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Black Business Expo Returns to Spokane during Black History Month after 2-Year COVID-Restricted Hiatus

Black Business Expo Returns to Spokane during Black History Month after 2-Year COVID-Restricted Hiatus

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By Cassy Benefield

Sandy Williams, editor and publisher of the The Black Lens community newspaper and executive director of The Carl Maxey Center, wanted to find a way to support Black businesses in Spokane, but she didn’t realize how many of them were in the region.

“I thought, what if we bring them all together for a day and give people a chance to meet the Black business owners and give the business owners a chance to meet each other,” said Williams in an email. “I didn’t know if anybody would show up, but it was a huge success.”

That was in 2018.

Fast forward through the second annual Black Business Expo in 2019, followed by two COVID-restricted years of not having it, to February 2022 and the Expo will finally have its third annual cultural event highlighting Black entrepreneurship.

Typically scheduled sometime during Black History Month, this year’s Expo will be held at the Wonder Building (835 N. Post Street) today (Feb. 4), from 4-8 p.m., and Feb. 5, from 11-6 p.m.

In tandem with the vendors showcasing their services, entertainment will be provided by two DJs, Ras Omy K on Friday night and DJ Daethstar on Saturday. The Expo will conclude after a 45-minute Neema Youth Choir performance on Saturday night. That concert is scheduled at 4:30 p.m.

DJ Daethstar/Contributed

Brianna Rollins, program coordinator for The Carl Maxey Center and the Expo’s event planner, said there will be 23 vendors represented, from social organizations to massage therapists, from accounting firms to dance instructors, and more.

While she was doing her research on businesses in Spokane, she realized there was not a lot of history documenting Black businesses in the region over the years. She sees these Expos filling in that historical gap.

“The more that we are able to document the happenings and goings on here, the more it’ll be a part of history,” said Rollins. “We’re creating history with the Expo, which is something that I think is really important.”

According to the 2021 U.S. Census, 2.3% of Spokane residents identify as Black. As part of that statistic, Rollins estimates there are roughly 70 Black-owned business in addition to about 50 more African-immigrant owned businesses, which are largely healthcare-related, in Eastern Washington.

One of these businesses is JSandoval Real Estate, owned by Jacquelynne Sandoval. She participated in the 2019 Expo and is looking forward to not only sharing her work with the community at this year’s Expo but to also network with other business owners.

“I didn’t realize we had people in accounting. We’ve got lawyers. We’ve got all these different people. So for me, it’s, yes, let’s highlight to our community, first of all, we’re not a threat. We are hard-working people. We’re here,” said Sandoval. “But the biggest thing is I want our younger people to know if you’ve thought about getting into real estate, we have people that can mentor you in this.”

She said that while just as many people want to work with her because she is Black, there are people who do not for the same reason. She also doesn’t know if she is welcome in all the places she shows clients real estate. For example, she’s walked into a home that had confederate flag décor everywhere and was told by that homeowner not to touch anything.

Early on in her real estate business, she met an African-American lender who told her what it’s like being a Black business owner in the Spokane area.

“He actually told me he had two business cards. One with his picture and one without,” said Sandoval. “He literally was getting more phone calls off the ones without his picture on it than the ones with his picture on it.”

While that story didn’t inspire her to get two business cards, she said she’s experienced similar rejections after she’s had open and amiable phone conversations with potential clients and they stopped wanting to work with her once they met her in person.

She thinks representing her business at the Black Business Expo will help educate the community away from a negative American narrative she’s butted up against being an African American.

“You hardly ever hear, look at this wonderful person doing all these wonderful things,” said Sandoval. “There are narratives being spread that we’re thugs and we’re uneducated and we’re lazy and we’re not doing this. It’s not true. It’s not true.”

An organization participating in the Expo for the first time and who is also trying change this biased narrative about African Americans is The Way to Justice, a non-profit advocacy organization and community law firm, led and created by two women of color: CEO Virla Spencer and Legal Director Camerina Zoorzua.

Spencer, who is an African American, believes the Expo is not only a safe space for Black entrepreneurs, it is also a great place to help the community “put [their] money where [their] mouth is.”

She said, “The way that I see it is in Spokane County, Black businesses are not designed to thrive. They are not destined to be successful. … And so in order for us to continue to be able to thrive, it has to be the community that supports us.”

More opportunities to celebrate Black History Month in the region


Home: Imagining the Irrevocable,” Gonzaga University Urban Arts Center
Feb. 4-26
Opening Reception: Feb. 4 at 4-7 p.m.
Gallery Hours: Fridays 4-7 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
An exhibit that revolves around the theme of James Baldwin’s quote, “Perhaps home is not a place, but simply an irrevocable condition,” showcasing works of local black artists in Eastern WA.
 
Zuzu African Acrobats Performance, EWU Showalter Hall Auditorium
Friday, Feb. 11, 4-7 p.m.
Hosted by EWU’s Africana Studies, the Zuzu African Acrobats will perform a 60-minute show with Q&A to follow.
 
“Daughters of the Dust” Film Discussion, EWU Tawanka Hall Room 215 A/B and B/C
Wednesday, Feb. 16, 12- p.m.
According to Wikipedia, “Daughters of Dust” (1991) is known as the first film by an “African American woman to gain a theatrical release.” Attendees are asked to watch the film prior to discussion. You can watch the film on EWU’s Kanopy link with a school ID or through Spokane Public Library‘s Kanopy link with a library card.
 
Poetry Celebration for Black History Month, Online
Thursday, Feb. 17, 11:30 a.m.-12 p.m.
Hosted by Spokane Public library, local poet, Stephen Pitters, will share his work from “Aftermath.” It will be livestreamed to the Spokane Public Library Facebook page.
 
Youth Empowerment Program: Art & Storytelling Clinic, The Way of Justice (845 S. Sherman St.)
Saturday, Feb. 19, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Local youth are invited to participate in this Art & Storytelling clinic that will explore various art mediums through the lens of Black history. The event is no cost to the attendee and includes art supplies, limited instructions, lunch and door prizes. Register for the event through The Way of Justice’s online Google Form.
 
Spokane String Quartet, Bing Crosby Theater
Sunday, Feb. 20, 3 p.m.
The Spokane String Quartet with special guest Bass-Baritone Derrick Parker “celebrates Black History Month with works by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and George Walker, plus Daniel Bernard Roumain’s String Quartet No. 5, ‘Rosa Parks,’” according to the theater’s website.
 
A Conversation with Michelle Alexander, Online
Monday, Feb. 28, 6-7:30 p.m.
The Gonzaga community will host NYT Best-Selling Author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” Format will be a conversation with Q&A.

About Cassy Benefield

Cassandra Benefield mostly goes by Cassy (pronounced like Cassie but spelled with a 'y'). She is a wife and mommy, who married at the age of 37 and had her baby girl just shy of 39. She has moved around all her life, first as an Army brat. She is a returned Peace Corps volunteer to Romania where she taught Conversational English, Modern Literature, Creative Writing, U.S. Culture, U.S. Geography, and U.S. History (the last two subjects she was so not qualified to teach!). She is a Journalism major from Cal Poly Technical University in San Luis Obispo, Calif. She finds much comfort in her Savior, Jesus Christ, and considers herself a Bible nerd who is prone to buy more theology books than she is ever able to read. Morro Bay, California, is her favorite place on earth ... with the exception of being in the center of God's will. From time to time, you will find her writing devotions on her blog underhisshadow.blogspot.com.

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