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Ebony McLaughlin keeps the dream of Randy McLaughlin, her late husband, alive by continuing the Mississippi Black Owned Business Facebook group. She advocates for sustainable Black businesses in Mississippi and encourages everyone to shop Black-owned every month, not just in February. Courtesy Mississippi Black Owned Business Facebook group

An Online Community for Black-Owned Businesses in Mississippi Must Live On

Although Mississippi has a painful past, we should reflect on how far we have come and continue to uplift our communities for a better tomorrow—specifically Black communities.

“Randy aspired to bring together Black small business owners in Mississippi to collaborate, communicate and support each other as they grow their businesses and strengthen their communities,” Ebony McLaughlin writes. Photo by Ebony McLaughlin

My late husband Randy McLaughlin, a former truck driver, built a small business buying cars and offering them at an affordable price to single moms and others needing reliable transportation. He wanted families to have a car without the burden of a car payment. Randy recognized how lifting up one family could benefit others, and how helping a neighbor had an impact on the neighborhood. He saw the potential of taking that philosophy and expanding it to an online environment.  

In 2016, Randy aspired to bring together Black small-business owners in Mississippi to collaborate, communicate, and support each other as they grow their businesses and strengthen their communities. He also wanted to provide a platform for productive feedback from the public about how the small businesses in our community could better serve their customers. 

Randy always said, “If they don’t know, they can’t fix it,” so he created the Mississippi Black Owned Business Facebook Group. It went from 50 members to 500 seemingly overnight, and we now have 1,600 business owners committed to helping their fellow Mississippi entrepreneurs prosper. 

Online Business Community Inspires Collaboration

After he died last year, I saw the love that was pouring out from the members to each other and knew the group had to live on. I’ve continued to carry on his legacy through this online community, and I know he smiles every time someone shares an exciting update or makes a meaningful connection. Members assist one another and help their fellow entrepreneurs become better business owners. They’ve hosted pop-up shops for each other, offered advice and become mentors to others who have a dream. 

I love that spirit of collaboration and support, but I know we can do more. 

 Members of the Facebook group have also become mentors to teens and young adults through my nonprofit, called Infinity Youth. We focus on academics while providing young people the necessary tools for a more successful tomorrow. Our hub may be in Mississippi, but our reach is now worldwide, thanks to the power of social media. We provide ACT and SAT test prep, tutoring, mentoring and self-motivational workshops. 

Our “Road to Success” program includes college tours and a spring business expo. We help students identify their interests and then connect them with business owners and working professionals for mentorship. They’re shadowing professionals in a variety of fields, learning about different trades and seeing what the future may hold for them. They’re also learning how to eliminate debt, build credit and find a pathway to success. There’s nothing wrong with working in corporate America, but we want our youth to also know that they can be an entrepreneur, and be their own boss. 

Man in a suit with a nice watch holding a newspaper with a large headline that says Business
“There’s nothing wrong with working in corporate America, but we want our youth to also know that they can be an entrepreneur, and be their own boss,” Ebony McLaughlin writes. Photo by Adeolu Eletu on Unsplash

 As a small business owner himself, Randy wanted everyone with a small business dream to have a fair chance at entrepreneurship and success. The Mississippi Black Owned Business Facebook group welcomes people of all ethnic backgrounds to promote a community of inclusion and tolerance. By sharing business updates, promoting our products and posting about hiring opportunities, we are able to virtually network with like-minded small business owners. It’s truly amazing how a simple post or taking a minute out of your day to elevate a brand online can have such a meaningful impact on businesses.  

Remember, it’s not enough just to say you support Black businesses. Supporting Black companies means investing in the products and services so Black business owners can  provide for their families and continue to give back to their neighborhoods. We need our youth to see success comes in all colors, and that everyone has a chance for a brighter future. 

 Black History Month is a time to recognize and celebrate Black individuals who have achieved great things while breaking centuries-old racial and stereotypical barriers. However, February is over. I urge you to support Black-owned businesses throughout the year. 

We all must continue to build up our Black-owned business community and emphasize the uniqueness and cultural diversity of Mississippi.

This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an essay for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and factcheck information to [email protected] We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints. 

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