When we say shop local, we are saying what kind of community we want to live in. We believe in local flavor. We value the innovation and leadership that our entrepreneurs bring to our county. In 2021, we can add “support Black-owned businesses” because Montgomery County’s list grew considerably this year.
We now boast seven Black-owned businesses, including a cosmetics line and boutique, a clothing brand, a print business, a dance studio, a corporate wellness company, a salon/barbershop, an award winning brewery (co-owned) and the famous Norvell’s catering.
While small businesses are 99% of all businesses in this country, only 4.3% of them are Black-owned. It’s a statistically significant disparity.
Starting a business requires a network of support, as Chenel Darby, owner of Choice Wellness Company, learned. It starts with seeing that it’s possible. Darby grew up in Crawfordsville, but her extended family lived full of Black leaders who showed her anything was possible. When she graduated from ISU, she began work in the health and wellness industry, starting at Peyton Manning Hospital, then managing a Chicago region of fitness centers. When her contracts dried up in 2015, the Illinois Small Business Organization invited her to an entrepreneurship program. Within a month Darby had her first client, a school corporation. She now operates Choice Wellness Company with partners in multiple states.
Choice Wellness helps businesses save on health care costs. Whether a person stands in a manufacturing line, sits all day at a desk or works in a high-stress environment, Darby’s company has options to improve health, including screenings, yoga and fitness classes and more. She loves customizing all manner of wellness services for her clients and populations.
For instance, with a population of Black women who have a higher risk for high blood pressure, heart disease and who are cooking for their spouses and children, she focused on do-able changes in diet and cooking. When she advised employees at a startup firm, she partnered with financial advisers to help employees better understand their money.
Starting a business like this means networking, using the resources from her mentor, a member of the National Society of Black Engineers, as well as a short program at Wabash college. Through the latter, she was able to sit with a lawyer to evaluate the risk and insurance her company would need. That kind of support, along with family and friends who believe in her means she can fund her business. Through her networks she’s been able to fund one platform while she grows another.
Would-be entrepreneurs need those networks to succeed, though there can be a bottleneck for Black entrepreneurs. This, in part, illuminates why there are fewer Black-owned businesses. There’s no lack of drive and leadership qualities in Darby. Nor are there in Antoinette Glasper, who opened Simply Rebellious two months ago.
Glasper is a seasoned business owner, having owned several daycares, a candy store, a clothing boutique and a transportation company, all while raising six kids. She credits her father, a minister, for teaching her to set five year goals. By 25, she ran her candy store and daycares. As her family moved and changed, she faced a monumental health crisis. After a move to Lafayette from Chicago, she collapsed and nearly died of CIPD, a rare autoimmune condition. She spent four years at the Mayo Clinic, having chemo and plasma treatments, then moved to Indianapolis where she owned a transportation company. Glasper sold it early in 2020. By that time, her 15-year old daughter Kayla began to struggle.
“If I don’t give her something to do, she’s going to go down the wrong path,” Glasper realized. Glasper asked Kayla what she wanted to do. Kayla wanted to own a line of lip gloss.
“If you want to do cosmetics, you need to do the whole line,” Glasper told her. Kayla came up with the name Simply Rebellious “because she’s the rebellious child” as she told her mom. Glasper says she’s not very rebellious, just simply. So Glasper put all the money in that company. She found a welcoming community and a storefront on Main Street in Crawfordsville as well as a quiet country house and opened up in the fall. She gave two of her daughters shares in Simply Rebellious and invited them to take over some of the responsibilities. Glasper is mothering and mentoring her children for leadership, and she, like Darby, is generous with her willingness to support new business owners.
“The paperwork is easier than you think. The foot work is hard.”
She’s generous in offering to mentor entrepreneurs. She likes to take the negative — such as being a minority in a small town — and make it into a positive.
“We have amazing Black leadership in this community,” Darby said.
In this community, Darby noted that “manufacturing is huge. The college is huge. The president of Banjo Corporation (Law Burks) is Black. Not many people know that. They don’t know Wabash’s Associate Director of Athletics (Ayanna Tweed) is Black. ”
We also have Patrick Pennington at Backstep Brewing Company, and the Norvell family. We have Lewanda Ellis and sons with their printing business. We have Lee Elmore and her dance studio. We have Emmett Bowman, who just founded Everybody Brand (find on IG at everybody._.15).
“Change is coming everywhere and the change in this community is similar to the change in every community,” Glasper noted. If there are naysayers, she finds we can “change the hearts of people by changing ourselves.” In this case, change is getting out there and supporting these new small businesses and welcoming the new leaders emerging in Montgomery County.
The League of Women Voters, a non-partisan, multi-issue organization encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase public understanding of major policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy. All men and women are invited to join the LWV where hands-on work to safeguard democracy leads to civic improvement. For information about the League, visit the website www.lwvmontco.org or voice mail 765-361-2136.