Quick Question

How One Former Educator Made A Business Out Of Supporting Black Entrepreneurs

Dr. Lakeysha Hallmon shares the lessons she’s learned through running The Village Market.

Dr. Lakeysha Hallmon, founder of The Village Market.
Courtesy of The Village Market

In Bustle’s Quick Question, we ask women leaders all about advice — from the best guidance they’ve ever gotten to what they’re still figuring out. Here, Dr. Lakeysha Hallmon, EdD, founder and CEO of The Village Market, reflects on the importance of active support.

Every day, Dr. Lakeysha Hallmon, EdD, tries to ride her bike at least 10 miles. It's a way to both ground herself before a busy day and fall deeper in love with her adopted city of Atlanta, Georgia. Two key reasons the Mississippi native is obsessed? “The presence of Black entrepreneurs here and … what Black entrepreneurship means to this city,” she tells Bustle.

Hallmon, 39, is the founder and CEO of The Village Market, which hosts in-person marketplaces and online retail for Black entrepreneurs, as well as provides business owners with support and mentorship. Since launching in 2016, it’s generated over $5.3 million for over 1,400 Black-owned businesses, in industries as diverse as beauty, clothing, and food. Hallmon decided to start the business for a simple reason: She loved going to festivals, but saw a lack of Black artisans at those events. Hallmon additionally wanted to use her skills as a former educator and education administrator to mentor Black business owners. “I always tell my students, ‘Make it plain and make it dope,’” she says. That’s the same advice she gives to the people who work with her.

Her latest project is ELEVATE, an incubator that partners with licensed wellness coaches and mental health practitioners to help entrepreneurs prioritize their mental health while navigating owning their businesses. ELEVATE, Hallmon says, is a manifestation of her mantra, “Support is a verb:” “We can be the greatest catalyst for each other's greatness,” she explains. “But I only think that can be done when the mind is well, when the body is well, when the spirit is well.”

Here, Hallmon tells Bustle about why she believes support must be more than words, who she goes to for professional and spiritual advice, and how she stays centered while running a fast-paced business.

Between The Village Market and ELEVATE, you must be talking with new people constantly. Tell me about how you prepare for a big meeting or event.

I spend every morning in prayer and gratitude for the day itself and all the things I've been able to accomplish. I listen to podcasts like Therapy for Black Girls. I try to mentally check off what needs to be done for the day, so that in my mind, everything has already been accomplished.

With your preparation routine in mind, what advice would you give someone starting off in your industry?

There's not necessarily a blueprint when you create something new. Having to know everything overnight is mentally exhausting. It can be debilitating when you have aspirations that feel so big that you can't even move forward. What has assisted me in this business is having spiritual advisors, but also having a really good therapist when imposter syndrome and bouts of anxiety come up for me. One of my best investments was ensuring that I had a Black woman therapist for myself.

Aside from therapy, is there someone you go to for advice?

I have very successful friends. When it comes to the day-to-day operations and scaling, I talk to them peer to peer about what it means to run a business. Dr. Joy Harden, PhD, who started Therapy for Black Girls, and I talk almost every other day. I speak with Eunique Jones Gibson, who started the game Culture Tags, pretty much weekly. For spiritual advice, I go to my elders. I talk to my grandmother daily.

What's the best advice you've ever received?

This advice came from my grandmother, who was an entrepreneur her whole life, other than when she was 13 to 14 years old working in the cotton fields in Mississippi. She told me, "You must cherish every single customer" that comes to The Village or any business that I work with. There should never be a day that I'm so exhausted that I forget to say "Thank you" or go the extra mile. When she met with her customers in her seamstress business, she deeply appreciated every single person who walked into her shop — and she was able to operate for over 30 years. I share that same advice with my team.

Another elder told me that it is extremely important to surround myself with talent that is more proficient than I am in certain areas. That takes a deep level of self-awareness. As a leader, I should never be intimidated by other people's talent — I should be motivated by it.

Speaking of self-awareness, is there something you need advice on right now?

That's a really good question. I've always bootstrapped with The Village Market — I don't have any experience taking on venture capital or anything like that. So the mentors that I've been welcoming into my life are people who have taken on investment dollars, those who are investors, who help me think about the most effective way to take on funding if I decide to go that path.

Looking back, what advice would you give your younger self?

I would tell my younger self that people will break my heart time and time and time again, but that is a part of the process to build yourself and a business. To take more breaks: What can be done tomorrow, do it tomorrow. I would also tell her to document the process of creating the business, from the first person I hired to the first event marketing plan. It's the blueprint of what is being built.

In lieu of those blueprints, when you're faced with challenges, how do you devise backup plans?

Even when we plan for the worst-case scenario, things can happen. We never planned for a pandemic, that the whole world would be shut down and we would not be able to do any of our events. But what I practice in my life is to never panic. I take a moment to take deep breaths, to be still, to make sure that I'm being progressive and not reactionary. That is steeling the mind, and it's helped me tremendously to be able to channel calmness and stillness no matter what.

Last question: What draws you to the motto, "Support is a verb?"

I always tell people that if you truly support something, there should be some action behind it. If you're a true ally of Black-owned businesses, that should come with something tangible. What are you actually doing to show your support? Doesn't matter if you're Black or if you're white, or if you’re young, or what your sexuality is. We all know why support is so necessary. And we can all remember in our life when we wished we'd had it. And we remember how it felt the day that we received it.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.