Substantial Issue: Summer 2022

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In this issue:


W ITH JOH N N Y HAC K ET T Substantial sits down with founder, visionary and community champion Johnny Hackett


G AP Dr. Shanté Williams, Why Do Black Founders Keep Falling Through the Venture Capital Gap?

R ETO OL IN G BLA C K E N TR EP R EN E U R S HIP Leveling the playing field starts with access to resources and knowledge. We talk with leaders of NC's Minority Business Institutions

The Black Business Edition WEARESUBSTANTIAL.COM




12 Creating a Substantial Legacy - National Institute of Minority Economic Development President/CEO Kevin Price talks with Substantial about the future of Black Business


The Summer 2022 Issue President Greg Hedgepeth Editor-in-Chief Kimberly M. Knight


Editorial Assistance and Digital Content Creation Joelle Adeleke

FALLING THROUGH THE VENTURE CAPITAL GAP Dr. Shanté Williams discusses why Black founders only garner 1-2% of all venture funding

THE ALLIANCE A conversation with Lenwood Long, Sr., President and CEO of the African American Alliance of CDFI CEOs

BRAND BUILDING FOR BLACK BUSINESSES Amie Thompson, President & CEO of Creative Allies gives tips to building a successful brand

Feature Photography Jonathon Leach (Shots By Cash LLC) Contributors Joelle Adeleke Evelyne Del Dava Greely Ryan Ray Amie Thompson Dr. Shanté Williams A special thank you to: The African American Alliance of CDFI CEOs The Black Dollar Corp. Carolina Small Business Development Fund The National Institute for Econmic Development NC IDEA Foundation The Office for Historically Underutilized Businesses 2 sub•stan•tial Substantial™ |


On a Mission to Empower All - Substantial talks with educator turned entrepreneur Valencia Hicks-Harris, Founder/CEO of Empower All, Inc.








Data shows that the more diverse our entrepreneurial ecosystems become, the more resilient our economy will be...

Ryan Ray, accomplished, results-oriented entrepreneur with a passion for developing leaders and building collaborative partnerships shares some advice

SKY IS THE LIMIT: A CANDID TALK WITH DR. SHENESSA FENNER A multi-talented educator with a drive for great purpose

Champion of The Underserved An Interview with Kevin Dick, President & CEO of the Carolina Small Business Development Fund

Making “Historically Underutilized Businesses” A Thing of The Past - A timely discussion with Division Executive Director Tammie Hall

ALL-IN for Black Businesses - Substantial sits down with Johnny Hackett, Founder/CEO of The Black Dollar Corp.



Premier Business Networking Conference & Golf Tournament

POWER FORWARD: Pivoting Towards Resiliency





BLA CK BUSINESSES WE ARE SUBSTANTIAL Support Black small business owners and the communities they serve as they recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and chart a path forward. Small businesses are critical parts of communities – the strength of these businesses is essential to the recovery of their communities.


Photo by RODNAE Productions:

Black-owned small business I would like to highlight is the staff of Beyu Caffé because in 2020, that is when The Beyu Food Project launched to serve meals to community members including children, adults, families, and healthcare workers in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was a hands-on effort of staff and leadership of Beyu Caffé giving back to the community that has supported them for over 10 years.

Kimberly Knight, Editor-in-Chief


Black Business & Entrepreneurship is the Future In March 2020, a global pandemic began and even in the midst

of the unknown, there were many Black-owned small businesses and entrepreneurs launching services and goods. As we enter the 3rd Quarter of 2022 in the year of the “Great Resignation,” we are seeing the importance of Black businesses globally and locally across our state. It’s a time of rebirth, resilience, and restoration. We are seeing on social media daily the launch of budding Black entrepreneurs, digital content creators, and small businesses who are focused on pursuing their goals. There are digital content sources and organizations providing innovative resources to support Black entrepreneurship. One particular nonprofit organization to highlight is the Carolina Small Business Development Fund, which focuses on providing resources and grant opportunities to small businesses in North Carolina. One of their core projects is the Oak City Biz Labs grant initiative that provides small businesses and entrepreneurs technical educational assistance. It is one of many organizations in our state that has seen the impact of investing in small businesses. However, what has stood out even more, in my opinion, is the selflessness of Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs providing local community organizations, faith-based centers, school systems, and individuals in need with support. One



In the Summer Issue, the Substantial Team has worked diligently to create an outstanding issue surrounding the topics of Black businesses and entrepreneurship. It was important that in this issue we highlighted not only Black-owned business services but how their presence has contributed to increasing the economic growth in their local communities in a time of inflation. It’s an issue meant to emphasize the necessity of Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs. Also, we are excited that our Substantial Summer Intern, Joelle Adeleke, has contributed in-depth and creative content in this issue. Her presence and creative perspective have been refreshing! As the Editor-in-Chief, I hope you enjoy the plentiful resources, engaging content, and amazing stories we have featured in this issue. The beauty of the Substantial Team is all of us are a part of this collective of Black-owned businesses in North Carolina. So take a moment to review this issue and if you are interested in launching your own business, I hope this inspires you to move forward with your dreams. With Gratitude, Kimberly M. Knight Editor-In-Chief

There are so many black-owed and operated businesses across our state that can be highlighted throughout this issue, Substantial wanted to lift up just a few we've checked out recently. åThere are so many talented and well-deserving businesses that we invite you to tell us more about. Visit and submit your black business to be spotlighted in Substantial. We also invite you to visit the Black Business Directory powered by Black Dollar NC.

Zweli’s Kitchen

Plant-Based Everything!

4600 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd Suite 26, Durham, NC

4125 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd, Durham, NC

Zweli's is a family-owned, Authentic African cuisine based on the chef's eclectic palate.

Durham's own vegan soul food, proudly Black-owned, locally sourced ingredients & sustainable practices!

Beyú Caffè

The Black Farmers’ Market

341 W Main St, Durham, NC Since 2009, Beyu Caffe has been rooted in a love for coffee, community and bringing people together in a place where they can simply be themselves.

The Black Farmers’ Market happens rain or shine bi-monthly rotating between Durham and Raleigh to provide access to fresh foods from farms directly to customers.

Carolina Chicken & Waffles

Carolina Chicken and Waffles is a family-owned Eastern, North Carolina-based restaurant. Food for the soul Seasoned with love. Come for the chicken, waffles and fries. Keep coming back because you're family. #carolinachickenwaffles

OMG Lemonade

All Natural beverage company, ingredients derived from farm to family.


The Wright Village

An ecosystem consisting of entrepreneurs in underserved communities, that also serves as a business incubator and coworking space that fosters culture and connects likeminded entrepreneurs.

Melanated Wine

4608 Industry Ln f, Durham, NC Melanated Wine was created to decomplicate wine and embody our motto, “uncork the culture.”



Sweet & Savoree Sisters

These Teen-preneurs serve Goodness on a plate! From dipped items to baked goods.

Tech Factory

An Audiovisual Production Company that partners with clients to create memorable audiovisual experiences. From conferences to galas.

Black Friday Market

23 West Hargett Street Raleigh, NC Black Friday Market is a retail department store where businesses can have their products sold both in-store and online. Located in the heart of Downtown Raleigh, “Black Friday” is now a place - where consumers will have elevated shopping experiences on a daily basis.

Big Bounce Party Rentals LLC

Offering one of the largest selections of bounce house rentals in Wake County. Big Bounce Party Rentals LLC has the experience and the resources to make your event a great success.


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A WORD FROM OUR PRESIDENT Let me start by saying thank you, thank you to each and every person that allowed us to share their story and thank you to each and every person that will take a moment and read through this issue. I always want to give thanks because if it wasn't for you all, there would be no Substantial. The reason we continue to champion the narratives of our community is so that others can for themselves see what we've always known—that we are Substantial, and so is everything we do. I sat in my thoughts regarding just how Substantial can continue to support Black business owners and entrepreneurs, and it hit me—

continue to be a megaphone that amplifies the amazing stories of Substantial people." "

In fact, it's the reason black media in general continues to be so important. We will always find a way to amplify the positive stories of our community to combat the negative stereotypes and stigmas that mainstream media has for years placed upon us. We will call attention to the amazing efforts of our community leaders, advocates, business owners, and youth that may not be "big enough" for mainstream or who's stories don't have all the elements needed to make the news. Black media will always be a space for Black people and for me, that's Substantial. Black media played a critical role back in 1827, during the civil rights era, and is just as critical now. As we dedicate this issue to Black business owners, Black entrepreneurs and the institutions and organizations that support them, we ask that you reach out to them, shop with them, connect with them and take advantage of the resources and services that they may have available. I was thrilled to sit down with some of our well known and historically recognized organizations that have been champions for Black/minority business owners in our state. The leaders of these organizations have a passion to serve



Greg Hedgepeth, President and CEO

and are constantly trying to find ways to improve the economic well being of our communities. Let's not even begin to talk about the number of Black business owners and entrepreneurs we've had the opportunity to sit down with over the summer. We're honored to share the stories of those featured here, but there are so many others that are deserving as well. We hope to continue to find ways to spotlight and celebrate all that is Substantial about our businesses and our community. Stay tuned, subscribe and support! As I always say, we are the very definition of Substantial—of considerable important, size and worth. Strongly built and made. The essentials of something. We are Substantial and so is everything we do!


Visit, subscribe and support. Together, we can amplify the power of our voices. embrace innovation through digital transformation to create sustainable value for Black media outlets.

We are Substantial. and so is our purpose.


Why Do Black Founders Keep Falling Through the Venture Capital Gap? By: Dr. Shanté Williams

If capital is the of fuel makes businesses grow, then venture capital is the rocket fuel that takes them to the moon. Photo courtesy Dr.that Shanté Williams Entrepreneurs and casual spectators who have watched an episode of "Shark Tank" know that venture investors can be cutthroat, brutally honest and singularly focused on cashing in on great investments. However, if money is the key objective, then why are so many Black founders still finding the venture fundraising path futile? Venture funding has been overwhelmingly white and male since its inception. Black founders garner roughly 1-2% of all venture funding. Calls for racial equity reached the VC world in summer 2020, and for a brief moment, there was a “record” number of dollars invested into Black founders -- I use the term loosely.



Black founders garner roughly 1-2% of all venture funding. A deeper dive into the data suggests the slight increase in the overall amount of funding invested could be explained by an overall increase in venture activity. That means there was no great awakening in venture capital. Big firms were not suddenly seeing opportunity or accessing risk differently, rather, they were investing more and “trying something new." Recent data suggests that the newness has worn off. Now that the venture space -- especially tech -- is experiencing a pullback, Black founders are seeing the largest declines. Once again, unfortunately, the Black-founder community is experiencing emotional investments and short-term thinking that can have long-term implications on the future wealth of Black families and communities. Many venture funds saw the calls for racial equity as a chance to fundraise rather than opportunities to level the playing field. Black founders continue to fall into the venture-funding gap because there is a perception that investing in Black businesses or Black startups is philanthropy or “the right thing to do." This type of thinking is steeped in emotion not diligence. Emotional giving works when times are good, but old beliefs and behaviors take over when times get tough. Nothing truly changes if investors are not investing in Black founders because they see value in Black businesses.

So how can Black founders avoid falling in the venture-capital gap? 1. Start with a business model that actually works. When building a company, founders must consider traction in terms of REAL revenue -- meaning paying customers who generate revenue. Revenue changes how all funders, from venture capitalists to banks, see your business. In short, SELL SOMETHING! 2. Zero in on key performance indicators (KPIs) and drive growth. Get quantitative. Go beyond knowing your numbers and get keyed into the details. While “knowing your why” is important, refining your "how" raises dollars. How are you going to deliver on that mission? How do you know if you are on target? How are you measuring progress? 3. Toot your own horn. It is important to make sure that you have visibility. Seek partnerships that will help with traction and revenue. Don’t just wait for press; make sure that you are building your company in a way that progress is evident. Investors are watching and looking for indicators of progress that are not always obvious on a graph. 4. Get on a plane. The investor ecosystem may be very young depending on where you live. While the investor scene is growing in the South -- where many Black founders live -- an uneducated investor base can delay your progress. Investor or industry conferences can help you discover firms in your space if you're unsure where to start. 5. Recognize the limitations of venture capital. VC money is not the only source of funding. Other options may be better suited for your company, especially if you have begun generating revenue. For many companies, delaying their fundraise allowed them to hold on to more equity, retain more value and command a higher valuation when they did begin fundraising. Finally, recognize that the investor-startup relationship should not be adversarial. You need to trust and value each other. There is a difference between being Black-led and Black-owned. Head for the door once you recognize that a firm is performing diversity, equity and inclusion theatre rather than intentionally investing in your company because they potentially see a unicorn in your future. I hope that we continue to build differently and those firms truly supporting founders begin leading Black startups around the VC gap to a more prosperous future.


On A Mission to Empower ALL

Written By: Joelle Adeleke



alencia Hicks-Harris, founder and executive director of Empower ALL Incorporated, a not-for-profit established in 2021. The non-profit with the intention of eliminating cultural and implicit bias in educational spaces. Valencia Harris, born and raised in Raleigh, had a far from linear path to get to where she is. Now, she is the creator of EmpowerALL, a program with a vision of eliminating cultural biases and highlighting mental health. “My mother was an educator for 49 years before retiring when my son was born. And so I spent a lot of time after school, track out summers in my mother's classroom,” Harris said. “And I actually vowed that I would never become an educator.” She graduated UNCG with a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations Communications with the hopes of becoming a speechwriter. After graduating, she worked as a teacher’s assistant for her mother’s friend. “But during that time, it was hard to find jobs. So I decided to go back to school,” Harris said. “So after leaving UNCG, I



went to North Carolina Central University, to get a degree in Educational Leadership Research and Technology.” She said that it was hard to get a job at that time. She decided to go back to school, this time at North Carolina Central studying Educational Leadership Research and Technology. “But definitely, that's when I started diving into how you can bring in the digital competency into core instruction,” Harris noted. “So really incorporating technology into the classroom.” She completed her masters degree in elementary education at NC State, after transferring from Meredith. After her first semester pursuing her doctorate in educational equity at NC State, Harris found the interests that led to the start of Empower ALL.

“And in that course, we did a lot of foundational texts where we read Paulo Freire, read Bell Hooks, read Hanneman, I mean, a lot of terminology came to fruition for me, that I was finally able to put a name to some of the things that I have experienced,” Harris said. That’s when an idea sparked. “So I called on some core friends and I said, ‘Hey, I have this idea of really wanting to go after educational equity in a way that empowers our youth that amplifies the voices of historically marginalized populations,’” Harris said. Quickly, her friends were in. They decided they wanted there to be focused on mental health, cultural affirmations, and Science, Engineering, Arts,Technology, and Math (STEAM).

“Let's identify ways in which we, as a community organization, can help them to meet their goals that they've set ways that we can go in and bring some sunshine and some joy and recognition to our teachers who are truly skilled at crafting what they do every day, how can we support them in that,” Harris said. She said that access is a huge priority in the program.


“So ultimately, when we talk about access, being able to pair up with students, being able to have those partnerships, those relationships with individuals that they can then have the courage to make mistakes, to improve, to continue into that cycle,” Harris said. Harris ended up leaving the classroom to pursue Empower ALL. “Well, to be quite honest, leaving the classroom was the most difficult decision that I've ever made,” Harris said. “One because I didn't want to let my students down. Because when I talk about Mom adopting those children as their own in the same way, I did, too.” Harris said she wanted to shoutout Thomas MC Lauren and Roger Floyd, George Floyd's uncle and first cousin, who were Empower ALL’s first partnership. “And I recognize that a lot of people want to be a part of the Floyd family because of what has happened in the past, what has happened with the death of George Floyd, and really wanted to join forces but, ultimately, at the core he said ‘I recognize how authentic you are. I see your passion. I see your dedication. And I believe in you all,’” Harris said. “So that was our first huge success.”



Click to watch video highlights of our Substantial interview with Valencia Harris.

Education & Training NMSDC National Minority Supplier Diversity Council Their mission is to be the leading organization for driving socioeconomic equity and generational wealth in communities of color by building capacity and capabilities through programs and other educational offerings that help close that wealth gap.

Evelyne Del, Communications and Business Strategist

BLACK BUSINESS RESOURCES Black owned and operated businesses represent more than 2 million small businesses in the United States. However, according to financial resource site fundera. com, close to 58% of Black business owners reported that their businesses were at risk for being in financial distress after the pandemic struck in 2020. Although Black Americans have been starting businesses at record rates over the past couple of years, the lack of startup funding can often lead to business closure, higher employee turnover rates, and difficulty in scaling their businesses. Here are some resources for Black business owners looking to stabilize and grow their businesses. Funding LISC - Local Initiatives Support Corporation LISC helps to forge resilient and inclusive communities of opportunity across America by connecting communities with resources like funding and technical assistance.

Goldman Sachs One Million Black Women With the One Million Black Women: Black in Business program participants learn how to better understand their finances, hire their first employee, and price their products or services – at no cost to the business owner. The Institute Founded in 1986, The Institute seeks to diversify North Carolina’s business base as a strategy for expanding economic opportunity. Their mission is carried out through training and partnerships with educational, financial, and technical resources. North Carolina MBDA Business Center Operating under the care of the North Carolina Department of Administration Historically Underutilized Business Office (HUB), the NC MBDA delivers business and technical assistance that promotes growth the economic prosperity of all American business enterprises. Together with their network of partners, funders, and volunteers, many of these organizations are continuing to expand opportunities that focus on equitable access to opportunity for small and minority owned businesses. In addition to funding and education, these organizations also provide opportunities to partner with other businesses and mentors.

CDFI Fund - Community Development Financial Institutions Fund CDFI’s mission is to expand economic opportunity for underserved people and communities by supporting the growth and capacity of a national network of community development lenders, investors, and financial service providers. SBA - Small Business Administration The Small Business Administration provides counseling, capital, and contracting expertise as the nation’s only go-to resource and voice for small businesses.


The Alliance

A conversation with Lenwood Long, Sr., President and CEO of the African American Alliance of CDFI CEOs


he Alliance serves Black-led CDFIs Nationwide. Founded in 2018, The Alliance has grown with 56 Black-led community development financial institutions (CDFIs) committed to the support and growth of Black communities and the Black executives leading CDFIs that serve those communities. Wait, back up, what's a CDFI you ask. CDFIs are financial institutions that provide credit and financial services to underserved markets and populations. The Alliance led by Lenwood Long, Sr. is on a mission to build the capacity of member organizations; build bridges to economic stability, well being, and wealth for Black individuals, families, and communities; all while building power in Black communities by challenging and influencing financial sectors to operate more equitably. Substantial had the opportunity to sit down with Lenwood to learn more about the history of CDFIs,their importance and the work of The Alliance. SM: Tell us about the history of CDFIs LL: CDFI's are the best-kept secret in our communities, that honestly shouldn't be secret at all. CDFI's have been around since the early 90s and were initially created through The Riegle Community Development and Regulatory Improvement Act of 1991 which after being signed into law created the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (CDFI Fund) and the Community Development Advisory Board. This is a part of the U.S. Department of Treasury which provides funds to CDFIs through a variety of programs. CDFIs are mission-driven organizations focused on the unmet needs of their communities. Whether that's housing, small business lending or other community development needs, but primarily most of them focus on small businesses. SM: So talk to us about the forming of the African American Alliance of CDFI CEOs (The Alliance for short). LL: We brought together 21 at the time Black CEO's of CDFIs in the Raleigh area back in 2018, and it was from that synergy and enthusiasm in the room that we started to develop something special. It's amazing what Black folks can do when we put our minds together and start thinking about the future and start thinking about what could make a real difference in our communities and what our CDFIs could do to make it happen. Quite frankly we've been working hard ever since that meeting. In fact when COVID hit in 2020 we met in DC and were talking about what we could do to support our communities. Of course we had to pivot and do a lot of



stuff virtually but we never stopped working. We collaborated on our first concept paper called the "Fierce Urgency of Now" that talked about the case for investing in Black businesses, the case for investing in Black-led CDFIs, the need gaps and the widening racial wealth gap in our communities. We officially announced and launched The Alliance during the OFN (Opportunity Finance Network) Conference which is the largest CDFI Industry event in the nation and we immediately got a favorable response, growing The Alliance from 21 to roughly 64 organizations and we're still growing. We were all surprised when we started to realize just how many CDFIs are out there. SM: Talk to us about the future of Black-led CDFIs. LL: Listen, double and triple check this but during COVID, 11 of our member organizations put out $4.4 billion in PPP loans to primarily Black businesses across the nation. I would venture to say we may have lost that money or it wouldn't have went to our businesses because not all financial institutions are primarily focused on serving our Black businesses. And shame on us for putting up barriers that prevent members of our community from accessing capital. Listen the future is bright for Black-led CDFIs and I'd like to offer this challenge. We're going to have to look at the changing landscape. Black businesses don't need more debt, we need to find ways to complement or supplement. We're starting to look at ways to add equity capital into Black businesses. We're also looking at new market tax credits. The NMTC Program attracts private capital into low-income communities. There's a lot on the horizon and The Alliance is here to help both our Blackled CDFI's and Black businesses.


A MOVEMENT FOR ECONOMIC JUSTICE WE BELIEVE THAT COLLECTIVELY, WE CAN ADDRESS THE RACIAL WEALTH GAP IN BLACK AND MARGINALIZED COMMUNITIES. The Alliance is a national membership-driven coalition of Blackled community development financial institutions (CDFIs) committed to the economic prosperity of African American communities across the nation. We work to promote the strength of Black-led CDFIs through increased access to capital, financial education and wealth building opportunities.


Creating a Substantial


An Interview With Kevin Price, President & CEO National Institute for Economic Development


e’ve all heard of “The American Dream”, and one man has made it his mission to help his community to realize “The African American Dream” through his work as President and Chief Executive Officer at what was originally called The North Carolina Institute of Minority Economic Development. After graduating from James B. Dudley High School in Greensboro North Carolina, Kevin left home to pursue a military career, but there was clearly a bigger plan for him. A plan for which the seeds were planted as he grew up watching his family navigate life during The Civil Rights Era. “I watched over the years, my family on both sides, particularly women in my family who owned businesses, my dad owned a business. My grandfather used to say, ‘Everybody should have a side hustle’ - and so they all had some kind of side hustle, whether it was catering, janitorial, or any number of things they were doing. And you know, it was always fascinating to me, I thought they were brilliant business owners, but they never really got a big business. They never got that big break, where they could hire people and have a company that sustained



Written By: Dava Greely

their livelihood. And so here I am now with this opportunity, in this position to do something about that.” And that he does, at what we now call The National Institute of Minority Economic Development, by supporting minority-owned businesses via the provision of information, resources, technical assistance, and access to capital; the latter of which Kevin says is the number one challenge that minority business owners face. “So, I take it back to when slavery ended, we were given nothing. The greatest thing we were given really was our freedom. But beyond that, we were given nothing. And so we've had to struggle, fight, claw our way to a different place, since that time, of starting with nothing. And if you look at the organizations that helped us along the way, to grow beyond where we were, there are only a few in the black community - you have black churches, you have historically black colleges and universities, and black banks. And you have these intermediaries, as I call them, who stand in the gap, and provide resources, provide guidance, and all of those things that you need in order to get a leg up. And I'm convinced people don't want a handout, they just want an opportunity, but often we don't know where the opportunity

is. This is a lack of knowledge. It's not a lack of ability. It's not a lack of talent, it's a lack of opportunity, and not knowing where the opportunity is.” In addition to business and finance, Kevin is partial to helping his community to build wealth through homeownership. “I also am a product of a mother who bought her first house when she was a college student at North Carolina A&T, a house that I still own to this day. So, talk about generational wealth. She had the foresight in her twenties to buy a house in her twenties…and now I still own that house to this day, free and clear of debt!

I'm proud of what I've inherited, and I understand the responsibility of what that means, of passing that on to my children, and to so many others that I know. The only reason why they aren't in a different place is for lack of opportunity.” That explains his commitment to leading the way, standing in the gap, and acting as an intermediary for the historically underserved, especially for minority and women-owned businesses. With faith, fortitude, and a family history of entrepreneurship, Kevin Price is preserving the past and forging the future! He had nothing but praises to offer up for the people who came before him: “They had the vision to build this building in 1921 that we own today, that the institute owns today. That's just incredible, the legacy that we've inherited. And thank goodness for Andrea Harris and the board at that time of

Kevin Price, President & CEO National Institute for Economic Development

the institute for saying not only do we have to own it, but we have to make sure it stays in our hands. And so while people call all the time asking to buy the building, we can't sell this building. We have to be here. I'm looking forward to the new renaissance of Black Wall Street. But Black Wall Street in my mind, the new renaissance is not a place. It's a mentality. So I'm thinking of this very differently. But when people come through downtown Durham, I want them to see that that building was once owned by us and is still owned and controlled by us.” What an incredible man on an incredible mission! How does he relax and maintain his sanity? With music, especially jazz. Cheers to keeping it smooth as he continues to make a SUBSTANTIAL impact!

Click to watch video highlights of our Substantial 21 interview with Kevin Price.

Written By: Dava Greely

Making “Historically Underutilized Businesses” with Tammie Hall, Division Executive Director A Thing of The Past ANCconversation Office for Historically Underutilized Businesses


he is now a true treasure of North Carolina, but she was initially refined by her experience growing up as a middle child of six and the only girl, in Arkansas. Her early career life in the political arena makes Tammie Hall the perfect candidate to fill her roles as Executive Director and Assistant to The Secretary for HUB Outreach. HUB stands for “Historically Underutilized Businesses”, and the purpose of HUB is to provide information, support, and access to capital to business owners who would not have been afforded equal opportunities to succeed in the past. So, what lead Tammie all the way from Arkansas, up Capitol Hill, then down to North Carolina?

“I'll tell you what was really important to me or what really caught my attention about North Carolina. At that point, Ebony Magazine did a profile on Black Wall Street, Durham businesses, how they were thriving, and what possibilities existed. I thought, ‘That's the place I want to be!’ 22


And so, my family and I came here to North Carolina, directly to Durham, twenty years ago. And we've never turned back! We have loved our time in Durham, so that journey here based on Black Wall Street Durham, and all its impact is on our history is what drove me here.” In perfect timing, and true to her roots, Tammie saw a great opportunity on the horizon while surveying the politcal landscape at the time: “And then, what a wonderful opportunity to come here at a time when the General Assembly was just passing legislation for minority businesses. We had not had legislation on the books here in North Carolina to support minority businesses and inaction was taking place at that point. I was here and able to create programs in North Carolina that would support Senate Bill 914 at that time, and so I started doing that impactful work, and it's grown to where I am today here in this office leading the efforts statewide for North Carolina!” Being HUB certified opens up a whole new world for small business owners who qualify, and Tammie was happy to delve into how it all works:

“Certification is defined by general statute. General statute very clearly tells us that, number one, you must be at least fifty-one percent owner/operator, and two, be involved in the day-to-day activities, management, and control of the business. But then, you also must fit into ethnic categories that allow you to be certified such as black, Asian, Hispanic, or Native American. Female-owned businesses will qualify for certification, as well as disabled business owners. And then we have one final category, disadvantaged business owner, which is a federal designation. If you meet one or many of those, you could qualify for HUB certification. It is a four-year certification, and it is free. That is the most important thing - it is free, no cost!” When she’s not creating new worlds of opportunity for others, Tammie loves to spend her time globetrotting, spending time with family, and dreaming up possibilities for the coming generations!

Tammie Hall, Division Executive Director NC Office for Historically Underutilized Businesses and NC MBDA Business Center

“Whenever I get an opportunity, I'm on the go! I love traveling. Most recently, I took advantage of a trip to Iceland and had an opportunity to go out of the country and enjoy that time away. Above all, family is so very important to me. I have my first grandchild, a granddaughter, and I tell you, she emulates me. And I just love that little one to death! So I spend a lot of time continuing to feed into her. She's six, and she is just…you know, I'm ‘Gigi’ and I am her favorite! As she learns, I can see all the possibilities. I can see them in her…”

“For the center, I want to continue to grow our clientele here. Continue to grow our minority businesses and really see revenue increase for those business owners, whether that's in the federal contracting space, or in our state contracting space. We have roughly one hundred and five clients currently through the center. And I know there are many, many more business owners out there and minority business owners that can take advantage of the center and the opportunities to connect another dot for them. And then for me, personally, I'm going to continue to focus on being a public servant. I've enjoyed the ability to provide and be of goodwill. And I will continue to do that, whether in this role or another role throughout this state, with the ability to stay connected to my community in a manner that provides positive impact.”

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She goes on to say:

Amazing! Thank you, Tammy, for continuing to make a SUBSTANTIAL impact in North Carolina!

Click to watch video highlights of our Substantial interview with Tammie Hall.


Champion of The Underserved

A sit down with Kevin Dick, President and Chief Executive Officer Carolina Small Business Development Fund

“It's not just about getting the money. It's about knowing what to do with it.”


tarting, scaling, and staying in business is no small feat, and small businesses are at an exponentially greater risk of failure, especially those belonging to people in communities that are historically underserved. Help doesn’t even begin to describe the level of advocacy and support that small businesses need in order to not merely survive, but thrive. North Carolina needed a HERO, and Kevin Dick - President and Chief Executive Officer of the Carolina Small Business Development Fund - is answering the call in a major way. As the youngest of four children born to immigrant parents, originally hailing from Brooklyn, Kevin surely had his work cut out for him on his road to achievement, success, and influence. With an educational path that lead him through DC and Florida, we’re blessed to have had him here in North Carolina for the past seventeen years. CSBDF is committed to empowering communities with 24


Written By: Dava Greely

economic, knowledge, and social capital. Kevin and his team lead the way by providing small business lending, policy research and development, and technical assistance to business owners all over North Carolina. Beyond providing financial support to small businesses via loans and grants, he understands the value of helping people to navigate policies and make smart, consistent decisions with funds. “It's really important work, especially now, small businesses form so much of the character of communities, not to mention the economic development and other advantages they bring to society in terms of job creation and retention, as well as heightening the sales tax base.” The world has experienced a huge shift and with more and more people taking their futures into their own hands by starting businesses, the need for the level of excellence at CSBDF is high! Kevin went into great and raw detail:

“What we know about this pandemic is that, whereas 17% of white-owned businesses closed

during the pandemic, 32% of Hispanic-owned, and 41% of black-owned closed…So, you know the phrase, ‘When the economy catches a cold, black people catch the flu.'? That applies to small businesses too. These are all things that that society needs to be paying attention to, in terms of trying to find equitable, not necessarily equal— because there's a difference - equitable solutions to these problems. Businesses need to be on the lookout for how society is responding to them so that they can take advantage of all of the financial capital and technical assistance available to them.”

Kevin Dick, President and CEO Carolina Small Business Development Fund

When he’s not at the helm of this incredible organization, Kevin enjoys spending time with his wife of twenty-one years and supporting their daughter in her passions, which currently include swimming and taekwondo. He also enjoys maxing out on the beach and watching a great game, as he is an avid sports fan. A man of humble beginnings and huge heart he is, but we can’t finish this out without sharing HIS stats! “Since my tenure began in February 2020, the organization has seen a 400% year over year increase in loan production and we have provided loans, loan modifications, deferred payments, and grants to over 700 businesses throughout the State of NC as we walk hand in hand with them through the pandemic. We have an outstanding team that is all in on equitable economic development and helping small businesses grow!” (Source: Kevin, the North Carolina small business community thanks you for your commitment to making a SUBSTANTIAL impact!

Click to watch video highlights of our Substantial interview with Kevin Dick.


ALL IN with

Johnny Hackett, Jr.

Chief Executive Officer of The Black Dollar Corp. Founded in 2019, The Black Dollar Corp. has established roots in North Carolina through its Black-Owned Business directory #BlackDollarNC, retail store Black Friday Market...and now, The Factory.



Photography by: Jonathon Leach (Shots By Cash)


Photography by: Jonathon Leach (Shots By Cash)

Lets start from the Beginning

Interview by: Greg Hedgepeth

Johnny Hackett, Jr. is the CEO of The Black Dollar Corp., an organization that highlights and supports local businesses in North Carolina. His whole life his family has valued supporting one another, something he says still shapes his views today. He is dedicated to using the knowledge he’s gained in his career (from Xerox to IBM to BCBS) to offer resources to small businesses.

SM: Tell us about Johnny Hackett. Who, what helped shape you into the man that we see today? JH: I'm from Greenville, South Carolina. From down South, migrated to Riverdale, Georgia, when I was about three or four years old, I really grew up there up until about middle school.

I started high school, in a completely different state, different city. No family around, so just had to really get out there and meet new people and make friends.

I was the typical kid running around the country, so I'm a country boy at heart, but I hate mosquitoes.

I think that's what really started to plant the seeds for who you see before you today, in terms of looking out for one another, having that "we all we got" mentality— you know, one person fight everybody fighting, all in for the team. I loved sports and different things like that, so a lot of those things were instilled early.

I grew up playing football and playing basketball in the streets. We had the old school grandma that got all the kids during the summertime and we would all play and hang out together. So family's really important to us. We have a huge family across Georgia and South Carolina.

Obviously, I don't fight now. But it's one of those things where like, "Okay, if one person need help, everybody needs to help" or whatever we do all we can to support someone. So a lot of those seeds planted early. Those values and that mentality will always drive me.

I migrated to North Carolina in 1998. My mom was driving trucks. She's smaller than me, but driving 18 wheeler trucks, when I started sixth grade­—she did that through eighth grade--bounced around with some family here there during that time, me and my sister and then when she finished driving, we moved to Raleigh, NC because her trucking company was based here, she started dispatching.

SM: Tell us about some of your early career choices and your time in industry.



JH: I'm 22 years old, fresh out of school looking for jobs and I found ACS Xerox back in 2005. They had just started moving operations here so it was perfect timing. I remember being in this 30,000-square-foot building with like 20 people training. It was basically a call center

training, but I remember one of the managers was like, "we want you to apply to be a quality coach," I was a little reluctant, in fact I didn't even fill out the application because as I said I'm 22 years old, fresh out of school and didn't know the first thing about managing a call center. What was crazy is all the managers laughed and said, "Don't worry about that we'll teach you." Man and believe it or not I graduated that training, never actually took a phone call and in the first four months I helped improved the quality by 8%. The company put me through Six Sigma Black Belt training and I was leading million dollar projects.

So I called my mentor at Xerox and told him my plans, he congratulated me and accepted my resignation that day.

I really gravitated toward that Six Sigma training because I like to be able to use math and statistics, case studies and whatever information you can to make an actual data-driven decision. I don't like the guesswork. And Six Sigma gives you a lot of that. That really paved the way for my career at Xerox, I moved on from Xerox to IBM, to Blue Cross Blue Shield, and spent time with Wells Fargo's IT department. I've had some really good jobs in terms of executive level and process improvement Six Sigma positions, and each of them taught me a lot. It also taught me the things I needed to know to start my own business. So it was time well spent.

JH: So Black Dollar, it started out as a directory in 201819, so my work in terms of my own entrepreneurship has changed from, working with youth, to web development and other marketing for small business owners to now just supporting small business owners.

SM: Talk to us about taking the lead and deciding to leave the corporate world to pursue your entrepreneurial dreams and aspirations. JH: I started the Life Foundation in 2008, with a couple buddies of mine that worked with me at Xerox, it was something we talked about all the time. So we started our first nonprofit organization that was all about education and going into schools to teach young people about the things we were just learning for the first time in corporate America. They didn't teach us about interview prep, taxes, 401k's and investments in school. These were things I had to learn on my own. So we decided to found a nonprofit that would be committed to bringing real world knowledge and awareness into the school system. We were still working at Xerox and doing this work parttime until one day we were running a YMCA summer camp that was teaching young high school kids about starting their own business and the value of money. We did business pitching and everything, so we been doing this for a minute. I promise you I remember this like it happened yesterday, this one young lady was like "I don't need to learn all of this or how to do a business plan because my mama going to take care of me." And so we went back and forth playfully about it for a minute and then I said "Lord, forbid something happen to her." And what she said next turned it into a real teachable moment, she said "Well I'll keep getting the child support from my daddy or fill bankruptcy like they did on the Toni Braxton show." And what was crazy about the whole exchange was I'm listening to all these other kids in the camp co-sign and affirm what she was saying. I knew then I had to do more, I knew I had to be all in and give it all my time and attention.

It was the first time I had resigned from a job and didn't have another one already or one lined up, but I knew it had to be done. SM: So let's connect the dots, all that past experience has lead you to found The Black Dollar Corp. and through that a number of other organizations and initiatives. Tell us about them.

Early in when we were running the nonprofit we ran into a lot of the same challenges and roadblocks that every other business owner had in terms of trying to get access to capital and funding. It's also hard as a small business owner to build your own brand and develop your clientele list at times. So that's really how the directory came to be. I wanted to develop a platform for Black-owned business owners, and organizational leaders to be found. I did a lot of website work, a lot of African American entrepreneurs don't start out with a website or it's not at the top of the list when it comes to starting their business. Some companies can pay $20,000 or more for a website and branding but not everyone can do that. I learned a lot regarding the technology needs of Black business owners and entrepreneurs, so I was like, I'm going to find a way to support them. I took all the knowledge and skills I had gained from working at Xerox and IBM, working with top-of-the-line developers, and I threw my energy into developing the Black Business directory. Fast forward, and the pandemic hits, and it hits small businesses hard, not just Black-owned but all small businesses. We all were dealing with information overload and decentralization. So I immediately started thinking about ways we could support and ways we all could support one another. I found that in all that we had done or had planned to do, small business owners, especially Black business owners were at the forefront. So we took the directory and decided to turn it into a real place. So now you have business owners who were able to sell their products in a department store in the heart of downtown Raleigh, commission-free, they keep 100% of the sales. And that store has been doing well from the very beginning. So now we've got this directory in place. Now we've got this storefront in place, where business owners are bringing products and they're selling products. And then through working with a lot of business owners in retail, we discover a need for business


owners to have a place to create their products. So that is what kind of brought us to The Factory. While still very new, we've seen some great traction. We see people utilizing the production equipment, collaborating and placing their products in the storefront to be sold. We constantly are trying to figure out ways to refine the space and serve small business owners. SM: The Factory offers all types of small manufacturing equipment like T-shirt printers and press machines. They have coworking desks, crowdfunding opportunities, workshops, and training sessions for any small local business owner. It's certainly worth joining the community. It's a place where you can produce, create, collaborate, network, pitch, learn and build with the cultural at the center. We love it! SM: Tell us why it was so important that you create this space and develop this ecosystem. 30


JH: It's important for a couple of reasons. The main reason is access. We always talk about access to capital or access to real estate. For us, once we got our foot in the door and we started being a part of these larger conversations, real meaningful conversations with folks like the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, the City of Raleigh and other organizations who do some great work in the city, we knew we had a duty, an obligation to uphold. So once we got our foot in the door, the retail storefront happened, and we could have easily just pressed a bunch of our own merch and just sold our own stuff, but it was bigger than us. It wasn't just about Black Dollar, we came with this whole network of entrepreneurs and Black business owners who were unable to get a retail space like that, for whatever reason, right. So, as I said we were all in, because the first and main reason is access. The other reason it was so important to develop this ecosystem, or should I say continue to develop this ecosystem is because there are so many talented Black business owners that may not have the right support systems. Make no mistake being an entrepreneurs is hard work. A lot of people have heard me use this example about the brother that can cook. I mean this brother has a gift, and he should open up his own restaurant, right but that brother don't know nothing about building a brand, doing marketing, conducting real estate transactions, he may not know truly how to put a business plan together or how to financing that dream. He may be good with money but may not be interested in keeping up with the books of his company, in fact if he has to do all that, when does he have the time to do what he's most passionate about, which is cooking. So I use that example often to say its about having the right support network. So I would say another reason this ecosystem is so important is it gives us an opportunity to collaborate and find ways to help each other grow. And when I say grow I'm not just talking about in business, I mean personally as well. I learn something from one of our members just about every day I'm in this space just having conversations. SM: WOW, powerful stuff. So there's no way it was all sunshine and easy climbing. Talk to us about one of the toughest challenges you've faced as an entrepreneurs. JH: As I mentioned, it's not easy. In any business there are going to be challenges. We have our challenges now, even though some people think we've got it all figured out. I would say one of the biggest challenges for me, honestly were the failed attempts and then having to pick up the pieces. Because you can be all in on something and it not work out, and you have to pick up not only the pieces of your business but your life. I remember not having any money coming in, not being able to support this dream I have. That takes a toll on you physically, mentally, financially and just having to pick up the pieces or start all over some time is a challenge. How you get through it is having that support system, those folks that know what you've sacrificed and are whiling to help. Some people come to the store or to The Factory and say, "man this is it,

you've made it happen." Honestly it's an ongoing process and some people know, they know it took time and climbing mountains, but unless you really hear the story you don't know. I can't remember who said it but I remember reading this quote some where that went like this—

"Those that make it are the ones that don't quit." SM: What's on the horizon, what's next for Johnny? JH: Listen, I'll drop a little nugget. This is an exclusive just for Substantial. My folks can't wait for me to bring this type of work and support for entrepreneurs of color to South Carolina. Greenville, South Carolina to be exact so stay tuned. We've got a lot of stuff in the works man, we always have partners like Thread Capital, Triangle Entrepreneurial Leadership (Ryan Ray) and others doing workshops and trainings. It's always something happening, so folks just have to plug in and stay informed. For me personally its about building the directory and finding ways to help our small business owners succeed. As I said, I'm all in. What a powerful opportunity to sit with a young determined Black entrepreneurs that wants to do nothing more than help other Black entrepreneurs and business owners thrive. Substantial encourages you to learn more about Black Dollar NC, The Black Friday Market, and The Factory. Visit:

Click to watch video highlights of our Substantial 31 interview with Johnny Hackett, Jr.



Berry said there’s a big gap between how we’ve been racialized and embodying antiracism. “And oftentimes, people think that you can just maybe jump that gap in one workshop or something like that, or with one book,” Berry said. However, she said that transition takes time, just like anything complex. She likes to use a plant seed metaphor. There’s a seed, and it needs to grow roots, sprouts, and bloom. It needs to not only be cared for, but given time. Written By: Joelle Adeleke


Many Hues, One

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts have grown in attention over the past few years as brands place a higher priority on brand social responsibility. But Lucretia Berry has been in the area for long before 2020. Berry described herself as a wife, scholar, educator, and speaker. She, along with her husband, created and run Brownicity, a non-profit that provides courses and workshops on anti-racism. “I am a Black woman who was raised in the south during the 70s,” Berry said. She was the first generation in her family to attend fully integrated public schools K through 12. Despite that, she said, she was very much socially segregated outside of school. She is in an interracial marriage with her white husband and has two multiethnic (a term she said she preferred over biracial) daughters. She said that the way her parents treated race affected how she viewed it. In her family, talking about race wasn’t viewed as a taboo or uncomfortable. She said her parents felt that they needed to equip their Black children to thrive in a hyper racialized society. “So, then, as a child, I was aware of race at work. I could see patterns,” Berry said. “Because in our home, we name things that happened and we didn't—there was no silence or shame around talking about race.” She said that upon going to Graduate school, she was able to put academic terms to those experiences. Faith was an important factor to Berry’s work in DEI. She started out creating her course, What Lies Between Us, with the target audience of church leaders, since that’s who she was experienced working with. However, she

“And so you don't get to just invite a speaker and say, we've checked our diversity box, or we've checked our DEI box, or we've checked our anti racism box,” Berry said. “It requires commitment, and [intention], and at least four years.” One of the courses they offer is called What Lies Between Us. She initially created it for church leadership, since that was what she was most experienced with, but she created another version without the Biblical references as well for secular institutions. “And so as I was putting the book together, yes, I was calling on, yes, my faith for how to love people through this work, and calling on my education background, the pedagogy—like how do I shape this so they understand so they understand part one first before they move on to part two, and then part two helps them move on to part three, and part three helps them move on to part four,” Berry said. “And that is called scaffolding.” As she was writing, she kept leaders in mind. Due to her background in education, she already knew how to structure the course to be effective. Her goal was to make it so leaders didn’t have to go through the process of creating a course like this, and just focus on getting the information to the people who needed to receive it. As a part of that work, this past February Berry released Hues of You, a children’s activity book written by Berry and illustrated by Adia Carter. “And that book essentially helps caregivers be able to foster positive connection, identity conversations around phenotype, and race, ethnicity, culture, nationality, racism,” Berry said. She said she has a new book coming out this August that called Teaching For Justice and Belonging: A Journey For Educators and Parents. “It's all about supporting the developmental growth process for educators and parents so that we can cultivate curiosity, justice and belonging the way that kids deserve,” Berry said. To people interested in going into DEI, Berry said to remember that the field requires commitment, patience, and persistence. It’s better to think about it that way instead of one-time workshops. “I want Brownicity is just to be this example of how to guide people in truth and hope,” Berry said. “But at the same time, I hope that eventually Brownicity is not needed, that ultimately it will be obsolete.”


Written By: Thom Ruhe, President and CEO, NC IDEA Foundation

Data shows that the more diverse our entrepreneurial ecosystems become, the more resilient our economy will be, much in the way a diversified investment portfolio is common sense. More growth-oriented Black-owned firms means more innovation, more jobs and significantly more wealth creation for Black people, impacting communities as a whole. However, the number of Black-owned firms is disproportionately low at nearly every stage of development. This Black entrepreneurship gap is due to systems that result in a lack of access, exposure, networks, funding and resources. This is the challenge statement as written in the charter of the North Carolina Black Entrepreneurship Council. A Call to Action



In August 2020, NC IDEA created the North Carolina Black Entrepreneurship Council (NC BEC) to lead the Foundation in its programmatic and grant making ambitions to address the challenges of Black entrepreneurship in North Carolina. Council members work closely with NC IDEA to identify, recommend and support partners and programs with the expressed purpose to serve the entrepreneurial aspirations and economic potential of North Carolina’s Black community, including guidance in the Foundation’s funding decisions.

economically empower Black people with entrepreneurship, and collectively work to combat inequalities that perpetuate racial imbalances. In the Spring of 2021, the Council awarded smaller ENGAGE grants of $10,000 each to 14 organizations across the state executing on innovative and transformational ideas to elevate Black Entrepreneurship. The activities of the Council drew the attention from outside funders looking to support equitable economic development. In 2021, NC IDEA received two of its largest charitable contributions from The Wege Foundation and Research Triangle Foundation allowing the Council to extend the impact of its meaningful work and award grants to an additional six ECOSYSTEM partners. Even more validating, the NC IDEA board granted a second tranche of $500,000 to be managed under the direction of the NC BEC. In early 2022, eager to directly address the inequities in fundraising that Black startup entrepreneurs face while scaling their companies, the Council launched a new program to provide GROWTH grants of $75,000 each to Black-founded NC IDEA SEED companies (companies previously receiving one of NC IDEA’s longest standing grants of $50,000 direct-toentrepreneur). Recipients were required to have at least one founder actively working at the company identifying as Black or African-American and must also have made significant progress beyond the NC IDEA SEED stage. These unprecedented grants were awarded to seven Black-founded former NC IDEA SEED grant recipients for a total of $525,000 in funding. We were humbled by the interest in the Council after announcing a public call for members. We assembled an inaugural group of 25 individuals (from over 150 that raised their hand) represented by a diversity of viewpoints and experiences from throughout North Carolina; specifically, a mix of leaders in the Black entrepreneurial ecosystem, as well as successful Black entrepreneurs; individuals with evidence of engagement and a personal commitment to equity and inclusion. The formation of the Council coincided with a commitment by the NC IDEA board of directors that the Foundation would manage operating budgets for the next two fiscal years of at least 10% of net assets; namely, twice the minimum amount required by law. The resulting increase in programmatic spend afforded an initial $500,000 budget under the auspice of the newly formed Council. The Meaningful Work Under the leadership of the NC BEC and just months after its formation, the call to fund organizations supporting more Black people in their ambition to start and scale growth-oriented companies drew an incredible response of 140 applications. NC IDEA awarded over $360,000 in ECOSYSTEM grants to eight entrepreneur support organizations to create greater opportunity to

What’s Next Since its inception, the NC BEC has awarded funding to 28 partners through ECOSYSTEM and ENGAGE grants, and 7 companies through GROWTH grants. Earlier this summer, the NC IDEA board committed another half a million dollars of its budget, further expanding the funding and programmatic capacity to accelerate and amplify the activities of the NC BEC. Along with outside funding, this brings the total financial commitment of the NC BEC in just under 2 years to nearly $2 million. It is our hope as we build a new model for inclusive and equitable economic development, similar coalitions in other states will join our efforts to work with a common purpose toward narrowing the racial gaps in economic empowerment of the Nation’s Black population. We remain steadfast in the belief that our greatest natural resource is the entrepreneurial potential of everyone and not just the lucky few with privilege and access. Learn more about NC IDEA and the great work of the North Carolina Black Entrepreneurship Council at


had the North Carolina Principals Fellowship Program. So, I decided to enroll in that, and of course they said yes. Then I graduated with my Master of School Administration degree, which is my second Master's degree. I became an assistant principal for four years. Then I became of course, a principal. I've been a principal now for quite some time. In my last year of being an assistant principal, I decided that I wanted to pursue my doctorate degree. So once again, back to Fayetteville State University for a third degree. Then I obtained my Doctorate degree in Educational Leadership, so I have four college degrees. I've been a classroom teacher for first and second grade, I've been a middle school assistant principal, and I've been an elementary and middle school principal. That has been my journey in education.

Sky is the Limit:

Written By: Kimberly M. Knight

A Candid Talk with Dr. Shanessa Fenner


r. Shanessa Fenner is a multi-talented educator with a drive for great purpose. She embodies the ideals of perseverance and ambition. She has been a long-term educator, administrator, and more currently a contributing writer for 15 publications including the nationally acclaimed Essence Magazine. Dr. Fenner has no interest in slowing down and has her eyes set on increasing her already successful career. The Substantial Team had a moment to chat w/ Dr. Fenner about her career pathway and what’s next for her. Who is Dr. Fenner, tell us about your journey to becoming an educator? (Where are you originally from? Where did you attend college?) SF: I'm from Fayetteville, North Carolina. A wonderful place to be, the All-American City. I graduated from 71st High School and I went straight to North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina. There I obtained my Bachelor of Arts degree and I started on my first Master's degree there, which was a Master of Arts. I began teaching and I was an elementary school teacher where I taught first and second grade. Then I kind of got homesick and I said, “You know what, I want to do something different. It's time to move back home”. So, I moved back home from Durham to Fayetteville, North Carolina. I enrolled in Fayetteville State University, completed my first Master's degree that I started at North Carolina Central University, which was my Master of Arts. Then I decided, I think I want to be a principal. At that time, they



What has been a highlight in your career, thus far, in education? (awards, achievements, or notable moments). SF: In 2021, I was a finalist for “Principal of the Year”. My highest achievement was when I was Principal of Alger B. Wilkins Elementary School. I've been a principal of four schools but when I was at Alger B. Wilkins Elementary School, I was placed there by the superintendent because I was told that the school was about to be taken over due to low achievement. So, my first year there as principal, we went all the way to the top, we exceeded growth. We were the highest performing school in the entire state of North Carolina. I was very pleased. It was great. We did an awesome job. We continued to stay open for two more years. Then the school was closed down and now it is a high school. That would be my highest wonderful achievement in one year turning that school around as the highest performing school in the state of North Carolina. In your opinion, what are misconceptions about public education in rural communities? SF: I think one of the misconceptions when it comes to rural communities is you will always hear someone say that the students in rural communities don't get that real high-quality education like the students in urban communities do. kind of disagree. Yes, there are some challenges, as we know in those rural communities. So of course, you always think about the technology as well in those rural communities because the internet's not working as well. However, if they have a nice plan of action and they work on it then they can work on having some great technology there. Also, when you have that community involvement, that village concept that I talk about all the time. Then they can get together as a community to make sure that the students receive the exposure and the opportunities to have the experiences

"I don't believe in being stagnant or complacent for somebody trying to put me in a box. I've always believed that you need to have a backup plan for the backup plan because things happen..." that they need. Then let's say for example, there's not a nearby university, of course, the community can make plans for the students to travel to the next college and university nearby to experience those opportunities. They also need to make sure our students are receiving those leadership opportunities as well. So, I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that they say that rural students don't receive that quality education, like urban students. Yes, it can be done. Yes, rural communities have a whole lot of challenges. However, every rural community is different but if you have a plan, stick to it. If everybody works together, they can receive the exposure, and of course, everything that they need in order to be successful as well.

I understand how important it is and you have to have so many followers but it's just something that's never really been one of my favorites. What words of inspiration would you offer to someone pursuing a career in education? SF: I would say to them that education is a very fulfilling occupation. I know everyone always talks about the salary; I talk about the salary. Yes, it's true teachers deserve more. I think about all the wonderful teachers in my building and how they're teaching the next NBA player or the next celebrity who will make millions. However, it's a very rewarding, very fulfilling job. You get to touch and inspire the lives of our most precious commodity, our babies or young, and it's very fulfilling. I love it. It'll never be a dull moment.

SF: I am a writer of 15 publications. I'm a songwriter and I've had a few songs published on singer’s albums. I'm also a model. I've been a spokesmodel for Be Mine products so I'm considered a hair model. Let's see, I've also done some acting. I've been on local soap operas playing a detective on one of them. That was very fun, I love acting. Also, I’m an adjunct professor. This in the area of education, as you know, to teach students how to become teachers. I'm also a former radio personality, I was on Kiss 107.7 FM for three years and I love radio. Also, I have my own local TV show that I do. I’m very, very ambitious. I want to be that multifaceted well-rounded individual. I don't believe in being stagnant or complacent for somebody trying to put me in a box. I've always believed that you need to have a backup plan for the backup plan because things happen. I do believe in networking and making those connections. I've interviewed a lot of people, celebrities and hardworking individuals so I've kept everybody's name and phone number in case I need them in the future. You never know who you're going to need.

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What other talents and interests can you share with our Substantial readers that are outside of education?

How has social media impacted your career and professional interests? SF: Well, I have to be honest, I don't like social media. It's never been a favorite of mine. I just, I don't care for it. I mean, I understand you have to have your little account, your little LinkedIn, your little Twitter and things of that nature. However, I've never really cared for it.


The reason is simple. People do business with people they know and trust. Part of your personal brand and trust building can be done through thought leadership. Thought leadership helps you position yourself as an expert. First, find a niche and own it. Identify a topic or problem to immerse yourself in and then share what you know with others. You can become the go to person for a specific niche. Becoming a thought leader isn’t hard, but takes planning, effort, and time.

Written By: Amie Thompson

BranD Building For Black Businesses


unning a business is hard. Black business owners face challenges that other groups simply do not. A 2020 McKennsey study shows that “just 4% of Black-owned businesses are still in operation after three and a half years, compared with an average of 55.5% for all businesses.” That’s pretty daunting. However, great marketing can help you beat these statistics by increasing awareness of your business and driving revenue. Hello Alice reports that after raising capital, marketing is the number two business challenge of Black businesses. Regardless of industry, business size, or offerings there are three things to master to build a successful brand.

Next, create content. We know that content is king. It is the best way to build an audience and build trust with that audience. You can write blogs on your website, get interviewed on podcasts, create videos, write blogs for others, and the list goes on. Create content in a way that provides maximum value to your target audience. Creating good content builds credibility & trust, grows your personal brand, fuels PR opportunities, and communicates your unique perspective. The key is to educate yourself and then educate your audience. Over time, you’ll learn how to leverage thought leadership as a powerful marketing tool that can drive traffic to your website, grow followers on social media, and increase sales.

Promote Your Brand

Hiring a PR firm may not be an option - it can cost thousands of dollars a month with no guarantee of success. That just means you need to find creative ways to promote your brand. Here are a few ideas of free or low cost tactics. Social Media is a great way to build an audience and engage with them. Remember to focus on educating and informing, not just selling.

Branding Versus Marketing

Black Business Directories help you get your business noticed. People looking to work with black businesses need to easily find you.

Branding goes beyond your name and logo. Your brand is who you are, what you do, and how you add value. This may include visual identity, values, brand voice, and the experience you deliver to your clients.

Google My Business is a page that allows people to find you online and has a great tool to capture customer reviews.

Know the difference between branding and marketing. Both are critical to business growth, but are different.

Marketing is tactical and includes what you do to get your audience to find you, know you, and buy from you. Basically, marketing is how you promote your brand. This includes social media, websites, online advertising, speaking, and other tactics. After you understand the difference between branding and marketing, then develop and execute your plan.

Develop Your Personal Brand & Become A Thought Leader

As a small business owner, you are the brand. Creating a personal brand is as important as creating your business brand.



Free PR through sites like HARO give you an opportunity to be an expert resource when a reporter is in a bind and needs sources quickly. Networking is a must. Building relationships and trust can lead to referral business. Find the type of networking that works best for you. As black entrepreneurs, it’s important to find simple tactics that help grow your business. Building a brand, both personally and for your company, is a great foundational place to start to help you to reach your business goals.

Learn more about Amie Thompson and Creative Allies


from Ryan Ray

Founder and Visionary of Triangle Entrepreneurial Leadership


yan Ray is an accomplished, results-oriented entrepreneur with a passion for developing leaders and building collaborative partnerships across both the public and private sector. We've come out of a pretty significant time in our lives over these past couple of years. Some of us have just been keeping things afloat, particularly when it comes to our business and even for some of our nonprofits. The same could be said about our day-to-day. One day we're going to look back on this time, and generations that will follow us will look back and learn from what we did to move forward. So what we do in this moment is so important.

Listen there is no lack of problems that need to be solved and challenges that need to be overcome. What I'll share is that I'm seeing a lack of leadership, true leadership. There are so many resources out here and so many organizations ready to invest time and money, but what I believe is lacking are those leaders that are ready to take their businesses or organizations to that next step, to scale them in ways that lead to substantial growth.

I've even used the analogy that I feel like I've been playing a bit of defense for these last two years. And now it's time to go on offense. Right now it's time to begin to refocus on how we can move from a survival mindset, we've got to stop using those survival tactics, and relying on those survival behaviors, and begin to operate from a place of thriving. We've got to ask ourselves "what does it mean to be healthy?" What does it mean to be nourished as individuals as well? Not just in our business but in our emotional health and well-being, our physical and financial? What does it mean to start thriving?

Maybe you've kind of drifted a bit off mission, off purpose. And if that's the case, again, I just want to challenge you to refocus, get back in alignment with what it is that you've been purposed to go out there and do. If you've decided that you're willing to do whatever it takes to succeed then the next steps are finding the resources, making the connections, and starting collaborations. If you've got a vision that's bigger than you, then you already know you're going to need support, you're going to need people standing beside you, behind you, and all around you to get it done.

For some of us the challenges of the past few years have pushed us into opportunities, into moments that otherwise, we may not have welcomed or embraced.

Let's get out of survival mode and let's start thriving.

For some of us, the past few years have shown us that our house may not be in order and we have to reassess, rebuild, and retool. There were a number of businesses that were not able to take advantage of PPP and other free money that was being dispersed, for whatever reason now is the time to learn and seek advice and assistance to ensure you don't miss out on future opportunities. Learn more about Ryan Ray and Triangle Entrepreneurial Leadership


Substantial Black Entrepreneur spotlight

Ramona Grady

Owner, Broker in Charge-Realtor®

Southern Belle Realty & Associates, LLC I've been a licensed NC Realtor® and NC Broker for over 17 years; I started my very own real estate firm almost six years ago. I started my business because it was definitely time. I've been blessed to have partnered and learned from some of the best in the real estate industry. Starting my own real estate firm gave me an opportunity to be connected to a real estate firm that 100% mirrored my core values and one that represented ME. Once I made the decision to start my own real estate firm, I prayed for a company name to be revealed to me that would highlight my southern, country girl authenticity. The vision was revealed to me, clear as day, at the NC State Fair in front of the Dorton Arena. At that very moment I logged onto the NC SOS website to check the name availability and here we are! Stepping way out on faith and birthing my business vision from scratch was the best decision I've ever made. The service I provide to my real estate clients is unique because it's all faith driven and personable. My real estate firm is built on faith, community and relationships. Every client connected to my real estate firm receives seeds of faith and words of encouragement in their home buying packets. Yes, real mustard seeds, lol! I meet all of my clients where they are and genuinely listen to them and respect their wants and needs. Throughout their home journey, their faith becomes a lil' stronger and they become more confident in their purchase. What are you most passionate about when it comes to your business? I am most passionate about great relationships I've been able to build with those I've come in contact with. All come in as clients and real estate partners, but leave as family and friends. First time homebuyers definitely have my whole heart. The pure joy of witnessing them receive their keys as first time homeowners is priceless. Also knowing that I was a part of their home journey is a moment that will last forever. Out of 100k+ licensed real estate brokers in the state of North Carolina, Southern Belle Realty & Associates is extremely grateful to be the "chosen firm." What’s one challenge you’ve faced and how did you or are you overcoming it? One challenge I've faced is the feeling of not having enough time in a day to complete all that I want to accomplish. I'm still working on time balance and "doing what I do best and outsourcing the rest"—a quote from our awesome mentor Mr. Ryan Ray himself! When you love what you do, there's never ever enough time on any given day. How can our readers learn more about your business? Readers can learn more about my business by visiting our website at, following our social media and YouTube page @Southern Belle Realty & Associates, or by visiting our office at 4928 Linksland Drive, #216, Holly Springs, NC 27540, 919-762-6524.



Ken Branson

Filmmaker | Storyteller | Speaker

I get great joy using words to create visual stories that evoke a range of emotions. As a published Photographer, Independent Filmmaker and 13-time convicted felon, I have had amazing opportunities that have earned millions of dollars as a Visual Storyteller.

MasterMIND Productions serves as a one-stop shop for all your production needs, specializing in television/radio broadcasting, commercials and advertising. Entrepreneurship was my only way! As a 13-time convicted felon I knew out the gate that it would be almost impossible to find a job. One of the biggest deciding factors for me was when I got out of prison, I said that I will not go back. I decided right then and there that I have to channel my energy and use the God given talents that I have to take advantage of my second chance. And that's exactly what I've done. I've had the chance to work with big box companies like Google, AARP, Cisco, small businesses, churches, college and countless non-profits. I love to recap stories in a drama field way. Dynamic storytelling is what I do. Learn more about Ken Branson by visiting


Substantial Black Entrepreneur spotlight

From the Basement to the Balcony is my personal speaking brand, but I'm also the President of MasterMIND Productions, a video production service based in Durham, NC that has had the opportunity to work with some amazing people all across the nation.




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