By Rob Cullivan | CNews Editor
Kenyahta Sikes, co-owner of PDX SuiteSpot, an event space in Chinatown, says Black United Fund of Oregon (BUF-OR), 2828 N.E. Alberta St., is a valuable resource for her and other African American business owners in Portland.
She noted the Concordia-based organization helped her host 40 other Black businesswomen for a workshop titled “Boss Talks: Entrepreneurship for the Black Woman.” Attendees learned about how to use digital marketing and social media as well as access capital, she said.
“I wondered how many other Black business women were struggling with the same things,” she said, adding that a challenge for many Black business women is finding the resources and funding they need to make their companies succeed. “Nine times out of 10, that’s the greatest struggle,” she said.
Sikes’ company can host photo shoots, music videos, house parties with live music, baby showers, exercise classes, birthday parties, small banquets, launch parties and meeting space. She adds that she plans on taking advantage of any business assistance she can find through BUF-OR. “Black United Fund has been influential in my business journey.”
That’s exactly the kind of words Emmanuel Williams, the foundation’s community-justice and equity coordinator, wants to hear. Black United Fund is designed to help folks like Sikes turn their dreams into reality, he said, to help African American entrepreneurs stake their place in the nation’s business landscape. “A lot of the problems we deal with are economic,” he said. “We’re engaging in acts to drive economics in our favor.”
Legacy of uplift
Founded in 1983, Black United Fund of Oregon works to increase post-secondary opportunities for young people, support BIPOC as well as female-led nonprofits through its leadership program as well as by providing them grants, and aims to foster “a broader understanding of ethnic and culturally diverse groups,” its mission statement reads.
Located in a one-story building, the nonprofit foundation plans to literally enlarge its presence in Concordia over the next few years, aiming to erect a multi-story structure by 2024 that will replace its current building and that will host not just BUF-OR but multiple other nonprofits as well.
The new building will be called the Building United Futures Complex. Anchored by Black United Fund, it will be a consortium of organizations, programs and businesses centered on “equipping, empowering, encouraging and engaging Black and other BIPOC communities to enhance their educational advancement, economic mobility and social liberation,” reads a statement from Adre, the realestate development company overseeing the project.
Dr. LM Alaiyo Foster, BUF-OR president and CEO, says the new building will be designed to be welcoming to all people, with open spaces and lots of windows, and may even feature showers where houseless folks can get off the streets for a moment and take care of their hygiene. “It will be a neighborhood hub and unapologetically Black,” she says.
Among the foundation’s best-known programs is its Post-Secondary Options, coordinated by Saeeda Wright, which provides educational and financial assistance to young people. Wright has mentored Christine Bynum, a junior at Atlanta’s Spelman College, the nation’s oldest college for African American women. Bynum said she wants to inspire other African Americans because she is planning to become an orthodontist.
“As a future Black dentist, I know there are not that many Black dentists out there,” she said. “I want to be a role model to other students.”
Bynum is also studying Spanish and hopes to work with Spanish speakers as well as folks of any race who are unable to access dental care due to financial challenges. As someone who’s worn braces herself, she said it’s important for people to feel welcome and supported as they get their teeth fixed.
“You are trying to help them smile better, and they never forget their orthodontists.”
She credited Black United Fund for helping her to defray the considerable costs of her college education. “The financial support means that I am able to continue my time at Spellman,” she said. “I am able to reduce the amount of loans that I may need to take out for school.”
For more information on Black United Fund, visit BUFor.org.
For more information on PDX SuiteSpot, visit PDXSuiteSpot.com.
CNews Editor Rob Cullivan is a veteran journalist, publicist and grant writer who has written about everything from rock ‘n’ roll to religion. He possesses a deep affection for writers and photographers who hit deadline.