By Camm Ashford
The Chattanooga Department of Equity and Community Engagement on Monday hosted more than 70 people during a “special edition” of its monthly Minority Business Owners Roundtable.
The free Juneteenth Business Celebration highlighted some of the black-owned businesses within the Martin Luther King Boulevard footprint–including the Chattanooga News Chronicle; Chatt Smokehouse; Uncle Larry’s; The Peach Cobbler Factory; and The Big 9 Street Food. Other black and women-owned businesses participating were MetalMakers Company; Chambers Welding & Fabricating, Corp., Enchanted Events; Hardnett Financial Group; Dynasty Financial Solutions; Flutterbies-Art With A Message; Bad wRAPs and BBQ ROWE & Catering.
The event, held at the Kingdom Center on East M.L. King Boulevard from 6-7:45 p.m., was aimed at “uplifting the history of Juneteenth and Black Economic Empowerment.”
John L. Edwards III, founder and CEO of the Chattanooga News Chronicle, talked about growing up in Chattanooga and the legacy of the East Martin Luther King district. Once called “The Big 9” because it was formerly Ninth Street, Martin Luther King Boulevard (MLK) for many years was the heart and soul of Black entertainment and entrepreneurship in Chattanooga.
Edwards said he lived through some dark times, including segregation, but over the years went on to build relationships and resources that would eventually help him establish the Chattanooga News Chronicle, a source of positive and inspiring community news.
“Recognizing black businesses that continue a tradition here on Martin Luther King is an opportunity, as well as a remembrance, of something that is so important to our community and our history,” he said.
The Chattanooga News Chronicle has occupied an office at 611 E. Martin Luther King Blvd., since purchasing and renovating its two-story 3200 square foot building in 1999.
Roundtable attendees had an opportunity to participate in a fun networking activity and to consult with life and business coach Dejaun S. Jordan, as well as representatives from LAUNCH Chattanooga; the Tennessee Small Business Development Center; and the Urban League; among others.
They also had a chance to soak in the sounds of DJ KStylz while sampling some of the signature dishes and beverages of the featured MLK vendors.
“I spoke at a Black entrepreneurial summit this week in Nashville, and I was really excited to see…I was like, it was really palpable in the room, the connections that were being made between these Black and Brown entrepreneurs,” said Karen Collins, director of Supplier Diversity at the City of Chattanooga.
“And I saw that in Nashville, but I know we can have that right here in Chattanooga, Tennessee. You don’t have to go to a Memphis. We can create that kind of spontaneity, connections, and ecosystems right here. Anybody ready to help me do that? We want to do it right here!”
Collins received a standing ovation.