BlackBizFest Aims To Make Black-Owned Businesses Top Of Mind For All KC Consumers

Anticipation is growing for this spring’s debut BlackBizFest, said Marsha Willis, teasing a week-long celebration that puts Black excellence and entrepreneurship on full display.

Among the standout elements of the May 13-19 festival: the Kansas City Black Expo and Black Business Ball & Honors.

“We want people to put on their tourist hats, go participate, and patronize businesses that maybe they’ve never been to,” said Willis, CEO of Black Owned Business Kansas City (BOBKC), a group she founded in 2012 to help bridge the racial wealth gap by connecting Black business owners.

For Willis, her passion for supporting Black businesses stems from her admiration of previous Black Expo events she attended in her childhood through shortly before the pandemic, when in-person gatherings paused — many failing to easily return. 

“I remember the Black Expo being something where I would see all of the Black businesses and Black people together, and it just represented Black excellence,” she said.

The revived Black Expo is being organized within BlackBizFest under BOBKC.

In addition to such business activities such as a week-long tour of Black-owned businesses and vendors, the family-friendly festival offers a lively cultural experience with music performances, educational sessions, and ethnic cuisine, Willis said.

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Legacy celebrated at Black Business Ball & Honors 

BlackBizFest plans to end the week with a bang with the Black Business Ball & Honors May 19 at the Kansas City Convention Center. Willis envisions an extravaganza that not only honors recent achievements, but also pays homage to the legacy of Black entrepreneurship in the community. 

Marsha Willis, Black Owned Business Kansas City (BOBKC); photo by Taylor Wilmore, Startland News

“I want the ball to celebrate Black excellence at its grandest level,” she said, emphasizing her aspiration to create a platform that bridges the past, present, and future of Black business endeavors.

By segregating the ball from the expo, Willis aims to create a refined space for the formal gala, where attendees adorned in black tie attire can celebrate and connect with other minority business owners. 

The Black Business Ball & Honors isn’t just about glamor, she said; the event serves as a catalyst for growth in the Black business community through camaraderie and connection. 

“We’re celebrating the entrepreneur and the impact African Americans have in our community when it comes to Black businesses,” said Willis. “I want to celebrate legacy, what’s happening now, and what’s there to come.” 

Click here for tickets for the Black Business Ball & Honors are available.

Kansas City Black Expo

“The Black Expo is going to be the greatest opportunity for our businesses,” said Willis, noting the showcase on May 18 at the Kansas City Convention Center serves as the nexus for highlighting a wide array of Black-owned businesses to the broader Kansas City community.

“With the Expo, I wanted to bring the flavor that I remember from a kid and just to make it as good and even better than we had before,” she said.

The Vendor’s Marketplace at the Black Expo offers Black business owners a platform to showcase their products and services, celebrating the resilience and creativity of entrepreneurship.

For speakers and seminars at the expo, she plans to include finance-focused programming and topics, recognizing its importance to expand Black businesses’ growth.

“I think the way that our African American businesses are going to have the greatest impact is if we are able to get more mentoring when it comes to making smart investments,” said Willis.

Click here for tickets for the Expo Vendor registration are available.

Marsha Willis, Black Owned Business Kansas City (BOBKC); photo by Taylor Wilmore, Startland News

Strengthening bonds 

In addition to business-centric activities, Willis aspires for a designated time for spiritual connection. Her vision includes a citywide worship service, uniting diverse faith communities.

“It’s just a pipe dream, but I hope to do a citywide worship service with different types of churches, but to have people come out and be almost on one accord,” Willis said. “I think that would be something that would be pretty special,” she said.

For the organizers behind the BlackBizFest, the festival represents more than just a series of events; it embodies a collective vision for a future where bonds in the Black-owned business community are forever strengthened, she said.

“One thing that I tell people all the time, you may be advertising something to someone that doesn’t need your service yet. But one day they will, and when they do, they may be a lifetime customer,” said Willis.

“That’s what I want people to leave with, see who can do it, and know where they are,” she added. “Support the lifestyle, and make sure that you truly want to do it.”

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