July 17th Virtual Transform Westside Summit: Black-Owned Businesses in the MLK Corridor

The July 17th, Transform Westside Summit was graciously hosted by the Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and streamed live from their location near the AUC. The Summit theme was “Black-Owned Businesses in the MLK Corridor.”

A feature panel included: Leona Barr-Davenport, President & CEO, Atlanta Business League; Kevin Holt, Co-Founder, H&H Hospitality and Sweetroots; and Dr. Mordena Sullen, Dentist and Owner, MLK Dental Center. You can view the panel discussion, along with two, special pre-taped videos here.

John Ahmann, President and CEO of Westside Future Fund began the panel discussion with questions for the panelists. Barr-Davenport shared about the origins and history of the Atlanta Business League, an 87-year-old organization focused on “the development and growth of African-American business owners.” She described the services and resources Atlanta Business League offers the community as well as some of the organization’s COVID-19 response.

The conversation continued with Dr. Mordena Sullen, 4th-generation Atlantan and owner of MLK Dental Center. Dr. Sullen talked about her vision for playing a role in the transformation of the MLK Corridor, a transformation built on Black ownership and development of the property there.

Entrepreneur Kevin Holt added to the discussion with his story of arriving in Atlanta in 2007 and then making the decision to invest in the Westside by purchasing a building on MLK and establishing two businesses there. Holt’s response to the question of “How can we all support Black entrepreneurs?” was to first “do the research” to find out where Black entrepreneurs are in operation and seek out their businesses.

Following these opening remarks, the Summit continued with a mini-tour of the Atlanta Business League offices and a live walk down MLK, in which Craig Lucie of Lucie Content shared the story of historic companies like Bronner Brothers and new Black businesses like Local Green Atlanta and Mr. Everything.

Yolanda Owens, CEO & Founder of iwi fresh appeared via pre-taped video to share the philosophy and innovation fueling her business, a “sustainable, self-care spa” located in Castleberry Hill. Owens also shared her reflections on the resources and opportunities the City of Atlanta has created for Black small business owners.

Yolanda Owens, Owner and Founder of iwi fresh, speaks to the unique journey of being a Black entrepreneur on Atlanta’s Westside.

The Summit broadcast returned to panelists for an illuminating discussion on the culture of Black business. Leona Barr-Davenport described how the legacy of the late Herman Russell lives on through son Michael Russell’s leadership and other Black entrepreneurs on the Westside.

Tommy Holder, Chairman & CEO of Holder Construction then appeared via video to share the story of how his family’s business has maintained productive collaborations with Black companies during its 60-year history. Holder also spoke about the influence his service as a Westside Future Fund board member has had on him and, on a hopeful note, emphasized that as he envisions the future of his firm, it is imperative that his company “look a whole lot more like the community we serve.”

Tommy Holder, Chairman & CEO of Holder Construction, speaks to the integral role Black-owned businesses have played in Atlanta’s development.

Two special moments to conclude the Summit were an inspiring video interview with Zachary Wallace, Owner of Local Green Atlanta, and a moment of silence in recognition of the passing of Civil Rights hero, Reverend C.T. Vivian.

Zachary ‘Big Zak’ Wallace, Owner of Local Green Atlanta reflects on why he created the healthy eating option in the heart of Atlanta’s Westside.

Be sure to follow Westside Future Fund on social media and join the new Westside Future Fund Transform Westside Summit Group on Facebook for regular updates!