Before the death of Michael Brown Jr., entrepreneur Ohun Ashe said she did not see many black-owned businesses in her community.
In 2014, Ashe was in the streets of Ferguson and St. Louis protesting the killing of Brown. She recorded video footage of scenes between police and protestors and even the moment when she was arrested and thrown into a paddy wagon. Once demonstrations died down, Ashe was determined to understand her role in the protests.
It was not until 2016 when Ashe envisioned providing the St. Louis community with an online black business directory, ForTheCultureSTL.com.
“I believe St. Louis resparked [being] black and proud,” Ashe said. “Especially for people in my generation, it was something we didn’t even know we were missing, so I didn’t even realize that it was not normal to not have a black business to go to that represents me.”
The online business guide has more than 35 black events on its calendar this month and promotes black businesses in the realm of art, fashion and beauty, medicine, fitness, communications, legal affairs, food, education and skilled labor.
Ashe did not learn about the art of business until she entered college, because she did not have any entrepreneurs in her family.
Since ownership is new for Ashe, she said she will continue to create spaces to generate wealth for the black community.
“If we keep focusing on creating things for each other and helping each other, then that is the St. Louis that we all know, and that’s why so many people are motivated to stick it out here and make St. Louis something to be proud of," she said.
Along with the events listed, Ashe also hosts gatherings for black businesses to connect businesses with community.
Kristo Baricevic, a racial equity and community outreach team member at the coworking space CIC@4240, noticed there was a cancellation for a business event at Cortex Commons and asked Ashe if she would like to fill the event space with a pop-up event.
Baricevic said he knows there is a large number of people who do not benefit from the same privileges as other business owners in the region, so he feels that “investing in black entrepreneurs is a great way to empower the black community and help give them tools and resources to thrive.”
Ashe said with her website she will continue to feed her community, because when it comes to the next African American generation, she wants them to know that their dreams can come true.
Ashe will host The Black Owned Pop Up Shop on Wednesday at 4 p.m., showcasing more than 40 small, black area companies at Cortex Commons.
When it comes to sustaining a black business in St. Louis, Ashe said it will take community support and innovation.
“Take advantage of the Etsys and other online ways to get things done, because realistically we [African Americans] can't wait and look for handouts; we can’t wait for a bank to accept our loans, and we haven't been waiting on that.”
Andrea Y. Henderson is part of the public-radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland, Oregon. Follow Andrea at @drebjournalist.
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