The building on 1200 West Broadway Avenue in North Minneapolis that at one time was well known for hosting Breaking Bread restaurant is now Black-owned.
Kenya McKnight-Ahad, president and CEO of the Black Women’s Wealth Alliance (BWWA), recently purchased the building after having been a tenant there for three years.
McKnight-Ahad is proud of her acquisition, which has an interesting backstory. According to McKnight-Ahad she took a leap of faith in acquiring the property. “I had goals of buying a building long-term, but it came sooner than what I planned for,” she said.
“I’m the owner of a building that will be turned into an incubator space for Black women entrepreneurs, which will also promote health and wellness. Now that I own a building, the idea is to expand it so other Black businesses can thrive and grow,” said McKnight-Ahad.
BWWA serves as a “social enterprise that focuses on improving the economic stability and prosperity of historical Black women career and entrepreneurial professionals,” said McKnight-Ahad.
The BWWA organization offers business assistance to Black women throughout the Twin Cities. They focus on key areas of service ranging from “wealth literacy, professional development, business technical assistance, financial assistance. Every service area includes coaching, workshops and classes.”
She added, “We’re still developing our own cultural tools. We plan on reopening to the broader public this fall. Currently, we are working with our alumni.”
She was inspired to own property and plans on helping Black women throughout the community. The building will be referred to as ZaRah, which refers to something that “is very feminine in its nature, and it means to blossom, to flourish, to be radiant.”
Presently, BWWA conducts business at 1101 West Broadway, where they have been headquartered for two years after establishing a partnership with the Episcopal Church that owns the space.
The organization was given a big boost recently when the singer Lizzo raised money for it as part of her Annual Juneteenth Giveaway. “They are doing the real work on the frontlines of progress and I’m honored to help them in any way I can,” said Lizzo.
McKnight-Ahad has a history of taking leadership on economic issues, even working with the City of Minneapolis on the Minneapolis Forward: Community Now Coalition. “There was a group of us who are all economic leaders—we’re basically helping the City reshape their priorities and focus around how our businesses and communities heal economically and how Black folks can increase ownership of commercial property,” she said.
The entrepreneur, a transplant from Illinois who grew up on Minneapolis’ North Side, was recently a 2021 Flagship Fellow to the LISC developers of color.
She is also a 2021 Minneapolis and St. Paul Business Journal Minnie-Fire Awards honoree, an award given to innovative entrepreneurs “that are blazing new paths and shaping the Twin Cities economy.” In 2019, she was awarded as a top woman in business honoree through the Minneapolis and St. Paul Business Journal. Additionally, in 2019, she was selected as a top woman in business and finance by Finance and Commerce magazine.
McKnight-Ahad was also selected as a 2012 Bush Fellow and served as the first African American Met Council appointee to the Transportation Advisory Board, where she served for six years. She also made a run for the Minneapolis City Council in 2009.
“People interested in business need to explore—understand there are no real boundaries or barriers in life.”— Kenya McKnight-Ahad
The BWWA is the first Black woman-owned public benefit corporation operating in Minnesota. In creating BWWA, McKnight-Ahad was intentional about her target, outcomes, and impact. “The goal is to build an alliance of wealth among Black women that will transfer to their families, building generational wealth and wealth in the broader community,” she said. “Our goal is to increase it by 35% to 40% in the next few years.
“African Americans were projected to have buying power of $1.4 trillion dollars just actually last year, pre-COVID. Black women influence the way money is spent,” she said. McKnight-Ahad wants to work with a wide range of entrepreneurs and working-class women.
“You have to have some level of stability and be driven; we need sisters who are really trying to figure it out and make it work. They might be the matriarchs in the family,” she said. “If we give her a grant it’s actually gonna go toward the things she needs.”
BWWA partners with a “resist and thrive” micro-grant and loan program, which provides capital for business owners and financial support for individuals. “We’ve helped get vehicles fixed, helped people purchase vehicles. We’ve helped pay off people’s credit—paid off up to $5,000 of all the participant’s credit,” she said. “Those things have made a difference for those women, and that’s why we do it.”
Several grants have been allocated to Black women entrepreneurs throughout the Twin Cities thus far. In 2020 BWWA launched “The Bee Marketplace” that showcased their products. There were 34 women involved in the online marketplace.
According to McKnight-Ahad, “17 of them reported that they had $51,000 in sales just in 30 days. All of the women involved in this program were provided with a $1,000 grant to support their businesses.”
Tamika Jones, CEO of LipEsteem LLC, was selected to take part in Deluxe Corporation’s small business revolution and is an alumnus of the Bee Marketplace. Through her participation in that program, she was able to award BWWA with a $5,000 grant for women in the beauty industry.
There are ups and downs in operating an organization, explained the entrepreneur. “This is my life purpose. I am a vessel chosen to do this work. I can’t shape it as much as I’d like to. It shapes me based on what’s needed and required from the times, and that’s the challenge,” said McKnight-Ahad.
“I think people interested in business need to explore—understand there are no real boundaries or barriers in life. You have to make up your mind on what you want to do and who you want to be and put yourself in a position to win.”
For more info about the Black Women’s Wealth Alliance, go to www.bwwa-us.com.
Ashley Lauren is a contributing writer at the MN Spokesman-Recorder.