By M.J. Walker
Influential community leader Lashae Simmons II is the CEO and Founder of Black Wall Street Muskegon, an organization that promotes and supports Black owned businesses. Their social and community following is comprised of thousands of Black business owners and their supporters from Simmons’ native Muskegon, Michigan area. Launched in April of 2019, its creation was inspired by the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma historically remembered as “Black Wall Street”. A community of more than 10,000 prospering African Americans, it was destroyed by a racist mob on March 31, 1921.
Thoughtful and incredibly hardworking, Lashae is actively building Black Wall Street Muskegon into a valued resource. To further extend the pedestal, the financial advisor and mother of two created the 1st Annual Black Business Expo (June 19, 2021, at VanDyk Mortgage Convention Center). Its purpose is to grant unprecedented access and exposure to many of these businesses and their owners, and to support their development and sustainability.
Lashae spoke with Grander ahead of the Expo about why she started Black Wall Street Muskegon, the racial adversity she has faced, and what she wants her children to learn from her.
Lashae, what are your three most significant motivations.
My family, naysayers, and “because I said I would”. Honestly, I’m not motivated by the carrot or the stick. I get motivated by people doubting, my family believing in me, and standing on my word. If I say I’m going to do something then believe me, it will get done. For no other reason than I said I would. I believe your word is bond!
People believe in what you say, and they’re certainly motivated by your actions. Does that make you a role model?
I’ve come to realize what I say and do is very visible, and some people look up to me. I suppose that classifies as a role model to some. I’m not perfect so I hope those that do follow me understand there’s human error and I’m still growing. Every day I strive to be better and inspire.
What do you want your children to have learned from you as a leader and a professional by the time they’re your age?
This question makes me so emotional. And I get teary-eyed because I want them to be so much better than me. I want them to know that in the end everything will be okay, and if it’s not okay it’s not the end.
When you are doing what you believe to be God’s work, there’s going to be attacks that you may not be able to fight alone. Get a village – significant other, siblings, parents, and friends – that’s willing to stand in the gap for you. Let them be the mortar to the gaps in your walls. The enemy attacks your weak spots. But if you have people willing to stand in that space for you, they can help protect you.
I want them to know quitting is never an option. Lead with both your heart and mind. If you lead with your heart people will follow you. If you lead with your right mind, you will take them far.
Lastly, I want them to know if they’re believers, every gift that they have should be sown into the world. Because when they get to heaven their talent will be restored. I could go on and on.
Think for moment about the historical disadvantages of being a professional Black woman. How are you and people you admire changing history and creating advantages?
Honestly, every disadvantage is an opportunity to create a new path.
If I’m turned down from working somewhere because I’m a triple minority – young, Black, and female – I’ll just create the space myself. And that’s the attitude I see these women and gamechangers having.
Just like there’s a glass ceiling, there’s also an oppressors’ ceiling. These oppressors only have so much time to hold a person, community or culture back before they get creative. Creativity is spawned from oppression. Why do you think Black people are so damn creative?
Lashae, please share with us a social and/or racial challenge you experienced in your life that has since helped you become who and what you are now.
I went to Muskegon Catholic Central but lived on Jackson Hill. There was always a racial conflict.
I remember being in 5th grade and a girl called me a nigger in the bathroom before our field trip. And she kicked the bathroom stall in while I was using the bathroom. I retaliated by choking her; and I’m not saying it was right. When I entered the classroom, everyone was holding their necks and covering them with their jackets. I’ll never forget how that made me feel. Even kids exercised privilege in 5th grade.
Here is this person antagonizing me and using racial slurs, and because I retaliated, I’m the bad person. I got called to the principal’s office and I think I was written up. No one uttered a word to her about her language. In fact, her dad came to the school some days later and tried to reprimand me for choking his daughter. Maybe he assumed I didn’t have a daddy too! [Laughs] And if you know my mom, she was the first thing smoking at the school! [Laughs]
But what that taught me is no one cares about the “why” you reacted, they only care about how you reacted, given who you are.
We’re sure you get this next question a lot, but the answer is of great importance. Why did you start Black Wall Street Muskegon?
I started Black Wall Street Muskegon because I saw a need. I had friends on my social media timeline that would be selling items or services, and friends that were requesting services and/or products. They just needed a platform, a space where everyone could see what they needed or offered. I had no idea what it would mean to the community and what it would spawn. As I look back now, I think about what it has become for the community, and it makes me happy. If you want to network, sell, buy, or promote, we have a space and its OURS!
Can this Black Wall Street group rewrite the reputation of an entire city?
I don’t think any one thing can, but it has inspired, triggered growth, and encouraged unity and healthy competition!
Black Wall Street has a lot of incredible members. Who is someone that you admire and also consider a role model, that surprised you when they joined the group?
Brianna Scott. Bri is someone I’ve grown to know, call a friend, and I admire. Her work ethic is second to none. As a financial planner she was one of the first women of influence to accept a meeting with me and continues to be a great friend and supporter.
Blanche Smith. I don’t know her personally, but I hope to meet her soon and just pick her brain. The wisdom her and Mrs. Rillastine Wilkins possess… Wow! She was the City of Muskegon’s 1st Black female Mayor and is a member of Black Wall Street Muskegon! That’s dope! | For more information visit BlackWallStreet231.org.