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Black Onyx Management Knows That Equity Pays

In 1821, the United States was still molding its identity as a young nation. It would be 39 years before the beginning of the Civil War and 42 years before the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1821, the city of Indianapolis was founded and it is also believed that in that same year, David Mallory established the first Black-owned business in Indianapolis—a barbershop.

This is why, when Marshawn Wolley and Black Onyx Management began working on Equity 1821 and the 2022 Equity Pays Report, they knew that it was critical for the past to be recognized. The purpose of the 2022 Equity Pays Report is to make the case for why a Black-led (‘Black-led’ here meaning institutions with a Black executive, Black board of directors, and a focus on the Black community) community development financial institution (CDFI) is critical not only to the economic health of the Indianapolis Black business community, but the business community at large. The 2022 Equity Pays Report outlines the history of Black-led businesses in Indianapolis, why CDFI models work for the city, key issues with access to capital in the Black business community, and why and how a Black-led CDFI is critical to providing access to capital and economic prosperity in the Black community.

When the African-American Coalition of Indianapolis (AACI) began the process of developing the Black Agenda, a meeting took place in the Fall of 2019 in Cleo’s Bodega on the Near Westside of Indianapolis. The purpose of this meeting was to bring together community minds to ideate about what key elements should be a part of the Black Agenda. During this meeting, one attendee —a Black woman–raised her hand and said that she specifically wanted a community development financial institution that was led by Black people and prioritized the needs of the Black community. Marshawn jotted down that note, and the rest is history.

What is critical for the future of Indianapolis is that we support the Black-owned small businesses because they have always been the lifeblood of the community. In 1910, Madam C.J. Walker moved the headquarters for her Walker Manufacturing Co. to Indianapolis becoming one of the first self-made women millionaires ever after establishing her business here. Before and after reaching the height of her success, she used her platform and her resources to give back to the Black Indianapolis community. Today, Black women business owners like Katina Washington, CEO of the SHE Xperience, use their platform and resources to uplift the Black Indianapolis small business community, maintaining and enhancing the legacy of Madam C.J. Walker and others.

For the first seven years that she operated her small business events, Katina Washington self-funded each and every SHE event. She used savings and credit cards to do the critical work of providing small Black-owned businesses a platform to share their work and she took the losses as they came. While she does not regret the sacrifices she made in those early years, she also believes that if she would have been able to secure access to capital within her first or second year in operation, she would have been able to go farther faster. Most recently, Washington’s organization opened the first Black-owned department store in Downtown Indianapolis located in the Circle Center Mall. When asked what the potential impact of a business loan would have been, she remarked,

“We opened the first Black owned department store in Circle Center Mall…had we had access to would have really helped us with staff, fixtures, structures, operating costs, and administrative costs.”

Black business owners in Indianapolis have learned to hit a straight lick with a crooked stick, but it is prime time that we receive equitable opportunities at the outset.

After learning of the work of Equity 1821, Brittiny Clinton, CEO of She Never Tells Salon and Hair Replacement Center noted,

“This fills a gap within the community. It is great for Black women business owners to be seen by business lenders that might overlook them. I've been in business for over a decade providing high quality services with a loyal customer base. I'm a great credit risk for someone who sees value in what I do.”

The work of Equity 1821 is fueled by the entrepreneurial spirit of Black business owners past and present like Katina Washington and Brittany Clinton. For it is this spirit that serves as the cultural production engine for Indianapolis.

CDFIs or community development financial institutions were developed in the United States beginning in the 1970s. According to the 2022 Equity Pays Report, CDFIs leverage public, private, and philanthropic partnerships to amass capital to support housing loans or small businesses. Local organizations such as INHP and LISC Indianapolis are examples of what is possible for CDFIs. Over the years, a number of Black-led institutions such as the Kheprw Institute and the Indy Black Chamber have contributed greatly to the Black business community using creativity combined with practicality to advance economic opportunity. In total, there are 19 CDFIs in Indiana, and only one, Mt. Zion Indianapolis Federal Credit Union is Black-led. What’s more, Mt. Zion Federal Credit Union does not provide business lending. Therefore, this leaves a major business lending gap in the Black-owned business community in Indianapolis.

The need for Black-led financial institutions in Indianapolis is not new. In 1963, Rev. Dr. R.T. Andrews Senior developed the Mt. Zion Federal Credit Union after being denied a business loan while being called a racial slur in the process. Now a 59 year old Black-led institution in Indianapolis, Mt. Zion Federal Credit Union is a major example of what is possible when the Black community prioritizes investing in itself. In the 1970s Dr. Frank Lloyd, a groundbreaking physician and businessman, founded the Midwest National Bank, an institution that prioritized giving access to capital to Black Hoosiers. Equity 1821 and the 2022 Equity Pays Report are continuations of the groundwork that was laid by Rev. Dr. R.T. Andrews Senior and Dr. Frank Lloyd.

For decades, Black leaders in every sector in Indianapolis have been pushing for more business resources for Black communities. In addition to Rev. Dr. R.T. Andrews Senior, the late Representative Bill Crawford, dedicated his career in the Indiana House of Representatives to prioritizing legislation that would create better economic opportunities for Black Hoosiers. One week before his passing, Rep. Bill Crawford had a conversation with Black Onyx Management’s founder, Marshawn Wolley. During this conversation, the two had differing opinions on many things, but one issue that Rep. Crawford stressed, and that Marshawn now works to underscore, is the concern for the Indiana Black community’s economic state. Rep. Crawford did not believe that there was a Black person in Indiana that owned a building taller than five stories. By this, he meant that the opportunities for advancement in the state’s Black business community were severely lacking.

In 2002, Rep. Crawford made Indiana history as the first Black legislator to serve as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. In this role, Rep. Crawford saw first hand the chasm between the economic health of Indiana’s minority and white communities. This is why the work of Equity 1821 and the research and data that is now available in the 2022 Equity Pays Report are critical to the economic advancement of Indianapolis’ Black community.

Today, Marshawn and Black Onyx Management stand on the shoulders of giants like Madam C.J. Walker, Rep. Bill Crawford, Rev. Dr. R.T. Andrews Senior, and Dr. Frank Lloyd. There is no better time than now to join hands to get this work done together.

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