By Darlene Donloe
Black Women Vend touts itself as the host of the only market in Los Angeles with all-Black women street food vendors.
Each Wednesday from 6 to 10 p.m. anywhere from 14 to 20 vendors participate in the one-of-a-kind Leimert Park Night Market located on 43rd Place and Degnan Boulevard. There is also entertainment from a mother/daughter MC/DJ team.
The brainchild of attorney Jennifer Laurent, 53, Black Women Vend is an organization designed to empower and uplift women micro-entrepreneurs. It makes sure the female entrepreneurs have the required permits and trains them on how to become legal street vendors.
“I want to help them get the business infrastructure in place,” Laurent said. “Otherwise, they won’t have access to capital. Without capital, it’s difficult to grow your business. If it’s not in place, they won’t have a business. I want to help people become successful. They start here and they can graduate to brick and mortar. That’s one of the goals.”
Black Women Vend provides food vendor training and helps female entrepreneurs with food costs, menu engineering, Los Angeles County Health Code requirements and permits, certification, business finances, point of sale systems and grant loan information.
Laurent, a single mother of two grown children and the grandmother of six launched Black Women Vend last August. The inspiration came when she was helping people apply for services. Turns out, a number of them were street vendors.
During that time, Laurent said she also became aware of the “digital divide.”
“During COVID everyone had to apply for the stimulus, unemployment, and other things, and there was nowhere for them to get help because every place that had free WiFi was shut down,” said Laurent, who founded Los Angeles Legal Assistant, which is currently helping homeowners facing foreclosure. “When the schools closed, there was a lot of conversation about giving kids computers, but then some kids couldn’t afford the internet. So they couldn’t learn. I wanted to do something.”
The Cincinnati native applauds the “enormous help” she receives from the Vermont Slauson Economic Development Corporation’s business resource center. The organization offers business loans, Small Business Administration financing, and start-up loans for businesses in Los Angeles County.
“Renee (Moncito) and Libby (Williams) at Vermont Slauson Economic Development are just invaluable,” Laurent said. “We also received support in the form of grants from [U.S. Rep.] Sydney Kamlager-Dove, Supervisor Holly Mitchell and Councilwoman Heather Hutt.”
I recently spoke to Laurent about the impact of Black Women Vend.
DD: Talk about the name Black Women Vend.
JL: It just came to me. I lived around Leimert and Crenshaw from 1990-91. During COVID, I noticed there was a digital divide in the area. So with my personal hotspot and iPad, I was helping people apply for services. A lot of them were street vendors. The city decided street vendors had to get permits. So, I got into the street vending space. We have about 1,000 Black vendors, but it’s primarily Latino.
DD: So what happened next?
JL: In March 2022, JP Morgan Chase announced it was going to support Black and Latina female street vendors. Chase gave $5 million to help women vendors.
(In March 2022, JPMorgan Chase announced a three-year, $5 million commitment to support the Open Air Economy Collaborative, a partnership of local community organizations including Inclusive Action for the City, California Reinvestment Coalition, Public Counsel and East LA Community Corporation. The commitment helps local Black and Latina street vendors strengthen their businesses, which provide economic opportunities for low-income and immigrant workers, and play an important role in promoting food access across Los Angeles County.)
DD: How and when did you come up with the idea?
JL: I started thinking about it in 2021. I was getting involved with street vending organizations in L.A. County. There is a Senate bill, SB 972, that wants to change rules and guidelines to make it more accessible. It’s impossible for food vendors to qualify for those permits.
We created a classroom portion of the business to get food handler certifications and business permits. We talk about marketing and health and safety issues for pop-up vendors. We talk about branding. We created a comprehensive program for women. Everyone needs an opportunity to put it into practice.
We are coming out of COVID. Some things had closed down. We didn’t qualify for certain grants. We wanted to give women a chance to make money and apply what they’ve learned and be aware of SB 972 changes.
(SB 972 attempts to facilitate greater access for food vendors to get the required county and city approvals for food vending permits. The bill provides that counties may approve a food cart design that meets safety requirements, in lieu of approving individually manufactured carts.)
DD: How many Black women vendors are currently participating?
JL: At first we had 20. Now we have 14. All of the women are mothers. Some had to stop participating due to various issues. Life happens.
DD: What was your goal when you came up with the idea?
JL: My initial goal was to create a marketplace that would benefit the women vendors and be a benefit to the community. I wanted the vendors to earn money and get recognition. We are in a food desert. How do we bring good food to the community? How do we bring the community out to have fun with each other and have it be beneficial?
DD: What is the training part of this venture?
JL: There is ongoing training. We have 12 weeks of Zoom sessions. We met Aja Beard of Ask Aja Restaurant Consulting. She works with the women on food costs, how to make your pop-up tent more visually appealing and what your menu should say. She comes to the market every Wednesday to give pointers.
DD: What are the criteria for being able to participate?
JL: Great question. We are starting our second cohort. We are revamping and looking for women who, for them, this is their primary goal. That’s because we are investing in them. Being a food vendor based in L.A. County is business based. They don’t have to live in L.A. County. They will go through our 12 weeks’ worth of classes. They must have or get a California sellers permit, and a city of Los Angeles business tax registration certificate.
DD: Why Leimert Park ?
JL: We wanted to have something for people to bring in business other than Saturdays and Sundays. I grew up in the valley. We lived in an area where we were the only Blacks. When I came to Leimert, it was a great feeling to be around people who looked like me.
DD: Who are the vendors?
JL: We have vendors who do different types of food. We have Island Spice Tingz, Jamaican Food, Mai’s Kitchen, The Fusion Queen, My Daddy’s Recipes, Rose Gold Pastries, Filthy Rich Banana Pudding, Sweet Blessings, Kalypso Ice, Calidelphia Organic Lemonades, and two vegan food trucks — Wholly Mother Vegan, and Voodoo Vegan, Dare 2 B U, All Chill Inc., All Vegan What, Dazzle Berry, The Joy of Funnel Cake, Cuties Catering, Dough She Didn’t, KIK n’ Juice, Dippity Donuts, and Mella B’s Potcorn.
DD: What is it about Black women?
JL: We’re innate and magical. We are born magical. We’ve had to make a way whether we’re single, married, have kids, or no kids. We have to make it happen for our children. There is an awareness in us that we create. We understand that we are creators.
DD: What have you learned about yourself since you launched this venture?
JL: I definitely learned that I’m capable. We have visions and dreams. It has taught me I’m capable. I’ve had the opportunity to work with so many different women. It made me a better communicator. It’s made me hopeful that we can do successful collaborations in the Black community. We have negative myths and stereotypes about each other. It’s not true. We can work together. We can be successful together.
“Making a Difference” is a regular feature profiling organizations that are serving their communities. To propose a “Making a Difference” profile, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at email@example.com.