How Black-Owned Businesses Are Breaking Down Barriers in Peoria

Feb 22, 2021

Running a small business is hard. Those challenges are compounded for Black small business owners. WCBU Student Reporter Jordan Mead explores how local entrepreneurs are breaking down those barriers.

The Peoria area touts hundreds of Black entrepreneurs. But Black-owned businesses cannot thrive without the support of their surrounding communities.

Monica Arbuckle is executive managing partner for AFE Construction, and a board member of the Black Business Alliance. She says that a lack of startup resources, capital, and mentorship are all major challenges facing Black entrepreneurs in particular.

"But it's especially harder for minority contractors, just to build the trust," Arbuckle said. "The other challenge (is) trying to build the relationships within the community to do the business."

To help, the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce is working to make the playing field more equitable for Black-owned businesses.

Joshua Gunn, president and CEO of the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce and CEO Council, says it is important to focus on helping not just individual businesses, but making collective changes.

"I think what's lacking and what we're working on at the chamber, is creating connectivity for those businesses," Gunn said. "Not only amongst each other, but connectivity to the wealth of resources that exist in Peoria for capital funding, advocacy, marketing, promotion, exposure, and helping to create a more robust ecosystem for Black businesses is one of our priorities."

Gunn said ensuring Black businesses have a seat at the table not only helps them, but benefits everybody -- from the smallest startup to the largest corporations. 

Smo-King Pit BBQ is one such business. The Peoria chamber keeps them visible by publishing their names in its Business Directory and promoting the restaurant.

"I just opened a business to open a business for everybody, and I just happen to be a minority guy doing it," said owner Michael Citchens. "And I think that's where your success as a businessman comes. When everybody can participate in your business."

He said the support Peoria gives to businesses is something he is grateful for -- minority-owned or not.

The Minority Business Development Center is another organization supporting Black-owned businesses as they navigate the challenges of beginning their businesses.

"The Minority Business Development Center decided to move forward to bring the education and empowerment to the community to not only educate and empower minorities, but to equip them with the tools and resources they need to get started," said Minority Business Development Center Program Manager Shielondria Parker.

She said the center believes it's important to provide information, training, and services so that businesses can not only sustain themselves, but expand.

In addition to its online business directory and business incubator, the Minority Business Development Center also has a program called contractor development that allows them to partner companies like AFE Construction Company with other minority-owned businesses. 

AFE specializes in commercial contracting, painting and carpentry for businesses and homes in the Peoria area. Monica Arbuckle of AFE said the company develops land and develops lives by mentoring other minority-owned businesses in the Peoria area.

"It's kinda like reaching back and helping others come up with you," said Arbuckle. "And so, my part with the Black Business Alliance and our contractor development classses is basically 'share the knowledge.'"

Arbuckle said they also guide other businesses by sharing their own personal experiences.

Young’s Popcorn Heaven is another Black business in the Peoria supported by the Minority Business Development Center. Owner JoAnn Parker-Young said the Minority Business Development Center has helped her build up a strong clientele.

"They come in, they tell us that, yeah, we love your products, and we tell all your friends and family about you,' she said. "And we just want to keep you guys in the community because we don't want to see you guys fail. And I give our praise to the customers for that. Because you never really know if you're doing a good service to the community unless they tell you themselves." 

Parker-Young said despite the difficulties she faces operating a Black-owned business in Peoria, she's here to serve high-quality popcorn, no matter the challenge.

Joshua Gunn of the Peoria Area Chamber said in a city like Peoria with a rich Black history, Black-owned businesses must be prioritized.

"The shorter version of that is that if we really want Peoria to thrive, then Black-owned Peoria has to thrive, as well," he said.

Gunn said building up Black owned businesses helps build a stable economy where everyone participates.

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