Making Connections with Black Wall Street AVL

May 9, 2024

Under the guidance of Founder J Hackett and Executive Director Bruce Waller Jr., Black Wall Street AVL has transformed from a mere idea into a robust engine of economic development for Black businesses. 

Black Wall Street AVL‘s innovative Entrepreneurial Navigator Program is a testament to their commitment to fostering growth and connectivity among Black-owned businesses. Funded in part by the Chamber’s 125th Anniversary grant program, this program aims to make a staggering 10,000 connections for Asheville’s businesses. Through initiatives like the Greater Access to Tourism Entrepreneurship (GATE), Black Wall Street AVL leverages the booming local tourism industry to create opportunities for BIPOC entrepreneurs. 

Waller emphasizes the role of Black Wall Street AVL as a “connector” within the community, bridging the gap between businesses and essential resources. “We are like the traffic controller, where we are connecting people to the work, that’s most important,” he explains. Collaborations with organizations such as Mountain BizWorks, the Asheville Chamber, and banks like Truist underline the ecosystem of support that Black Wall Street AVL has cultivated. These partnerships are vital, helping entrepreneurs navigate challenges and seize opportunities within Asheville’s dynamic business environment.

One of the crown jewels of Black Wall Street AVL’s efforts is GRINDFest. This annual festival not only celebrates BIPOC businesses but also serves as a major networking event, anticipated to facilitate between 500 to 1,000 connections per attendee. Scheduled for May 24-26 at the AB Tech Conference Center, this year’s GRINDFest is packed with activities ranging from carnival rides to casino nights themed after the iconic “Harlem Nights” movie, embodying the glamor of the 1920s. Plus, a concert with Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh at the Salvage Station on the 25th!

“GRINDFest sees about 10,000 people in a weekend, so we’re super excited about that,” Waller shares. “It allows members of this community to come together and intentionally do business, get to know each other, and build solid partnerships that benefit our ecosystem of Asheville.”

Black Wall Street AVL’s journey began with a simple pop-up market idea by J Hackett and evolved through grassroots efforts into a nationally recognized organization. The initial small gathering outside Grind Coffee Shop has grown into GRINDFest, drawing thousands and making an indelible impact on Asheville’s business landscape. 

“It all started with an idea of, we should just do a pop-up market where we just bring individuals into a space, let them sell their items, and let it all happen,” Waller says, reflecting on the growth.

Today, from helping a handful of businesses in its early days to impacting hundreds annually, Black Wall Street AVL stands as a beacon of hope and a catalyst for change. It is more than an organization; it is a movement dedicated to reclaiming and revitalizing the legacy of Black entrepreneurship in Asheville. As Waller proudly states, “We’re not gatekeepers; we are key holders,” emphasizing their role in unlocking potential and fostering entrepreneurial success in the community.