Darrick Hanks-Harris is a business owner in Richmond who makes desserts at It’s Mr. Baker bakery.
Last year, as the pandemic continued to hamper the growth of small businesses, he found himself burnt out trying to sustain himself financially. After waiting five months for unemployment benefits, losing his car in April and getting in a T-bone accident in the fall, he needed a restart.
“Being a Black business owner last year, it was a lot,” he said. “As a baker, if you don’t take as many breaks as you need to and just keep working and keep working, keep working, keep working, there’s no real motivation to piggy back off.”
It’s Mr. Baker bakery has been operating since 2005 and has a storefront opening in September at 1311 Hull St. in Manchester.
Hanks-Harris kept baking to stay afloat financially, even though it seemed as if his situation would not improve. Then, a friend invited him to the RVA Black Farmers Market in Richmond last October, which is a market that promotes Black farmers and creators and is held on weekends at various locations.
Hanks-Harris said the market “changed the whole game” and gave him a new sense of hope.
“I got uplifted in the sense from seeing so many different Black-owned businesses in one setting,” he said. “Like, wow, it’s bigger than me.”
A few months after his trip to the farmers market, Hanks-Harris created the Black Village of RVA — an organization that provides avenues for Black business owners and entrepreneurs to connect with one another through community events on the weekends.
By December 2020, Hanks-Harris held his first pop-up shop at The Well Art Gallery in South Richmond with eight Black vendors.
And in January, he officially created the Black Village of RVA. Now, the group holds monthly pop-up shops with many more vendors in Richmond and is working to become a nonprofit.
Hanks-Harris is joined by three other Richmond business owners on the Black Village of RVA executive board, including Frances Odoi, who owns a juicing company named CoCoGin LLC and serves as treasurer.
“I met [Hanks-Harris] and his beautiful ideas of growth within the community, that kind of sparked our friendship,” she said. “I agree with the mission in just centering the growth around the Black community and just lifting them up.”
Hanks-Harris acknowledged the importance of circulating money within the Black community, but he said the connections and relationships people gain through their experiences with the Village are what it’s all about — the focus isn’t just on selling products.
“It’s more than a pop-up shop,” he said. “You’re gaining new friends, you’re gaining new business partners, you’re gaining new colleagues. ... You will see so much collaboration.”
Through these pop-up shops and community events, Odoi said the Black Village of RVA provides people in the Black community the opportunity to grow and promote themselves, which she said isn’t something they always have the chance to do.
“It’s more of a community to support each other,” she said. “I really do love how the Black Village of RVA emphasizes the community aspect and not just the dollar.”
In the coming months, the Black Village of RVA is planning several events to engage and give back to the Black community.
The group is holding an in-person business summit for Black women Aug. 6-7 that will have networking opportunities, workshops and guest speakers. It also will present two student scholarships at its first annual gala in December that will be held in person in Richmond as well.
Those interested in upcoming events can visit theblackvillageofrva.com to register as a vendor and find more information.
“We’re showing that the Black Village of RVA is not just about pop-up,” Odoi said. “It’s about community and doing things for people in the community to help kind of just push them and motivate them.”
The Black Village of RVA also held a donation drive for a new sober living home called A Hallowed Place in Eastern Henrico, which is operated by the nonprofit A Few Good Roots Inc.
Lichele Billups, the executive director of A Few Good Roots Inc., said the first donation drive was a great experience.
“It’s important for the Black community to support Black business and Black nonprofits that are directly in our own community,” Billups said. “Sometimes, it takes us to help us.”
She added that the Black Village of RVA creates an environment where everyone can be supported in their endeavors, including her nonprofit that operates under a Black executive board.
“It takes a village,” Billups said. “No one person can make it through without help, without support.”
The Black Village of RVA is also planning a large block party event for Juneteenth — Saturday, June 19 — which Gov. Ralph Northam proclaimed a state holiday last year.
“I want to commemorate Juneteenth, the day itself,” Hanks-Harris said. “We need to celebrate it as a state holiday, not just a normal day.”
The Black Village of RVA is expecting at least 125 vendors at its Juneteenth event, along with food trucks, performers and more at the block party, which will be hosted at Diversity Richmond and is free to the public.
Although he is nervous to see such a large event come together, Hanks-Harris said the growth of the Black Village of RVA is “breathtaking.”
In addition to expanding its efforts to support and connect the Black community, the Black Village of RVA is looking to grow its reach across the country, with the ultimate goal of buying land in Richmond.
“You’ll walk out with knowledge. You’ll walk out with new partners ... friends in the business who can teach you,” he said. “I mean, it’s just endless.”