Local entrepreneur creating opportunity in Minneapolis during Black Business Week
As the city of Minneapolis is celebrating Black Business Week, a local black entrepreneur is using her talents and success to create opportunity.
“I believe in the Northside. I believe in Black people. I believe in humanity.” Kenya McKnight-Ahad, ZaRah Center owner and operator, said. “For me, we have to start with the hardest places to make a difference.”
So McKnight-Ahad chose a building off Broadway Avenue in north Minneapolis to execute her vision.
The ZaRah Center is a business incubator home to 20 entrepreneurs that range from health and wellness to the food industry. Every business is owned by a black woman.
“With the women in the building, we purchase their equipment, supplies and help them with that start,” McKnight-Ahad said.
The center also provides affordable rent for entrepreneurs. In addition to business help, the center offers wrap-around support services to grow, scale and sustain their business.
In 2017, McKnight-Ahad started as a tenant. Then four years later, she became the owner of the building.
Through the Black Women’s Wealth Alliance, she sets entrepreneurs up for success with the end goal to build wealth in the black community.
“How we build wealth is by developing the individual as an asset by taking her from where she is and helping her go to her next levels,” McKnight-Ahad said.
Dr. Artika Tyner, a former University of St. Thomas law professor, explained Black businesses have a direct tie to closing the racial wealth gap, but funding support is key to making it happen.
“Black entrepreneurs play a significant role in their community on modeling the way and investing in the community,” Tyner said. “Black businesses face more difficulties because we tend to be undercapitalized, meaning we don’t have the basic resources not to start a business, but to scale and grow.”
Dr. Tyner is also an author, speaker and advocate for justice.
Minnesota is ranked third for the largest racial wealth gap in the nation.
The median Black family in the Twin Cities area earns $38,178 a year, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. It is less than half of the median white family income, which is $84,459 a year.
“Based upon the data that we have thus far, it will take at least two centuries, nearly three centuries to bridge the racial wealth gap,” Dr. Tyner said.
McKnight-Ahad is doing what she can right now.
She’s expanding the ZaRah Center, all thanks to funding from the city of Minneapolis and other organizations.
At least 30 more affordable suites will be added to the center. The restaurant in the building will be converted into a food hall hosting three vendors. There are also plans to relocate and expand the commercial kitchen for up to 30 food trucks and caterers.
“If I’m given the opportunity or have been blessed with the opportunities that I’ve had to grow from the lengths that I’ve grown from, then it’s up on me to help others do the same thing,” McKnight-Ahad said. “None of us can do everything, but all of us can do something.”
The owner is still in the planning phases of the business expansion and wrapping up the final details. Construction is expected to start in October.