The second-highest amount, $11,685, was paid to the Linck Harris Law Group for legal and organizational work, the spreadsheet said. The majority of the amount, $19,028, was paid to Black Business Matters for consultant fees and video production, the spreadsheet said.
A website listed under the name Rocky Mount Renaissance stated that Rocky Mount Renaissance serves as the architect and engineer behind the Black Business Matters Initiative.
As for the rest of the bills, $3,750 was paid to Black Business Matters for urban planning, $1,168 was paid to Black Business Matters for a meet and greet in autumn 2020 and $1,000 was paid to Black Business Matters for the design of a website.
The website stated the purpose of the Black Business Matters Initiative is to promote sustainable and generational economic empowerment that strengthens and expands equity ownership in the Black community.
The website listed Rocky Mount Renaissance’s team as comprised of Dr. Lisa Nelson, JonNisha Evans, Celeste Beatty, Kevin Harris and Calvin Ballance.
Nelson is a native New Yorker, a graduate of Yale University School of Medicine and a since-retired surgeon who had been with Boice-Willis Clinic.
Evans is a graduate of N.C. State University and president and CEO of Lennox and Grae Construction in Durham.
Harris is the city’s downtown development manager. Harris also independently does consulting and contract work to provide strategy and hands-on assistance for public agencies and nonprofit community economic development organizations.
Beatty is a graduate of Shaw University and she established Harlem Brewing in New York City. Beatty also is the first Black woman brewer to launch a commercially distributed beer.
Ballance is the chief business development officer of the Opportunities Industrialization Center. The OIC seeks to help provide residents with employment training and health care.
City Councilman Reuben Blackwell is CEO of the OIC and City Councilman Andre Knight is chairman of the OIC’s board.
The City Council during a June 22, 2020, council regular meeting approved funding and technical support to help pinpoint having a “Black Business Matters Zone” in the heart of Rocky Mount.
Knight, who made the motion for the vote, requested anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000 to subsidize the planning and pre-development costs to secure corporate investment in this particular area.
Nelson told the council she was representing a group of concerned citizens interested in economic development for all of Rocky Mount.
Nelson told the council she and her group believed such a zone could provide funding to businesses and real estate development that, in turn, would provide commercial opportunities and bring in more economic power to afford housing the municipality wants to construct downtown.
Knight said he viewed this as another opportunity “to right a wrong, as far as economic justice,” in that major companies have contributed money in connection with the Black Lives Matter movement and empowering African Americans in economic development.
“If we revitalize downtown, everybody wins,” she told the council.
Activist Cooper Blackwell, who is a representative of the youth-led Rocky Mount Black Action Committee and a son of Reuben Blackwell, told the council the committee would like to offer its services to the council in assisting with the improvement of racial equity within the city.
Knight made clear he would like the purposes of the zone to include expanding the historically African American Douglas Block area of downtown, helping expand businesses already downtown and securing new businesses downtown.
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