Lending a Hand

Declaration of Financial Empowerment: I will actively support the creation and growth of viable, competitive black-owned enterprises.

Two years ago, Pearl Woolridge noticed an unusual jump in the number of visitors to the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “Crowds were coming in during days when there were no cultural events scheduled,” says Woolridge, head of special collections and adult services.

Woolridge says she noticed visitors bypassed the library’s rich collections, which feature everything from unpublished handwritten manuscripts by Roots author Alex Haley to the history of ancient Egypt. Instead, they often made a beeline to the first floor auditorium to sign up for the small business seminars.

Located within the main hub of Fort Lauderdale’s black community, the library opened in 2002. Even though it houses more than 85,000 books, manuscripts, photos, and documents on African American, African, and Caribbean history, Woolridge notes that only a small percentage of the collections focus on small business. Though guides can be purchased in a bookstore, including the Caribbean Yellow Pages and a handbook titled How to Be an Entrepreneur and Keep Your Sanity, it still wasn’t enough.

Woolridge says a large library was not the best place for newly minted entrepreneurs to sit and research business opportunities, since they need more help and information than their veteran counterparts. This led to a growing need for what would become the Broward County Library Small Business and Development Center, located on the library’s second floor.