Though slavery had been abolished for nearly 40 years in the early 1900s, African Americans in the post-antebellum Jim Crow South had few opportunities to earn an education or decent wages. Noticing the gaps in the markets, an unlikely group of African American entrepreneurs and educators defied the societal and cultural norms of the time and stepped in to fill them. 

In 1898, a barber named John Merrick and Durham’s first black medical doctor Dr. Aaron Moore founded what became the largest African American owned business in the U.S.—the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. Then in 1907, Merrick, Moore and other prominent African-American businessmen joined brick maker R.B. Fitzgerald to open the Mechanic and Farmer Bank for African Americans to bank and apply for credit and loans. The two businesses became a cornerstone of the booming business and financial district that became known as “Black Wall Street” and propelled economic growth in Durham and the surrounding African American communities.

Given the organizing team’s experience and broad network, the registration counts are not surprising. Rose’s Kompleks Creative is nearly 10 years old and has an established network and client group including Beyu Caffe and Duke University locally, and VH-1 nationally. As an NCCU alum, he wants to show off to fellow alums Durham’s progress and how “Durham is a diverse place in the way we think, work and the way we do business.”

Averhart and Graves Manns are co-organizing the event on behalf of American Underground’s CODE2040-sponsored Entrepreneur-in-Residence program. And with powerful sponsors in Google for Entrepreneurs and CODE2040, they’re able to tap into broader national networks they’ve established throughout the partnership with Google and CODE2040. Averhart says of the event, “the community-at-large will hear from some of the most unique and creative VCs in the US…insights you don’t get every day.” 

But at the end of the day, the organizers’ goals for the event are quite modest. It’s all about the opportunity to inspire and connect the attendees to each other and the community while honoring Durham’s unique roots. 

Indeed, Rose says his chief hope for the event is that “someone makes a connection that puts them in a different place.”