the help of 15 local partners—including Hatch AVL, Venture Asheville, Rotary Club of Downtown Asheville, and the City of Asheville’s Business Inclusion Office—his goal is that each business exits the program with at least $250,000 in revenue.
He’s also generated more then $200,000 for Asheville’s Black business community through Grind Black Wall Street AVL, an initiative that hosts twice monthly pop-up shops featuring Black-owned vendors. But Hackett has greater ambitions to create a dedicated space for Black businesses and has been eyeing a vacant property in the heart of Asheville.
“We have to be able to think systemically: what does it take to be part of the history making of the future?” asks Hackett. “If you don’t have a physical location, it’d be easy for history to forget you. But if you [do], it’s going to be hard to erase that. It’s important for every city to have some home base for Black Wall Street.”
Back in Atlanta, Hallmon acknowledges that each modern-day vision for Black Wall Street is different, and all are a unique variation of Gurley’s. Their ultimate goals, however, are the same.
“The 2021 version of Black Wall Street is what it was 100 years ago: it’s a model of resilience,” says Hallmon. “It’s Black people deciding yet again to be each other’s greatest resource.”
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