Youth Entrepreneur Marketplace empowers Buffalo’s young people to launch businesses

Too frequently, people of color living in Buffalo’s East Side communities aren’t seeing someone who looks like them on the other side of the counter at local businesses.

By teaching entrepreneurial skills to young people in those neighborhoods, local organizations and business owners are hoping to change that. Which is how the Youth Entrepreneur Marketplace and workshops started this spring.

Through the Community Action Organization of Western New York and in partnership with the MLK Business District Association, Masjid NuMan, Inc. and J&W Planning Group, LLC, young people under the age of 18, predominantly from Buffalo’s East Side, will learn skills to sell products designed and made by them and their families.

“Our motto is, we want people of Africa descent behind that counter because 20, 30 years earlier, businesses up and down Genessee, Bailey, Fillmore, they were (owned by) African people and we want that again,” Pamela James, program coordinator at the Community Action Organization, said.

Participants will go through a five-week training workshop program at the Community Action Organization on Fillmore Avenue, culminating in a Juneteenth marketplace at MLK Park on June 16 where their goods will be sold. There are six other marketplace dates scheduled throughout the summer at Fillmore and East Utica Street.

After a prior orientation meeting, about 25 kids between the ages of 6 and 17 and their families gathered May 8 for the first workshop. They heard from local business owners, including Royce Woods of Local Initiatives Support Corporation, who brought Monopoly to teach young people about exchanging money and the cost of doing business. In subsequent sessions, families will learn how to pitch a business and make a business plan. For those interested in serving food at the marketplace, the workshop will go over necessary permits and inspections. But beyond foundational business skills, the workshop will also teach young people that they can reach their goals through hard work and a passion for what they do.

MarQes, a 9-year-old East Side resident who sells collectibles and inspirational items and is also a motivational speaker, was one of the youth in attendance Tuesday.

“I just want him to know that he can do anything he desires,” said his mother, Lekya. “It doesn’t have to take him to be an adult to be an entrepreneur. He doesn’t have to wait until he graduates from school. He can dream big, he can inspire others, and he can also be inspired by what other people are doing.”

James said that those interested in participating in the workshop are welcome to come to the next event Wednesday, May 16, at the Community Action Organization, 1423 Fillmore Ave. in Buffalo from 5 to 7 p.m.

With entrepreneurship, James explained, families learn to be self-sufficient. That means they hire within their communities, generate capital, increase the tax base, and bring prosperity back to districts that were once booming decades ago.

“Our mission is to put businesses back on Fillmore, Genessee, and also East Ferry and East Utica,” James said.

For more information, contact Pamela James at the Community Action Organization of Western New York, 716-332-3773, pamelajames654@gmail.com.

Read more articles by Joel Lehman.

After spending 15 years in northern Vermont where he worked as managing editor for a daily publication, Western New York native Joel Lehman returned to Buffalo this summer to be part of the city’s renaissance. He lives with his girlfriend and his goldendoodle, Wilson, and he enjoys running, skiing and cooking for his family.
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