Local Black Chamber of Commerce Champions for Black Entrepreneurship, Fosters Community Success

<p>Muncie/Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce members pose for a picture during board training April 24, 2023 at the French Lick Resort. The training helps them learn how to become more impactful in the community when helping minority businesses. Bernisa Elliott, Photo Provided</p>

Muncie/Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce members pose for a picture during board training April 24, 2023 at the French Lick Resort. The training helps them learn how to become more impactful in the community when helping minority businesses. Bernisa Elliott, Photo Provided

“A rising tide will raise all boats,” said LaTasha Mardis, member of the executive committee and executive board as event chair with the Muncie/Delaware County Black Chamber of Commerce. 

Mardis said the metaphor illustrates the philosophy of the Black Chamber of Commerce: supporting Black-owned businesses ultimately benefits all businesses and the entire local economy.

Over the past few years, the chamber has been a supporter of growing Black-owned businesses in Muncie, Indiana. 

Founded in 2020 by local entrepreneurs, the volunteer-based organization helped establish several "firsts" for Black-owned businesses in the area. This was done through networking opportunities, educational partnerships and financial support for small businesses and entrepreneurs.

The chamber's founding vision was based on the growing need for a support system for minority and small businesses in Muncie. By offering networking opportunities and structured support, it has helped elevate these businesses to the next level. This is done through events such as pop-up shops, wine mixers and award dinners that foster networking and community support for the owners. 

Founding member and membership chair of the chamber, Dafina Kirk,  said this is due to the fact that when many businesses first start, they fall into a window of failure. 

“A lot of businesses fail during that time frame, or they're bored, or they just don't know what to do next,” Kirk said.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 20 percent of small businesses tend to fail within the first opening year, with less than 50 percent surviving through year five and only a third making it 10 years.

The chamber remains a source of hope and support for local Black entrepreneurs to help fix this problem by working with businesses to help them succeed. 

Providing assistance with paperwork, offering workshops and facilitating partnerships to help businesses grow and learn from each other are just some of the initiatives that have been done to help them overcome economic barriers and have a goal to promote growth within the community.

“It's so important for us to have a group that speaks to the needs of the majority of the members being Black or minority because in businesses ‒ unfortunately, as with life—sometimes our skin color in society can have different effects,” founding member and chamber treasurer Bernisa Elliott said. 

The chamber's members and leaders come from various industries and backgrounds, bringing different skills and experiences that support the group's mission.

With such a diversity of skills among its members, the organization provides individuals with alternative mindsets and viewpoints on improving business abilities and enhancing presence among their respective customer bases.

“We essentially all come together and give a framework to folks who may not have had exposure to fill in the blank,” Mardis said.

A considerable part of what the chamber does is putting small businesses or entrepreneurs on the map. It organizes networking events, vendor fairs, workshops on business development and partnerships with various organizations who have sponsored it in the area, such as several of the banks and credit unions, The City of Muncie and Ball State University. 

While these aren’t categorized as official partnerships, they are organizations that have come on board to help the Black Chamber in its mission of allowing business owners to expand their networks.

“I think the challenge with small businesses is making sure people know you're here and know what you do,” Mardis said. “It's no different for the Black Chamber, making sure people who could potentially join the chamber recognize that we're here and know how we can serve them.”

In 2023, Ivy Tech held a course that helped business owners in Muncie learn how to develop their businesses further. The Black Chamber provided a $500 scholarship for each person who completed the class to help them expand their businesses. Students did not know about the scholarship prior to enrollment.

“There was not a dry eye in the world,” Mardis said. “Each person in the room instantly knew what they were going to do with the money.”

Ivy Tech also sponsors the chamber. Corporate sponsorships are primarily how the organization can fund its programming and initiatives, especially since the staff comprises volunteers who otherwise have careers outside the chamber. The chamber seeks grants and sponsorships to support local businesses, provide training and assist with administrative fees.

Black Commerce 2.jpg
Members of the Muncie/Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce July 7, 2023 at The Bloom Downtown’s ribbon cutting ceremony. The chamber has been a proud supporter since its opening in 2023. Bernisa Elliott, Photo Provided

The Chamber supports various businesses including Grace Beauty College, the first cosmetology and barber school owned by a Black female in central Indiana, and BE’s Beauty, the region's only Black hair care supply company. 

It has also supported businesses like The Bloom Downtown, a venue space offering a collection of eateries and event rentals, one of the most significant presences of a Black-owned business in Muncie.

BE’s Beauty is owned by Elliott. While she already had her business underway before the Black Chamber was created, the chamber has supported her efforts to keep it going. 

“With me being in business for over 20-some years, I've talked to other business owners and some of the customers that are in the chamber,” Elliott said. “The chamber has allowed us to build strong relationships and to get an understanding of working with each other and learning from each other.”

While the primary focus is on supporting Black entrepreneurs, the chamber is open to all who want to join and support its mission. 

Within the chamber, there are focused committees for all to join that address the needs of its members beyond just business development. These committees focus on different areas of the chamber, such as education, special events, religious affairs and membership.

“Black entrepreneurs are intended to be the primary beneficiary of the work that we do, and they have so much history around why that's important. Black folks have traditionally had systems put in place that have tended to exclude Black people,” Mardis said. “Anybody is welcome to join and we welcome anybody.”

The chamber’s next membership meeting is Feb. 19 at 6 p.m. in the Fisher Building at Ivy Tech. There, members will discuss XBE certification, a program recognizing and supporting disadvantaged businesses, opportunities to be a vendor for Ivy Tech and ways to collaborate with the other committees. 

For more information on how to get involved with the chamber’s mission, visit the Muncie/Delaware County Black Chamber of Commerce website or email info@mdcblackchamber.org

Contact Meghan Braddy with comments via email at meghan.braddy@bsu.edu or on X @meghan_braddy.


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