McIntire Professor Steven L. Johnson says that when the UVA Equity Center first reached out to him about becoming a faculty mentor, they were looking for an expert in social media, online communications, and marketing. His academic research on those topics, coupled with his pre-academia experience in product development and product marketing, made him a good fit.
The UVA Equity Center, a democracy initiative to redress racial and economic inequality through community-engaged scholarship, began its Community Fellows-in-Residence program in 2020, with Destinee Wright selected as a member of its first class. Her work focused on local Black businesses, and she had specifically undertaken a means of making it easier for interested consumers to find and support such establishments by creating the Charlottesville Black Business Directory project.
Johnson began mentoring Wright in the fall of 2020; his insights proved constructive to the success of her work.
“Steven has provided helpful insight and guidance throughout the process of bringing this directory project to fruition,” Wright says. “When I felt stuck or unsure about the next best steps, he offered tools and resources to help me push through. With his help, I was able to identify the best plugin to use for the directory, delegate tasks to interns more efficiently, fine-tune the project’s scope, and think through potential challenges. I benefited greatly from his mentorship!”
Since the directory’s launch, Wright notes that it has had more than 7,000 views, and she says that she’s heard the heartening news that owners are receiving additional business from being listed.
We spoke to Johnson about the project and the work that Wright has undertaken to better the community.
What challenges did Destinee Wright have in creating the Charlottesville Black Business Directory that you were able to help her with?
Destinee started her fellowship with a strong vision for her project. She is driven by a desire to help local Black businesses, many of them small entrepreneurial business owners like herself. When I started working with her, I was immediately impressed with just how many businesses she had been able to identify and the well-researched information she had compiled about them.
The biggest challenge was figuring out how best to share that information online. Mainly, I served as a sounding board to help Destinee prioritize the most important tasks at hand as she worked through issues with website development.
What are some of the greatest issues that you’ve heard about or witnessed that affect local Black businesses?
The pandemic disrupted operations for nearly everyone, and it particularly hit hard small businesses just getting off the ground—many of which rely on local in-person marketing. There’s a great deal of interest in supporting Black-owned businesses, so it’s really important to have resources like this directory to help them find new customers.
How has Charlottesville and/or the University community made use of the directory, and how has it helped?
The ultimate goal of the directory is to help Black-owned businesses in Charlottesville thrive. The most immediate plans are to get the word out as much as possible about the directory and to identify any businesses that are not yet included.