Columbia College highlights black owned businesses in mid-Missouri

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COLUMBIA - Selling handbags, clothing, artwork and even seasoning, dozens of black business owners spent the last day of Black History month at Columbia College.

It was the 3rd annual Black Expo hosted by the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee of Columbia College. This year, 28 businesses participated in the expo.

Kendra Jones, the owner and designer of G & G Paper Company, said she went to the expo its first year and came back again this year because of the exposure.

“It’s coming here, exposing people to things that they’ve never seen before,” Jones said.

Jones designs notebooks, agendas, bags and calendars with inspirational quotes and images of women of color. While she currently lives in Texas, she said she makes the effort to come back home and attend the expo to support a community she is connected to.

“Home is warm so when I come home and people are susceptible to my business and they love it, it’s just like ‘you make me want to do what I do better,’” Jones said.

Expo Coordinator Marsha Thompson said she believes it's important to bring awareness and support to black owned communities in mid-Missouri.

"Working here at CC we're not only big advocates, not only of our students but of the community as well," Thompson said.

Anne Omer of Sheila’s African Boutique went to the expo for the first time this year. Coming from Kenya, she said it was difficult finding a platform for her family business. She relied on friends and events on Facebook to sell her jewelry.

“I didn’t know where to start,” Omer said. “I only started five years ago, and it was just through word of mouth, but now to get a platform like this, yeah, it’s pretty awesome.”

Hundreds of people attended the expo this year. Jones said it’s the community support that makes the event worthwhile.

“It’s about supporting black businesses, it’s supporting people that look like you, it’s supporting your hometown,” Jones said. “Everybody needs community support to stay in business.”