Businesses and students had a chance to mix last week at an event that was part of Black History Month at Johnston Community College.
On Wednesday, JCC held its 10th annual business expo, one of many events celebrating Black History Month. About 20 vendors took part; the event was held during the day so students could attend.
The business expo was originally geared toward black business owners. But after a year or two, the event opened its doors to all business owners, said organizer Della McMillian.
The business expo aims “to bring the community, the college and area business owners together,” she said.
The expo also shows the progress in business ownership for black people, McMillian said. “Black business owners have come a long way,” she said. “Now you have a large percentage of your businesses are black business owners, so that’s part of history. Twenty-five years ago, you didn’t hear as many black-owned businesses as we do now.”
Mario Hobbs, who is studying business at JCC, said students are often unaware of what’s going on outside of school. The business expo is a chance for helpful information to find students, rather than the other way around, he said.
“You don’t have to go out of the college area,” Hobbs said.
Plus, “it’s a unique chance for students to get more information about different cultures,” he said.
Also, the expo allows students to network with nearby businesses, meet new people and learn about services they wouldn’t normally think about, such as life insurance and dental care.
Shenika Thorb, who will graduate from JCC this year, agreed. “Here you met all walks of life, different vendors, things of that nature,” she said.
Thorb also liked that anyone could attend. “It opens it up to be not only for the students but for the community as well,” she said.
Student Geire Hernandez, studying education, said the event was cool. “I like to see new things and experience new things,” she said.
The event, Hernandez said, gave her a chance to learn about a variety of businenesses – from Eden’s Vegetarian Restaurant to a dentist’s office, from life insurance to Tupperware.
Gail Jennings makes earrings out of old film strips and had a booth open to sell her jewelry. “We love to show up, especially for cultural events and to talk about our heritage,” she said.
Jennings said she has a lot of family history in the area, dating back to the late 1700s. Her ancestors were slaves, and to be in the area as an educated, successful, free person makes her feel good, Jennings said.
“There is so much culture and history in North Carolina, so many reasons to celebrate the month that I like being part of this celebration,” she said.
Vendors paid $25 to participate. The money goes to the Black History Month scholarship fund; last year, that added up to a $500 scholarship to a student, McMillian said.
David Johnson, JCC’s president, said the business expo is “a great opportunity for many of our businesses, but especially our minority businesses in this area, to have contact with students and faculty and staff here at the college.”
Johnson said he hopes the exposure gives students a chance to make connections and find mentors in the business community.