May 20th Transform Westside Summit: Highlighting the WFF Program Related Investment Program and Its Recipients

Westside Future Fund’s May 20th Transform Westside Summit spotlighted WFF’s Program Related Investments program, offering low-cost loans to minority-owned small businesses serving Atlanta’s Historic Westside. According to the Federal Reserve, Black-owned small businesses receive less business financing, less often and at higher rates than do white businesses; and banks subject Black businesses to more scrutiny than they do white business owners. WFF’s PRI program is a starting point for creating a more level playing field for Black Westside entrepreneurs. Featured guests included: Keitra Bates, Founder, Marddy’s Shared Kitchen; Yolanda Owens, Founder, iwi fresh Garden Day Spa; Onaje Henderson, Managing Partner, ZuCot Gallery; and Cristel Williams, Chief Development Officer, Westside Future Fund. WFF President & CEO, John Ahmann joined co-hosts Ebony Ford and Benjamin Earley in welcoming in-person attendees before going on to moderate the panel discussion.

Cristel Williams gave a brief synopsis of the PRI program to begin the panel Q&A.

Williams: “The Program Related Investments initiative provides, as John mentioned, very low cost loans to minority entrepreneurs that are serving Atlanta’s Westside, and the sole purpose is to help small business owners grow and serve this community in a very organic way.”

We received initial seed funding from AT&T in 2018. Based on the success of that initial investment, PNC Bank and Truist Bank, each made investments in 2020 and we’re excited about this being a sustainable fund. It’s disruptive funding that enables us to continue serving entrepreneurs, and they can come back again and again.”

– Cristel Williams, Chief Development Officer, Westside Future Fund

Keitra Bates, Founder, Marddy’s Shared Kitchen

“Dan Cathy, from the first Beloved Benefit proceeds, was one of our initial seed investments for the PRI program,” added Ahmann before turning to Keitra Bates, who was among the first recipients.

Ahmann: “So tell folks a little bit about yourself and your why behind Marddy’s Shared Kitchen.”

Bates: “I’m Keitra, I am an entrepreneur, serial entrepreneur, and mother of five children. I think my entrepreneurial journey really is spurred on by my sense of justice, and the belief that people should be able to follow their dreams and be autonomous.”

Marddy’s is located in what was once Leila’s Dinette, a pillar in the historic Westside community throughout the Civil Rights Movement. The shared kitchen now focuses on economic inclusion, business development, and growth opportunities for local food entrepreneurs while preserving and promoting culinary culture.

We decided that we were going to create a space that was a permanent home for all the other entrepreneurs.”

Keitra Bates, Founder, Marddy’s Shared Kitchen

Yolanda Owens, Founder of iwi fresh, discusses taking iwi fresh products regional with PRI support.

Owens: “I am the founder of iwi fresh farm-to-skin spa, which is located over in Castleberry on Nelson Street.”

“As the first generation entrepreneur in my family, it was very, very important for me to carry on my grandmother’s legacy of home remedies, bringing back this pure, raw, sustainable self care…As a little Black girl in the community, we didn’t have options for sustainable self care or things to be healthy. There was nothing that said I needed to be eating fruits and vegetables or putting natural things on my skincare. I didn’t have that influence. So for me, I’m very passionate about being an entrepreneur—a Black woman entrepreneur on the Westside—being very intentional about serving my community health, sustainable self care, things that are going to be pure for us; that’s going to feed us the truth. That is what iwi fresh is really all about, and that is my passion, and that’s what I stand for.

Thank you, Westside Future Fund, for believing in me, believing in iwi fresh to support us. And that PRI…it really does make a difference for us small business entrepreneurs.”

Yolanda Owens, Founder, iwi fresh Garden Day Spa

Onaje Henderson, Managing Partner, ZuCot Gallery

Ahmann: “Speaking of Castleberry, because I think you’re pretty close to iwi fresh…tell us about your why at ZuCot Gallery.”

Henderson: “My name is Onaje Henderson, one of the owners of ZuCot Gallery along with my brother Amari Henderson and Troy Taylor…We’re the largest African American art gallery in the southeast. We specialize in original works by artists of the African diaspora. But, the why started a long time ago. I come from a family of entrepreneurs, and we always talk about the idea of never letting the golden handcuffs get you. The idea there is if you feel you’re in your passion, that’s fine, but if you feel like you’re led to do something else, don’t be afraid to leave. Don’t be afraid to step out. Don’t be afraid to follow that passion if you’re called to do it. I also believe though from a spiritual standpoint, if you are called to do something, you’ll be made uncomfortable to a place where you have to leave, to step out and do that thing you’re supposed to do.”

I think most [Black] entrepreneurs feel this responsibility for their community. We understand the responsibility that we also have to give back to the community. We do educational things as well, but we fund a lot of it ourselves. So even working with APS, we decided to do field trips. We’re a fine art gallery that now has five year olds all the way up to high school and college students in the gallery talking about the idea and importance of collecting culture. I truly believe in one hour you can change a child’s life.”

– Onaje Henderson, Managing Partner, ZuCot Gallery

WFF President & CEO, John Ahmann and co-hosts, Ebony Ford and Benjamin Earley

View the full summit including the audience Q&A below!