Equity is defined by removing roadblocks to opportunity and access, but justice is creating a network and providing the skills to get to success for those who had their dreams deferred.
“People kept coming to us and saying there weren’t enough jobs,” said Anthony Morgan, cofounder of the Create U Network. Cofounder Pastor Louis Wilson, Ph.D., of the New Song Community Church in West Baltimore’s Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood, felt the community needed more than “jobs, but job creation.” Together with the company’s other executive officers, they founded an organization in 2017 that’s dedicated to aiding Baltimore’s “unconventional entrepreneur” and getting their businesses to the next level.
To date, over 30 entrepreneurs have gone through the program.
Create U offers business owners a nine-week Co.Starters curriculum out of the New Song Worship and Arts Center. The cohorts of 15 people or less meet each week to tackle areas of building their business from the prospective customers to the legal structure, with the goal of having the kinks worked out of a startup so alumni have a working business model. At the end of the nine weeks, alumni will have a business canvas that maps out their business, along with access to a network of other entrepreneurs jumping over the same startup hurdles.
“We may not have gotten to the point where [the alumni] are creating jobs for other people,” said Morgan. “But they’re able to create their own jobs.” Alumni started seeing their own business as a legitimate career path and the “nine to five as a side hustle,” Morgan said.
One of the greatest hurdles for entrepreneurs they’ve encountered is changing the mindset of participants that don’t exactly feel comfortable being called entrepreneurs.
“This whole word of entrepreneurship is not as inclusive as people tend to think it may be,” said Morgan. “So, we started calling it business ownership.”
He’s right, as funding data shows entrepreneurship hasn’t historically been inclusive in Baltimore. From 2011-2016, the volume of small business lending from banks that helps entrepreneurs was $2,336 per household in predominantly black communities, as opposed to $11,442 per household in communities that were less than 50% black, according to a study on Baltimore’s Black Butterfly by the Urban Institute.
The next hurdle was networks, and, as Morgan described it, “bridging the gap between people.”
Madeline Baker, founder of video production company Mad Queen Studios, was touched by the community built with her cohort during classes at Create U back in 2017. After she didn’t make it to class due to transportation issues, her fellow business owners offered to give her a ride whenever she needed.
“They said, it’s okay to ask for help, that it is not a sign of weakness,” said Becker. “We had a group conversation about what it means to ask for help. So lessons were occurring constantly, even outside of the curriculum. That is when I knew Create U was more than a class, it was a community.”
1601 North Calhoun Street, which is the West Baltimore address Create U Network calls home, is in an area where poverty and lack of opportunity is systemic. Programs like Create U network create the infrastructure needed to shift the paradigm in these communities that have been historically disenfranchised. It’s a paradigm that can put just as many mental blocks in a-would be entrepreneur’s path as financial.
“Showing people that you created value,” said Morgan, is one of the major breakthroughs that’s common for Create U alumni. By creating “something that someone wants to put their money and time in. You are indeed an entrepreneur.”
Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation. -30-