“It’s just important to have a space to commiserate with people who are like-minded. On days we get together, even when we don’t have a lot of customers, there’s still that business-to-business and peer-to-peer learning. Networking is how we learn different tricks of the trades and we learn about opportunities,” says Tara Wilhelmi, the co-founder of the UJAMAA Business Network. “That always happens when we get together.”
UJAMAA Business Network has been hosting a series of UJAMAA Markets this summer that have been helping to support and grow business in communities of color throughout Wisconsin, with a specific focus on Black-owned businesses. The final UJAMAA Community Market for The EOTO Summer Series will be held this Saturday, Sept. 19, 1-5 p.m. at McPike Park on Madison’s near east side.
“The markets are all about supporting Wisconsin and local Black businesses. It’s a place for the community to come and engage. We have businesses out there. We have food and often some kind of entertainment,” Wilhelmi tells Madison365. “We’ve always been focused on the community and coming together.
“The amount of businesses at our events varies but we’ve got 40-50 Black-owned businesses total,” she adds. “We are ranging from 6-12 businesses at each event really just depending on the space we have.
The COVID pandemic has been tough on businesses.
“I would say that we really felt the impact last year with the loss of outdoor venues; we lost the ability to have our Badger Rock Community Markets. As those things have come back and people have started to have their events in the park, we just really maximizing those opportunities,” Wilhelmi says. “Right now, we’re working with businesses to figure out how they will continue into the fall and winter.”
Wilhelmi co-founded the UJAMAA Business Network with Qiana Holmes-Abanukam, the owner of Village Girl Boutique. The network offers professional/business development, shared retail, and networking opportunities in addition to being listed in its Black Business in Wisconsin app.
“As the weather gets colder, we’re moving towards an online presence, thinking about how we can create the store space and also how can we support online businesses,” Wilhelmi says. “It’s also about showing people that we are authentic Black-owned businesses.
“That’s something that we ran into around Juneteenth. All of the big box stores suddenly realize Black Lives Matter and that there was a market there,” she continues. “So in our business directory, you will be able to see the businesses, learn about the business owner and where they are located in Wisconsin, read about their biographies. You’ll be able to know that you are doing business with an authentic Black-owned business and that you are supporting — along with the business — individual community members and their families.”
The UJAMAA Business Network grew organically out of the vendors who have been working and doing things at the Badger Rock Community Markets for the past six seasons. The UJAMAA Network has grown quite a bit over just this past summer.
“We didn’t realize how many micro-businesses there were. We’ve always suspected that there were a lot of us out there because as we come together, we’re realizing that people we didn’t know from the community had this certain thing going on. A lot of our younger folks are doing great things,” Wilhelmi says. “We have a FB group that just grows every day, too.”
As they move into the fall, Wilhelmi says that the network will be focused on professional development. There are two really unique learning opportunities for members of the UJAMAA Business Network, a fall business development workshop in October with a collaborative learning community in partnership with UPSTART and Food Biz Bootcamp with Donale Richards.”
“We got a partnership with the UPSTART program that will help folks who are trying to get a solid footing for their business around entity, business plan, etc.” Wilhelmi says. “Donale Richards is going to be doing a series for our food businesses with the first two pieces aimed at people who have been in business and we’re calling it a “Boot Camp.” It will be talking about taxes and getting ready for business and festivals next year.”
Wilhelmi says that the UJAMAA Business Network is currently seeking a storefront for a unique shared retail space.
“We’re just continuing to find ways to work together to support the growth of Black businesses,” she adds. ”One our big goals right now is to get into a shared retailed space – to open up one store where people form the network can come in and – regardless to where they are at — they can see what it is to be in a store and figure out what they need to do to launch their own store. Hopefully, we can grow brick and mortar Black businesses throughout the city … and the state as well.”
Starting this Thursday, the UJAMAA Community Market will be joining the Downtown Business District’s Night Market on Thursday, Sept. 16.
“We will be located at Gilman & State St. We are calling it the UJAMAA Marketplace @ the Night Market. We will be having a special space within their Night Market specifically for our network, so that is really cool,” Wilhelmi says. “This Thursday is our first UJAMAA Market there and it will be once a month until December. Since it’s an outdoor market, we’re going to play December by ear.
“I’m really excited about this partnership and some of the other opportunities and possibilities that might come out of that,” she adds.
The final UJAMAA Community Market for summer will be held this Saturday at McPike Park.
“We’re partnering with some local artists and they’re going to call it ‘Sunday Cypher’ and we’ll have some of our local rap and Hip-Hop and spoken-word folks who will come out and get together,” Wilhelmi says. “Sounds like it’s going to be a pretty organic, fantastic experience. We’re excited to partner with that part of our community, as well.
For more information about becoming a member of the UJAMAA Business Network, click here. The membership fee is $50 per quarter or $150 annually. Scholarships are available. UJAMAA welcomes anyone who would like to make a donation to support the network or provide a membership to an aspiring or active entrepreneur of color.