Creating and sustaining economic growth has long been a challenge for many African Americans in the Twin Cities. As African Americans account for less than 10% of Minnesota’s population, many have found themselves on the deficit end of the state’s celebrated wealth and prosperity. Looking to reshape this narrative is community leader and businessman James Holmes Jr.
Driven by the economic plight and disparities that have afflicted the Black community, Holmes, who spent many years working in corporate finance, is responding to this call to action through the rise of the Black Lion Foundation, a nonprofit organization that intends to stabilize the economic growth of Minneapolis’ African American population.
Under the umbrella of Black Lion Inc., which also houses Holmes’ car dealership, Black Lion Auto, the Black Lion Foundation is an all-in-one mentoring program that helps aspiring entrepreneurs to establish their own businesses. Wanting to conceptualize a program that could jumpstart Minneapolis’ economy and its Black community, Holmes officially launched the foundation this past spring.
“The Black Lion Foundation is set up to be an economic development igniter in Minneapolis, particularly in the Black community,” said Holmes.
“This is a population that has been vastly overlooked throughout time, so instead of listening to fancy speeches and eloquent prose, I decided to just start where I am and become an igniter.”
Raised in South Minneapolis, Holmes is deeply rooted in the community. With the success of his car dealership and other businesses, he intended to enter into the nonprofit arena as a means to put words into action.
However, those plans became expedited following the murder of George Floyd, who was killed blocks away from Phelps Park, the area where Holmes was raised. Floyd’s murder also struck a raw nerve in Holmes and recalibrated his focus for serving the Black community.
“I started my car dealership a year ago, and in that original business plan was accommodations for the Black Lion Foundation,” explained Holmes.
“Initially, I thought it was going to take a while before we started with the foundation. After the murder of George Floyd, that process become accelerated. So, instead of continuing to postpone my service involvement, I got involved the next day.”
Lending his services to the Minneapolis community also equates to high expectations that are grounded in the vision and mission of the Black Lion Foundation. One aspect of that vision and mission is to employ or coordinate employment for at least 120 people with good-paying jobs within the 12 next months.
Another aspect of that vision and mission is launching 60 Black-owned and operated businesses within the next 16 months. With this, Holmes wants to alleviate any barriers for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to become participants in the program.
“In the Black Lion Foundation, we spend a lot of time developing entrepreneurs and assisting them in all that they do. We cover all their costs including licensing, website design and development, logos, you name it, we pay for it all, “Holmes explained.
“I do that for a reason, because a lot of what we do is financial literacy, and quite frankly it’s badly needed in our communities. In Black communities where there is a concentration of African Americans that live there, many do not own the majority of the homes and don’t own a majority of the businesses.
So, in essence we give our money away to people that don’t look like us, which means we don’t have anything to show for it. As one person and as a company, I want take a step forward and change that.”
Since its inception the Black Lion Foundation has already helped many aspiring entrepreneurs execute their vision into reality. One of those beneficiaries is local chef and caterer Bianca Cooper.
“When I first met James, I was struggling with my logo and getting my concept down pat,” said Cooper. She operates a business under the name Chef B and learned about the organization during a time when she was attempting to get her catering company off the ground.
“After telling him the things I wanted to do, he was able to hone into an element of my business which was fresh and healthy eating. He also helped me to get my business registered with the State of Minnesota and then helped me by purchasing a laptop because I didn’t have the resources to develop my website.”
Cooper’s experience is one of the many success stories that the Black Lion Foundation has had with its participants. In addition to working with Holmes, participants are also able to connect with industry leaders from across the Twin Cities during weekly meetings that take place at New Salem Missionary Baptist Church, located in North Minneapolis.
“Going to the membership meetings has really been helpful because they’ve been able to inspire and empower Black people and the community,” said Cooper. “The meetings also help us to work and come together, which lets us realize that we can use our talents to become financially stable.
“After working 35 years in business and finance, I’ve accumulated a lot of information, knowledge, and resources,” said Holmes. “Now it’s my responsibility to share it, disseminate that information, and pass it forward. We work with people from all walks of life, and our goal is to meet people where they are. That’s why I define the Black Lion Foundation as a boots-on-the-ground operation because I want to see the people, meet the people, and address their needs.”
The Black Lion Foundation hosts weekly meetings every Wednesday at New Salem Missionary Baptist Church beginning at 6 pm. New Salem Baptist Church is located at 2507 N Bryant Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55411.
For more information about the Black Lion Foundation visit their website: www.blacklionfoundation.com.