‘The spirit of our ancestry’: how California’s Black Wall Streets are changing their cities

Like hundreds of other shopping districts, Sacramento’s Florin Square had to shut its doors during the pandemic.

The space in California’s state capital is part cultural center and incubator and has been home to Black entrepreneurs since 2003. At the mercy of Covid-19 closures, evolving guidelines and elusive government aid, many similar operations failed to recover, with an estimated 200,000 more small businesses shuttering in 2020 than in the average year.

But, amazingly, out of more than 60 mostly Black-owned businesses in Florin Square, only one had to close for good. The hub’s owner, Tom Donaldson, says this feat is due to its unique approach to entrepreneurship, which has earned Florin Square the title of Sacramento’s Black Wall Street.

Donaldson and his marketing manager, Aaron Boyce, say their goal was always to balance “tough love” and high expectations with a grace and guidance rarely afforded to Black business owners.

“The systems in this country create roadblocks to success but not only did our tenants survive the pandemic, they also found a way to thrive and prosper,” said Donaldson.

One of the first things Donaldson did was waive his penalties for late rent payments and look for grants to help struggling businesses. Boyce also helped people increase their online presences.

“We get entrepreneurs coming to us with all kinds of stories about why things in their business aren’t working out, but if they’re not able to serve the community we have to give them some tough love,” Boyce said. “But it’s all a part of the incubation process.’’

Florin Square is just one of dozens of such districts in the US – from Denver, Colorado, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana – established to support Black entrepreneurs and develop commercial and cultural corridors for Black businesses.

“Demographics have changed. Black populations have shrunk a great deal and with that you have the loss of enterprise and growth among Black businesses,” said Dr. Michael Carter Sr., a theologian and founder of Black Wall Street USA, an organization that has been helping Black entrepreneurs since 1998. “But now is the time to raise our game and have a real positive impact economically. We can come back and own things.”

While Carter was attending college in the early 1990s, he visited Tulsa and learned about the history of the city’s Black Wall Street. After graduation, he returned to Oakland and began rallying local entrepreneurs along International Boulevard on the city’s east side. Since then Black Wall Street USA has helped establish at least 48 other corridors throughout the US and is building a network of entrepreneurs who can share advice and resources.

Sacramento’s Florin Square is one of the most successful BWSUSA affiliates. There are many other Black Wall Streets, both under the Black Wall Street USA umbrella and not, across states at various stages of growth.

“Our modern Black Wall Streets aren’t always about the businesses. They’re about connecting with the spirit of our ancestry,” Carter added.































Tom Donaldson
Founder & President

Black Wall Street @ Floren Mall

























The African Resource Center in Sacramento (Africa House)

Vision: Africa Matters in Sacramento, California. Sustaining the African cultural legacy in Sacramento; Achieving the African cultural legacy and promoting health intercultural relations in Sacramento. Purpose: A common place in Sacramento for: Resource collection and sharing, clearing house, gathering for cultural entertainment/displays/showcase/portrait, recreation, education, training, businesses, meetings, conflict resolution, youth/community engagement, cultural connection/rejuvenation, etc. A gathering place for Africans, to sustain the culture in contemporary society, connect the youth/children to the African culture, and network among Africans for economic, political, and cultural empowerment and intercultural relations. A central office for Afripeace Foundation and its partners.


Youth Peace Camp; Cultural Education Program in Africa:

The program objectives are implemented through 100 hours of pre-trip cultural orientation and leadership development training programs, including 40 hours of conflict resolution and team building workshop, fundraiser planning, select readings and discussions on African culture(s) and politics as well as contemporary issues in peace and nonviolence, youth mentoring, and community engagement. While in Africa the participants will participate in 3 educational seminars, engage in formal and informal discussions and debates with their counter parts about youth development and civic engagement, nonviolence and human rights, and US-Africa relations; they will meet with government, religious and community leaders, and visit major educational, cultural and significant historical sites in various parts of Africa(Ghana in 2018).


Financial Literacy

My hope for Black Wall Street Sacramento Chapter is that we as a community can provide support for education and empowerment in the areas of Financial Literacy and Entrepreneurship. Specifically focused on our youth (the future generation); Coming together as a group of professionals and inspiring our youth to reach their maximum potential. Allow and encourage their ideas to flow; provide an environment of positivity and Love. Teach lessons like: The Power of compounding interestBusiness Fundamentals The Power of Ownership How to choose an investment The Power of Real EstateGenerational Wealth Spiritual Strength Health and Wellbeing These are some of the skills and knowledge that need to be taught to our young people. These skills can strengthen them and can be passed on for generations to come. My hope is that this type of education can be incorporated in the master plan of BWS Sacramento.


K-12 Educational System

Establish local K-12 Educational System focused on STEAM education that targets melonated students suffering from achievement gap in content areas of Reading, Math and Science. Successful graduation from ECHS requires meeting "Cal Poly ready" STEAM prerequisites which earns Associates of Arts degree in Liberal Studies w/ emphasis in Science and Math along with HS diploma. How: Partner w/ local support groups/systems to implement best model for educating scholars from low socio economic backgrounds. Current partnerships: Cal Poly at SLO, Cosumnes River College and Fortune Schools


Black Owned Beauty Supply

The hair care market is a huge revenue generator with black women being one if its largest consumers. The Oak Park, South Sacramento, Elk Grove area would benefit the most from this business. The money generated from opening one beauty supply store could be used to showcase black owned products, open more beauty supply stores and other different businesses. Tax revenues from this business would also help benefit the local community. Beauty supplies stores also have unique needs like lawyers and insurance, keeping the circulation of money going in the community.


Black Owned Grocery

The black owned grocery store would provide promote healthy, affordable food options to our community. The Oak Park, South Sacramento - Florin Road, Rancho Cordova area would most benefit from a Grocery store that provides healthier foods. Healthy food is essential to maintaining any healthy community. This grocery store would also provide job opportunities for the local community in construction and maintaining of the business. The money generated from this grocery stores tax revenues would also help benefit the local community. Grocery stores have unique needs and often rely on other local businesses like farmers to help meet them, keeping the circulation of money going. So overall, the whole community would benefit from this grocery store.


Black Wall Street District Implementation SACRAMENTO COUNTY

Black Wall Street districts can be recognized as an urban area that is a thriving center of business, industry, and culture and is one commercial strip that has 50%-70% or more businesses owned by African Americans. This will enable local organizers and BWS district leaders to focus on what they are doing within their potential district. Leaders consider the people to be involved. District president's make sure the group is balanced and no special interests dominate. Refer to our District Implementation Manual (DIM)…

Step One: The Right Spirit

Step Two: Recognizing a Black Wall Street District

Step Three: Measurable Objectives

Step Four: Evaluation

Step Five: Capacity Analysis

Step Six: Feasibility Study

Step Seven: Legislation

Step Eight: Black Wall Street Business Proposal