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Photojournalism Team Documents Newark’s Black Women Business Owners Before Pandemic


originally published: 09/01/2020

Photojournalism Team Documents Newark’s Black Women Business Owners Before Pandemic

(NEWARK, NJ) -- The Self Made photojournalism project profiles nine Black women business owners in Newark who were documented just before the COVID-19 outbreak. It celebrates their creativity and connection to community at a time when the future of small businesses everywhere, especially those owned by Black women, is uncertain. 

The Self Made women, who make the products they sell, were photographed and interviewed by photographer Tinnetta Bell and journalist Carrie Stetler between July of 2019 to January of 2020. All own businesses in the often-stigmatized South and West Wards of Newark, where economic recovery has been slower than other parts of the city. When the media covers stories of Newark’s resurgence, business owners in both wards are typically excluded. 

Black women are rarely depicted as the face of small business owners in America, even though, for more than a decade, they have been the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the U.S., whose ranks increased 164% from 2007 to 2018, according to the 2019 State of Women-Owned Business Report by American Express.  

“With Self Made, we wanted to emphasize that there is a wide range of women throughout Newark and the nation who are builders and makers,’’ said Stetler, editor-in-chief of the project’s print publication and website. “They are shaped and supported by their communities and strengthen them through the work they do. But they also offer products and services that give them joy to create, that are expressions of their values and passions, and that are available to everyone.’’ 

Bell, whose elegant, vibrant photos capture her subjects on and off the job, describes the importance of showcasing Black women’s achievements and abilities. “Society and media have perpetuated images that are not often in the best light. Black women are entrepreneurs and business owners. We are out here making it happen for ourselves. Little girls and young women need to see this, and these images are here to positively influence and inspire. There needs to be light and it should shine brightly.” 

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Self Made, created with funding from Newark Arts and an Express Newark Third Space grant, offers in-depth profiles of four entrepreneurs: Shidae Jones of CB Dreamhouse Boutique; Rashena Burroughs of Blueberry Café Juice Bar & Vegan Grille; Charmaine Vann Seagraves of Charmaine Has Hands 4 Hair; and Shikhana Muhammad of Salaam Ice Cream Parlor.  

Five additional South and West Ward business owners are featured in shorter profiles: Laura Bonas Palmer of Akwaaba Gallery; Shante Lewis, the HotDog Lady; Malika Muhammad of Fashionable Fashions; Isabel Merced of Party Events; and Philomina Kissi of Dresswell Boutique. 

The Self Made print publication includes stories on the history of Black women entrepreneurs in America, resources for aspiring entrepreneurs and expert advice from financial educator and Newark resident Tiffany “The Budgetnista” Aliche and Dawn Fitch, founder and owner of Pooka Pure & Simple bath and body products.  

Self Made also focuses on the city of Newark’s efforts to encourage small, locally owned businesses in the West and South Wards that will benefit residents and spur growth that is inclusive of all. Community partners for Self Made are the South Ward Special Improvement District (SID) and Partnership West, Inc. Business Improvement District.  

Proceeds from magazine sales will be donated to She Wins, a Newark non-profit that cultivates the potential of middle-school and high-school-aged girls, with a focus on those who have been affected by violence and trauma. 

The founder of Tinnetta Bell Photography, Tinnetta is a New Jersey-based studio portrait photographer whose work has appeared in VIBE, Ebony, Essence and Black Enterprise magazines. 

Carrie is an independent journalist and communications professional who worked for the Newark Star-Ledger for 20 years as a reporter. She was also managing editor of HYCIDE magazine and senior editor of NewarkBound magazine.  

The mission of Newark Arts is to power the arts to transform lives. Established in 1981 as the Newark Arts Council, the organization’s vision is to become a nationally recognized catalyst for the collaborative power of the arts in the City of Newark and urban America. Newark Arts is the producer of Newark Creates, a community-led citywide cultural plan, created in partnership with the City of Newark. Newark Arts’ key initiatives include Arts Education Newark (AEN), the ArtStart community grantmaking program, and the Newark Arts Festival. Newark Arts is generously supported by Prudential Financial,  the City of Newark, M&T Bank, PSEG, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Victoria Foundation, Turrell Fund, Bank of America, New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, Verizon, United Airlines, Hanini Group and individuals, businesses and institutions. 

Photo by Tinnetta Bell



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