The Black Women in Business Beloit Expo will return for its fifth year on Saturday, Feb. 11, at the Eclipse Event Center in Beloit. Black women from across the midwest will come together to support each other and more than 50 vendors offering their services, wares, and products. The expo is themed around Black Herstory Day as a means to celebrate Black women during Black History Month.
The expo continues to grow year after year and the two women who were there since the beginning in 2019 were Ms. Paquita Purnell and Ms. Vickie Lynn, who sadly passed away on Feb. 3. Madison365 interviewed Lynn two weeks before she died and extends condolences to friends, family, and loved ones in the greater Madison and Beloit communities who are in mourning over her passing. Friends and family plan to honor Lynn at the event.
Lynn’s role in initiating the first expo has cemented both her legacy as a small-business owner with Noni Lynn’s Naturals where she made care and wellness products, and also as a valued member of the community whose efforts strengthened the capacity and visibility of Black women looking to start, maintain, and expand their business. What started as a means of making some extra money for Lynn, blossomed into an opportunity to showcase Black business owners.
“I realized if I’m going to do this, I have to do it right,” Lynn told Madison365 in an interview on Jan. 20. “I need to meet other like-minded individuals who look like me to help me navigate this whole business thing. I went on Facebook, and I was like, ‘Hey, we should have an expo.’ They were like, ‘Yeah, you do it, we’ll show up.’ I just started reaching out to women, and I don’t even remember how it happened, but Paquita was there. Then she was reaching out to other women, and we got somebody to let us move all the stuff in their tattoo parlor. They let us have our very first expo there.”
With just 12 vendors to start in the tattoo parlor, the number of those looking to get involved tripled for the next year’s event at the Beloit Historical Society. In reflection on that first year, Purnell remembered mostly the warm atmosphere and joy, but likely the most potent piece of that first year was Lynn’s decision in bringing Purnell in, and giving her the priceless support Lynn was known to supply.
“In 2019, I was so quiet and just wanted to stay in the background, but then you have people like Vickie Lynn who are like, ‘Oh, no, ma’am. You’re doper than that. Come on, we gotta go.’ She gave me a push and I guess that’s all I needed, because then I took off,” said Purnell.
With the assistance of Purnell, Lynn was able to reach the goal she had set in providing a means for Black business-women to connect and gain exposure all while marketing and selling what they specialize in. One of Lynn’s specialties was in making connections. Those connections were something she cherished as an aspect of the Black community in Beloit and beyond, and something she was glad to see resurging in no small part due to her own efforts in energizing the community.
“I’ve been trying to get people interested in supporting Black business and bringing back that love of Black business, and the respect and unity Black folks used to have for one another,” Lynn said. “I grew up in that … we were always there for each other. There was always a Black business on the corner, or in somebody’s house, so I just missed it…Now when I look at my newsfeed, I see so many other people doing the same thing and inspiring other people and bringing that back. We may not be on every corner in our neighborhood right now, but you know where to get some catfish and spaghetti, and where to get your Valentine’s Day gift baskets from.”
As interest grew around the expo, the potential to see new faces increased as well. With women now coming all the way from Iowa, the limits to who might show up keep expanding. This is due to the hard work of Lynn, Purnell, and the other Black women involved in the expo, as well as just the simple excitement that Black Women in Business Beloit has brung to those who may have not expected as much so close to home. While Lynn will sadly only be with the community in spirit for the expo, she was certainly looking forward to the gathering.
“What I’m excited about the most this year is the dance routine by Fab Dance & Fitness Academy out of Rockford,” said Lynn. “I hit her up like, ‘Hey, we would love to have you do something for Black History Month. A dance or routine at our expo.’ They were like, ‘absolutely.’ They said ‘yes’ before I even got to bartering or begging on the price. So I already know that people have heard about it before I get to them…You got to look at it like we do with Pride Fest and Oktoberfest and all those other fests that we all take part in. You’re coming to experience somebody else’s culture and that’s an exciting thing.”
Lynn was also excited at the prospect of more people checking out the expo. While they look to elevate and platform Black women as vendors, having a diversity of people joining to shop, eat, and enjoy the day continues to be an important part of the event. Lynn was happy to see more people coming to participate in the event and saw how the seemingly little things, such as her own anticipation for the singing of the Black National Anthem, helped to connect people and build strength in the community. This is even more prominent as the day’s celebrations also look to involve families and children.
“When the children come in, they see us, and they get it in their head that, ‘Oh, I can own my own business,’” Purnell said. “Then we have youth that have decided to be like, ‘I don’t have to wait till I’m older to start a business, I’ll do it now.’ My kids have their own little business where they hand out chips and snacks and things like that. Little girls do jewelry, and they start young because they see us doing it. They don’t feel like the future is so far off for them.”
Lynn and Purnell both took the time to reflect on how far they and those with them had come. Although Lynn’s passing means she will be greatly missed on Saturday, this year and the years following will continue to serve as part of her memory. Lynn and Purnell were both excited at the prospect of just how big the event could grow, and hopefully, that growth will continue with Lynn’s spirit serving as a guide for leading Black Women in Business Beloit along the same path that has served them thus far.
“Outreach work is definitely in my heart, and I do it in any way,” said Lynn. “Always, we have a ‘We See You Sis’ award that we give. It doesn’t have to be a businesswoman, just a Black woman that we see trying to maintain life, so we give that award. Then we have the ‘Sponsor Her Scholarship’ where we have somebody sponsor a woman who may not be able to get all the things that she would need to be a part of the expo. We got that this year thanks to the Stateline Family YMCA…I definitely want to make Black and brown women feel seen more than anything, because that matters.”
With growing support and sponsors, Black Women in Business Beloit Expo is hopeful to carry on, and have a successful 5th-year celebration come this Saturday at the Eclipse Center in Beloit. Though Lynn’s passing has been heavy on the minds and hearts of many in the community both of Beloit and Black businesswomen in the area, her lasting impact will be felt certainly through the expo itself, and perhaps, most importantly, through the people she helped platform, motivate, and support along the way.
To learn more about the Black Women in Business Beloit Expo, check out their Facebook page here.