black business, Birmingham

Inside Birmingham’s Entrepreneurial Drive To Address Low Black Business Ownership In A City Filled With Civil Rights Legacy

Merely two years ago, Birmingham, Alabama, held the unfortunate distinction of having the lowest rate of Black business ownership among major U.S. cities. It is against that backdrop that determined entrepreneurs like Tanesha Sims-Summers are committed to making a difference.

Sims-Summers is the visionary behind Birmingham’s celebrated popcorn enterprise Naughty But Nice. Her transition from a career in finance to entrepreneurship was spurred by a powerful motivation rooted in the stark inequalities she witnessed.

“It’s like, you know, I’m sitting on this side,” she told News Channel 5. “You have a person of color maybe trying to get something as small as a personal loan or a home equity line of credit, and they either didn’t have enough equity or they just didn’t have the credit score … And I saw the biggest challenge there was just the lack of knowledge, you know, generation after generation of just not knowing how to play the game.”

Although Black Americans constitute more than two-thirds of Birmingham’s population, the city had the lowest rate of Black business ownership among the 53 largest U.S. metros. This sobering fact sets the stage for individuals like Sims-Summers and the community leaders who aim to uplift her business and the broader community.

Prosper, a nonprofit powered by civic and business leaders with a vision of creating a more equitable city, plays a pivotal role in this transformation. Angela Abdur-Rasheed, responsible for community engagement at Prosper, expressed the organization’s long-term commitment to Birmingham’s prosperity.

“When you think about Birmingham and you think about the impact that it has had,” said Abdur-Rasheed, “not just on the United States but on the world, it’s a shame.”

Prosper’s significant funding enables a wide array of programs, ranging from high school workforce development to financial grants for businesses and training for small enterprises looking to scale up. Sims-Summers and her husband, Clem, received critical assistance from Prosper to navigate their business journey.

“My husband, who was still in his corporate job, he was laid off,” said Sims-Summers. “When that happened, I felt it was critical that he kind of jumped on the train. We went through the supplier scale program. And just to really shorten that learning curve was the biggest benefit.”

Prosper is part of a growing trend of inclusion-based initiatives in cities like Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Memphis. What sets Prosper apart is its unwavering belief in Birmingham. The organization’s approach centers on connecting and uplifting those who are already part of the city’s fabric.

“We’re trying to erase 400 years of intentional exclusion,” said Abdur-Rasheed. “Four hundred years of leaving Black people, women, people of color, out of conversations, out of the room where decisions are made, out of business. We don’t run programs. We fund and support and steward work that’s already being done on a community level so that it can be done in a way that’s inclusive and that’s lasting.”

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