By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,

In honor of National Black Business Month, the AFRO, the oldest Black business in Maryland, welcomed local African American entrepreneurs to the media company’s headquarters in Downtown Baltimore for an exclusive networking reception on Aug. 24. The business owners spanned industries, including construction, financial services, beauty, wellness, food and beverage and law. 

The event was sponsored by Giant Food, PNC Bank, T. Rowe Price and AARP.  While entrepreneurs mingled, they also enjoyed refreshments from Sheri’s Sensational Catering and Hiatus Cheesecake, as well as listened to music by Richard Semper of the Trinidad and Tobago Baltimore Steel Orchestra. 

“It was so refreshing to see so many young Black business owners passionate about their business. I think it was a good cross section of different generations of business and people,” said Dr. Frances “Toni” Draper, publisher of the AFRO. “They really came to network, and I think it was a great event.” 

Some invitees, like Arnold Williams of Abrams, Foster, Nole and Williams Public Accounting, have been in business for 40 years. While others, like Julie Greene of Transformative Healing and Wellness, started their business during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

During the event, the AFRO also debuted its new Digital Billboard Network (DBN), a system of television screens displaying original coverage from the media company. The screens are located across 10 locations, like gyms, restaurants and barber shops, in the Randallstown and Owings Mills, Md. areas. 

“We have so much tremendous content that people may not know about because of the way content is delivered. Many of us get our news from soundbites or social media, and that has its purpose,” said Draper. “But we have the kind of content that empowers, educates, encourages and informs our community. We want as many people as possible to see and spread that content.” 

Bianca J. Jackson, founder of BrickRose Exchange, attended the event to meet other entrepreneurs but also to meet the team behind the AFRO. Her business enables individuals, companies and organizations to host events in the metaverse. 

“I didn’t hear about the AFRO until more recently, but when I did, I wanted to stay tapped in and connected to what the AFRO was doing,” said Jackson. 

For her, the networking event allowed entrepreneurs to discover opportunities for partnerships with one another. In some cases, it also connected them face-to-face with business owners they’ve been engaged with through email or phone conversations. 

“I honestly believe in the African proverb, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ Being in a city, like Baltimore, where it’s majority Black, there are things that we know about, but opportunities and resources are kept in pockets of the city,” said Jackson. “Coming out to networking events helps break down those silos and helps the stream of resources and capital move a whole lot faster.” 

Jared McKay, owner of the Wealth Renaissance, moved to Prince George’s County, Md. from Atlanta seven months ago. The financial coach chose to attend the networking reception to meet new people and explore the Baltimore area. 

“It’s important to be around other entrepreneurs at any level. As Black entrepreneurs, we know what we go through as business owners and as people,” said McKay. “We have those same stories and that same understanding. If we can lift each other up, do business with each other and leverage each other’s networks, then we’ll all continue to rise not only as business owners but as a community and local area.” 

Megan Sayles is a Report for America Corps member.