The Jackson Ward Collective: Building economic freedom in Richmond’s Black community

Updated: Feb. 25, 2021 at 4:19 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - There is no Richmond without Jackson Ward.

In the early 1900s, the community was filled with Black-owned businesses and creative entrepreneurs.

Maggie Walker was in the driver’s seat, steering Black Richmonders towards economic independence, doing it all from inside the historic St. Luke’s Hall - a building that stands today.

More than 120 years later, it’s where we interviewed the Jackson Ward Collective.

“All of our ancestors have stomped all up and through this building and when we were kind of looking around at who owned what, and why we technically didn’t own the block, we started to ask the question. What opportunities were not made available for black entrepreneurs,” said Kelli Lemon, the cultural curator advocating and amplifying the voice of the Collective.

Rasheeda Creighton lays out the goal:

“Our mission is not just to help people own their business, but help them own the building where their businesses are located. We all know that real estate is the key part of generational wealth,” said Creighton.

Creighton covers operations, connecting black entrepreneurs with a larger network of people with the funding to invest, and create opportunities.

And Melody Short assesses each business to make sure their affairs are in order and finds to maximize performance and profitability.

“Down to going to City Hall, getting your business license, securing your tax ID online, getting incorporated in the state, taking care of the zoning and planning, I mean all of that,” said Short.

Together these women are known as the Jackson Ward Collective, and they say their voice was born out of necessity.

“Black businesses are not being prioritized or centered and so we’re saying enough is enough, it is time to make sure we are self-sufficient. What we are looking to do is fill the gap in terms of leveling the playing field,” said Short.

These three Black women are pooling together their extensive knowledge of the city and its culture, to leverage the power and potential of black business owners.

“We’re allowing some black business owners to literally say let me see if this works and we’re taking you from start to finish, it’s no pressure,” said Lemon.

Telisha Woodfin is the owner of LivLoved LLC - a postpartum doula support service for families. She’s received a grant from the collective to get her accounting in order.

“Anything that you can think of to really build your business on a solid foundation is what JWC is all about. So what the collective did was to connect me with another business owner within the community that could support me in doing that,” said Woodfin.

A storefront isn’t necessary for Telisha to grow her business but that’s the beauty of the Jackson Ward Collective: whether you’re getting your ideas off the ground or grow an existing one they can help.

“I often have a running joke that if you want to open that Aqua Fitness place that sells cookies Lets GO. Why are we hiding behind these multi-million dollar ideas because we don’t have the support or the resources,” said Lemon.

Studies have shown that the average white household makes at least eight times the amount of the average Black household. The Collective believes the real way to close the racial wealth gap in America is through ownership.

For them, it’s time to reinvigorate and reinvest in the community that has already shown itself to be capable of sustaining.

“Black people in this country have been behind, if you will, for a very long time. So we are making an intentional investment in the black community to support, to uplift, and continue to encourage,” said Creighton.

Lemon agrees, “The ancestors are literally coming to us and saying alright y’all GO...and we have to go when they say go.”

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