How Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream empowers entrepreneurs

As we recognize Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and reflect on Dr. King’s legacy, his leadership and his aspirations, I focus on an often-overlooked sentence in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. That sentence reads: “With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.” 

Johnnie Turnage is a Detroit native and founder of EvenScore. (Courtesy photo)

How do we now enable everyone in Michigan to hew that stone of hope? We give them the chance to pursue their own dreams by making it easier to start a business. That’s the ambition that inspires my commitment to entrepreneurship, and it can take Michigan to a new mountaintop of innovation and achievement for all. 

I have a dream that one day in the great state of Michigan, all of its residents will have the opportunity to chase their entrepreneurial ambitions without barriers regardless of their background or the color of their skin. And in a corner of Detroit, at Newlab at Michigan Central, that ambition is taking shape, as a blend of startup passion, ingenuity, and the unbridled joy of Black innovators brews. 

We gather to share pitch decks, swap tales of investor encounters, and navigate the tumultuous terrain of entrepreneurship. This gathering, now known as Black Tech Saturdays, which I co-founded with my wife Alexa, has evolved into a vital community—a space where knowledge and access flourish, where laughter, tears, and triumphs are shared. More than 1,000 entrepreneurs and their champions gathered for the most recent Black Tech Saturday in December of 2023.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s visionary efforts to reinvigorate Michigan’s population have laid the foundation for a new chapter in our state’s history. Her unwavering commitment to progress invites us to dream audaciously about the limitless possibilities that lie before us. But barriers still need to fall.

I have a dream that the barriers to capital, which disproportionately affect Black entrepreneurs, will crumble, opening the doors to innovation and growth for all.

Those barriers to capital are not imaginary. A report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that Black entrepreneurs were denied loans nearly twice as often as their white counterparts. Goldman Sachs’s report “Black Womenomics: Equalizing Entrepreneurship” states that Black entrepreneurs are more likely to rely on more expensive personal credit cards as the primary sources of startup capital. According to Citi, if Black entrepreneurs had access to fair and equitable lending, those founders would have created 6.1 million new jobs annually. 

As Michigan’s startup ecosystem expands, Black and underrepresented founders must have equitable access to capital. It’s crucial, if the state wants to thrive.

I have a dream that in Michigan, entrepreneurship will be regarded as a civil right, where every individual can start a business and chart a course to success. Early-stage capital opportunities should abound, fostering an environment where dreams not only survive but thrive.

That’s why I’ve become an Advocate for Right to Start, the national nonprofit organization that champions entrepreneurship as both a civil right and a civic priority. It should be a right and a priority for all.

I have a dream that Michigan becomes the nation’s epitome of inclusivity and people-focused policies – where the next generation feels unbounded in their dreams. Detroit, with its rich cultural tapestry, should stand as a symbol of unity, witnessing parity in investments, business success, opportunities, and access.

An enhanced statewide commitment to entrepreneurship and microbusiness can take us there. That’s because new and young businesses create virtually all job growth in America.

My vision extends to Michigan leading the nation in conversations about innovation. Challenging the notion of impossibility, we must be at the forefront of transforming economic mobility into a vehicle for all.

The governor’s commitment to growing Michigan’s population is not merely a policy initiative – it’s a golden opportunity for each of us to play a role in shaping the destiny of our state. It’s a clarion call to dream collectively, for within our shared dreams lies the power to redefine Michigan’s future.

“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” said Barack Obama, while campaigning for president in 2008. “We are the change that we seek.”

Those words continue to resound today. So, too, do the words of Mary McLeod Bethune, one of the 20th century’s most powerful advocates of civil rights and suffrage, who wrote in 1955, “I leave you love … I leave you hope … I leave you the challenge of developing confidence in one another … I leave you a thirst for education … I leave you respect for the uses of power … I leave you faith … I leave you racial dignity … I leave you a desire to live harmoniously with your fellow man … I leave you finally a responsibility to our young people.”

As we stand on the threshold of a new era for Michigan and honor Martin Luther King, Jr., let us remember all of these words – and these legacies – that echo through history. Let us join hands, dream together and make Michigan’s destiny one of unity, prosperity and boundless opportunity for all. The time for bold action is now, and together we can turn these dreams into our shared reality.

Johnnie Turnage is a Detroit-based entrepreneur and the founder and CEO of EvenScore and Black Tech Saturdays.

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