BY REGINA L. SMITH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HARLEM BUSINESS ALLIANCE
As a lifelong resident of Harlem, I have always been deeply committed to community empowerment having been raised in a politically active household. Over the years, I have fought to improve substandard schools, to increase affordable home ownership and to foster economic development by and for Black people at the Harlem Business Alliance.
At HBA, we have a long legacy of firsts…of doing things before they became the popular — 1st business plan competitions; the 1st innovation summit at the Schomburg; 1st shared co-working space, Creative Workspace @HBA; 1st STEM and entrepreneurship program for young adults, Disrupt Harlem Code Squad; 1st incubator for native-born Black women, The Lillian Project; 1st Shop Harlem for the Holidays gift guide and promotion activities featuring Black-owned businesses, and the 1st Black Business Matters forum.
Now, medicinal and recreational cannabis present incredible opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs, businesswomen and men to create, sustain and grow more Black businesses. HBA plans to do its part by connecting people and resources and fostering creativity and innovation in entrepreneurship. We understand that strong businesses build strong communities by hiring from the community, spending dollars within the community and generating wealth to pass on to our children. The challenge however is greater than ever.
Recent discussions about the decrease in Black unemployment fails to highlight that many are woefully underemployed and others who no longer seek employment are not reflected in these statistics. Rents are escalating; home ownership is out of reach; our schools are substandard; our men are incarcerated at astounding rates; the percentage of public and private contracts awarded to Black businesses is the lowest among all ethnic groups; and the list goes on.
We’ve read about and viewed cable shows about non-Black people who are making millions of dollars selling marijuana in other states while Black men in NYC are being arrested simply for possession. We believe the legalization of marijuana in New York is perhaps a year or two away. “Marijuana is the fastest-growing job category and there’s 445% job growth in job listings in the category year over year.” This is an incredible opportunity to create businesses and jobs for our own people. By taking the lead on this issue, in a community that has suffered tremendous harm from the “War on Drugs” and “School to Prison” pipeline, we can push for equity and reparative justice while facilitating the development of businesses that benefit Black people.
Every day, the Harlem Business Alliance inspires people to become self-made and take charge of their livelihoods through entrepreneurship. This summit is just an extension of that. This event will be the first of many led by HBA and specifically for Black people in Harlem. By starting conversations like these, we can grow a community of Black entrepreneurs and prepare them to not just participate in but to dominate the cannabis industry. We love a success story, especially when it is a thriving, successful, black-owned business.