By Justice Hudson
When Tiffany Wright moved to Martinsburg, West Virginia, it wasn’t necessarily out of want, but out of need.
Raised on the Jersey shore, Wright took a job in Loudoun County, Virginia, but discovered the cost of living in the area was too much for her, a mother of four. As she searched for social services for her kids, one of whom has autism, she was taken aback by the lack of options in her new home.
“I felt really bad going to Loudoun County to provide services, where the resources are abundant, while my children would not be receiving services in Berkeley County,” Wright said.
This led her to create Beyond Measure: a nonprofit day program offering people with intellectual and developmental disabilities care, resources, support and advocacy.
In the process of founding Beyond Measure, Wright began attending chamber of commerce events to network where she would only see one or two other minority-owned businesses.
That’s when Wright identified the need for Black and minority businesses to have the opportunity to meet, connect and offer support to one another.
Wright organized a meeting in May 2022, with five Black-owned businesses for many reasons. She realized her experiences growing up Black in New Jersey were different from those who grew up Black in West Virginia.
Wright said she took for granted those differences and wanted to better understand the culture of Berkeley County. She also wanted to know if the group should exist at all, and if the other businesses were committed.
Wright asked the group, “Could we support one another? Do we keep these meetings going?”
To her surprise the answer was a resounding “Yes.”
This meeting ultimately led to the founding of Black Owned in Berkeley County, a group dedicated to supporting the economic growth and development of Black and minority businesses. The goal is to promote, share and advocate.
“My goal is to support others,” Wright said.
She spoke of other Black entrepreneurs who she said had made it already, who went through higher education and who have nice cars but forget about the next person.
“I don’t think that’s right,” Wright said. “I’m always going to reach back. I will never forget my experiences.”
The group offers people a place where they can see someone like them and not feel bad asking questions.
“We’re not always in comfortable spaces,” Wright said, adding that if you don’t know the terminology or procedure in applying for loans or organizing your business it can lead to failure.
Black Owned in Berkeley County offers educational resources and support, and has partnered with BCBank to provide financial literacy and workshops.
One of the biggest reasons Wright founded Black Owned in Berkeley County was to disrupt what she calls the “good old girls and good old boys club.” Speaking about networking opportunities, she says it is a challenge for folks to get ahead when they don’t, “go to that church or know that family.”
For newcomers, knowing how to properly answer the questions asked or what paperwork is required.
“I have a lot of elders who say they wish they had this when they were coming up,” Wright said, also recognizing groups like the NAACP have done similar work.
There are other challenges facing Black business owners, Wright said. She said it’s hard to find what resources are available.
She noticed that some people don’t take advantage of social media as a marketing tool, either.
“You can’t always go to your family to buy your product,” Wright said. “You need to get out of your comfort zone, do your research and know your area.”
That is why the education and support aspects of Black Owned in Berkeley County are so important, she said.
“We want people to come to our network wherever they are in the process,” Wright said.
Currently, the group consists of 41 members who range from entrepreneurs to hobbyists to CEOs, from start-ups to established, decades-old businesses.
“At this point we are supporting one another,” Wright said. “We always support others, but don’t always get that same support. We need to start pulling our resources together and having our own spaces.”
If you want to get involved with Black Owned in Berkeley County, follow their Instagram, which Wright says has been one of the biggest reasons for the group’s success, or check out their website. The group charges $150 per year for membership in exchange for education, marketing assistance, support, networking and discounts to other member’s businesses. The group recently celebrated their one-year anniversary.
As for other organizations that connect Black-owned businesses in West Virginia, Black Women Business Owners of West Virginia out of Charleston are the only other group. Some organizations have directories of Black and minority-owned businesses, including Black Owned in Berkeley County, West Virginia University’s Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and Black Community
The Jefferson County NAACP is also seeking applicants to join their Eastern Panhandle Minority Business Directory.