While the District might be internationally renowned for being the nation’s capital and the hub for countrywide politics, the Greater Washington DC Black Chamber of Commerce (GWBCC) offered a reminder that D.C. is also home to booming Black businesses. Highlighting changemakers in the arts and business, the local commerce organization hosted its inaugural “Juneteenth Soirée.” Held at the Hamilton Hotel on June 19, the gala, themed “Art of Black Business,” celebrated Black freedom, entrepreneurship and ingenuity.
In an evening that included an open bar, featured cocktails, small bites like chicken sliders, cheese, and mini lobster rolls, a dynamic live band, and decor with a Gatsby, Harlem Renaissance-esque theme, GWBCC hosted a party with a purpose: continuing to support local entrepreneurs.
“We’re still quite a young chamber and so much of what we have been doing just includes making sure that we have the robust foundation to have the longevity that many of the chambers that we’ve seen in this area, have and succeed with,” Aisha Bond, president of GWBCC, told the Informer in a WIN-TV interview..
Bond said the chamber’s commitment to supporting the District’s creative business community spawned from filling a need.
“Artists as entrepreneurs really didn’t have a home base to really lean into as a collective and as a community to make sure that they had sounding boards resources, insight, network support, some place to… get a little bit of relief, which is a big part of being a chamber– making sure that we’re really thinking about the psyche of our entrepreneurs,” Bond explained.
The gala was one of a few ways GWBCC has been working to highlight and support D.C.’s artistic business community. Last week, the chamber hosted a roundtable with leaders from the arts community, which, Bond said, helped initiate a collective “economic enterprise committee for the arts.”
Then, there was the “Juneteenth Soiree,” which, not only, highlighted Black businesses and artists, but also featured the artist Rodney “Buck” Herring, whose piece– as the event’s artist in residence– was given to an action winner during the evening.
“It’s really about progress, success… It’s really about just not letting anything get in your way,” said Buck about his artwork and recent inspiration.
“We let other things get in our way and maybe a person, place, thing, whatever it is, comes in your path. It’s really not your bad,” Buck continued. “You have people that can support you like the Black Chamber of Commerce, you might have friends that live in certain neighborhoods, certain people that have friends that own businesses, they can always help you. There’s somebody here to help you.”
Celebrating the Honorees: Awards Offer Hope and Call to Action
Helping others and continuing to support the work of D.C.’s creative community through resources and legislation, proved as major themes throughout the event.
“Whenever I’m given the opportunity to share a platform and to tell my story, and to further my business, I’m grateful, because I know when people support the Spice Suite, they’re supporting hundreds, if not thousands, of other small businesses,” said entrepreneur Angel Gregorio, who was one of the recipients of the Innovator of the Year Award. “It’s never really about me, people always say ‘It’s lonely at the top.’ And I always say, ‘I won’t know because I’m not going by myself.’”
With her business The Spice Suite, a “spice shop and dream incubator,” Gregorio is very intentional about building up other entrepreneurs.
“We provide free space to Black business owners who want to pop up and sell their products and have hosted over 4,000 free pop-ups in the seven-and-a-half years I’ve been in business,” Gregorio said.
Fellow Innovator of the Year Award winner Ian Callendar of Suite Nation emphasized the importance of preserving D.C.’s creative community and culture.
“Really push other people around you, including people in this room,” Callendar said in a space full of current and former politicians and local entrepreneurs. “We can make a difference, and I just hope that with the right time and right resources, we can articulate that through legislation.”
Other honorees included Council member Kenyan McDuffie (I-At-Large), longtime salon-owner Wanda Henderson, peace activist and organizer Ron Moten of the GoGo Museum and Don’t Mute DC, Matthew Featherstone and Branden Wiles of Hiatus Cheesecake, and the DC Anchor Partnership.
Henderson, owner of Wanda’s on 7th and recipient of the Resilience and Cultural Preservation Award, used her acceptance speech to make a major announcement.
“I want to build a school,” Henderson said. “When I open my school in Southeast, we’re going to have the best school in Anacostia, and the name of my school is Henderson International Academy.”
The final award recipient of the night, Council member McDuffie, who chairs the Business and Economic Development Committee, touted the nation’s capital as a model for uplifting Black business owners.
“If you don’t think Washington, D.C., is a model, then it truly is,” McDuffie emphasized. “This is a place where your dreams can come true. This is a place where you can start a small business, and grow a small business, and hire people from your neighborhood. The reality is, we need elected officials that are supportive of those opportunities.”Test by slassiter72