An online community for black-owned businesses in Mississippi must endure

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Although Mississippi has a painful past, we must reflect on how far we have come and continue to uplift our communities for a better future, especially black communities.

“Randy aspired to bring together black small business owners in Mississippi to collaborate, communicate and support each other as they grow their businesses and strengthen their communities,” writes Ebony McLaughlin. Photo by Ebony McLaughlin

My late husband Randy McLaughlin, a former truck driver, started a small business buying cars and donating them to a

affordable price for single mothers and others in need of reliable transportation. He wanted families to have a car without the burden of a car payment. Randy recognized how raising a family could benefit others and how helping a neighbor impacts the neighborhood. He saw the potential of taking this philosophy and extending it to an online environment.

In 2016, Randy aspired to bring together black small business owners in Mississippi to collaborate, communicate and support each other while growing their businesses and strengthening their communities. He also wanted to provide a platform for productive public feedback on how small businesses in our community could better serve their customers.

Randy always said, “If they don’t know, they can’t fix it,” so he created the Mississippi Black-Owned Businesses Facebook Group. It grew from 50 members to 500 seemingly overnight, and we now have 1,600 business owners committed to helping fellow Mississippi entrepreneurs thrive.

Online business community inspires collaboration

After his death last year, I saw the love pouring out from the members to each other and knew the band had to live on. I have continued to carry on his legacy through this online community, and I know he smiles whenever someone shares an exciting update or makes a meaningful connection. Members support each other and help fellow entrepreneurs become better business owners. They’ve hosted pop-up shops for each other, offered advice and become mentors to others with a dream.

I love this spirit of collaboration and support, but I know we can do more.

Members of the Facebook group have also become mentors for teens and young adults through my non-profit organization, called Infinite Youth. We focus on academics while providing young people with the tools for a more successful future. Our hub may be in Mississippi, but our reach is now global, thanks to the power of social media. We offer ACT and SAT test prep, tutoring, mentoring, and self-motivation workshops.

Our “Road to Success” program includes college tours and a spring trade show. We help students identify their interests, then connect them with business owners and working professionals for mentorship. They follow professionals in various fields, learn different trades and see what the future holds for them. They also learn how to eliminate debt, build credit, and find a path to success. There’s nothing wrong with working in corporate America, but we want our young people to also know that they can be an entrepreneur and be their own boss.

Man in a suit with a nice watch holding a newspaper with a headline that says Business
“There is nothing wrong with working in corporate America, but we want our young people to also know that they can be an entrepreneur and be their own boss,” writes Ebony McLaughlin. Photo by Adeolu Eletu on Unsplash

As a small business owner himself, Randy wanted everyone who dreams of a small business to have a fair chance at business and success. The Mississippi Black Owned Business Facebook group welcomes people of all ethnic backgrounds to promote a community of inclusion and tolerance. By sharing business updates, promoting our products, and posting information about job opportunities, we are able to network with like-minded small business owners virtually. It’s truly amazing how a simple message or taking a minute out of your day to elevate a brand online can have such a significant impact on businesses.

Remember that just saying you support black businesses is not enough. Supporting Black businesses means investing in products and services so Black business owners can provide for their families and continue to give back to their neighborhoods. We need our young people to see success in all its colors and that everyone has the chance to have a better future.

Black History Month is a time to recognize and celebrate black people who have achieved great things while breaking down age-old racial and stereotypical barriers. However, February is over. I urge you to support Black-owned businesses throughout the year.

We must all continue to grow our Black-owned business community and emphasize Mississippi’s uniqueness and cultural diversity.

This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Free Press, its staff, or its board members. To submit an essay for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and fact-checking information to [email protected] We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.

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