The beating heart of Black entrepreneurship in South Central Pennsylvania came out of the kitchens, the spare rooms, the garages, basements and literally whatever other business incubator space you can think of to command one of Harrisburg’s main stages Friday night.
The event is the “Black Is Beautiful Expo & Networking Event,” a free, business exposition put together by Urban Revolution Marketing at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Second Street specifically to showcase the products and services offered by Black and minority-owned businesses in and around Harrisburg.
It’s also a chance for winter-weary residents, in one stop, to see what’s been created around the city while the coronavirus pandemic has been raging.
The show continues Saturday evening from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza. All attendees are given a temperature screening upon entry – which is free – and are asked to wear masks and practice social distancing.
We’re not kidding about the pandemic part.
While “Black is Beautiful” features a handful of mainstays like Music Man Multimedia and the Texas Roadhouse restaurant, the expo floor was riddled with folks like Cecelia Davis, who in the wake of a recession lay-off from a local bakery, decided to go into business for herself and has now birthed her Cece’s Cake Shop.
“The big word was essential, last year,” Davis explained. “I felt very unessential being the one that was laid off… It motivated me though, because I knew that I had a skill (in cake decorating), I knew that I knew how to bake, which was kind of the other half of it. So it was just really a matter of figuring it out on my own.”
It’s much the same story for Shirley Reynolds, a Harrisburg woman who, after getting laid off from her job at Hollywood Casino, decided to re-direct her energies into a longtime interest in natural healing. She sells a variety of homemade candles and bath products through her online store, “Nature’s Abyss.”
“This is a great opportunity for everybody. I know it definitely is for me,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds said she liked the casino job, but the layoff last year put some things into focus for her: “The owners of the casino, people go to work to support his dreams and his goals. But I’m the only one that’s going to support mine… so I’m trying to get where he is with my business.”
Some of the businesses showing this weekend are a little farther along in their development.
Like Cebrum George II, a Carlisle man who over the last few years has parlayed a set of skin care products he initially developed for his family into full-time business called NuBorn Skin.
George has been working at his home-based business full-time for about five years now, selling at special events throughout the area and through a handful of retail shops. The pandemic, he said, forced him to sharpen his e-commerce game. “It’s a lot easier now, since I was basically forced to do that.”
He’s about ready now, George said, to search for dedicated manufacturing space for his face cleansers, moisturizers and beard conditioners.
And Regilynn Haywood, the proprietor of There She Glows day spa on Derry Street outside Harrisburg, has been in business for five years, but signed up to promote a new line of skin care products and to educate people about her new location in Swatara Township, which could have been out-of-sight and out-of-mind due to an eight-month pandemic shutdown.
“I’m here. I’m enjoying it. I love the vibes. I love who I’m meeting,” Haywood said. “I mean after Covid, you gain some connections, but you kind of lose your sense of community a little bit. So this is why I’m here. It’s to kind of feel a sense of community again.”
Some of the show was devoted to a different type of business – electoral politics.
Three of Harrisburg’s top-tier mayoral candidates – incumbent Eric Papenfuse, and his Democratic party challengers Otto Banks and Dave Schankweiler – had tables, as did incumbent Magisterial District Judge Sonia McKnight and city council candidate Robert Lawson.
They shared space with a number of community organizations like Young People of Color, Friends of Midtown, the Pennsylvania Diversity Coalition and Tri-County OIC.
The Harrisburg-based law firm of McNees, Wallace & Nurick chipped in with awards of one year’s worth of free legal services to five Black-owned businesses through its Legal Equity Advancement program.
The show is hosted by another Black-owned business, Urban Revolution Marketing.
After the success of an initial “Black Is Beautiful” expo in November, Urban Revolution CEO Bradley Wainwright said this month’s “Part II” was timed to fill a void created after the pandemic caused the cancellation of most of the Black History Month events around the city and region.
It was, by the looks of it, very much appreciated.
“I just wanted to come out and network with other people who are on the same mindset and just to support overall because this is what we need to grow in our Black community, is supporting one another,” said Harrisburg resident Mariah Lockette, who runs a financial literacy and credit repair business, Maximize With Mariah.
Florinda Smith, a retired city employee, was attracted to the show after seeing a television spot about it earlier this week.
“I love to support people who are doing things that empower one another in our neighborhoods and our community, and in the city. Because it’s what we need,” Smith said. “So I came down to check it out, and see what might catch my eye.”
Smith and Lockette both said they were impressed by the breadth and number of young Black entrepreneurs in the city.
“It’s very encouraging and uplifting to see, that the younger African-American men and women are doing things to leave a legacy behind,” said Smith. “To teach their children that you can do this, you can do whatever you want to.”
Show attendees who visit every exhibitor will be entered into a raffle for prizes, free products and free services, Wainwright said.