By day, Mandy Bowman is a social media strategist at a media company, but for the past year, she has steadily been developing an online directory of black-owned businesses called Official Black Wall Street (OBWS).
“I remember reading that black businesses only get around 2 percent of our [$1.1] trillion dollar buying power, and that completely blew me away,” Bowman said. “I felt like with all the racial tension, and the things that were happening from Ferguson to New York, there was a huge need for us to protest with our money and recycle that money back into our communities.”
The Brooklyn native first began the project on social media in the fall of 2014, and launched the actual site in July of this year. “I found so many amazing businesses and I really wanted to spread it to as many people as possible and get as many people to support them as I could,” Bowman said.
The site’s namesake is a nod to the legendary hub of Black business that once stood in the Tulsa suburb, Greenwood, OK. In 1921, the original “Black Wall Street” was destroyed in what has been called one of the deadliest “race riots” in U.S. history. Before it was viciously dismantled, Greenwood was a town with a booming self-sufficient economy.
“That really inspired me – just seeing how this neighborhood was able to function on such a major successful level and do it all on their own. There were movie theaters, pharmacies, doctor’s offices, lawyers and nightclubs. Just thinking about it gives me chills.”
Over the years, plenty of Black business directories of popped up online, but OBWS is one of the most user-friendly and wide-reaching, by far. The OBWS directory has listings for about 1,300 businesses, including clothing companies, skin care lines, contracting and accounting firms, personal trainers, event planning and more. Users can leave reviews, get directions to brick-and-mortar stores, and search for businesses by location and category. There is also a special offers section for shoppers on a budget.
In addition to its directory, OBWS offers original business-related content, including profiles of entrepreneurs like Maci Peterson, the creator of the On Second Thought app and inspiring posts like their list of “kidpreneurs.”
“I really wanted Official Black Wall Street to be a hub for Black business, but also Black excellence. I wanted people to be able to go on there and support their own, but also draw inspiration from all the businesses there and all the stories about successful entrepreneurs and successful businesses that we’ve started ourselves,” said Bowman.
So far, Bowman says the response to OBWS has been amazing. She has been inundated with requests to post or promote new businesses. For a long time, Bowman says that OBWS was “a one-woman show,” but she has begun to bring on contributors and now has help updating the site and responding to emails.
“This is like my first-born, so finding the right team is very important to me. I would have to find someone who is as passionate as I am about Black culture and supporting Black businesses,” she said.
In the future, she wants to continue to publish more original content. She’s also working on an OBWS app to make the directory more accessible for shoppers, noting that when she first began her quest to support more Black businesses she found other directories but they were difficult to navigate. So far OBWS’ functionality seems to have hit the spot.
“I’m just really appreciative of all of the support from people,” Bowman said. “When I first started this, I intended for it to be something small to post on social media sites. It’s grown to be a lot larger than I expected, just with the people who are submitting businesses – both consumers and business owners.