A new film series shines a light on the experience of the black entrepreneur

On Monday, October 3, the McManus Theater at Loyola University in Maryland hosted the premiere of the “Stories, Context, and Lived Experiences of the Black Entrepreneur” short film series.

This film series highlights the stories and experiences of five Baltimore-area black entrepreneurs whose nonprofits work to benefit the city’s marginalized communities. These short films are also part of an online learning module open to everyone. Bill Romani is the entrepreneur-in-residence at Loyola University of Maryland and the co-producer of the short film series.

He said, “What we wanted to do was take a holistic view of the history, sociological and political impacts of redlining and how redlining impacted so many communities in Baltimore, but also look at businesses and entrepreneurs who were either coming from those communities or solving the problems that redlining had caused in those communities.

Romani and co-producer Dr. Raenita Fenner, chair of the engineering department and director of the interdisciplinary minor in African and African American studies, collaborated on this project to teach students about the intersection of black experience history and of entrepreneurship. They wanted students to learn how these factors can contribute to the work of the black entrepreneur.

“We would like them to learn the history and context that helped dictate some of these anti-black or racist policies that created these issues in gated communities, and how important these solutions are that these entrepreneurs are creating” , Romani said.

The film series features five black entrepreneurs and their businesses: Tyrell Dixon’s Project Own, Ashley Williams’ Clymb, LaQuida Chancey’s Smalltimore Homes, Andrew Suggs’ Live Chair Health and Shelley Halstead’s Black Women Build. Each short focuses on each company and its stories. A common denominator among these business owners was their personal struggle to secure the financing needed to grow their businesses from white investors, as well as their own personal issues as black individuals helping the redlining-affected black community.

“I think there was a connection I had to make with very good intentions that resonated with entrepreneurs, Romani said, “The purpose of our video was to be able to address a pain point that they all expressed having with their experience in investing and financing, and we are trying to work with them to solve this problem and be able to teach a new cohort of investors to do things differently.

Through this film series and accompanying learning module, Romani hopes to break the pattern of looking down on skilled black entrepreneurs by learning about the future of business to be fairer.

“We would like our students to empathize with this funding experience they are going through and be able to create this new cohort of investors who don’t just care about working with black and female entrepreneurs, to prepare them to invest in the way whose investment process and institutions work today, but to look at how we might do the work, as Ashley Williams implored, to be able to reach out and create new ways of investing that include entrepreneurs and the communities they come from, so that we’re creating a fairer way for them to get the funding they need to do the great community work they do,” says Romani.

To access the film series and learning module, visit BlackFounderStories.org.

Featured image courtesy of Katie Roessel

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