SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - When Elbi Elm arrived in Southeast Georgia, she says she noticed some missing resources for minorities in the community.
“I see it as economic empowerment. How to turn their ‘wantrepeneur’ status into an entrepreneur status. Then I see it as social empowerment. People need to be together and collaborate and socialize and spend time with one another and learn from one another," Elm, Founder and CEO of The Culturist Union said. "And then people need to be educated on systematic racism, what’s going on in the community, how they can be impacted.”
So the Air Force veteran says she set out to fix those problems herself, founding The Culturist Union in 2019.
“The Culturist Union is a digital hub and cultural atmosphere centralizing social and economic empowerment for black creatives, professionals and entrepreneurs," Elm said. "What that really means is that we host events, forums, discussions, network opportunities all centered around the black experience.”
When the pandemic and protests for social justice coincided, she says that hub, now virtual, became crucial.
“We saw opportunities online that we didn’t see when we were hosting in person," Elm said. "We partnered with the Coastal Georgia Minority Chamber and Professor Amir Toure from SSU to host political forums. Out of that, I launched the black millennial roundtable events where people got together and talked about whatever topics. We’ve talked about black love. We’ve talked about systemic racism.”
During this time, Elm says The Culturist Union has continued to grow, and a wider group of people have begun to express their support
“I think people were a little disillusioned, and they didn’t understand why community spaces for people of color were important," Elm said. "And now it’s like, ‘How can we support you? How can we help you?’”
If you’re interested in becoming an ally, Elm believes you can take simple steps to make a big impact.
“I think that the first thing people should do is educate themselves. Or if you want to participate in a roundtable discussion, contact The Culturist Union," Elm said. "Secondly, I think, you know, the whole buy local initiative. There’s so many local black artists and entrepreneurs and restauranteurs in this city.”
If you’re not familiar with some of the minority-owned businesses in Savannah, some SCAD alumnae want to introduce you. Leslie Finnie and MayLi Lynch created Off the Map Savannah out of a class project.
“Get off the typical map that is offered to tourists, which really is usually centered in the downtown area of Savannah," Finnie said. "Like highlighting black owned businesses, but then keeping those white owned businesses still there and present.”
On their Instagram account and Facebook page, you can find short posts and longform interviews with business owners across the city. Finnie believes this digital exposure is even more important right now.
“The millennial age, especially during the Coronavirus, has been focused on digital media and digital representation,” Finnie said.
Ultimately, both say Elm and Finney say their efforts are about providing a space for the Savannah community to come together and support each other.
“I feel like I’ve been put in a position where I’m not always invited to a certain table for others," Finnie said. "But now I’m creating a table where people, including those who have excluded me, can come to my table.”
The Culturist Union is also partnering with Abode Market to spotlight local artists of color through the end of November.