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Black Business Expo comes back to Columbia with more energy than ever

The Black Business Expo is free for anyone to attend and open to the public. It's the fourth in-person event, with a digital directory replacing the Expo during COVID-19 restrictions.
Columbia College
The Black Business Expo is free for anyone to attend and open to the public. It's the fourth in-person event, with a digital directory replacing the Expo during COVID-19 restrictions.

This will be the fourth annual Black Business Expo at Columbia College. It is the first time the Expo is back in person since 2020 COVID-19 restrictions.

Columbia College's Southwell Complex will host Black business owners and entrepreneurs from around mid-Missouri and its surrounding areas. Organizers said this is the largest event of its kind in the region. Vendors range from food and clothing sectors to health and community resources. During COVID-19 shutdowns, the Black Business Expo continued in the form of a directory, so organizers are excited to once again support Black business owners in person.

“Entrepreneurship does not only sells a specific product, but creates the spaces for others to be, to fulfill their dreams, to grow. And so our job is to hold this space. Their job is to amplify their messages," Columbia College Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Alejandra Gudiño said.

It's not required the participants have brick-and-mortar shops, so she added the Expo is a great place for entrepreneurs to spread the word about their business or service.

Gudiño was on the organizing committee— and said they relied primarily on building personal connections and relationships for outreach. Many of the participants are Columbia College alumni.

Gudiño said it got to the point where all spaces were filled, so there is already a waitlist for an event next year, and the committee hopes to expand from the Expo's current location. This year’s Expo will have double the number of businesses compared to its last in-person event in 2020. Many of the 60 vendors are women.

Black business owners are sitting in their booths in a school gym.
Kassidy Arena
The Black Business Expo continues to grow every year of its in-person events. In 2019, business owners and entrepreneurs organized their booths before the doors officially opened.

Gudiño said hosting the Expo is a historical responsibility and an important part in looking to the future. The Black Business Expo, she explained, is a way of righting historic wrongs while also honoring the future of Black business owners and entrepreneurs.

“The idea of not only having a flower in your mind about a possible business, but going about to make it happen requires a lot of tenacity and imagination and wit. It's not simple," Gudiño said. "So that's what we want to, or what I find important to, uplift.”

The Black Business Expo is one of many events at Columbia College in honor of Black History Month and building community.

"This event is just another cog in that wheel, an extremely big and exciting cog in that wheel. But it's just a continuation of the spirit that we're trying to move forward in Columbia," Sam Fleury, Columbia College's senior director of strategic communication, said.

"We are able to be in community in the same space, celebrating your achievements, which is your business. That's the spirit of entrepreneurship, right? Imagination, tenacity, hard work. And we're coming to support," Gudiño added.

The Expo will kick off with a greeting, a dance program and spoken word performance.

Kassidy Arena was the Engagement Producer for KBIA from 2022-2023. In her role, she reported and produced stories highlighting underrepresented communities, focused on community outreach and promoting media literacy. She was born in Berkeley, California, raised in Omaha, Nebraska and graduated with a degree in Journalism at the University of Missouri, Columbia.
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