It was the middle of the night around 1am when Tia Upshaw came up with a new idea to help showcase local Black women entrepreneurs. As the founder and president of the Blk Women in Excellence mentorship program, Upshaw has always valued educating, uplifting and creating platforms for Black women—and that’s exactly what she’s aiming to achieve this African Heritage Month.
This year, she started producing an online program called “28-Day Series: Celebrating Black History Month Through Black Women Entrepreneurs.” For each day in February, Upshaw is featuring a business owned by a Black woman on Blk Women in Excellence’s social media. Every evening at 7pm, Upshaw conducts a live interview and Q&A session over Zoom with that day’s featured entrepreneur.
“People can come on Zoom and ask, ‘Was it hard starting a business as a Black woman? Was it hard starting a business with small children? How did you start without capital?’” Upshaw says. “These are the questions these women are getting—and they’re loving it. The engagement within the community itself is what is overpowering.”
So far, Upshaw has showcased tons of local Black business owners who come from a range of industries including beauty, fashion and real estate. Since the series began, women like Bernadette Hamilton Reid (owner of Sankofa Afrikan Gifts), Bria Cherise Miller (who owns Bria Makes Things) and Funmi Odeniyi (owner of MichNat Fashion House) have already shared their knowledge and stories.
With more than a week left in African Heritage Month, the rest of February is packed with business features that showcase even more local Black women who own companies in food, health and event planning. Even once this year’s African Heritage Month ends, Upshaw plans to keep all of the stories online, and she aims to make the marathon series an annual event.
But creating the series isn’t easy work: Upshaw is single-handedly producing and managing all of the content. On the last day of January, she spent 14 hours preparing to launch the series where she created 28 separate virtual posters featuring each of the entrepreneurs and their businesses. “It’s fulfilling, but it’s very difficult because I’m one person,” she says.
thousands of people took to the streets that year in support of the worldwide movement.
“Now, we’re two years later and it’s like crickets,” Upshaw says. “To me, that’s heart-wrenching and it’s unacceptable.… I’m one person with no funding from the government, I have no staff. I am one Black woman who’s a single mother with three businesses of her own and I still find time to showcase and feature 28 Black women. There’s no excuse for anybody else.”
Going forward, Upshaw wants to see more well-intentioned actions that support the Black community and its entrepreneurs. For one, people and businesses using descriptors such as “diverse” and “inclusive” should outwardly show those values. Recently, Upshaw says the Black community has had more discussions about businesses and people that—despite claiming to be progressive and BIPOC-friendly—demonstrate colourism.
On top of that, Upshaw wants to see some normalization around businesses being Black-owned. “I want this to become normalized that there’s businesses out there that are owned and operated by Black women and men,” she says. “But we don’t have to distinctively say every time we’re introducing ourselves as a Black business owner.”