Minnesota

First ‘Black Entrepreneurs Day’ scheduled at State Capitol


Sheletta Brundidge with the Nellie Stone Johnson statue at the Capitol

Black-owned small businesses will take center stage at the inaugural “Black Entrepreneurs Day.” A small army of Black entrepreneurs and small business owners will trek to the State Capitol on the morning of Feb. 3 for a first-of-its-kind event designed to shake things up on their behalf.

The event is presented by Sheletta Brundidge, small business owner and founder of the SHElettaMakesMeLaugh.com podcasting platform and production company. The half-day event seeks to highlight the needs of Minnesota’s minority-owned businesses and turn the owners into an energized and effective lobbying force.

“We got no eyes and ears at the Capitol; nobody been looking out for us. We hear about money we might have qualified for once it’s been handed out. We are an afterthought and that’s got to change if we are to grow and prosper,” said Brundidge.

Gov. Tim Walz, Lt. Gov Peggy Flanagan, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) Commissioner Steve Grove, and dozens of state lawmakers have committed to attend, said Brundidge. They will hear first-hand stories of challenges facing small Black-owned businesses.

Among the speakers will be Dana Smith, a Black entrepreneur who founded and operated MinnyRow Market to showcase and sell local food, some produced by vendors of color. But after two years in business, her market in Hopkins had to be shuttered last November.

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“There’s a huge gap when you look for financing. Black-owned businesses are overlooked or invisible. We faced a lot of obstacles and could have used more support,” said Smith. “After George Floyd, people said they would do more to support Black-owned businesses. A lot of that has trickled away.”

Since Black-owned businesses don’t have a lobbyist to guard their interests, the event will turn Black entrepreneurs into start-up lobbyists for a day. Attendees will meet one-on-one with state lawmakers to have frank and informative discussions about their needs and barriers to their success.

“Our legislators can’t speak for us if they don’t speak to us,” said Brundidge. “If we’re not connected, we miss opportunities. We aren’t asking for a handout; we want them to listen and learn.”

While presented by SHElettaMakesMeLaugh.com, “Black Entrepreneurs Day” is sponsored by Comcast, which has given $10,000 RISE grants to minority-owned businesses. Comcast will join Minneapolis Regional Chamber to sponsor lunch in the Vault in the basement of the Capitol building for all attendees.

“The reality is, we all need to be engaged to make sure these businesses thrive; they are the backbone of the community and job creators of the future. Sheletta has mobilized them for “Black Entrepreneurs Day” at the Capitol and we want to show we are proud to do our part,” said Jill Hornbacher, senior director of external communications for Comcast.

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Submitted photo (l-r) Dana Smith, Sheletta Brundidge and Anissa Keyes

Unlikely ally

Brundidge enlisted longtime Capitol insider Brian McDaniel as an informal adviser in strategizing her plan for “Black Entrepreneurs Day.” A prominent Republican and lobbyist with Hylden Advocacy and Law, McDaniel may seem an unlikely ally, but he’s become an enthusiastic backer of Brundidge’s plan for the day and vision for the future.

“Sheletta has a brilliant idea and I agree with her that this is necessary,” said McDaniel. “I don’t know of a group representing Black entrepreneurs and I don’t remember an event like this in terms of magnitude or intent.

“In this era of budget surpluses, a lot of decisions about how to spend money haven’t been made. It’s a pivotal time for communities of color to be aggressive.”

The incoming Legislature is the most diverse in state history as Minnesotans elected a record 35 lawmakers of color to the House and Senate. Prior to this session, there had never been a Black woman serving in the Senate. Now there are three.

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McDaniel said that while these legislators of color will heighten the concerns of their communities, they can’t do the job alone. Other lawmakers of both parties need to understand what Black businesses need to survive and thrive.

“All lawmakers have to know about health care, education, public safety, taxes,” said McDaniel. “They all have to rely on constituent groups to keep them informed. It’s important they hear a lot of voices and through Sheletta, this group can have their voices amplified.”

McDaniel is putting his money where his mouth is. His law firm is donating a $1000 grant to a deserving Black-owned business owner. In addition, both Gray Duck Vodka and the St. Paul Saints are also offering $1000 grants.

Submitted photo Sheletta Brundidge found inspiration for the event from Nellie Stone Johnson

Inspired by greatness

It’s no coincidence that Brundidge set up “Black Entrepreneurs Day” at the Capitol to be held as Black History Month begins. At the event, Brundidge will wear a shirt emblazoned with words from Nellie Stone Johnson, one of Minnesota’s great civil rights leaders. The quote reads: “I’m not going to quit. There is too much to do. Politics drives everything in life. Can’t stop now!”

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“I’ve been studying Nellie Stone Johnson and I revere her,” said Brundidge. “She shook things up and changed the status quo.”

In addition to being a founder of the DFL party, the first Black person elected to citywide office in Minneapolis, and a legendary activist, Johnson was also a small business owner. For over 30 years she ran Nellie’s Shirt & Zipper Shop and then Nellie’s Alterations in downtown Minneapolis.

“Nellie Stone Johnson fought for opportunities for Black businesses and last fall, they put a life-sized statue of her in the Capitol,” said Brundidge.

“I hear Black business owners say they don’t want to get involved in politics and I say, ‘You better change your tune, or you won’t have a business,’” she warned. “Remember Nellie Stone Johnson’s wise words that ‘politics drives everything’ and let’s take up her fight. We can’t wait for legislators to come to our house, we have to go to their house—the Capitol on February 3.”

Any Minnesota-based Black-owned business or supporter is welcome to “Black Entrepreneurs Day” by registering at www.SHElettaMakesMeLaugh.com.

“Black Entrepreneurs Day” kicks off on Feb. 3 at 10:30 am with speakers at the State Capitol’s Rotunda, (75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. in St. Paul) followed by a meet and greet with legislators from 11 am to noon, and lunch from 12-1 pm in The Vault. The event is free. For more info, visit www.SHElettaMakesMeLaugh.com.

This story was provided in part by www.SHElettaMakesMeLaugh.com.

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