The stage has been set to support local businesses as more are allowed to reopen under North Carolina’s “Safer at Home” order. People also want to know how they can support Black-owned businesses.
Knowing where to find Black businesses was part of EMichele Paul’s motivation in 2018 when she founded Melanin Enterprise, a mobile directory for Black-owned businesses. Before relocating to Charlotte, she was living in San Diego and searching for Black businesses where her son, who was joining the Navy, would be training. The nation had been introduced to “BBQ Becky,” a white woman who weaponized the police by reporting a Black family for barbecuing at a lake in Oakland, California. As a single mom of two, she said that she was scared for her Black sons.
Melanin Enterprise began as a safety resource for her kids, then it grew into something bigger. The app now lists Black businesses in every state — including close to 600 in Charlotte — and a few other countries.
Under the coronavirus-related restrictions, she’s supported local businesses through personal donations and through her app, which has been useful in helping connect shoppers eager to support Black businesses.
In our Q&A, Paul explained the beginnings of Melanin Enterprise and how the community can continue to support Black-owned businesses. Answers have been edited for clarity.
Why did you start Melanin Enterprise?
I have two sons, they are now 22 and 25. When my sons were telling me how they were going to leave for school and the military, I started freaking out because I was thinking about how am I going to keep my children safe.
When my 22-year-old joined the Navy and moved to Chicago, I began looking up Black-owned businesses where he could shop. When he moved to Mississippi, I was afraid for him to leave the base. If he did, I had a list of restaurants he could go to. Then, when he was in Seattle — he’s a very particular eater — I would send him Black-owned vegan restaurants. We started looking up Black-owned establishments all over, and I started thinking this would be great for parents who have the same fears as I do.
But when I moved to Charlotte, it just blew up. A realtor called me and told me, “I don’t have any Black vendors on my list, so I went to Melanin Enterprise to find home inspectors, landscapers and brokers.”
Black business owners were circulating dollars within our community. This is something I didn’t even think about. I created it for safety, but it turned into something bigger. Now, it’s more than getting together and supporting a Black-owned restaurant, it’s building alliances. Melanin Enterprise started from protecting my kids and then grew to protecting our kids. That is the root.
Tell us about building the app.
I found an app developer when I was living in San Diego. I knew I needed more than a template; I needed something that matched my vision. We started at the end of 2017, and the app released in July of 2018.
For funding, I tried Kickstarter and other crowdfunding campaigns but ended up self-funding. It’s very hard, and you really have to stay on top of the developers to see the vision through. At this point, we are now in every state in the United States, the United Arab Emirates, London and Jamaica. We are global.
What impact has Covid-19 had on your business and family?
When the coronavirus hit, it was an in-your-face reality check. As far as family, we are safely staying at home. We have moved our game nights to virtual game nights. We continue to support the Black-owned business and promote them outside of what they generally do.
We’ve been doing some content marketing and public relations for the businesses during this time. The app is growing, and we have been steady in our messaging. We have seen almost 100 new businesses listed since the beginning of April.
What’s your biggest accomplishment to date as a business owner?
I served in the Marine Corps for 20 years. My whole life has been about giving back to the community. I am most proud that with Melanin Enterprise, we have given our community an opportunity to create intergenerational wealth.
When we are on Facebook, we are setting Mark Zuckerburg up for life and his kids and his kids’ kids. My goal is to create a Black Silicon Valley with Charlotte as the hub.
For example, Doc’s Pharmacy was our last referred partner before Covid-19 hit. When I was growing up, we had a corner market. At Doc’s, I felt like I was home. He provides free delivery services and free advice for people in the community. I felt that it was important for people to know what he brings to the community, so we hosted a networking event there to spread the news about him.
How can the community help support Black businesses?
We should ask, what types of support are you getting and what do you need? This data is valuable. You will always be connected and have the opportunity to spend your money with the businesses listed on Melanin Enterprise. The idea is to create a lasting effect for Black people all over the world.