By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,

When New York native Mark Alston realized that African-American shoppers and sellers needed a central place to connect with one another, he knew he needed to do something. Not satisfied with just talking or complaining he took action and started the Buy Black Networking group on social media. The Facebook group provides a forum for Black entrepreneurs to engage with consumers and each other in an effort to advance their businesses. 

The first Buy Black Networking group was created in 2016 in Harlem, N.Y., Alston’s hometown, but the concept quickly spread to Baltimore. In 2018, the Buy Black Networking Baltimore was born. 

Mark Alston is the founder of Buy Black Networking, a string of Facebook groups that allows consumers and entrepreneurs to engage with one another. Buy Black Networking Baltimore launched in 2018 and holds over 66,000 members today. (Credit: Mark Alston)

Today, the Facebook group has over 66,000 members. Entrepreneurs can promote their businesses and services, while consumers can request referrals for Black businesses to patronize. 

Part of the impetus for the network was to encourage African Americans to buy Black. 

“We are good at buying and creating financial wealth for others,” said Alston, founder of Buy Black Networking. “We have a bunch of dynamic people of color who do not know how to network with one another.” 

He said the economic power of African Americans was demonstrated during the Civil Rights Movement. Segregation forced Black communities to come together and build their own restaurants, businesses and schools. 

Today, he thinks African-American spending is fueled by convenience. 

“We’re in a condition where we want things brought to us easy. You don’t have to get up and go to a store, you can get whatever you want from your phone or computer,” said Alston. “It’s a lot easier to go for convenience as opposed to supporting businesses from the Black community. We don’t have collective power.” 

Frances Cuesta, owner of Reinvent U Spa and Wellness, discovered Buy Black Networking Baltimore during the COVID-19 pandemic. A friend tagged her in a post from the group, urging her to join. 

Frances Cuesta is a moderator of the Buy Black Networking Facebook group for the Baltimore area. She is also owner of Reinvent U Spa and Wellness. (Credit: Frances Cuesta)

Cuesta did, and this summer she became a moderator of the group. She thinks the Buy Black Networking Baltimore group illustrates the benefit of collective power in the African-American community.

“A lot of times, the biggest misconception is that Black people can’t come together,” said Cuesta. “I think that Buy Black Networking Baltimore is a great example to show that we can come together, that we can work in decency and order, that we can bring forward movement and that we can heighten awareness as it relates Black business.” 

She explained that Buy Black Networking Baltimore is more than just a group for referrals. It’s a hub for business resources and a space for education. Some entrepreneurs host seminars and workshops to discuss best business practices, marketing strategies and common business mistakes to avoid. 

Cuesta manages the wellness program for the Buy Black Networking Baltimore, curating different events and resources that center on self-care. 

“You have entrepreneurs who are seeking exposure by clientele or you have the clientele who wants to support a Black business. That is power right there,” said Cuesta. We’re able to take both realms and intertwine them so that one is helping the other.” 

Life insurance agent, Carlotta Miller, has been involved with Buy Black Networking Baltimore for three years and serves as the marketing specialist for the group. She highlighted how the network is suited to demonstrate the power of the Black dollar. 

According to McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, Black spending is expected to reach $1.7 trillion by 2030. 

“The Black dollar is responsible for a large portion of spending in our country,” said Miller. “Just imagine if we were rotating those dollars only within ourselves, we would have a power, a bond, and growth that is unbreakable.” 

Aside from the Buy Black Networking Baltimore group, there are sections of the initiative for Washington, D.C., Virginia and the D.C., Maryland, Virginia (DMV) area as a whole. From apparel companies and chefs to teachers and therapists, the groups create a web of top-notch places to patronize during Black Business Month and any time of year.

Check out the guide in this section to see where you can spend your next dollar!

Megan Sayles is a Report For America corps member.