Flint, MI–The story of Flint is one of resilience.
That resilience was showcased at the Black-owned Business Fair held Saturday afternoon at the Chevy Commons parking lot.
The fair, organized by six University of Michigan-Flint students, had more than 20 vendors selling and advertising their products including home-cooked meals, nail appointments, vegan beauty products and candles “made with love.”
COVID-19 has impacted small businesses in different ways. Event organizers wanted to give Black entrepreneurs a chance to promote their businesses and network, in spite of the obstacles they’ve been facing.
Here are some of their stories:
Reosha Pope, Reo’s Place
Reosha Pope works at McLaren hospital on the weekends and attends Mott Community College’s Culinary School during the week. When she’s not at work or at school, she’s cooking comfort food to order.
But this wasn’t always her schedule.
Pope was majoring in Social Work at Oakland University until one day her boss asked her why she wasn’t going to school for something she really liked.
“So, it was like three in the morning. I’m just laying there in bed and I just got online on my phone and applied to Mott,” Pope said. “So that’s what made me go back to school and pursue cooking.”
Since 2018, Pope has been cooking comfort food including jambalaya, catfish, chicken and fries, and black bean “woodles” which are like taco egg rolls.
Since COVID-19 hit, Pope said she’s gotten a lot of orders.
“I know it’s kind of bad to say that this virus kind of helped my business, but I think a lot of people aren’t wanting to cook,” she said. “They want to go out and eat, so why not get fresh homemade food, instead of McDonald’s or Wendy’s or something like that?”
Right now, you can order food from Pope online at her Facebook page. She’s working on starting a food truck and hopes to one day open her own diner.
Dante Lott and Donna Lott, Moma’s Supreme Spaghetti Salad
“Big Dante” was working as a local promoter at Vet’s Club just past downtown Flint before COVID-19 hit and he was put out of work.
“I was in the house depressed, didn’t know what to do for the first month and a half,” Dante said.
At the end of April, he and his mom decided to start selling her turkey spaghetti salad.
“Me and my mom had some free time and I’ve been telling her for years it’s so good we should sell it, so we just started,” Dante said. “You know, we’re just doing the best we can during these trying times.”
They make the spaghetti salad on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Customers can text (810) 625-5509 to order a $10 dollar bowl and Dante will deliver it for a $3 fee.
Dante said he wants to keep the business going even after the pandemic ends.
“I’m really looking at seeing what’s the process of getting into The Farmer’s Market,” he said. “So that’s my goal, very soon to investigate what steps I have to take to get in there.”
Kyla White, Noir Candles
Kyla White has been working as an assistant teacher for years. She said she loves her job and her students, but doesn’t feel represented at her company.
“I got to know my bosses more and the company more, and I realized that they were from a company that didn’t care that much about me as a Black woman,” White said. “So I said, OK, what’s something that I can do for myself? And I started my own business.”
White said on shopping trips with friends, she would always end up off on her own in the candle aisle.
She said she’s always loved candles, but often found them to be unoriginal and really expensive. So she decided to make her own.
“I know about candles and I know about being Black,” she said. “You know, I’m there for the culture. Spread the Black culture.”
Her candles have names like: Period, Sis!, Lipgloss Poppin’, Baddie, Granny’s Backyard and Black Love.
White said her candles are inspired by the Black women in her life. Her current favorite candle is Relax, Girl!, which is one she made for a friend going through a rough time.
“Work was just killing her, she was going through a lot and she needed space to relax in and she just needed peace,” White said. “So I made a candle for her.”
When COVID-19 hit, White had trouble ordering materials she needed to make her candles.
“It really affected me a lot, but after the first month and a half, I started to flourish, you know, because people were like, ‘I’m gonna buy from small businesses.’ And then that turned into ‘I’m gonna buy from Black businesses,’” she said.
White sells large candles for $12 and wax melts for $5 on her website: noircandlesgo.com.
Kalizjah Garvins, KJsBeauty.xo
Kalizjah Garvins tried all kinds of products to heal the eczema that she has had since she was a child, but nothing was working.
“I was just thinking about what I could do naturally, since my skin is so sensitive,” Garvins said. “I looked online and I saw that I could make these soaps and I was like, why not try it?”
She made her first soap about six months ago. It was an oat, honey and turmeric bar of soap, she said was good for discoloration, acne-scarring and eczema.
“I first started off using this just for me and then I thought, you know, people would want to buy some things like that,” Garvins said.
Now her business is her full-time job, and Garvins says she spends “all day, every day” making her products.
Garvins said COVID-19 helped her business “in a weird way.”
“I feel like a lot of people would want to support this, but also because it’s soap, a lot of people wanted to buy it because you know, they need to wash their hands, they need something that’s more sanitary,” she said.
In addition to soaps, Garvins makes sugar scrubs, bath truffles, bath tea, lip gloss, healing balms, face masks and serums. All of her products are vegan, chemical free and paraben free.
Her products range from around $4 to $12 and can be purchased from her website.
Shauna Roberts, Naya on the Nails
Since Shauna Roberts was a freshman in high school, she got her nails done every couple weeks.
Eventually she started doing her own nails to save money, and found out she was really good at it.
About 10 months ago she decided to turn her talent into a business.
“It was kind of like a side hustle, a side hobby, because I had a full time job,” Roberts said. “I just kind of just started buying stuff and as time went on and eventually had a whole setup, so I was like, let me just do a leap of faith and just do nails.”
When COVID-19 hit, Roberts was unable to operate business as usual, so she spent her time painting her mom and sister’s nails.
“I think I was starting to really get good and pick up before everything happened, so it was a setback,” Roberts said. “But I was able to practice and then once I started back, I actually knew more skills.”
Right now, Roberts does nails at her home but she said she’s been looking into locations to open a salon.
She’s in her last year of school at University of Michigan-Flint studying Healthcare Sciences, and says once she graduates she hopes to move to Texas or Chicago.
Other Black-owned businesses at the fair:
- Fli Girl Beauty, Beauty salon
- Xplore LLC, Faith-based clothing
- Share the Keys, Non-profit helping young men
- Drippin Jewelz, Jewlery
- The Glam Palace, Fashion
- Headbangers, Headwear, clothing and accessories
- Miricle Body, Women’s fitness training and education
- Luxurious Collection, Beauty, Cosmetic & Personal Care
- Mooshi Hair & Bodycare, natural hair and skin products
- WhipLashed, Cruelty-free mink eyelashes
- Glitch Clothing, Clothing
- Drippin Lashes, False eyelashes
- She’s Pretty Hair Collection, Hair extensions and wigs
- Crochet’d Up, Handmade crochet items to order
- Twoine Productions, Photography