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First Black Owned Ice Skating Academy Opens in Detroit

Dream Detroit Skating Academy (DDSA) is the first Black owned ice skating academy based in Detroit, Michigan.

DDSA was founded by Angela Blocker-Loyd and Candice Tamakloe, two of only a few competitive African American skaters in the metropolitan Detroit area.

black owned skating club
Photo credit: Dream Detroit Skating Academy (DDSA

Angela started figure skating at 9 years old and was one of the youngest skaters at the Berkley Ice Arena and Recreation Center at the time. Candice, who was 14 years old at the time took Angela on as a little sister.

As their skating careers progressed,  both ladies noticed that there was a lack of representation and opportunity for Detroit youth in the figure skating world.

With hopes of being the change they wanted to see, Candice and Angela launched Dream Detroit Skating Academy at the Jack Adams Memorial Ice Arena in Detroit.

DDSA is also run by Crystal Stewart, who began ice skating at age 6, through the Berkley Recreation Department, alongside the co-founders.

“There has never been a skater at the national or international level to come out of the city of Detroit,” Candice told the Detroit Free Press. “We want to bring that quality back into the city.”

DDSA offers a rigorous figure skating program with the goal of preparing Detroit’s youth for a variety of figure skating disciplines.

It also offers both group and private figure skating lessons to youth ages 4 and up with skill-building opportunities starting from Learn to Skate classes to competitive and ice show performances.


Tony O. Lawson

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Fund Created to Help Black Farmers in Detroit Purchase Land in the City

On Friday, June 19, in honor of Juneteenth, a coalition of local food activists established a new fund to help Black farmers purchase land in Detroit. The Detroit Black Community Food Security NetworkOakland Avenue Urban Farm in the North End, and Keep Growing Detroit developed the Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund, which will help foster more land ownership among black farmers in the city who face greater barriers in purchasing property.

Jerry Hebron, a director for Oakland Avenue Urban Farm, described her farm’s challenges with acquiring the property they grow on in a Facebook live post. “We had a lot of issues with the acquisition process, particularly because we started out on a commercial district and the city of Detroit — although our work was very good — felt like there may be a higher and better use for the land,” she said. “So it took us about 15 years to make the first acquisition.” Since 2015, Hebron says that the farm has been successful in acquiring land by working with the city, but she is aware of other black farmers who have not had as much success.

Many people in the community lack the capital to compete with developers who have increasingly bought up large swaths of property in the city limits. “For several years I’ve found that it’s just easier for white growers to purchase land. It’s easier for them to navigate the system. And I find that it’s really an uneven playing field,” Tepfirah Rushdan, director of Keep Growing Detroit, said in an announcement shared to Youtube. “We all know that things are changing in the city. Development is happening at a quicker pace, and I’m worried that people who are growing on their land and they don’t own it, that they’re going to start to get displaced.”

Applications will be released in July for the funding and will be evaluated through a blind review process using an established rubric. The group plans to announce the winners in September. The project has already received nearly $16,000 since Friday on Gofundme. Donations can be made to the site or via CashApp to $detroitblackfarmer.

The need for more secure agriculture in the city has become even more evident since the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has sent shockwaves through the food system and disrupted the supply chain. At the same time, the nation is experiencing an uprising sparked by anger over the killing of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery, and other Black people.


Source: Detroit Eater


Related: The Ultimate List of Black Owned Farms & Food Gardens

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How the outbreak has affected this Black Owned Bed & Breakfast

The Cochrane House is an art-filled, 18th century mansion in Detroit’s historic Brush Park, located in the heart of Downtown Detroit.

This family owned bed and breakfast has been hit hard since the global outbreak of the Coronavirus. We caught up with the owners to find out how they are dealing with this new reality.

What were your initial thoughts when you learned about the outbreak?

We didn’t think the initial outbreak would be as serious as it turned out to be. When the State of Michigan initially announced the outbreak, there were only two cases of COVID-19. The next day, the State of Michigan had 12 cases. Later that week, the state had 53 cases.

We knew that these were only reported cases, and not an actual count of people who may have the virus. Once we saw the number of people with the virus rise, we took the outbreak seriously. The virus was, reportedly, rapidly spreading by people who travelled internationally and domestically.

This concerned us even more, because we are in the travel industry, and we host these international and domestic travelers. There were so many feelings and emotions: Should we close the Bed and Breakfast for our safety/health? How will we survive if the travel industry takes a hit? We were worried, anxious and pre-cautious. We still are.

Cochrane house owners, Roderica and Francina James

How has it affected your business?

This pandemic has affected our business a great deal! In the area where we are located, the only major city in the United States with all major sport teams and theatre district in one area, there are over 265 event days a year. We get most of our customers from baseball games, hockey games, and concerts. So, when the governor put an executive order in place, cancelling all events in which more than 50 people will attend, that affects everyone in the area, including us.

Our business went from weekday/weekend bookings and small events to very low activity. We’ve experienced a lot of cancellations, a low volume of calls, and seen a side of our customers that we’ve never seen before. A lot of disgruntled customers are upset about our credit voucher policy, in lieu of a refund. This situation has taught us to stay steadfast in the implementation of the policies we created, in order to assure the business’s success.

It has been hard, because as small business owners, we are close to our customers and operate with more of a heart, instead of the shrewd business acumen seen in larger companies; but, we strive to meet our customers half way on these issues. As business owners, we are learning the importance of crafting specific policies for situations such as this one, putting them into effect in advance, so we will not risk the overall stability of the business. These policies may be the difference between your business thriving or your business sinking. As entrepreneurs, we are called to make those hard decisions when it counts.

 How has it affected your lifestyle?

During this pandemic we have definitely learned to cut back on unnecessary expenses and budget the money that we do have. It also allows us time to organize. We are using the time to strategize on how to make the business better, once this pandemic is over.

Also, while the COVID-19 quarantine is a novel experience in itself; so far, it’s been filled with loud music, cooking and happy hour spring cleaning. Ultimately, knowing and understanding that faith outweighs fear; it helps to keep us grounded.

What new strategies have you implemented or do you plan to implement in your business?

We are focusing on Plan B at the moment. Everyone in small business should have a contingency plan, even before times of emergency. For example, what will you use in order to keep your business afloat during times of crisis? Will you be relying on your savings/rainy day account?

Do you have a savings/rainy day account? Are you looking to borrow from your investments, acquiring a loan or liquidate some of your assets? It’s unfortunate that we have to examine these options at this time, but it is something worth considering, even outside of a pandemic.

We have a small reserve, budgeted for emergencies, but we definitely did not project a pandemic when budgeting our cost. I can’t imagine many business owners that prepared for this. So, we are staying prayerful and mindful of this situation.

If you had one ask of your community right now, what would it be?

At the end of this pandemic, we are hopeful that people are intentional about patronizing small, independent black businesses. Be aware that business owners have lost traction during this pandemic, an immediate gain in consumers and support will be essential.

In our situation, there is no way to predict what the travel industry will look like at the end of this pandemic, and financial recovery may be slow due to existing fears and residual panic. We pray to regain the same supporters that we have cherished through these last two years of business, and hopefully gain new supporters.

During situations like these, it’s difficult for businesses to survive such a big hit. Once this is over we have to organize more than ever before.


Related: Two sisters opened a Bed & Breakfast in Detroit


-Tony O. Lawson


Mompreneur plans to launch Detroit’s first Co-Working Play Space for Families

Once it launches this summer, Social Tykes will be Detroit’s first co-working play space for mothers and families.

The 1,700-square-foot space will offer open play time for a daily or monthly fee for children ages 0-6. It also has co-working-style seating for parents, movement classes for parents and kids and a two- to five-hour drop-in care program.

Social Tykes aims to create community amongst parents, offering conversations, training and resources to help dismantle the loneliness of parenting navigation.

Social Tykes

We caught up with  Social Tykes founder, Raven Fisher to find out more

What inspired you to start the business?

My boys for sure. Really, kids in general. Seeing them happy, building relationships, meeting new friends, growing together.  It warms my heart! I lost my mom young, and thanks to her she helped me build relationships with some of the friends I still have to this day!  I’m hoping that Social Tykes is this space where others can connect, and potentially make life long friends!

Social Tykes
Social Tykes founder, Raven Fisher

What type of training and resources do you plan on offering?

We will have sessions in first aid, CPR, birthing classes, Postpartum care (for mommy and baby), postpartum depression / mental health, etc.

Artist rendering

Where do you see the business in 5 years?

Potentially opening up a full-on daycare, in addition to the play space. The response to the drop in care has been amazing, and I want to be able to give our customers what they need/want. After a couple of years in business, I’m hoping to learn more about becoming a franchise, and expanding to other cities!

Artist rendering

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Don’t give up on what you’re called to do! I had a time where I was 8 months pregnant, seconds away from throwing the towel in due to hearing “no”, or “you can’t” too many times. God will not put you through anything you cannot handle, and it’s always worth following his plan.

The brand plans to host a community open house and release the official open date June 2020.


-Tony O. Lawson


Motown Museum to Celebrate Black Owned Businesses and Berry Gordy

Motown Museum will celebrate black businesses and the entrepreneurial legacy of Motown Records’ founding Gordy family as part of Black History Month celebrations.

Hitsville USA Motown Museum in Detroit (Credit Encircle Photos)

The Black Legacy program runs 6-8 p.m. Feb. 20 at the Wayne State Industry Innovation Center (formerly NextEnergy Center) at 461 Burroughs St. in Detroit. Attendees will hear from several black-owned businesses in metro Detroit including natural haircare brand Rock the Fro, Brazelton’s Floral, Southfield auto dealership Avis Ford and menswear clothing retailer Mature.

“Berry Gordy turned an $800 loan from his family savings club into a historic music empire — and one of the most successful and recognizable black businesses in the world. That legacy of innovation, ambition and business acumen has left an indelible mark on Detroit — and on the broader cultural landscape,” Motown Museum CEO Robin Terry said in news release.

Paul Riser Jr., managing director of TechTown and son of Motown Records musician and arranger Paul Riser Sr., will moderate a panel discussion on the importance of black-owned businesses. The participating businesses will share their entrepreneurial hardships and successes.

After being away from her family business for more than 50 years, Alice Brazelton, owner of Brazelton’s Floral, said one of the challenges she faces is equipping the business to run in the 21st century.

Brazelton took over the business when her brother died; she’s been managing it for a little less than a year. The floral shop at 2686 W. Grand Blvd. in Detroit, was founded by her father more than 70 years ago.

“We need to follow a principle to pass it on,” Brazelton said, “don’t keep it for ourselves … that’s what legacy is all about.”

Camille Walker Banks, executive director of Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses at Wayne State University, will also provide business advice during the event, the release said.

This is the museum’s second year hosting the event, said Raina Baker, Motown Museum program manager.

About 75 people attended the free event last year; the museum anticipates around 100 people this year, according to Baker.


Source CRAIN’s Detroit Business


A Black-Led Food Co-op Grows in Detroit

Malik Yakini came to cooperative economics as a student at Eastern Michigan University in the mid-1970s when he started a food-buying club. “I wasn’t thinking of myself as a food activist,” he says, “I was thinking of myself as an activist in the black liberation movement.”He viewed controlling food retail and production as important aspects of black self-determination, echoing the sentiments of organizations like the Nation of Islam and Detroit’s Shrine of the Black Madonna Church that emphasized owning farmland and running food businesses. Healthy food was important to Yakini, but so was making sure “the majority of people had their needs met as opposed to a system that concentrates wealth in the hands of a few.”

Now, after years of teaching and serving as a principal in Detroit schools, helping lead the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN) and starting D Town Farm on the city’s west side, Yakini and DBCFSN are planning a 34,000-square-foot food co-op, event space, and commercial kitchens in Detroit’s North End neighborhood. The project could serve as a proof-of-concept for the ability of co-ops to build wealth, create food security, and drive investment in underserved communities.

Some of the core members working on the Detroit People’s Food Co-op. (Denerio Watkins)

The project, which is called the Detroit Food Commons and contains the Detroit People’s Food Co-op, builds on a tradition of African-American business cooperatives that were championed by the likes of W.E.B. Dubois as tools for building economic and ultimately political power. Following slavery, African Americans formed co-ops for things like credit and farming to survive under a segregated and exploitative system. Unlike other businesses, co-ops are jointly owned enterprises, focused more on meeting collective needs than turning profits, although profit or “surplus” as it’s sometimes called is necessary to exist in a capitalist system. At the Detroit People’s Food Co-op, each owner will get one vote, creating equality between owners, at least in theory.

As well as delivering the benefits of a democratically-governed institution that sells healthy food, the Detroit co-op plans to create 20 to 40 jobs, provide opportunities for local entrepreneurs and stimulate other aspects of the local economy, like urban farms. It is part of a wave of similar projects in cities such as Flint, Michigan, and Dayton, Ohio, that have received support from charitable foundations. The Michigan Good Food Fund is helping this project, which is a partnership among Capital Impact Partners, the Fair Food Network, Michigan State’s Center for Regional Food Systems and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. This fund has invested over $12 million in food-based projects in the state, as well as providing technical assistance, and sees food co-ops as an especially effective way to build wealth in communities facing redlining and systematic disinvestment.“We prioritize our work with food cooperatives because we feel that the model allows for the creation of quality jobs and these jobs have low barriers to entry, especially within the food economy,” Olivia Rebanal from Capital Impact Partners said. “It creates employment opportunities for those that are most difficult to employ … We also see the cooperative model as a catalyst for community development. They empower leaders. They provide more equitable access to services like Malik’s project would do. They are more likely than non-cooperatives to recirculate local profits back into the community.”

The Detroit co-op would also employ black people in management positions—jobs that they have often been denied in Detroit grocery stores according to Yakini—helping build capacity for this kind of leadership.

Malik Yakini at the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network’s D-Town Farm. (Brian Allnutt/CityLab)

However, food co-ops and similar businesses still have to contend with the same challenges faced by other African-American businesses to obtain financing. “The exclusion of certain groups from accessing credit is no mistake,” Rebanal says. Some have understandably questioned the ability of co-ops to reverse the growing wealth gap between black and Latinx households and white ones. Rebanal says she believes it will take a while to reverse this trend and the onus needs to be on lenders as well as communities to create change. But she thinks her organization can help by both providing investment and technical assistance. Cooperative ownership itself also helps with financing—the cost to join the Detroit co-op is $200, although there is a matching fund for a number of low-income people to buy-in with just $100.

Additionally, the Detroit Food Commons possesses what Jean Chorazyczewski, a program director for the Fair Food Network, terms an “ambitious vision” that makes it appealing to foundations looking to drive change and could help it succeed at a time when other co-ops are struggling. Today, many are based on a model that was established in the 60s and 70s in which co-ops found a competitive advantage offering healthy, organic food. During the last few years, large grocery stores have moved into the organic sector, offering competitive prices and cutting into co-op profits, causing some long-established enterprises to close. One pitfall the Detroit People’s Food Co-op wants to avoid is the practice of giving discounts to members at the register, something Yakini says, “(is) giving away profit before you know if the store is profitable.” Instead, member-owners will receive periodic discounts and an equity-share at the end of the year.To remain competitive, co-ops have had to re-evaluate how they attract customers. The Detroit Food Commons hopes to establish itself as a destination for “hyper-local” produce and offerings from local food businesses, as well as hosting events. It also plans to draw income from its commercial kitchens. The co-op’s position near a major freeway and directly on Woodward Avenue—a major road that connects downtown Detroit with the wealthy suburbs of Oakland County— might also help. It could benefit from the boom in Detroit’s downtown and Cass Corridor neighborhoods while also serving residents of the predominantly black areas of the city outside downtown.

Malik Yakini addressing a meeting for the Detroit People’s Food Co-op. (Denerio Watkins)

“One of the challenges we’re faced with is that the neighborhood is changing,” Yakini says. “And co-ops, no matter how thoughtful we are, help to spur gentrification. And so, we’re thinking about ways that we can circulate wealth within the existing community.” They’re also trying to make themselves more accessible to historical residents by rewriting some of the rules of the co-op playbook, offering what they call “clean conventional” products, which will make up 25 percent of the store. They’re coming up with their own standards for these more affordable foods that will exclude ingredients like BHT and artificial colors, while also accounting for other things like labor practices.

Outreach is also a top priority. Yakini has been in contact with a number of co-ops across the country including the Renaissance Community Co-op in Greensboro, North Carolina, which initially had trouble attracting shoppers because residents had become so accustomed to leaving the neighborhood to buy groceries. Those that Yakini spoke with at Renaissance and elsewhere also stressed the importance of hiring a competent general manager. “Food retail is not easy,” Rebanal says. “The margins are low, the waste is high, you need to turn volume. It does take an expert to be able to navigate towards success.”The terminology itself presents another obstacle. “I know that for some co-ops in primarily black communities, the word ‘co-op’ is even exclusive,” Rebanal says. For its part, the Detroit co-op is trying to recruit 1,000 members before a prospective late 2020 opening, which will help with both outreach and opening costs. So far, it has signed up 271 members.

Although connecting with black Detroiters is a priority, Yakini makes clear that the goal is to create a welcoming environment. “That’s kind of a delicate balance that we’re walking because we definitely believe in black self-determination and black leadership and this is black-led … And the white people who are working with us—I think for the most part—have an awareness of the racial dynamic and the need for black leadership, and are trying to function in a way that helps promote that. But we don’t want to frame it in such a way that everybody doesn’t feel welcome to shop there.”

After ten years of work, Yakini and the various co-op steering committees are still deep in the planning process for the store, doing things like “detail/retail” planning to project the income from various store departments, and deciding how much space to devote to each one. They’re also working on the building’s construction in partnership with the non-profit Develop Detroit—which is also building housing in conjunction with the project—and that work is all contingent on permitting and the often unpredictable machinations of city government.At the end of this grueling process, Yakini hopes to have created not only a community hub for food and education in Detroit, but a replicable model for communities elsewhere, that among other things “causes funders to be more thoughtful about how funding and finance is deployed in majority black urban areas.”

Rebanal believes this is already happening, noting a dozen other projects that have been inspired by Malik’s mentorship. Although the circumstances in Detroit are unique, this project is still expected to change the conversation around cooperative enterprise. “We think the model is aspirational,” Rebanal says, “and we see it happening in many other communities.”


Source: City Lab


Two sisters opened a Bed & Breakfast in Detroit

Working with a family member even on small projects can be challenging. But imagine trying to renovate a house, decorate it and open it as a bed and breakfast. That kind of a partnership can’t work if you have sibling rivalry.

Detroit Siblings

Sisters Roderica and Francina James are an example of how two siblings can work together, start their own business and support one another throughout the process. They are the owners of the Cochrane House Luxury Inn in Detroit, a new bed-and-breakfast hotel that opened in May.

Roderica James

These born-and-raised Detroiters aren’t hospitality experts. They don’t have a design background. In fact, they’ve never taken on a project this big before. But their mutual respect, admiration for each other’s strengths and balance of each other’s weaknesses made The Cochrane a possibility and, after six months of guests, a true success.

Francina James

The bed and breakfast has three guest rooms, a homemade cooked breakfast delivered to the room, hand poured house made soap, and specialized Cochrane House candles.

The Cochrane House also has customized packages for private parties and events.The Bed & Breakfast is walking distance from all three major sport arenas and theater district in Detroit.

“We want people to come in and relax, play music, a board game or have a glass or wine. Our whole goal is for our guests to be in an atmosphere where their mind, body, and soul is relaxed.

We want our guests to have the best experience possible. When you walk into the doors you can feel the family atmosphere.” says Founder and Owner of The Cochrane House Roderica James.

Life experience
These sisters have a wide range of experience and skills that they bring to The Cochrane House. Co-Owner Francina James is a graduate of Martin Luther King Jr., senior high school. She graduated from the University of Michigan and has held various position in the educational field. She is also a graduate from Thomas M. Cooley Law School and is currently a licensed attorney.

Roderica started a nail business in high school and continued throughout college. James graduated from Eastern Michigan University and began working in education. She worked at Pepper Elementary School in Oak Park, where she started as a teacher and later on became the Student Intervention Specialist.

At 23, she began working with her mother at EduTech Tutoring Company. Noted as one of the largest tutoring companies in Detroit, she served as executive director. James then expanded the business to Atlanta, Georgia and Jackson, Mississippi where she became Southern Regional Director.

“My sister and I are 13 months apart. We went to the same elementary, middle and high schools. She went to Michigan while I went to Eastern. So we’ve been close our entire lives,” Roderica said. “Of course, we have our disagreements. But because we know each other so well, we know how to listen to each other’s ideas.”

Francina agrees. “Roderica is the whimsical one, the one with the best ideas and entrepreneurial spirit. I’d say I’m the realistic one, the logical one. Whenever she has an idea, I give her suggestions on how to bring it down to Earth a bit so we can get it done.”

A dream fulfilled
Roderica started renovations on The Cochrane House in 2013. The home was erected in 1870 for Dr. John Terry, a Detroit eye doctor who decided to build his home in the Brush Park neighborhood. He lived in this mansion only for one year, before Lyman Cochrane purchased it. In 1871, Lyman Cochrane not only occupied this beautiful home, but also was elected to represent Detroit in the Michigan State Senate.

He served for two years and was later appointed Judge of the Superior Court of Detroit in 1873. He served in that position until February of 1879, the time of his death. He took pride in scholarship and was presumed to have one of the most extensive and valuable private libraries in the city of Detroit.

With family support, persistence and patience, Roderica’s dream has come true. Just on the heels of turning 40, James is proud to have a business in the city where she grew up.

“I feel blessed and honored. My position gives other women an opportunity to see someone at my age dedicated to something for so long finally come to fruition. It’s not easy, but my journey shows other young people, if you stay dedicated and focused, you are able to do it,” says Roderica.

Source: CORP


Black Owned Bank Contributes $4 Million to Black Business Fund

Being a Black business owner in the U.S. means facing more obstacles, particularly when trying to obtain a business loan. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency, minority business owners face greater disparity than non-minority business owners in regard to access to capital.

Detroit is no exception to this. However, it is fighting to be. Liberty Bank and Trust Company, the third largest Black  owned bank in America, announced yesterday that their contribution of $4 million to the Detroit Development Fund’s Entrepreneurs of Color Fund. The fund’s size tripled last year, and the latest contribution means the city now has $22 million to disburse among minority-owned small businesses.

Alden McDonald – President and CEO of Liberty Bank and Trust Company

“Minority-owned businesses in Detroit are adding to the growth of Detroit and more specifically, the neighborhoods,” president of Liberty’s Michigan Region, Drextel Amy, said in a statement sent to Black Enterprise. “It is crucial that we provide the capital to allow these entrepreneurs of color to participate and help in the economic rebirth of Detroit.”

Alongside Liberty Bank’s contribution, JPMorgan Chase and the Kellogg Foundation are making new investments of $2 million each. New investors Fifth Third Bank and the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation are investing $3 million and $2.5 million, and the Kresge Foundation has committed a loan guarantee of up to $2 million.

The Entrepreneurs of Color Fund was established in 2015 through a partnership between the Detroit Development Fund, JPMorgan Chase and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Since then, it has provided nearly $6 million in loans and technical assistance to Detroit businesses that employ at least 75 percent people of color, or are owned by people of color, Ray Water, president of the Detroit Development Fund told the Metro Times.

“We not only provide capital to business owners who otherwise almost certainly would not receive a loan, but we also provide assistance for business plans and projections to make them more loan-ready,” he said. “We have been more than pleased by the impact this fund has had on local small businesses and our community’s economy.”

A typical loan from the fund is between $50,000 and $200,000, Waters said, and of the recipients thus far, 56 percent are owned by minority women and 68 percent are in Detroit neighborhoods – not downtown.

“As our Entrepreneurs of Color Fund continues to create jobs and bring much-needed goods and services to Detroit’s neighborhoods, we’re thrilled that Liberty Bank has committed to the Fund this year,” Waters said.

The money will help support 12 loans that Waters soon expects to close for a total of $1.5 million. He added that 18 more promising applications recently entered the pipeline looking for just over $2 million.

“Things are getting better in Detroit, but we’ve got a long way to go, and the Entrepreneurs of Color Fund is one of the most practical programs in helping us bring back the local economy,” Mayor Mike Duggan told Black Enterprise. “Detroiters need more jobs, so I’m very grateful to Detroit Development Fund, Liberty Bank, JPMorgan Chase and Kellogg Foundation for working together to help create more opportunity for our residents in our neighborhoods.”

Detroit had more than 50,000 minority-owned businesses in 2012, which ranked Detroit eighth in the country, according to the U.S. Census Survey of Business Owners.


Source: Detroit Metro Times


Former inmate turns life around as optician, starts Detroit business

A bad decision at 22 cost Detroit native Roby Davis his freedom. “I was involved in a robbery,” he said. “I have to say I knew better wound up going to prison.” But Davis was sentenced beyond the guidelines, up to 75 years behind bars.

“I could do better, I knew I could do better,” Davis said. “Normally I don’t take from people and (act like a) menace to society. It really bothered me.”

Davis spent the next two decades in prison – but he didn’t waste a moment.

“When I was in prison I took every class I could have, I went to college,” he said. “Whatever program they offered I did and graduated.”

After meeting certain criteria, Roby Davis entered the optical program at the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility in Adrian. Prisoners take classes there and learn highly technical skills and are trained in the optical lab. That is where they work and make eye glasses for every prisoner statewide.

“It provides a great trade for the inmates who get out,” said Matt Yeager.

Like Roby Davis, who eventually became a nationally certified optician. Matt Yeager was one of his instructors.

“He was a go-getter, he wanted it – you could just tell,” Yeager said. “He told me from the beginning when he got out he wanted to start his own business, start a non-profit to help kids get glasses. He said I am going to look you up – I said I will be waiting.”

Through appeals, Davis was released from prison in 2011. He did not let his instructors down.

Last year, Davis opened his own business – Rosedale Vision in Detroit.

“I am excited to come to work every day,” he said. “New clients get a new smile – our motto here is ‘Rosedale Vision seeing better.’ We like to say that to everybody get their glasses.”

Although many inmates have got out of prison and entered the work force as an optician, Davis is the first to run his own business using the skills he gained at the Michigan Department of Corrections Optical Lab.

“I am really happy for him, really proud of him,” said Jerry Johnston, optical lab instructor. “It is good to see that he is taking knowledge he gained while he was incarcerated and applied it in a real world setting and has the drive to do really well.”

Davis is doing so well – he has brought his 28-year-old son on board and trained him to do the same.

“I can’t even really say in words how proud I am – where he went, where he has been,” Roby Davis Jr. said. “He was gone 20 years. To me, I want to be successful too, I want to do the right thing. It is really important to me. I look up to my dad.”

“Students tell me frequently that because I have this felony I can’t get a job, I am not employable,” Johnston said. “No matter what I say, it falls on deaf ears a lot of times. But he is a success story I can take back and say see you can do this if you want this.”

Davis, now 49 is living his dream, back home, in the city he loves and now inspiring others – with his second chance.

“When you have your freedom taken you have a totally different perspective,” Davis said. “I value it now and before I didn’t. In retrospect I didn’t really know the value of life. Now I get an opportunity, I take every moment and I take it all in.”


Watch the video interview here.


Detroit Based Ellis Island Tea Now Sold Across the Country

Ellis Island Tea specializes in producing all natural ready to drink beverages in the company’s own state-of-the-art beverage production and co-packing facility located in Detroit.

Because taking a local brand national is no small task, we wanted to find out more about the founder and CEO, Nailah Ellis-Brown and her brand made from a 100 year old recipe.

What inspired you to create Ellis Island tea?

Ellis Island Tea was inspired by a recipe created more than 100 years ago by my Great-grandfather Cyril Byron, a Jamaican immigrant who came to America through Ellis Island.

Cyril was a master chef for Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Line, who went on to run Byron’s Catering, one of the largest catering companies in the Bronx in the early 1900’s.

Ellis Island Tea

Cyril always said his recipe was to be “Sold, not told.” That meant bring it to market. I had always wanted to be an entrepreneur so I took those words to heart when the family recipe was passed down to me.

It is a tea loved by generations of my family and now it’s the only Jamaican Sweet Tea in the country, and is sold nationally.

You are currently in multiple retail locations. Briefly explain how you got into the first one.

Yes, Ellis Island Tea is in almost 1,000 stores now, but when I began in business I was selling my tea from a cooler in the back of my car.

Even then I knew this beverage belonged in stores. One day I summoned my courage, walked into Avalon International Breads and asked how I could get on their shelves.

The owner asked me if I brewed the tea in Detroit. When I said ‘yes’, she agreed to give me a shot. The tea did well. About a year later I got into my first Whole Foods store. We took off from there.

How important is proper branding?

Ellis Island Tea has been on the market for 10 years now, but it wasn’t until last year that we truly found our niche and a look that ‘popped’ on the shelves. MSNBC Your Business helped us rebrand, bringing in Skidmore Studio to redesign our packaging.

They helped us define what Ellis Island Tea actually was – Jamaican Sweet Tea – giving us our own lane in the bottled tea category.

We’d been struggling to explain it simply to store buyers and consumers. The new look and positioning really appealed to buyers from Sam’s Club and from HMSHost (the airport concessions giant).

The beverage industry is very saturated. How do you differentiate yourself and stay competitive? 

Ellis Island Tea is naturally differentiated. It is the only Jamaican Sweet Tea brewed and sold in America. Ellis Island Tea is 100% natural and hand-steeped with real herbs. Its beautiful red color and refreshing, smooth flavor sets it apart from any other tea on the market.

While we are in our own category of bottled iced tea, we are still a tea, which is the most sought after beverage in the world next to water.

Millenials, in particular, love iced tea. They are seeking innovative beverages that are healthy and offer unique flavors. Ellis Island Tea offers everything they are looking for, plus it is rich in antioxidants.


What is your product distribution status now and where do you see it in the next 5 years?

We are currently sold in almost 1,000 stores, but as of May 15th we will also be in every Sam’s Club in the country.  We’re pretty excited about that! Every time we get national press, we have people around the country trying to find Ellis Island Tea.

We’re finally going to be where anyone can buy it from a store near them. In addition to store shelves, we are expanding in airports working with HMSHost. Ideally, in the next five years we will solidly be a national beverage brand.

What advice do you have for your younger entrepreneur self?

Stay the course. You will succeed. There are times in every entrepreneur’s life when we fear failure and question whether we should ever have gone into business for ourselves.

It can be a very difficult, lonely endeavor, but for me it is worth it. My beverage company is on the verge of major success. The trials and sacrifice will be well worth it.

Find out more about Ellis Island Tea on their website.


-Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson (IG@thebusyafrican)