As Evette Hunt works inside her downtown Raleigh location, she remembers a time when the very image would have been unheard of.
"There were some areas we did not venture into because they were not Black-owned and we were not allowed to go into those businesses," said Hunt, who owns Evette's Beauty Salon on S. Wilmington Street.
Hunt previously worked at Sellars Beauty Salon, before taking over and re-branding the location from the retiring owner. She pointed to a strong working relationship with the prior owner and the building's landlord in helping secure the space.
"Your personality will speak for you. The way you represent yourself, the way you conduct yourself. It will speak for you. And then to be able to represent my community is very important because it's not a lot of Black-owned businesses downtown, so this is very important for my community, my culture, my family, my children, my grandchildren," said Hunt.
She took over shortly before the beginning of the pandemic, and after a difficult first year, which included a shutdown and damages from downtown protests, business has notably ticked up.
"Just want to show (young people) that they can do this and look in my window and see my face in here and know that there is somebody who looks like them that's running their own business," Hunt explained.
"I think it's more important for generations to come, to give our kids hope that one day they can run and own their own business they have to see people like me. They have to see other people, other Black companies, that are not always working for someone but able to cut the checks," added James Sampson, owner of Corner Boys BBQ.
Despite that, challenges persist.
"There's been some obstacles for me as far as trying to get capital," Hunt said.
Estimates from the 2021 US Census Bureau stated that about 2.4% of businesses in the US are Black-owned, a figure in-line with a separate report shared by Lending Tree last year. The Federal Reserve, pointing to data collected from the 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances, stated that white families had a median income nearly eight times larger than that of Black families; a lack of funds has long been a key issue minority-owned businesses face when trying to launch a business.
"If we had access to the information of about running a business from the LLC to the different trusts and places that we can go to (get) funding to learn more about business credit," suggested Sampson.
He said securing funding sources has been easier as he's become successful, though it can often be a years-long grind.
"I started selling plates out of the back of my (car). Going around to barber shops, salons, bike shops, I was everywhere," said Sampson, who now runs a food truck and catering operation.
Similar disparities exist in home ownership, where disproportionate resources, combined with an inability to secure loans, can create generational gaps in wealth.
"If your mother and father or your grandparents never bought a house, you're the first person in your family to purchase a home, a lot of the things you would know that have to do with savings and down payment, closing costs, these are all foreign," said Matthew Wardsworth, Principal Broker of Wardsworth Group.
Wardsworth and his wife launched their residential real estate firm during MLK weekend 2020.
"For buyers and sellers, it helps sometimes to see someone who looks like you on the other side of the table," Wardsworth explained.
The National Association of Realtors found the Black homeownership rate of 43.4% to be lower than their White, Asian, and Hispanic counterparts, and it was the lone racial group of the four to see a decrease in homeownership rates from 2010 to 2020. Industry sources peg the percent of realtors nationally who are Black at just 6%.
As for the spread of businesses across the city, Wardsworth shared his personal observations.
"I think the progress is being made. I'm born and raised in Raleigh. I've been around this area for a long time. There's always been Black-owned businesses, but a lot of the concentration might have been just one part of town. I think now I'm starting to see more of it spread out where I can go to different parts of Raleigh and see Black-owned businesses thriving," said Wardsworth.