North Carolina

Representation matters | Black entrepreneurs in Raleigh highlight value of representation, building generational wealth

Working from her downtown Raleigh location, Evette Hunt recalls a time when the mere image would have been unheard of.

“There were some areas that we didn’t venture into because they weren’t owned by black people and we weren’t allowed into those stores,” said Hunt, who owns Evette’s beauty salon on S. Wilmington Street.

Hunt previously worked at Sellars Beauty Salon before taking over and rebranding the location from the outgoing owner. She cited a strong working relationship with the building’s previous owner and landlord in securing the premises.

“Your personality will speak for you. The way you represent yourself, the way you behave. It will speak for you. And then it’s very important to be able to represent my community because there aren’t many black-owned businesses downtown. So that’s very important to my community, my culture, my family, my kids, my grandkids,” Hunt said.

It took over just before the pandemic began, and after a difficult first year that included a closure and damage from downtown protests, business has noticeably taken off.

“I just want to show[young people]that they can do this and look out my window and see my face in here and know there’s someone who looks like them and runs their own business,” Hunt explained.

“I think it’s more important for generations to come to give our children hope that one day they can run and own their own business. You must see people like me. You need to see other people, other black businesses, it’s not always working for someone but being able to shorten the checks,” added James Sampson, owner of Corner Boys BBQ.

Nevertheless, challenges remain.

“There were some obstacles for me when trying to get capital,” Hunt said.

The 2021 US Census Bureau estimates that about 2.4% of businesses in the US are owned by black people, a number that agrees with a separate report Lending Tree published last year. The Federal Reserve cited data from the 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances and found that white families had median incomes nearly eight times that of black families; Lack of funds has long been a key concern for minority-owned businesses when trying to start a business.

“If we could access the information about running a business from the LLC to the various trusts and places we could go to get (get) funding to learn more about business loans,” Sampson suggested.

He said securing sources of funding has become easier as the success has increased, although it can often be a years-long drudgery.

“I started selling plates from my (car). I went to barber shops, salons, bike shops, I’ve been everywhere,” said Sampson, who now runs a food truck and catering operation.

Similar inequalities exist in home ownership, where disproportionate resources combined with inability to obtain credit can lead to generational wealth gaps.

“If your mom and dad or your grandparents never bought a home, you’re the first person in your family to buy a home, many of the things you would know to do with savings and down payments, closing costs, these are all overseas,” said Matthew Wardsworth, Wardsworth Group’s Principal Broker.

Wardsworth and his wife launched their residential real estate business on MLK weekend 2020.

“Sometimes it’s helpful for buyers and sellers to see someone across the table who looks like you,” Wardsworth explained.

The National Association of Realtors found that Blacks’ homeownership rate was 43.4%, lower than that of Whites, Asians, and Hispanics, and it was the only racial group of the four to see a decline in homeownership rates from 2010 to 2020. Industry sources put the percentage of real estate agents nationwide who are black at just 6%.

Regarding the proliferation of businesses across the city, Wardsworth shared his personal observations.

“I think progress is being made. I was born and raised in Raleigh. I’ve been in this area for a long time. There have always been black-owned businesses, but much of the concentration may have been just part of town. I think now I’m starting to see more of it, where I can go to different parts of Raleigh and see black-owned businesses thriving,” Wardsworth said.

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