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'We are the leaders of right now': Black Engagement Network's 'Shop Black Small Business Bootcamp' illuminates important opportunities for Black business owners  


Emmalyne Head has a buttery Tennessee drawl. Her voice is warm. It's comforting. And, about a year ago, it became an accidental business superpower.

"I think it kind of helped, because thinking about hospitality, people felt like it was really easy to talk to me and it kind of made my clients feel at ease," said Head, the owner of Southern Belle Cleaner in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.

Though her one-year-old company witnessed impressive success in a pandemic-wounded economy, Head recently realized that she had business blind spots. A growing frustration around her self-described knowledge gaps led the 38-year-old Nashville, Tennessee, native to sign up for the Washington Football Team's first Shop Black Small Business Bootcamp on Saturday, Oct. 2. The event, which featured an expert panel of Black business owners, presented a special opportunity for those like Head to learn about ways to level up success as diverse business owners in an increasingly e-commerce-centric world.

There was significant meaning behind holding the bootcamp this month. Washington is coming up on the one-year anniversary of the launch of its Shop Black Directory, a curated index of Black-owned businesses in the DMV area.

"We wanted to give the opportunity [with the Bootcamp] for these Black-owned businesses to be positioned for success and economic advancement," said Chanelle Reynolds, Washington's Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Programs Lead.

That goal helped guide the curation of the Bootcamp's panel. Johnny Bailey was a no-brainer selection for the event's list of speakers. A Google Digital fourth generation HBCU alum, Bailey led sessions focused on how to create a Google Business profile and maximize a business website.

"The Google presentation was very helpful, because I really, really, really struggled with that on my own," Head said.

Between Bailey's sessions, Kindra Harvey presented on diverse supplier certification, a key inclusion for the event's varied attendees who own businesses in spaces ranging from fitness to clothing to therapy services. In the session, Harvey explained how certified diverse supplier status allows diverse business owners access to designated funding.

This topic was particularly important to Head -- not just because of her future as a business owner, but also because of her family's past as Black entrepreneurs. In the 1940s, Head's grandfather on her father's side became the first black man in Tennessee to get a contractor's license. Head's grandfather on her mother's side was pivotal in filing a class action lawsuit against the US Department of Agriculture, because of its refusal to give loans to Black farmers.

When elaborating on the advocacy of her grandfathers, Head reflected on the problematic attitudes and absence of understanding around racial issues of that time. Intentional consideration for minority business owners didn't exist. Diverse supplier certifications didn't exist. "That was a reason they struggled so hard," Head said. "Nobody was setting anything aside to even out the playing field."

The hope is that events like Washington's Shop Black Small Business Bootcamp will continue to pass on knowledge to strengthen existing Black entrepreneurial legacies and build new ones.

Though Bailey didn't know about Emmalyne Head's grandfathers, his final words to attendees on Saturday seemed to harmonize with the message at the core of this family story.

"Being a Black business owner and thinking about us standing on the shoulders of our ancestors, it's a responsibility and a privilege," Bailey said. "You can go out and share this information with someone in your community who looks like you. We are the leaders of right now."

About Washington's Black Engagement Network & the Shop Black Directory

Introduced in June 2020, the Washington Football Team's Black Engagement Network has contributed to the advancement of the Washington Football Team's Black employees and members of the community. B.E.N.'s vision is to acquire, develop and retain African-American talent, while serving the communities in which we live, work and play.

For more information on B.E.N. and to view the Shop Black Directory, please visit Stay up to date on all Washington Football Team news via the team's website, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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