It is widely known that Richmond, Virginia has a rich and varied history. All of the neighborhoods and districts within the city have a unique character and story. Jackson Ward, once known as the “Harlem of the South,” is one the city’s most significant neighborhoods due to its remarkable African-American heritage and culture. In the early 1990s, Jackson Ward was a self-sustaining economy and was the center for Black enterprise and entertainment. The district had a thriving restaurant, club, theater and music scene.
Today, it is impossible to be in the neighborhood and not see the history all around you. Within blocks of each other, you will pass statues of famous Richmonders, including Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and Maggie L. Walker. Both were Jackson Ward residents with a strong impact on the city and their community.
Maggie Lena Walker was one of the most impactful female business leaders in the United States. Born in 1864 to enslaved parents, Maggie Walker was the first woman to own a bank in the U.S. and transformed the black business community with her entrepreneurial skills. She encouraged African Americans and women in Richmond to harness their economic power through entrepreneurship. Walker founded the Consolidated Bank & Trust, the oldest surviving black-operated bank in the United States, the headquarters still located in Richmond. Maggie L. Walker embodies the dynamic spirit of downtown Richmond.
There is a spirit of revitalization in downtown Richmond, looking to build on the rich past. The Richmond Arts District, consisting of the Jackson Ward, Monroe Ward, and downtown Broad St. corridor, capitalizes on the history and vibrancy of the city. The community is investing in itself and coming together to lift up the region.
Metropolitan Business League and Venture Richmond are working hard to build the business community in downtown Richmond. Both organizations were recipients of the 2021 Virginia Statewide Business District Resurgence Grant from DHCD to support the entrepreneurial ecosystems they have created in the Arts District of Richmond. Through this grant program, they are providing business educational courses, technical assistance training, and operational grants to new and existing businesses, with a focus on BIPOC entrepreneurs. MBL and Venture Richmond will be developing a business and building inventory of the Arts District. This inventory will be used to recruit and match entrepreneurs with available properties in the neighborhood and begin to fill these street-level vacancies. This partnership is working hard to bolster the historic entrepreneurial spirit of Jackson Ward and the Arts District of Richmond. Already, there are new businesses receiving the benefits of this program and making their dreams a reality.
The Richmond Arts District and Jackson Ward highlight the incredible Black history present in Richmond. They are also a showcase for the wealth of opportunities to come for the community!