Watch CBS News

Black History Is Our History: Black Business Owners Hope Their Example Inspires Other African Americans To Become Entrepreneurs

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - As we celebrate Black History Month, CBS2 has learned only 2% of businesses in New York are Black-owned, according to the New York City Black Chamber of Commerce.

CBS2's Cory James spoke with local Black entrepreneurs about their experience of owning a business.

If the lights don't take you back in time, the disco dance floor will.

Eddie Freeman, 80, walked James through his Bed-Stuy nightclub that he opened more than 40 years ago. It was a small space he grew into a two-story event hall and southern cuisine restaurant known as Sugarhill on Nostrand Avenue. The tour was just a glimpse into Freeman's journey.

It all started back in 1940, when Freeman, now a father of two, was born into a North Carolina family of sharecroppers who picked tobacco.

"We were raised in the country," Freeman said. "You'd work in the fields all week."

Read More Black History Month Stories

He moved to New York City at the age of 17.

"Making a dollar an hour when I got here," he said.

Freeman saved that money and worked multiple jobs. Two decades later, he put an $8,000 down payment on his nightclub, transforming it into a place where prominent people like civil rights activist Hazel Dukes and professor boxer Mike Tyson visited. Jesse Jackson had his campaign headquarters there in the late '80s, and Hillary Clinton held a party there when she decided to run for senate.

"They got Secret Service to come in with the dogs to sniff the place out and everything. It was a great experience. To be a little tobacco picking guy, to be able to host the first lady, I got a lot of enjoyment out of that," Freeman said.

His secret to success?

"I don't have a partner," he said. "So if I go up, I'm to blame, if I go down, I'm to blame."

That's advice that resonates with the owner of a pet store in Teaneck, New Jersey. She just reached one year of being in business.

"I was an IT analyst," Elena Scarlett said.

Read More Black History Month Stories

She spent 20 years working in that profession before taking a leap of faith and opening her first store, Companion Pet Food Supply. She wants African Americans aspiring to be entrepreneurs to not be crippled by the challenges.

"Just not to give up. If you have something that you set your goal on, pursue it. Don't let your fear stop you,"  Scarlett said.

It's a risk Freeman says Black people should take.

"Most Black people spend their money on cars and clothes... but we don't own nothing," Freeman said. "You get more respect when you own something."

And that he knows. Recently Freeman was offered over $15 million for his business and property. He did not accept it, and said instead he plans to continue investing in his dreams.

"I'd like to go up nine stories with this building here," he said.

A man not letting his roots from the deep south - before segregation ended - stop him from seeing the fruits of his labor.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.