Mention a Black-owned business and BJ Joyce’s eyes light up.
The native Denverite and East High School graduate is the CEO of Black Biz Colorado, a searchable online directory of Black businesses based in the state. Joyce, who now lives in Aurora, has long believed that economic empowerment is an integral part of helping the Black community overcome the many inequities they face.
In 2020, Joyce stumbled upon the Black Biz Colorado Facebook page and immediately saw great potential. As social justice protests swept across the country after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, interest in the page grew substantially. Joyce saw that people were looking for ways to support Black businesses.
By September, 2021, Joyce had become administrator of the Facebook page, and he helped design and launch the Black Biz Colorado website. To date, the site has registered 900 businesses across Colorado, and the Facebook page has nearly 19,000 members.
“It’s an opportunity for Black-owned businesses to be found by the masses all across Colorado,” he said, pointing to the wide variety of businesses represented by both directories. “From engineering to telephone and communications to food service and beauty supplies and everything in between.”
Marlon Wells, owner of Artistic Apparel, Graphics & Signs in Aurora, said that registering his company in the directory has helped him attract new customers.
“Historically, for us as Black business owners, it’s been more difficult to get the support to thrive and to continue to do business,” Wells said. “There have been barriers in place that Black businesses have had to hurdle.”
Gaining exposure is one of the biggest challenges Black businesses face, Joyce said. This is especially true in Colorado, which has a smaller population of Black people than many other states. He spends the bulk of his time encouraging people to register their businesses and promoting the site to potential users.
The goal, Joyce said, is to grow the directory into the “go-to source” for those who want to support Black-owned businesses in Colorado. “Black businesses have a great opportunity to provide products and services across a wide spectrum of industries, for any and everyone to participate in and to get quality products and services themselves,” he said.
After the nationwide social justice protests died down, Joyce said that interest in supporting Black-owned businesses has waned, but he’s working to build the momentum back up. “We want to make sure that people understand that the support is continually needed,” he said. “For example, you don’t eat just one time a day and never eat ever again; you constantly eat to fuel the body. That’s what needs to happen in the Black business community; they constantly need an influx of people buying from them, their products, their services, to maintain and to survive.”