(Photo by Stephen Babcock)
In the days after the rioting that followed Freddie Gray’s funeral, National Urban League President Marc Morial said the organization decided to act in Baltimore.
One result of that will be on display as national leaders gather at the Convention Center for the city-focused group’s annual conference, which starts Wednesday. But even after those events are over, a former church near Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. in Druid Hill will be a sign of further action.
“It’s really toiling in the vineyard, and we want people to know that this is a place where you can get what otherwise might be expensive consulting services for free,” Morial said, standing in the doorway of the Raymond V. Haysbert Entrepreneurship Center. It’s the 13th such center the National Urban League has opened across the country.
"We're not just explaining to people what to do. We're getting in the trenches with them."
The national group partnered with the Greater Baltimore Urban League to open the center. Funding also came from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Abell Foundation and Wells Fargo. While the Greater Baltimore Urban League is based in the church and has partnered on events with organizations like Digit All Systems, the opening of the center is a sign of renewed efforts to focus energy toward addressing Baltimore’s decades-old inequalities by encouraging entrepreneurship. It was one of the projects spotlighted as part of Innovation Village in West Baltimore.
“I believe it’s a very important dynamic because if we think of any community, how many businesses are owned by people living in the community. We have such an opportunity to combine services that serve the necessities of life,” Morial said, adding that he hopes large institutions and businesses in town get involved.
While they may not use startup lingo, the approach is similar to other incubators. Since June 1, director William Honablew, Jr. said the center has had about 30 businesses express interest in its workshops, seminars and one-on-one mentoring. The center also has space for business owners to work, which provides access to computers. Along with providing a framework for how to start a business, Honablew said he is seeking to take a hands-on approach, whether that means teaching social media or how to keep records digitally.
“We’re not just explaining to people what to do. We’re getting in the trenches with them,” he said.-30-
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