By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
CAMDEN — Belinda Barksdale was taken calls even Saturday morning from vendors inquiring about the inaugural Black Business Expo held at First Nazarene Baptist Church in Camden on Saturday, Feb. 19.
With good reason.
Nearly 70 vendors greeted potential customers as the church’s first effort to highlight and showcase local African American businesses proved to be a rousing success.
“My pastor (Rev. Dyheim T. Watson Sr.) had the vision where he wanted to highlight and promote black businesses during Black History Month,” Barksdale, the organizer of the event, said. “So we have all kinds of retailers, service providers, mental health, insurance companies, travel companies, all kinds of goods and products here.
“We have businesses here for every person, man, woman, boy and girl. So we’re just excited. And we just want the public to come on out and see what these businesses provide,” she added.
Barksdale said she hoped vendors walked away with the knowledge that people are here to support them.
“We’re being introduced to a lot of their products, some we’ve never heard of before,” Barksdale said. “We don’t have to go to the mall. We don’t have to go online. We can find all of these things right in our community. We want them to succeed and we’re here to support them.”
Associate Pastor Randy Cosby said he was “blown away” by the attendance of the expo and can’t wait to see what the future holds when First Nazarene plans more programs like this.
“We’ve found if you look around, we have a lot of people in our communities and neighborhoods have the same talent and other entrepreneurs,” said Cosby, who is himself a business owner and had a booth at the expo.
“You have some people hear from every aspect; you know. They are doing clothing to food, making candles and they have a wide range of talents.
Alice Hicks is a fitness coach who founded Betty’s Nutrition Treats. She said the expo was the perfect location to talk to other customers and fellow vendors about her products.
“We have to get out of the habit of having to have sugar all the time,” said Hicks, who is based out of Sicklerville. “I thought why not try something sugar free and it’d be healthy for you as well. [My treats] have protein in them so it can help you with overeating, like obesity.
“I love the expo because it definitely gives me a better outlook on our community other than negatives, especially being in Camden. Everything is so negative but here I’m seeing the positivity in everyone. It just gives you a better outlook for humanity.”
Koren Norwood participated to promote her journaling book “Dancing the Heart of God.”
“It is a journaling handbook for dance ministers anyone who does praise dance or liturgical dance within the church,” Norwood said. “My mission is to help them to create dances that are from the heart of God based off of the scriptures, by journaling from the scriptures. “It’s wonderful looking at all the black entrepreneurs here. It is encouraging to see so many of us with businesses trying to promote themselves. I see clothing and I see soaps and I see actual businesses that help you with your vehicles. This is just a great asset to the community.”
Some vendors said they were inspired by the sea of business people and customers that filled the First Nazarene hallways and parking lot on Saturday.
“This is not only encouraging, it just shows the resilience of our people,” said Dr. Octavius Brown, who answered questions about his business, DOC Octavius Mental Health Services. “Our people have always been resilient.
“We have never allowed ourselves to stay down. You may get a leg up on me but I’m going to get up the best way I can. So to see these people with their own businesses, it just shows and amplifies how resilient we are,” he added.
Some business owners were true inspirations. Shirley Morton and her husband Clyde shared a booth to sell her book, “The Phone Call That Changed My Life,” about the inspirational true story of Shirley Morton surviving a brain aneurysm. The couple also sold traditional brooms for weddings.
“I try to encourage others who might be going through a brain injury or anything like that to trust God and trust the process,” Shirley Morton said.
Clyde Morton added: “For me it’s very encouraging to be amongst other businesses, black businesses, and to see that we are supporting them.”
Romona Miller, of Gripps Gourmet Butter and Sauces, said she is already looking forward to future expos with the church.
“I hope we can continue to do these types of expos going into the summertime, but I’d love to see everybody,” Miller said. “There are so many hidden talents out here. If you have a chance to bring up a good product and let everybody in the community know what you have, it’s a beautiful thing.”
Former Camden Schools superintendent Roy Dawson, who attended the expo, praised Watson for coming up with the idea and the insight about gauging the interest shown.
“Some of the vendors are some of our church members but most of them are outsiders,” Dawson said. “This is just another way that Pastor Watson likes to do the work in the community. We want to encourage our people to support these vendors. Our vendors really need attention more so today than ever before. That’s absolutely the reality.
“I want to thank Pastor Watson for using his intelligence and his wherewithal to bring about this now for one year. Kudos to sister Belinda Barksdale. She’s been working on pulling this together.”
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