Black business owners achieving success in South Mississippi

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - From America's first black female millionaire, Madam C.J. Walker, to billionaire Oprah Winfrey, more blacks are making history in the business world.  According to a U.S. Census Bureau report,  the number of black-owned businesses more than tripled the national rate of 18 percent over the past years.

Patrice Clark introduces us to two South Mississippians who chased the American dream and succeeded.

"Welcome to D'vine Soul Food, just a little taste of Heaven."

Owner Norma Nelson loves bragging about her business and Southern favorites she whips up for customers daily. Nelson said it took 20 years of struggle to get here. Her hard times began when she dropped out of high school.

"I got into some trouble and was able to get in this program; the program was feeding the elderly," Nelson said. "The Lord put it in my spirit that I was going to own a restaurant."

Nelson then chased that dream, first working at a hotel and later as a school custodian.

"I use to always end up in the kitchen, in the cafeteria and I would watch them."

Then after Hurricane Katrina, a family member gave her start-up money for her own business. She admits to facing a lot of doubters due to the color of her skin.

"You always have some that think things are impossible," Nelson said.

But Nelson kept focusing on her dream and now she's the first in her family to own a restaurant in Biloxi and Pascagoula. She also has a concession stand at Beach Park in Pascagoula.

"Hard work is not hard for me," Nelson said. "I get in there and I still mop, I still wash dishes, and still do what needs to be done in order for my business to succeed."

Business owner Sarah York has a similar story.  York said she also dropped out of school, got her GED, then decided to open a daycare for kids. She worked from home, but when it was time to expand, she couldn't get a lender.

"I have faced a lot of lenders who looked at as me as an African American woman and it detoured them from wanting to finance us," York said.

York said she never stopped seeking help. She later got grant funding and a lender to finance her dream. Now she's the first woman in her immediate family to own a daycare center, and her husband also owns a construction company.

"At this point, we are doing well, and we made it over the three year hump. We're going down an even path of being very profitable."

These self-made bosses believe they've now paved the way for future generations to be prosperous.

"I have a son who has a daycare. Then now my daughter is about the graduate in May from college, and that is what she wants to do, open her own business," Nelson said.

"You can do it, regardless of who says, 'no.' If there is a 'no,' I can promise you there is a 'yes' somewhere. I just happened to step into my 'yes,'" York said.

Both women said they also give back to the community. Norma Nelson helps mentor other small business owners. Sarah York sponsors a special Christmas toy drive every year in Gautier.

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