Online resources support Black business owners in Athens | Arts & Culture

August is National Black Business Month, a chance to celebrate and support Black entrepreneurs and the businesses they own. In Athens, multiple online resources can help spread awareness of Black owned businesses and how the community can support them.

These resources have been in the works for years.

In 2016, local artist and community organizer Broderick Flanigan started a public list of over 90 local Black owned businesses that has since expanded and is still in use as a valuable community resource today.

That year, Flanigan noticed racial tensions come to a head in Athens. In the fall of 2015, General Beauregard’s closed just days after the downtown bar was accused of having a racist drink name on the menu.

“There was a lot of protesting and a lot of energy that was surging up. I was just thinking about how could we redirect some of this energy to something tangible to something that is going to be a benefit to our community,” Flanigan, owner of Flanigan’s Portrait Studio, said.

Flanigan did not see an adequate resource for finding Black owned businesses in Athens. So he started the list to give local entrepreneurs more exposure, support and opportunity.

“We still have a very segregated town and I think some minority or Black owned businesses get overlooked,” Flanigan said. “It’s hard being a business owner, no matter who you are, what you look like. At the same time, there are just added barriers that come with being a minority business owner, especially if you don’t have access to capital.”

Businesses and community members began reaching out to get added to the list.

“I was surprised [by] the traction the list got when I first put it out there. It got shared all over the place,” Flanigan said.

In 2018, with the help of the University of Georgia Department of Geography Community Mapping Lab, the list expanded to an online map. The resource pinpoints the exact location of the businesses on Flanigan’s list and is organized by business category.

Jerry Shannon, associate professor at the Department of Geography and Department of Financial Planning, Housing and Consumer Economics, directs the Community Mapping Lab, which aims to solve local social problems with maps. He and his class of around 20 students created the free online resource in the spring of 2018.

“There’s been a lot of interest among geographers in making Black spaces and Black life, in particular, more visible,” Shannon said. “One of the goals of a project like this is to allow maps to really highlight, to bring to the fore the presence of businesses that are owned by folks in the Black community here in Athens and create visibility for them.”

Flanigan’s original list continued to expand. Michele Pearson Tucker, a financial advisor in Athens, created the Minority Owned Businesses of Athens Directory Service.

The directory, created by the Minority Business Nonprofit Association in 2017, allows users to search for businesses by keyword and location, according to Tucker. A similar directory can also be found on the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce website.

Flanigan helped with the MBNA’s directory, which he says expanded into the Northeast Georgia Black Chamber of Commerce in 2020. Since first creating the list in 2016, he has seen improvements for Black business owners in Athens, but also sees areas for growth.

“I have definitely seen more institutions and agencies using minority businesses and Black owned businesses for services like catering,” Flanigan said.

Flanigan would also like to see local programs and initiatives to help Black entrepreneurs and business owners have higher-level contracts.

“I would love to see things improve like procurement or doing business at a high level with large institutions,” Flanigan said. “I think because of certain policies and procedures, many minority businesses or Black businesses don’t really have the capacity to function at that level, in some cases.”

The Athens-Clarke County Unified Government has started a disparity research study to evaluate which businesses are utilized and contracted by the government. Business owners can participate in an online survey through Oct. 1, 2022.

The study aims to determine if discrimination exists in government contracting and will inform the implementation of an affirmative action program based on the study’s results.

“I’m hopeful that this study will yield some tangible things that the local government can do to position Black businesses to participate at that level, to kind of even out that disparity that we’re seeing,” Flanigan said.

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