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Building up, giving back: Black business directory to highlight success, need for support
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A&A Beauty Supply is a beauty supply catering to the African American woman. Owner Abeba Lemma has been in business in Gainesville since 1986. - photo by Scott Rogers

More than 150 of Gainesville’s Black-owned businesses will be listed in the Newtown Florist Club’s annual Black Business and Community Resource Directory due out the week of March 15.

The directory features the breadth and depth of Black enterprise in the city and highlights everything from brand-new businesses to those around for decades. It also includes businesses that closed their doors.

In August 2020, a Federal Reserve Bank of New York report found that Black-owned businesses were more than twice as likely to shutter as their White counterparts. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Newtown Florist Club Executive Director the Rev. Rose Johnson said the directory serves as an acknowledgment and reminder to invest in Black businesses.

“We chose to feature the full scope of this activity, recognizing that resources for economic development in the African American community are woefully inadequate,” Johnson said. “The need for financial and technical support, small business incubators, set-asides for women and minority-owned businesses and microloan programs are sorely needed to give business owners time and room to grow.”   

For Abeba Lemma, owner of A&A Beauty Supply, helping Black women find the true beauty in their hair — natural or otherwise — is one way she loves giving back to her community. The meaning of hair in the Black community is multifaceted, and has often historically been used to suppress or demean Black women. At A&A Supply, all hair from twists, curls, dreads and braids, is celebrated. 

“It’s a joy, a joy to show someone how beautiful their hair can be, how beautiful different colors and styles can accentuate,” Lemma said. “When I came here from Ethiopia to Hall County (in 1986), I noticed there wasn’t a place that was selling Black hair products at an accessible rate or an affordable price.”

For Lemma, hair is linked to one’s identity, and it’s a responsibility that she takes seriously.

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A&A Beauty Supply is a beauty supply catering to the African American woman. Owner Abeba Lemma has been in business in Gainesville since 1986. - photo by Scott Rogers

“Hair is personal,” she said. “We’ve had women who are in crisis, perhaps a sickness that leads to hair loss, and we want to find what makes them feel their most beautiful and most comfortable self.”

It’s only been a little over a year since Derrick Cheeks opened his own Georgia Farm Bureau insurance office on Lighthouse Manor Drive.

Initially, Cheeks wanted to be a teacher, but he made the transition to selling insurance three years ago when a boss and friend told him he’d be good at it.

Cheeks said that one of his biggest goals is to educate and promote the essentiality of a life insurance plan in the Black community.

“Life insurance is one of those things that isn’t often discussed in some circles, and a lot of it is a lack of access and information,” said Cheeks. “If I can talk to someone, while they are healthy and young, to invest in life insurance, that’s a way to give back to my community.”

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A&A Beauty Supply is a beauty supply catering to the African American woman. Owner Abeba Lemma has been in business in Gainesville since 1986. - photo by Scott Rogers

According to a November 2020 survey from Haven Life, while eight in 10 Black people said they own life insurance, they only have one-third the amount of coverage the average White person has. Additionally, research shows that Black American households have a median income that’s 61 percent of White households while White families have a net worth 10 times higher than Black families.

For Cheeks, understanding clients of different races and identities is crucial to his job as a Black person in the insurance industry.

“Insurance is important to everyone, no matter your color, origin or identity,” he said. “I want to be a comfortable face that someone can ask questions about life insurance and provide them with the tools that can help them and their families.”

Mike Wilcoxson, owner of DUI and Defensive Driving of Midtown, knows that Black business can last in tough times. 

“My family history, with my grandad working for Brisco Boots, … it’s a reminder that Black businesses can survive,” Wilcoxson said. “And to me, that also means giving back to my community every opportunity I can.”

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Mike Wilcoxson, owner of DUI and Defensive Driving of Midtown, operates out of offices on Bradford Street in Gainesville. In light of COVID-19 he is offering classes virtually, which has been approved by the Georgia Department of Driver Services. - photo by Scott Rogers

Black Americans make up a disproportionate part of the prison system. According to the reform advocacy nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative, Black Georgians make up 32 percent of the state’s total population but make up 58 percent of the state’s prison population.

Wilcoxson opened his business in 2008 and won a Liberty Bell Award — given to non-lawyers who have made a contribution to the local courts system — in 2009. He uses his own story and road to long-term sobriety to provide vital information for clients hoping to maximize a second chance. 

“A lot of times, people just don’t know the information and they are trying to navigate through a system that led to unfair treatment,” he said. “So when I share my story, it’s my goal for anyone who walks in here to avoid mass incarceration and to be given the information for them to succeed.”

For Wilcoxson, Black business owners thrive off the constant and unconditional support of Black patronage.

“The community supports you and invests in you, especially in tough times, and what motivates me is having the chance to give back to my community and help my people,” he said. “You have to give back to the community that feeds you.”

Angela Middleton, who has been the coordinator for the project, said they have been able to gather information on roughly 170 Black-owned businesses, entrepreneurs, nonprofit community resources and churches. Middleton previously said they are still hoping to reach out to several others before the directory is released.

There is no cost for the directory, but donations are appreciated. It will be available at Newtown’s office at 1064 Desota St. in Gainesville.


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Mike Wilcoxson, owner of DUI and Defensive Driving of Midtown, operates out of offices on Bradford Street in Gainesville. Currently in light of COVID-19 he is offering classes virtually which has been approved by the Georgia Department of Driver Services. - photo by Scott Rogers
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