By: Christina Long
I grew up in a loving, supportive African-American community in Wichita that set high expectations for children with potential; those who had a chance to excel in life.
“Go to school, make good grades so you can go to college and get a good job” was our blueprint for success. That meant, in my circles, business ownership wasn’t overly-discussed. Careers were.
Overall, that mentality remains firmly intact.
Entrepreneurship is risky business and, for many households living from paycheck-to-paycheck, you don’t gamble with your future. Instability, like failure, just isn’t an option.
A shift in mindset is needed if we’re going to develop more African-American entrepreneurs. That shift can begin with broadening the conversation around who can be an entrepreneur.
As the economy changed in my younger years, my parents began engaging in conversations about entrepreneurship within our home. Later, during my tenure as a newspaper reporter, I researched U.S. Census Bureau statistics and reports on African-American business ownership while telling the story of local contractors and city officials collaborating to create a more inclusive bidding and award city contracting system. I met passionate and dedicated service providers and advocates. I listened, reported and learned that — though a series of well-documented barriers to business ownership exist for the underserved — it is possible to overcome barriers of mindset.
Further insight for me came when Erik Pedersen, NetWork Kansas’ Vice President of Entrepreneurship, provided me a copy of “Who Owns the Ice House: Eight Life Lessons from an Unlikely Entrepreneur” by Clifton Taulbert and Gary Schoeniger. The preface of the book opens with the phrase: “Entrepreneurship is a mindset that can empower ordinary people to accomplish the extraordinary.”
That struck a chord. I read the book and shared it with another relative who shared it with another who shared it with another.
I still haven’t gotten that book back. And it’s OK.
I personally see results.
- In 2013, I launched a T-shirt company and, within two years, grew it into a fully licensed, insured and three-times state certified graphic design and communication services company with a client base ranging from local churches to large nonprofits and private corporations.
- In 2014, recognizing the need for more communication platforms covering stories of diverse entrepreneurs, I included a small business spotlight in Wichita Urban Professionals’ bimonthly magazine, Urban Magnate. Requests for coverage pour in.
- This year, I conceptualized the Create Campaign in partnership with the Entrepreneurship Task Force and key service providers including NetWork Kansas. The campaign aims to connect African-American entrepreneurs, in particular, with local business development organizations to help them start, scale and sustain their enterprises. The campaign’s kick-off event drew more than 75 African-American entrepreneurs— more than double the cohort that we expected to draw with our first program offering.
Looking across the Create Campaign kick-off event audience, I saw my community. I saw people with dreams and hopes for companies, start-up owners who were looking for direction and assurance and long-time business owners who were looking for strategies to successfully scale their companies. I also saw my parents. My Dad, in fact, has formally launched his own photography company.
Yes, going to school, making good grades, going to college and landing a good job is commendable and worthy of including among our high expectations. Let’s also begin to more actively promote business ownership —not as a deviation from the blueprint — but as another acceptable indicator of a success-focused mindset.
Christina Long is owner and principal consultant of CML Collective, LLC, a Wichita-based graphic design and communications company.