Watch: Mandy Bowman gives her assessment of the landscape for Black business owners. Film by REVIVETHECOOL
The modern #BuyBlack movement hit an inflection point during 2020, with conversations on the racial wealth gap becoming commonplace and countless lists of “Black-owned businesses to support'' populating our social media feeds. But what happens next? And how did we get here?
Before hashtags—or the Internet—were even invented, buying Black existed. In fact, a focus on Black economic empowerment has been at the forefront of Black civil rights initiatives since Reconstruction. From the Black Wall Streets of Tulsa, Birmingham, and Richmond, to the rhetoric of Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., supporting Black-owned businesses has been seen as a means of self-reliance and protests.
But in the late-20th century, supporting Black-owned businesses fell out of favor with the Black mainstream and became primarily associated with Afrocentric movements. What was once a rallying cry for civil rights moved to the margins.
Fast-forward to the 2010s, and a change was in the air. With the murders of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown, a renewed interest in supporting Black-owned businesses appeared, and with it, new leaders for the digital age. Mandy Bowman, is one of those leaders. As the founder and CEO of Official Black Wall Street (OBWS), the largest Black-owned business discovery app, Bowman started laying the groundwork for the #BuyBlack Movement as early as 2014. Through OBWS, Bowman and team help Black-owned businesses gain exposure to more than 1.1 million users across their app and website; and more than 900K followers on Instagram. Entrepreneurs can list their businesses and offer users exclusive promotions.
We asked her to share her thoughts on the past, present and future state of the movement, as well as tactics that Black business owners can implement to sustain and grow their businesses year-round—not just when it’s trendy.
“I started Official Black Wall Street simply as a resource in the very beginning. I had just read about Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and how prosperous that neighborhood was with all the different Black-owned businesses there. And also during that time, I had just come back to Brooklyn after graduating college and I noticed that my neighborhood changed drastically. I mean, every time I came back home to visit, my neighborhood would change because of gentrification, and I noticed that a lot of the Black-owned businesses here were closing down as well. You have the Starbucks, and the Targets, and the other big box stores that come into neighborhoods, and it was difficult for them to keep up. So I just created a spreadsheet and said, alright, well, I'll just create a list of different Black-owned businesses around me, and I'll support them. I had found so many amazing businesses and thought, ‘I guess I should share this with other people and hopefully get them to support as well.’
“In 2014, I just created a couple of social media pages, and I began sharing different Black-owned businesses. This was during the time when the Michael Brown shooting happened. And so...it made me feel like I was doing something impactful, or I felt like I was helping out in some way, especially during a time where you feel so helpless watching what was happening in Ferguson. And so the community just continued growing from there. So, in 2014, I started with social media pages. In 2015, I launched the website for Official Black Wall Street. And in 2016, I launched a Kickstarter to raise funds to go into app development. In 2017, I became full-time, and I launched the Official Black Wall Street app that fall."
“The movement has changed drastically. I think the biggest thing is that there is more awareness even. I mean, from the past 7 years, unfortunately...I've noticed this trend where whenever there's an incident of police brutality that happens in our neighborhood, there is an increase of people who are searching for Black-owned business, but usually it's only within the community. I think the biggest difference I've seen in the past year is that it has definitely expanded a lot broader, where you have, it's not just people within our communities, but also allies who are talking about supporting Black-owned businesses. There are even major corporations that are finally aware and looking for ways to support and to elevate and highlight Black-owned businesses. So it's definitely grown a lot over the past couple of years and the spikes or the amount of people I've found that have been searching for Black-owned businesses are just more aware of the movement. It's definitely, definitely, definitely grown exponentially the past few years alone.”
The rate of searches on Yelp for Black-owned businesses increased by 3,085%, in February 2021 compared to the same period the year prior.
“I think what excites me is that...the #BuyBlack Movement is finally getting the attention that it deserves. And there are a lot of players who have the resources and the capital that are now paying attention to...this group of businesses. I think that is amazing. Even the past year, I've spoken to so many Black founders and they were like, ‘Yeah, I've seen record highs.’ And it's still up there. So I'm really hopeful for the future. And especially that people are now listening to the data because it's not that we're saying to support Black-owned businesses just because. We're saying it because Black founders go through so many challenges from being shut out of bank loans, Black tax, and so many other inequalities that make it even more challenging to be a founder. And I think it's great that the people in positions to help are listening to and understand those stats, or [are] getting to a place where we understand them.”
“We're currently working on completely relaunching our app in Q1 of 2022. The new platform and app will have a brand new design and look, as well as new features and functionality to make it easier to discover, share, and patronize new Black-owned businesses. It will also give aspiring Black entrepreneurs the resources to get their business idea off the ground. This will be a major tech update for us, so we’re looking forward to the upcoming roll out. We’re also gearing up for a series of events over the course of 2022, from pop-up shops around the country to our first business summit, The Capital Summit, to give more Black-owned businesses the exposure and capital they deserve.”