Negative stigmas surrounding today’s Black youth portray them as lazy and disconnected from race issues in America. But this vast generalization misses an exciting phenomenon taking place on the ground: A wave of activist-oriented entrepreneurialism is sweeping through the millennial generation, as many emerging Black entrepreneurs hope that their personal successes lead to major victories for the Black community as a whole.
They are in it not just for themselves, but for their communities.
The protests and rallies that followed the deaths of unarmed Black people like Eric Garner and Michael Brown revealed that today’s Black youth indeed possess the ability to rally together and become civil rights activists when their community needs them the most.
This move to become more involved in creating change for their community, however, didn’t stop with marches through the streets and viral hashtags online.
The Black youth are taking the war against inequality into offices and boardrooms.
It’s a movement that may seem invisible to the naked eye and it could be hard to identify without being a part of the very culture that is producing a countless number of Black CEOs under the age of 30.
As Black leaders and civil rights organizations called for more Black entrepreneurs and business owners, many Black young people answered.
It’s a trend that is perhaps most evident in a major startup hub and economic center like Atlanta.
The Big Peach ranked at the top of the list for Under30CEO’s “Top 30 Best Cities for Young Entrepreneurs” in 2013, making it a great city for emerging Black entrepreneurs to thrive in.
“It’s hard to meet a young Black person in Atlanta that doesn’t have a clear business goal in mind,” Tiara LaRae Johnson, a 24-year-old PR maven and event planner, told Atlanta Blackstar. “Nobody is going to school thinking about working for somebody else. You’re thinking about turning your own potential into profit through your own business.”
That very thought is what inspired Johnson to launch a series of a networking events for young professionals in the city, including The Young Moguls’ Mixer, In Popular Demand and her upcoming Meeting of the Minds.
Every event, she says, always brings out an impressive crowd.
“Atlanta isn’t just a party scene,” she added. “You’d be surprised how many young people come to these networking events and want to meet other young Black people who are trying to build their own empires…Especially with everything that’s going on right now. I think young Black people realize how important that is.”
Johnson pointed to the economic struggles that are making it hard for the Black community to fight back against injustice on both a political and economic scale.
Today’s Black youth are still being plagued by high unemployment rates.
Nela Richardson, a senior economist from Bloomberg, revealed in an interview with PBS that nearly 40 percent of today’s Black teens are unemployed.
It’s the type of statistic that speaks to the presence of systemic racism that has kept Black graduation rates down and left many Black youth struggling in low-opportunity neighborhoods.
Today’s Black youth are taking it upon themselves to change that.
“I believe there are three reasons entrepreneurship has become a trend among Black youth,” Porsha Antalan, the 26-year-old founder and CEO of Femqua Productions, told Atlanta Blackstar. “The first reason would have to be becoming your own boss. The second reason is job creation, especially with the height of unemployment. The third, which is a personal goal of mine, is to create generational wealth and legacy.”
Despite her young age, Antalan has already had some of Atlanta’s biggest names, including supermodel and reality star Cynthia Bailey, hip-hop star K Camp and R&B singer K. Michelle, on the other side of her camera.
Antalan has opened up about naysayers in the past, but like many other young Black entrepreneurs, her passion propelled her forward.
“It’s like there are two different kinds of passion that keep you moving now,” Johnson added. “You have that passion that’s about you loving what you do, but then you also think about what you’re doing, what does it mean to other people…to the Black community.”
It’s that type of passion that is driving a sense of fearlessness among the youth and encouraging them to step outside the norm.
“I really believe that our generation is not scared to follow their dreams and are straying away from the typical ‘go to school, get a job, work your way up, and then retire,’” said 21-year-old Justin McLeod, the founder and CEO of Event Tent, LLC, a company developing a mobile solution that phases out media clutter to simplify event discovery.
McLeod added that the sheer number of young Black entrepreneurs often drives “friendly competition” and allows even more innovative ideas to spark while also adding to a newfound passion for education.
All of the young entrepreneurs made it clear that their passion is not only rooted in their personal interest but also in the potential of what their companies could mean for their community in the future.
“If you work hard now, you think about in a few years you can be the company that gets some of these kids off the street because they have potential and they don’t need to be there,” Johnson said.
Antalan mirrored those sentiments and said that the desire to create more employment opportunities for the Black community is a major part of what’s driving the wave of young Black businesspeople.
“The creation of more businesses will unquestionably bring more jobs as long as, as a community, we make it a priority to patronize Black established businesses,” Antalan said. “Support breeds growth. The benefits of financial growth can then be dispersed to others in our community in the form of employment.”
In addition to the vast economic benefits that could come from a new wave of successful Black businesses, the young entrepreneurs made it clear that their success is key to changing the overall perception of Black youth.
“The more people that see Blacks in the founder/CEO positions will set examples for the Black youth and community to strive for the same entrepreneurial aspirations,” McLeod said.
Johnson agreed that welcoming more Black CEOs and entrepreneurs could help change the overall perception of the Black community but also insisted that the real key is to create economic control by utilizing Black spending power.
“We have to make this a situation of, ‘OK, you can’t sit with us,’” Johnson said. “And make sure that our own businesses and our own community is prospering in a way that when we say ‘you can’t sit with us,’ you’re screwed. Your value is gone. Your profits are gone. You are irrelevant. Until you find a way to correct what you’re doing and get back at the table, you can’t eat.”
As Antalan pointed out, it’s through the success of the entire community, not just a select few, that will truly drive Black people to victory as they continue to wage a war on social injustices and racial inequality by targeting corporate America.