She Left ESSENCE To Build an App For Black-Owned Businesses


Black Friday has been given the title of the single most profitable day for major retailers across the country and for a lot of us the countdown is in full effect.

But, for those of us hoping to bet on black this Friday and keep our money circulating exclusively in the black community, black-owned businesses can seem hard to find. As the founder of Official Black Wall Street, Mandy Bowman set out to change that perception.

Black enterprise was more than just something Mandy thought about during seasonal shopping months. The goal of her brand was to list black-owned businesses on a user-friendly interface to make them more accessible to black consumers and give them an elevated platform. In that regard, she sought to build black wealth. It was a way for Mandy to contribute to her community, and to create the change she wanted to see in the world.

But the journey to furthering the black coin and dollar wasn't easy for the budding entrepreneur.

At the time of Official Black Wall Street's conception, Mandy was employed full-time at ESSENCE magazine as the social media manager. Staying on top of trending news and keeping up with the fast-paced social media world kept her plenty busy, but Mandy was inspired and determined to bring financial success to the black businesses of her native Brooklyn that were being pushed out by gentrification.

She was a woman on a mission and made time for her dream by staying organized. “For me, it was finding little pockets of time to do little things. I write to-do lists for everything, so before I go to sleep at night, I write a to-do list for the next day just so I know what I need to do," she said. “For example, if I'm riding the train into work, I know that I need to write this article to go up on Official Black Wall Street or approve these different businesses. So, it took a lot of very specific time management."

Mandy's persistence and discipline paid off when some time later, she began to receive requests for advertising on her website. “When I first started the website, I honestly didn't think it would become a business. I just wanted to create something that people could look at and find black-owned businesses. But as time went on, I was getting requests for advertising and I was like, 'Oh, this would be amazing if I could blend my passion and have this sustain me.'"

Her passion and her purpose coming full circle started to create a new path for Mandy, a future she hadn't always seen for herself. She knew that in order to take her booming business where she wanted it to go, she'd have to make a hard decision of leaving behind the security and notoriety of working with ESSENCE in lieu of the brainchild that gave her life and work new meaning.


It's not always easy to quit your job and follow your dreams, but as Mandy started to work towards launching an app, leaving ESSENCE became more real by the day. More than herself, the matriarchs of her family proved to be her biggest skeptics. “I would say my mom and my late grandmother were the ones who were like, 'Girl, what are you doing' when it came to quitting my job. They were just a little bit worried."

However, once Mandy's Kickstarter launched and the support for the app began to pour in, her family started to see the same vision that she and the people online had always been able to see. “The month of September was really odd for me. We launched the Kickstarter and even though it was really slow in the beginning, for me, it was really great to see hundreds of people putting their money into this idea that I had," she recalled.

During that time of building her new business, she was invited to speak at a TedX event to discuss the importance of the 1.2 trillion dollar buying power in the black community. Mandy also made an appearance on Queen Boss, BET's female-empowered version of Shark Tank, where entrepreneurs pitched their business ideas to a panel of power players. Blessings on blessings on blessings were happening for Mandy, confirming her drive. It also helped her family take her decision more seriously as she moved towards leaving her day job to focus on her dream job.

When it was finally time for Mandy to leave ESSENCE, she quieted her anxiety by reminding herself how far she'd come. Her Kickstarter was fully funded (just 10 hours before it closed), her website had been popping for exactly two years, and she had already created a name for herself. With over 3,000 black-owned businesses featured on Official Black Wall Street already, she had received confirmation from the universe that she was walking the life path in alignment with her destiny in countless ways. It was the last push she needed to take the plunge.

And she took it.

Mandy has absolutely no plans to slow down. Since leaving ESSENCE, she's been determined to see OBWS become the go-to hub for black enterprise.

“My ultimate dream would be for Official Black Wall Street to be the black millennials guide to all things black-owned. A place for us to share resources and support each other."

Mandy launched the app version of Official Black Wall Street in late October and hasn't looked back since. It debuted on iTunes and was rated #3 on the Google Playstore business app list. As the reviews began to flood in, it became clear that Mandy had created something that could actually change the way our community embraces itself.

Mandy Bowman is the perfect example of what is possible when black women set their sights on a goal and let absolutely nothing get in their way.

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Originally published November 21, 2017

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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