Special to South Florida Times

Rickie Robinson has owned a business in Liberty City for 13 years. But that may not be for long.

By next year, the family-owned Sweet Jesus Graphics ­­print shop may have to be shuttered.

“We just aren’t getting business from people in the neighborhood,” said Robinson, who is also pastor of New Philadelphia Baptist Church. “They by-pass me and drive to [FedEx] Kinko’s. My copies are a little higher [in price] and I know people want to save money but it’s hard for us as a small black business to compete with the large companies.”

The business Robinson says he gets comes in from other areas.

But Robinson, who laid off his one full-time and one part-time employee a year ago, isn’t alone as he faces the hard economic times.

“Many are struggling and having a hard time keeping their businesses open. The lack of prosperity in the area is visible,” said Gregory Burrell, director of Liberty City and Overtown’s Community Awareness Team (CAT). “And we need that to change.”

On Saturday, Sept. 11, CAT will present the “Small Business and Entrepreneurial Showcase 911: An Emergency Affair for Small Businesses and Entrepreneurs.”

The showcase is underwritten by a grant of $950 from Starbucks Coffee Company, with other support coming from the Belafonte TACOLCY Center and Best Bounce House providing in-kind services, WMBM Gospel AM 1490 agreeing to broadcast the event, Dr. Nelson Adams donating $250 and Miami-Dade Commissioner Audrey Edmonson securing the space.

The event will be held outside the Belafonte TACOLCY Center, 6161 NW Ninth Ave. in Liberty City, Miami.

This will be the CAT’s first event. The goal, Burrell said, is to make residents in the Liberty City and Overtown communities aware of the businesses within their reach.

Around 19 vendors had signed up by early this week, including Rasool’s Sportswear, Blessed Catering, Chef Creole, and Art Forever Studios, Burrell said. All will have an opportunity to explain and showcase their products and services, he said.

The idea for the event, Burrell said, came from a five-week study group that identified lack of patronage for area businesses as the most pressing issue. The sessions were held through the auspices of the Human Services Coalition held at the TACOLCY Center.

“This was the Liberty City and Overtown study circle,” Burrell explained. “We came together in May to begin discussing what we could do to help the community prosper.”

The nonprofit Human Services Coalition, based in Miami identifies and implements strategies to help people and communities thrive by working through a network of partner organizations. The idea is to link people with financial education, health care information, public benefits and educational and economic opportunities.

The TACOLCY Center recruited residents for the study circle, including business owners, teachers, parents and retirees, said Garris Nickle, a member of the national AmeriCorps service organization and group assistant at the study circle.

“Everyone was concerned and had the desire to help the community,” said Nickle.

AmeriCorps is a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service, an independent federal agency whose mission is to improve lives, strengthen communities and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering.

AmeriCorps hired Nickle to observe the study. Being present allowed him “a two-fold view” of the problem, he said.

“We noted the trend with several businesses,” he said. “What’s happening is that people are shopping by brand, what they are familiar with. As a result, the businesses in the area, as well as the neighborhoods, are being neglected.”

But,  Nickle added, “people said that they are unaware of what businesses are nearby.”

Robinson said that he was pleased that the showcase has been planned. Businesses, he said, “need the exposure. The economy is bad, things are down.  We’re in a black neighborhood and the people here should patronize us.”

Cynthia Roby may be reached at CynthiaRoby@bellsouth.net.

Photo: Rickie Robinson


WHAT:  “Small Business and Entrepreneurial Showcase 911: An Emergency Affair for Small Businesses and Entrepreneurs”

WHEN:  10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 11

WHERE:  TACOLCY Center, 6161 NW Ninth Ave., Liberty City

COST:  Free and open to the public

CONTACT:  For more information, call 305-751-1295.