By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer,
Report for America Corps Member,
Since 1997, Dallas-based Urban Specialists has worked to combat the violence and cycle of poverty that plague urban communities. The nonprofit was founded by the late Bishop Omar Jahwar, who lived by the mantra: “Only inspired people can inspire people to be a part of change.”
The organization is relentlessly focused on solutions. When it first started, Urban Specialists worked in minority communities to prevent youth from joining gangs and engaging in criminal activity by exposing them to workforce avenues and educational opportunities. The organization employed returning citizens to help mentor the youth.
Urban Specialists’ latest solution to alleviating violence and poverty in marginalized communities is entrepreneurship.
“When we started training individuals, we realized that a lot of the people who we were coming into contact with were entrepreneurs. They had business ideas, and they were operating,” said Antong Lucky, president and CEO of Urban Specialists. “But, they didn’t have access to banks or lines of credit.”
Several months ago, Urban Specialists established the Bishop Omar School of Entrepreneurship, which seeks to disrupt generational poverty by providing business development services that will help individuals become successful business owners. Urban Specialists partnered with entrepreneurial nonprofit, Rising Tide Capital, to develop the programming for the school.
“Most of our entrepreneurs are doing business out of one pocket that meshes their personal finances and business finances together, which is a disaster,” said Lucky. “We’re going to teach them how to get their financing and accounting together.”
The Bishop Omar School of Entrepreneurship’s first cohort of 30 students began training on March 12.
They will first participate in a 12-week Community Business Academy where they will meet industry professionals who will cover topics, including, how to register a business, how to stand out from competitors and how to determine a price point for goods and services. Then, they will go into a Business Acceleration course where they will be partnered with a business coach to support them in locating funding.
By graduation, all participants will be able to craft their business plan.
When the entrepreneurs are ready, representatives from the Bishop Omar School of Entrepreneurship will serve as loan brokers to help them access capital from banks, and they will help the entrepreneurs engage in seed funding.
In 2022, the Bishop Omar School of Entrepreneurship will run three cohorts, but Lucky intends for the school to run 6 cohorts in 2023. He also hopes that the school will expand into other communities around the country to continue to disrupt poverty and violence.
“We just have to raise the bar in terms of education for entrepreneurs, and I think as we do that, we’re going to see equal power, and we’re going to see Black businesses flourish,” said Lucky. “I just think it’s going to be this renaissance of Black business because we are the backbone of this society, you can’t forget that.”
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