John: I am here with Model Citizen Ray Thomas. Ray you have been nominated for Model Citizen Magazine for the September issue for all you do for charity. It’s like an endless effort. Congratulations!
Ray: Thank you so much. September is also my birthday month.
John: No kidding, happy birthday. Would you share with our readers why it is you’re so active with charity? What is it that has inspired you?
Ray: Well that would be my father. He passed from leukemia, so I support various charities in his memory.
John: Mine, too, by the way. He passed from cancer at age 62.
Ray: When he passed, I was really broken hearted. I would even say I spiraled mentally. My father was a Pastor and so I had a tough time understanding why our creator asked one of his finest captains to join him so early.
John: Because he was so young?
Ray: Yes, he passed at 79, I wanted more time with him and him to have more time to spend with his grand kids. He was also my mentor so he would have been the one to explain to me why this happened and so I had to figure it out on my own. His passing is still tough for me at times, as I miss him so much.
John: Figuring out mortality has not been an easy thing for anyone throughout history.
Ray: Exactly, so to help with the healing I have been donating my time to charitable causes.
Ray: That’s how I found Pink Tie. Actually, we found each other. After a long conversation with Rich Cave, I got involved. Rich and I have since become like brothers, however, I didn’t tell him or anyone for a long time that I was hurting inside from the loss of my father, but I was determined to find a way to take away the hurt I was feeling by doing something positive. Helping support my community through charity work would become my passion. I knew PinkTie would be a great fit after that one conversation.
John: What kind of Charities are you most passionate about? Because I know you do a lot for many charities.
Ray: That’s one of the things I love most about Pink Tie, not only have we raised funds to support charitable causes to aid in the fight against Cancer, Autism and Tourettes, we also established awareness campaigns to educate people so they become involved.
John: And you’re passionate about autism, also.
Ray: Yes, I am very passionate about autism.
John: Why is that?
Ray: Because of my niece, I am so proud of her, she is a vibrant young Autism mom doing a fine job raising her son despite his challenges.
Ray: My niece has come a long way, not only as a mother, but also as a young woman dealing with life’s challenges as a single mom.
John: Obviously, it moved you.
Ray: Yes, seeing her interact with her child motivated me to get more involved with a charity called Pop Earth, short for Population Earth. I really enjoy being involved with them. On September 26th, I’m doing a 25-mile Autistic bike ride. I just got into riding recently after Gyms closed due to the Pandemic. I love that I can stay in shape while supporting a great cause. I need your support and encouragement as this will be my first charity bike ride.
John: Good luck. It’s hard to do.
Ray: I know, but I am excited about doing it. Since I started training for the bike ride, I’ve lost the 9lbs I gained during the Pandemic. I feel a lot healthier now so I feel up to the task. If you would like to support me as I embark on this journey, you can visit my homepage and donate to the cause at https://my.biketothebeach.org/popstars
John: You’ve also recently started a new movement. As a black man yourself, tell me how you feel about Black Lives Matter? Some of the negative things as well as the positive that came out of it.
Ray: I love the terminology “Black Lives Matter” because, Black lives DO matter. It is a great slogan, very meaningful. Unfortunately, that movement has gotten tarnished by the actions of a few bad actors who have their own agenda.
John: It morphed from protesting to anarchy.
Ray: In certain instances, yes
John: Please explain.
Ray: People have the right to protest, however, some saw the protests as an opportunity to loot, steal, damage people’s businesses and personal property. Innocent people have been injured and some even lost their lives due to this chaos.
John: We did a Black Lives Matter issue where we called attention to that. We were in support of it, but also criticized the criminal elements, the looting and creating chaos.
Ray: It is my opinion it would also be good opportunity to address the fact that black lives that are being lost to violence in minority communities also matter.
John: Black gangs are killing other black people.
Ray: My heart aches for parents every time I hear about the innocent loss of a child due to senseless violence. I am in support of peaceful protests that address the fact that “Black Lives Matter” including the ones that perished due to senseless violence.
John: Why just protest when you can do something about it.
Ray: Exactly, I am not against peaceful protesting.
John: No, it has its place.
Ray: Yes, protesting has brought awareness to inequalities affecting minority communities and helped to bring about positive change. So as opposed to focusing on the negative outcomes associated with BLM, I decided to focus on the positive. Being a businessman and entrepreneur, I want to do something to help fellow black entrepreneurs, so I launched the Black Business Zone on Juneteenth.
John: I love that, Black Business Zone, why on Juneteenth?
Ray: Thank you, I launched on Juneteenth, because it is a very significant day in our history.
John: For those readers who don’t know what that is, can you tell them?
Ray: It’s a holiday celebrated on June 19th to commemorate the emancipation of slavery in the US. So for me, it is symbolic in that it marks the start of Black entrepreneurship.
John: And freedom began, at least here.
Ray: Yes, freedom to pursue entrepreneurship. Because of its significance, I am thrilled to be able to celebrate the anniversary of the Black Business Zone every Juneteenth. A lot of positive things have come out of the Black Lives Matter movement, and more recognition of this holiday is one of them.
John: Now what does the Black Business Zone website do?
Ray: It’s a Business directory and Marketplace.
John: It’s in its infancy?
Ray: Yes. It just launched this past June, so it’s very new. It provides resources for black entrepreneurs and it is also a marketplace for them to showcase their products and services to people who want to support Black owned businesses.
John: You’re providing an actual directory so people who really want to support black owned businesses, rather than go searching on the internet, they can come to the Black Business Zone and purchase products and services from Black owned businesses.
Ray: Exactly, it’s a national platform meaning if you are a small business in a local community, you can create a listing for FREE on the platform and gain national exposure for your product or service, at no cost. As you grow you there are additional paid services you can take advantage of on the platform.
John: Now I understand you have over 800 companies that already want to be listed on the platform.
Ray: I have a Facebook group with over 800 members since BBZ’s launch in June. Anyone can register on BBZ as a buyer, (regardless of their background) or as a Black business owner, for FREE on the platform.
John: So, it’s a little bit like Craigslist?
Ray: Well a little, the BBZ platform will offer many unique features not found on Craigslist.
John: Am I guessing the original goal was to be almost like the Yellow Pages, so this will be a little bit of a niche?
Ray: Yes, for example, businesses using the platform can have a live feed on their listing from Facebook, Instagram or Twitter depending on the plan they choose. Registered buyers will be able to add businesses they like to their favorites, so they are easy to find when they return to the platform. They can also leave reviews. This is great for fellow buyers and it helps businesses rank higher in our searches.
John: That’s great?
Ray: Thanks, yes, the more reviews they have, our platform will recognize this, and they will come up higher in our searches. This robust platform will have resources in one place to help Black entrepreneurs thrive economically as they transition during this Pandemic.
John: Very cool. When do you expect to go from soft launch to fully functional community?
Ray: The soft launch was in August, because August is National Black Business Month. A lot of people don’t know that and again, because of the Black Lives Matter movement, it brought more attention to this holiday. The platform will be fully functional the 3rd quarter of this year.
John: Wow, that’s fast.
Ray: Yes, there is an immediate need to address the disproportionate amount of hardship caused by COVID-19 in the minority community. I’m also working on a show called the Black Business Zone Show to launch 3rd quarter as well.
John: Like a trade show?
Ray: Not so much a trade show, it will be a talk show. The programming will feature Black entrepreneurs and have supporting guests. It will cover a wide range of topics like the implementation of PPP loans, and how working with community banks can grow your business for example.
John: I got you. We did a little thing on Bridge Hampton National Bank because they were very good that way.
Ray: Exactly, many Black owned businesses where denied PPP loans despite having a pre-existing relationship with the bank.
John: They sat in line and got nothing.
Ray: Yes, unfortunately.
John: Well I want to congratulate you for being a Model Citizen and for sharing your story.
Ray: Thank you very much! It’s my birthday month and now I’m a Model Citizen, I love it! I am humbled by this honor.
John: For all our readers, I hope they can support the Black Business Zone Marketplace at http://www.blackbusinesszone.com
Categories: Model Citizens Magazine