April 12, 2023
IN-FOCUS ARTICLE: Justina Perry’s Buy Black NB
The NB in its name stands for New Bedford, but Justina Perry has made it Buy Black NB’s mission to support black-owned businesses all around the South Coast, with member businesses spanning Swansea in the west and Wareham in the east and points in between, with a majority of businesses based in New Bedford.
Perry started Buy Black NB in 2020 as a directory of black-owned businesses. She says the idea was “to highlight the people, organizations, and products that inspire us and serve our community.” Creative enterprises represent 20 percent of the 250 black-led organizations and black-owned businesses in Buy Black NB’s directory.
“We have everything from party decorators, social media influencers, artists, and illustrators; to crafters like gift baskets, stationary, musicians, DJs, photo, and video. Many of them we’ve hosted during our events for pop-ups or for networking. And others we have not had the opportunity to connect with, but we still offer support as far as listing each business [in Buy Black NB’s directory] so that customers can discover them.”
Starting in 2021 with its Juneteenth vendor market, Buy Black NB has held pop-ups around New Bedford. Perry said, “One thing that was a turning point in our development was when we were awarded our first grant, a Wicked Cool Places grant through New Bedford Creative. Since we were born during the pandemic, we have been an online platform. That [grant] allowed us to kind of come off the screen.”
Those markets have spent over 20 days at various locales around the city, such as the New Bedford Whaling Museum, Custom House Square, and the Rotch Jones Duff House, giving black-owned businesses a place to sell goods, showcase services, and provide networking opportunities.
“The markets are not all sales-focused,” Perry said. “Our programming is curated to celebrate cultural heritage and blackness, and we create that space for highlighting and uplifting members of the African diaspora.
“I think for a lot of people who want to engage in arts and explore different cultures, it can get expensive; maybe they feel like they have to travel out of the area. One way that we add to the region is by having another way to celebrate culture right here locally.”
Buy Black NB does that by bringing black-owned creative businesses into its pop-up markets for entertainment and enrichment, particularly for children and families. “We focus on hiring local companies for children’s entertainment—we’ve had African drumming, diverse children’s characters, we’ve done storytelling, always being really intentional where we put that money back into the community. And when possible, we hire people of color, being conscious about having that representation in our entrepreneurship for our young people. That goes for all of our vendors.”
Perry acknowledges that creatives often find launching their business to be a challenge. “For some folks, that creative passion is a side hustle because their [main] career is what’s needed for financial stability. One pitfall is trying to find a balance between your career and the passion project and financially figuring out how to profit off of your creative talents.”
Perry shared a couple of recent success stories of creative Buy Black NB members.
“The Kennedy Collections, which is based in Fall River, has been listed on our directory since 2020, and Will Kennedy has done some gallery exhibits and now is signed to a gallery. He’s gone abroad with his art.” One such gallery exhibit, “Rosebud,” happened this past winter at New Bedford’s Co-Creative Center, and featured paintings of “the ones who didn’t have a chance to bloom.” Another series of pieces, “The Box They Tried to Put Me In,” was exhibited at Brick Lane Gallery in London. Kennedy is signed to Blackbird Gallery in Detroit.
Another success story involves a business that balances creativity with selling its wares: Brown Suga Stationery, which recently opened its shop in Kilburn Mill. “I think we met [owner Jaden Reyes] at a great time. Being in the E for All program and going through NB100, a whole community wrapped up Jaden. She found a network through the business community here.
“She’s done a few pop-ups with us now. We’re really excited to be a part of that story, but also some people outgrow our markets, and that’s wonderful too. And we’re really proud to see that growth and hope that we can continue to feature new and returning businesses.”
While not specifically a creative enterprise, one member business that demonstrates that growth and reach is Unplugged Essentials, which sells CBD-based skin and body treatment products. “Kevin Rose Jr. [owner of Unplugged Essentials] has been part of several of our events. His products are now in stores at JC Penney. We’ve been cheering him on for the past few years, and his products are a fan favorite. It’s pretty cool to see his products in the stores.”
What’s next for Buy Black NB? “Our goal is to grow capacity over the next year,” Perry said, “so that we can sustain what we’re doing. The way that we’re doing that is through our first-ever fundraiser event which should supplement some of our grant-making.
“I realize we can’t do everything on grants, so we’ve done some small fundraisers with apparel sales, T-shirt sales, raffles, and things like that. But this is going to be something to really help us sustain, so we can continue to do pop-ups and keep things exciting and trendy and fun for the whole family.”
That fundraiser is The Black Excellence Gala, and it’s happening at the Whaling Museum on May 6th. Perry said the event is “for all of our supporters–new supporters and people who have been a part of our journey from the beginning. Everybody is welcome. It’s going to be a fun evening. It’s our first attempt at a fundraiser, and we’re going big.”
Beyond that, Buy Black NB will continue to highlight new and existing black-owned businesses in the region through its directory and ongoing pop-up markets.
Perry said, “It’s pretty cool that a lot of people have discovered some of the businesses through our directory, through our events, and continue to support them. That can make a difference for somebody in it being their side job [as opposed] to going full time or having their products in stores versus just selling online.
“Sometimes people will come to the market and look for one business in particular. We try to put out a list of who’s going to be there, but it’s different every time, and that’s what’s fun because we try to switch it up and introduce new companies.
“I’m excited to have 250 [businesses] there. And you know, we’ve lost some, but we’re still learning about new ones. And I’m sure there’s a lot more out there that we haven’t found yet.”
You can learn more about the Black Excellence Gala at https://www.buyblacknb.com/the-black-excellence-gala.
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