Supporting Black entrepreneurship: Black Student Organization, E.S.S.E.N.C.E host event uplifting, increasing exposure to Black businesses


Saturday, Feb. 24, the College of William and Mary’s Black Student Organization and Educating Strength and Sisterhood by Executing a Nurturing Community of Empowerment co-hosted their third annual “Stepping into Black Excellence” Black Expo to uplift Black entrepreneurship in recognition of Black History Month. Throughout the afternoon, seven students and local vendors set up shop in The Slice, offering customers a variety of handmade items from hair care products to jewelry. Complimentary popcorn and cotton candy freshly made by BSO executive board members were also available for attendees to snack on as they shopped. 

E.S.S.E.N.C.E. Event Coordinator Lauren Payne ’24 explained that the decision to hold the event in The Slice was intentional to give the event high visibility and invite all members of the community to join — especially those beyond their immediate social networks.

Payne explained how event organizers hoped that the open setup and general popularity of The Slice would entice student passersby to join in the festivities, even if they may not be involved in Black organizations on campus and may doubt whether or not the expo was intended for them. 

“Sadler’s the only way to get other people to know that they’re welcome to see this and participate in any way they can,” Payne said.

BSO President Breyonna Rock ’24 echoed this sentiment, driving home the point that the event is most successful when students of all backgrounds are in attendance and participating.

“It’s so nice when it’s not just people from our community, but from everywhere,” Rock said. 

For BSO Treasurer Ethan Stewart ’25, it is this aspect of community-building that truly gives meaning to the Black Expo.

“Community: that’s what [the Black Expo] brings first and foremost,” Stewart said. “It brings hope, it’s building strength for our people, for the people here because some of them didn’t know they could get the chance to sell, to make their own business, to participate one day in the future as well. It might inspire them to go find their own passion and get started here.”

Rock noted that providing this all-encompassing opportunity for vendors to display their goods was ultimately the core focus for event organizers. According to Stewart, one way BSO aimed to accomplish this goal was by waiving registration fees and taking care of pre-event set-up at the convenience of the vendors. 

There’s no pressure that they have to come pay, set up. They’re just able to come enjoy themselves. It’s a community event first,” Stewart said. “And there is no reason to charge people you want to actually come and enjoy themselves.” 

Rock further described the benefits that vendors receive by participating in these small business showcases.

“[The vendors] get the exposure of interacting with more students, and that way the students can reach back out to them in the future, like, ‘Hey, do you have this?’ or ‘Oh, I love this product. I would like to get something else like that,’” Rock said. “I think that in itself is a very big plus and very exciting.” 

This sentiment rang particularly true for Anaya Temple ’25, who said she was able to build her own small earrings business, Nykalu, by selling her products during similar events hosted by BSO or the African Cultural Society. 

“Because of these events, I’ve been able to grow my business,” Temple said. “Like I went from just having my earrings across a table to now having a tablecloth and a [spinning display] and business cards.”

Raven Pierce ’23, M.Ed ’26, another vendor at the expo, similarly testified to the benefits of events like the Black Expo for budding Black business owners. Pierce expressed that this event was a simple and accessible way for her to debut her two businesses, Raeted Art LLC and Natural Hair by Rae, to the college community. 

“This is actually my first expo of this kind,” Pierce said. “I really think it’s important to empower the community — the Black community — to showcase all of our unique talents and skills. For me, sometimes it is hard to advertise and market myself, so opportunities like this have made it so much easier.”

Payne continued to underscore the value of events at the College centered on Black entrepreneurship, highlighting how they shed an important light on the many Black businesses both at the College and in the larger Williamsburg area that she feels are usually left in the dark when it comes to exposure to the general public. 

“It’s always really interesting because everyone gets really surprised at the number of people that we have that end up signing up and registering,” Payne said. “They’re just surprised at either the number of students that are Black entrepreneurs or the number of Black entrepreneurs that are local as residents. I think we tend to think that we don’t have a residential population in the Williamsburg area, but, I mean, as I found through my research, like with the Black Histories Project, there is a group here that would love to be a part of things, so it’s really nice. I think that’s the most beautiful thing.”

In addition to providing Black-owned businesses with the crucial exposure and visibility they may struggle to gain otherwise, Rock made it clear that the Black Expo also positively impacts its customers as well as its vendors. 

“I think for the participants, like the people who are coming out, it’s not only the community aspect and the feelings of it, but also just like having these pieces of jewelry or art pieces when they go home, and they can reflect on it like, ‘Oh, I got this cool bracelet from the Black Expo in 2024,’ and they can remember the experience,” Rock said.

Echoing Rock’s sentiment, attendee Deeka Abdi ’27 reflected that she enjoyed her time at the Black Expo and will return to this event next year if the tradition continues. 

“It was really nice,” Abdi said. “I got to get a lot of cool stuff that I wouldn’t have normally gotten on my own.”

Event organizers, vendors and attendees alike praised the Black Expo as a universally beneficial venture that facilitates creative expression, community bonding, student entrepreneurship and cultural sharing and celebration. 

I love events like this,” Temple said. “I like being able to see all the different creative people, all their small businesses, and I like that these events give so many college students the ability to have support in their small businesses.”

For those looking to attend the Black Expo next year, or similar entrepreneurial events run by Black student organizations on campus, Payne leaves them with one final piece of advice. 

“Hopefully, people will see how special [the Black Expo] is to these people,” Payne said. “Even if you can’t buy something, just talk to [the vendors] and let them just get out their frustrations with being an entrepreneur or their achievements and accomplishments.”

CORRECTION (03/08): A previous version of the article misidentified Stewart’s last name as “Miller.” The article has been updated to correctly capture his name.


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