JC's Barber Shop’s Melvin Flores, left, and Jamele Barber cut the hair of Sang Pi, left, and Jaylen Wardlow on Thursday, Feb. 15. (Photo by Cameron McKinney)

Shining spotlights: Small Black-owned businesses making strides

Three Black-owned businesses in Bowling Green are trying to inspire others to bolster diversity with a more inclusive marketplace.

According to U.S. News, the 2020 coronavirus pandemic prompted significant growth in revenue for small Black-owned businesses. However, the report also shows that only 43% of those businesses receive the funding necessary for their startups, compared to 79% of white small business owners who do. This means that running small Black businesses can be difficult without the support of customers within and outside of the Black community.

In honor of Black History Month, here are three small Black business owners on WKU’s campus and in the surrounding Bowling Green area.  

Skylar Wilson, a sophomore biology and chemistry double major from Louisville, operates her business on WKU’s campus. She owns two businesses: Skylar’s Hair Lair, a hairstyling service, and Skylar’s Kitchen, a comfort food enterprise.

Wilson said running a small business can be challenging because business owners, especially those in the Black community, have to find ways to stay motivated even in adversity. 

Skylar Wilson cuts the edges of a cap off for her client, Nevaeh Perry, on Sunday. (Photo by Adin Parks)

“I’ve wanted to shut down my businesses so many times. I stay motivated because I’ve realized that I’m good at this,” Wilson said. “When I’m finished doing hair and I see my client’s face, that’s what keeps me going.” 

Wilson explained her experience on a predominantly white institution’s campus as a Black entrepreneur has been positive. There is less competition for entrepreneurs that cater to specifically black students’ needs, she said. 

“There are fewer Black people here, so everybody gets their own spotlight,” she said. “So, I like to be able to be the one who gives them that to enjoy.”  

Skylar Wilson re-twists Tanay Harris’ locs on Sunday. (Photo by Adin Parks)

She said other Black business owners on campus inspire her to strive toward her dreams. According to a 2024 Pew Research Center study, Black-owned businesses only account for 3% of all U.S. firms compared to 97% of non-Black-owned firms, so Wilson said representation on campus is vital.

Wilson said that fellow WKU student and business owner Shauntia Townes inspired her to start her business. Townes owns Shaunny’s Royalty, a Black-owned hair business on campus.

“I was like yeah, she’s making a name for herself and inspiring me as well because I know that I’m good at what I do, ” Wilson said.

Those looking to book appointments with Skylar’s Hair Lair can do so through her Instagram. She also posts booking and menu information for Skylar’s Kitchen on her Snapchat account, @skysky12332.    

Ashanti Murphy, a sophomore fashion and merchandising major, creates clothing for her fashion show on Wednesday, Feb. 28. (Photo by Garrett Woodrum)
Clothing created by Ashanti Murphy. Murphy has been creating clothing for her fashion line, “Ashanti Ase,” since 2021 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Garrett Woodrum)

Ashanti Murphy, a sophomore fashion merchandising major from Louisville, owns “Ashanti Ase,” her personal clothing line. The line features streetwear items including skirts, stacked jeans, handbags and customized shoes. She said her inspiration stemmed from her grandmother’s influence.

“My granny sewed my second-grade dress. I’ll never forget it,” Murphy said. “She taught me the basics, and then I went and got (sewing) classes.”

Murphy said juggling entrepreneurial responsibilities alongside academic commitments demands her unwavering dedication, time management and organizational skills. However, she said it is important that aspiring entrepreneurs stay encouraged.  

Micah Poole, left, and Pia Bartlett pose for Void Trendz. Every piece of clothing has been created by Ashanti Murphy. (Photo by Garrett Woodrum)

“Just do it. You don’t have to wait until you have certain equipment, certain things, certain people,” Murphy said. “If you wait for something, you’re gonna wait forever.” 

Murphy’s designs were on display at her first fashion show Wednesday during the “Black Experience” showcase and she said she has worked hard to get to that moment. 

“It’s one of my first fashion shows, and I’ve been dreaming of this since junior year of high school, so I’m excited,” Murphy said. “I’ve been working and sewing like crazy to get all the pieces for the models, new pieces. Everything.”

Murphy said she continues to work daily to transform her ideas into reality. You can purchase her designs through her website or request custom pieces on her Instagram.   

JC’s Barber Shop’s Melvin Flores, left, and Jamele Barber cut the hair of Sang Pi, left, and Jaylen Wardlow on Thursday, Feb. 15. (Photo by Cameron McKinney)

JC’s Barbershop is located right on the edge of campus at 1403 Adams Street. Jamale Barber, one of the barbers who works in the shop, is a Bowling Green native and has been cutting hair for three years.

“I really just wanted to be my own boss and just wanted to make people feel better about themself again, and I know you can just change people’s emotions from their hair,” Barber said.  

The Black barbershop stands as a cornerstone of the culture, serving as a place where relationships are built, according to the National Barbers Organization. It continues that during slavery, some Black men had to groom white men, and these skills eventually carried over to the Black community after the Emancipation Proclamation. Thus, Black people created their own safe spaces dedicated to not just improving appearance but celebrating the community as well, according to the website.

Jaylen Wardlow, left, sits as Jamale Barber lines the edges of Jaylen Wardlow’s haircut, on Thursday, Feb. 15 at JC’s Barber Shop. (Photo by Cameron McKinney)

Barber said he believes it is important that the shop subsequently gets involved with the surrounding Black community.

“I feel like we should get together way more and have more activities together and do something for youth. Some free haircuts … anything. Anything goes a long way,” Barber said. 

Unfortunately, according to NPR, high schools often fail to adequately promote trades as viable career options, overlooking pathways to success beyond traditional academic routes. It continues that this lack of exposure to trades is negatively impacting the economy.

Barber said a lack of education on the trades in the surrounding Bowling Green area limits future options for youth.

“​​I feel like the jobs they brought for my school were just like factories and nothing where you could be your own boss and have your own trade,” Barber said. “I feel like they should bring in more people to talk about it… tell them the good and the bad.”  

Kee Edmunds, left, a barber at JC’s Barbershop, shares a laugh with his client Russ Seifert before starting his haircut on Thursday, Feb. 15. (Photo by Cameron McKinney)

Barber said he has aspirations of owning a barber school to help close the gap. Though being a Black business owner can be stressful, he said he wants to remind aspiring barbers to prioritize their mental health and to stay encouraged in the face of challenges. 

“Don’t give up. My first few times cutting hair, I got embarrassed. It’s not one of those things you start out super good. It takes time,” Barber said. “Just stay focused and try not to work too hard. Take some days off.”   

Customers can visit Barber at JC’s on Tuesday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Walk-ins are welcome.