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Fostering Black Prosperity: A Q&A with Destination Crenshaw and Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce

Jason Foster, President and COO of Destination Crenshaw; and Dr. Cassandra Little, Ph.D., Executive Director and CEO of Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce

In honor of Juneteenth, we are excited to spotlight two leaders from some of the Black-led and -serving organizations with which we are grateful to partner. We spoke to Jason Foster, President and COO of Destination Crenshaw, and Dr. Cassandra Little Ph.D., Executive Director and CEO of the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce, about the relevance of Black-owned spaces and entrepreneurship to the liberation and prosperity of the Black community, and what Juneteenth means to them.  

Destination Crenshaw is part of our Better Careers initiative, which aims to build a more equitable and inclusive workforce system, while the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce is part of our Priority Communities initiative, which supports community efforts to create economies that work for all in Fresno, Salinas, Riverside, San Bernardino, and Stockton. We are deeply grateful to these organizations and their leaders for their commitment to creating more economic opportunities for Black communities.  

Note: The views and opinions expressed below are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The James Irvine Foundation. Responses were edited for length and clarity.  

Tell us about your organization. What do you and why?

Jason: I lead the team at Destination Crenshaw in our mission to build Black global cultural and economic platforms that allow Black artists and businesses to thrive and drive investment that supports the Black community in the Crenshaw District. Our work serves as a counterbalance to gentrification, solidifying the Crenshaw neighborhood by supporting legacy businesses, fostering Black creative economic investment, and providing access to workforce career training through our programming. With the support of The James Irvine Foundation, Destination Crenshaw drives community engagement, provides apprentice stipends, and holds construction orientation workshops as part of our construction apprenticeship program to help Crenshaw and South Los Angeles workers attain union trade jobs as part of our workforce pipeline.

Jason Foster, President and COO of Destination Crenshaw
Jason Foster, President and COO of Destination Crenshaw

Destination Crenshaw has met our aspirational goal of 70% local hire with jobs marketed towards Black trade workers. Seventy-three percent of the hours spent building the project have been completed by local workers, and 72% of the total wages with benefits have been paid to community residents. In addition, women have accounted for 9% of our workforce pipeline, a 300% increase over the national average.

Dr. Little: At the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce, we are committed to nurturing and expanding Black entrepreneurship because we recognize its potential to drive significant social and economic change. We focus on equipping Black entrepreneurs and small businesses with the tools, resources, and networks necessary to thrive. This includes access to capital, business education, mentorship, and advocacy for policies that support business development, all with a cultural affirming and trauma-informed lens. Our goal is to level the playing field and remove systemic barriers that historically have hindered Black-owned businesses from flourishing. By doing so, we help ensure that the community benefits from increased job creation, innovation, and competitiveness. We are focused on ensuring that future innovation is created with and for us, so that change isn’t imposed on us.

Dr. Cassandra Little Ph.D., Executive Director & CEO of the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce
Dr. Cassandra Little Ph.D., Executive Director and CEO of the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce

Dr. Little, how does entrepreneurship contribute to the prosperity of the Black community?

Entrepreneurship is a vital catalyst for economic empowerment within the Black community. By fostering entrepreneurial endeavors, we not only facilitate individual success but also contribute to the broader economic resilience and prosperity of our community. For many, entrepreneurship offers an avenue to break intergenerational cycles of poverty, providing a platform for wealth creation that can be transformative. It is about more than just financial gain; it is a means to cultivate pride, autonomy, and self-determination. As individuals succeed, they set powerful examples, lift others, and invest back into their communities, thereby fostering a cycle of positive economic activity and growth.

Photo credit: Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce

Entrepreneurship in the Black community is also an engine of cultural expression and innovation. It allows the manifestation of unique ideas and perspectives that enrich both the marketplace and the social fabric. Through entrepreneurship, we can address community-specific needs with tailored solutions and champion initiatives that promote sustainability and inclusivity. As we continue to support and celebrate Black entrepreneurs, we reinforce the importance of diversity in business, which not only enhances community prosperity but also contributes to a more robust and dynamic global economy.

Jason, how does Black-owned spaces, including businesses, support the liberation and prosperity of the Black community? 

Our reparative development framework is guided by a principle that the cultivation of generational wealth is not solely defined by modern capitalism, but rather by ancestral knowledge and a connection to each other, the land, and our culture. Destination Crenshaw aims to preserve, anchor, and uplift South L.A.’s Black culture and creative community. We recognize that these efforts must be accompanied by a proactive approach to addressing deep structural racism.

Our strategy includes the DC Arts Corp and DC Thrive programming, which support Black artists, entrepreneurs, and business owners. Our DC Arts Corps program aims to address the lack of representation by communities of color in current and future investments in the arts and ensure that funding available reaches artists such as those in South Los Angeles. We use the DC project to create a creative arts pipeline to pursue equity and close wage gaps.

Meanwhile, the DC Thrive program utilizes direct outreach and recommendations, and provides access to funding and additional opportunities and resources from our local CDFI and banking institutions. Through active programs like L.A.’s Economic and Workforce Development Department’s JEDI Zone or Local Initiatives Support Corporation’s Black Women Vend programs, we drive intentional investments and technical assistance to businesses and entrepreneurs in the Crenshaw District. This is how we attempt to answer what it means to repair and advance our well-being within the current confines of deep structural racism.

Lastly, what does Juneteenth mean to you?

Jason: Juneteenth, to me as the leader of Destination Crenshaw, represents a moment of reflection and celebration. It is a day that symbolizes the resilience and unyielding spirit of the Black community. Our engagement with Juneteenth is deeply intertwined with our mission at Destination Crenshaw. It provides a poignant reminder of the journey towards freedom and the ongoing struggle for equity and justice.

Photo credit: Leroy Hamilton, c/o Destination Crenshaw

It also inspires us to continue our work in preserving and celebrating Black culture and creating economic and workforce development opportunities. Juneteenth is a testament to the strength of our ancestors and a beacon of hope for generations to come, embodying the very essence of the liberation and prosperity we strive to achieve for the Black community through our initiatives.

Dr. Little: Juneteenth represents a profound moment in our history—a time to honor both the deep sorrows and the incredible resilience of African Americans. It marks the emancipation of the last remaining enslaved people in the Confederacy, an act that came two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. It’s a reminder of the delayed justice that was finally realized, and it highlights the ongoing struggle for true equality and recognizes a resilient and magical race of people. Celebrating Juneteenth isn’t just about remembering the past; it’s also about understanding the past’s impact on our present and continuing to push for progress in our communities.

At the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce, our mindset is to engage, educate and empower our community like everyday is Juneteenth. We see Juneteenth as a pivotal opportunity to educate and engage our business community about African Americans’ significant contributions to society. By recognizing this day, we also reaffirm our commitment to support Black entrepreneurs and business owners, recognizing their role in fostering economic empowerment and community cohesion.

Juneteenth is also a day to reflect on the economic, cultural, and social strides made despite centuries of systemic obstacles, and celebrate achievements and renew our efforts in promoting policies and practices that lead to equitable opportunities for all. It is also a celebration of freedom that transcends historical boundaries, echoing the ongoing pursuit of justice and equity in America. And it is a call to action to dismantle racial barriers and build inclusive environments where diversity is valued and nourished.

At a time where there is an intentional attack on diversity, equity, and inclusion, this month reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Frederick Douglass: “If there is no struggle there is no progress.” He also went on to say, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” As we commemorate this day, let it be a moment of reflection, education, and advocacy—a time when we all commit to making meaningful changes in our spheres of influence. We must remember and embrace the past and continue to demand equity and inclusion as we move toward the future.

Masthead photo credit: Jorge Mesa, courtesy of Destination Crenshaw