It’s been more than 100 years since the Tulsa Race Massacre, when mobs of white residents destroyed what was then known as “Black Wall Street” in the prosperous Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After that historic moment, once-thriving Black business districts throughout the country experienced disruption and decline. Today, despite being one of the last great untapped asset classes in America, Black entrepreneurs continue to struggle against systemic barriers to accessing the capital, knowledge, and networks they need to thrive.
Because we believe we cannot leave even one entrepreneur on the sidelines, let alone nearly half of our nation’s potential entrepreneurs, we asked our thoughtful panelists questions such as:
- What was it that enabled historic Black business districts to thrive at a time when segregation and Jim Crow were still rampant?
- What has prevented Black business districts from coming back in the decades since?
- What can we do to support a resurgence? What are the ways policymakers, private industry, and philanthropy can work together to break down barriers and create opportunity for more entrepreneurs of color in ways that strengthen entire economies?
These questions were explored by a Kauffman Foundation panel at the famed South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, in March 2022. Anchored by Kauffman Vice President of Entrepreneurship Philip Gaskin, the all-star panel grounded themselves in history to explore how to build a more inclusive future. Here are some highlights from the discussion:
“It goes back to systemic change. Not just access to capital, but access to knowledge, access to understanding not just the importance of business, but also the ability to generate wealth through a business.”
KAREN FREEMAN-WILSON, President & CEO, Chicago Urban League
“We cannot earn our way out of the wealth gap. There is no possible way on income alone for you to earn your way. Maybe one individual can, but you can’t earn a whole community out of the wealth gap because wealth and income are two entirely different things.”
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, Professor and Political Commentator
“A lot of people will say we need to rebuild Black Wall Street, but it’s just impossible. We live in a fully integrated society. So we have to reimagine what that looks like in the 21st century – how we can support Black business owners today.”
NEO FRANK, Editor-in-Chief, Black Wall Street Times
“We need a paradigm shift and asset framing that starts with Black brilliance, creativity, and ingenuity. We’ve got over 200 organizations around the country doing the work in communities to advocate for Black entrepreneurs and the policy changes we need to level the playing field for entrepreneurs. We need policies that increase access to opportunity, funding, knowledge and support.
PHILIP GASKIN, Vice President of Entrepreneurship, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation
Additional highlights can be found in the video above, and the full panel discussion is available on the Kauffman Foundation’s YouTube channel.