Majora Carter is a different kind of entrepreneur and real estate developer. She brings businesses to blighted Black communities in hopes of revitalizing the area and employing the local residents. The urban revitalization strategist advises and partners on transformational real estate developments in the South Bronx and around the country. She is owner and founder of real estate consultancy Majora Carter Group.
“My consulting practice in corporate settings as well as economic development across the U.S. illuminated some big gaps in the orthodox social justice strategy that many well-meaning activists, philanthropists, and government agency officials subscribe to,” Carter told NewsBreak. “Successful companies practice talent retention. People familiar with your in-house culture, training, and ethos are people you can add to and build with. The more successful individuals get incentives to stay and earn leadership positions.”
She added, “But in low-status communities such as urban ghettos, former factory or mining towns, or Native American reservations, people there most often measure their success by how far they get away from the communities that raised them.”
She has implemented numerous economic development, technology and green-infrastructure projects and created policies and job training programs. In early 2022, Carter’s book, “Reclaiming Your Community: You Don’t Have to Move out of Your Neighborhood to Live in a Better One,” was published.
One of her ventures is the Boogie Down Grind in the Bronx. The Bronx is nicknamed in hip-hop circles “Boogie Down Bronx.” It is a hip-hop coffee shop and craft beer spot she owns and opened in the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx. Its mission to encourage more businesses to open in the economically troubled South Bronx has attracted locals and celebrities, including hip-hop icons DJ Kool Herc and Fab Five Freddy, to enjoy a cup of java and more.
Opening in 2017 was a bold and risky move by Carter. The New York City borough has long struggled. In 2021, the Bronx had the highest crime rate in NYC. She played up on the positives of the borough, such as the Bronx being credited as being the birthplace of hip-hop. So she decorated the Boogie Down Grind with graffiti, subway car seats and hip-hop memorabilia. The menu boasts hip-hop-inspired names such as Grand Master Frappe. And the menu is nicely affordable; the most expensive item is a sharable pizza at $12.
“Commercial corridors in places like the South Bronx are peppered with health clinics, pharmacies, liquor stores, and so-called community centers,” she said. “Striving, creative, successful, hardworking people from our communities as well as those commuting in look elsewhere to spend their money and are deprived of opportunities to meet each other locally. Education and medical professionals who commute in see the same things, and that’s one reason we have such a high turnover in those positions.”
She added, “It’s what urbanists would call a ‘3rd-space desert’ where positive daily socializing is hard to come by. That’s why we created the Boogie Down Grind. It’s a place where people can express themselves and learn about others so that the community can grow.”
The Boogie Down Grind hosts community events — from open mics to financial workshops to showcasing art.
When it first opened, Carter took on investors for the venture.
“We are not currently taking on any more investors for the Grind, but this cafe started off with the help of investment from a local family here — author Sulma Arzu-Brown and her amazing husband Mho Brown,” she said.
In 2021, the shop received a financial boost from superstar Beyoncé to help continue its commitment to the community. The shop received $10,000 from Beyoncé’s Beygood grant, using the money to build outdoor seating that looks like a subway car.
The money came at a time when the pandemic was financially affecting the shop. The owner sought funding from other sources as well.
“Like many small businesses, we were smacked pretty hard by COVID-19. We were able to use a crowd-sourcing investment platform called Mainvest.com to assemble $50,000 from 125 local investors during the spring of 2020. We pay them back as a percentage of revenue, so, unlike a bank loan, we don’t have a fixed monthly payment to make when things are slow — and we pay out more when business is strong. We also took advantage of Federal loan programs, but we are most proud of our #BeyGood grant from Beyoncé. We put that money to use to build our award-winning outdoor seating,” said Carter.
The shop’s outdoor seating, which is built to resemble a subway car from the 1980s, won an Alfresco Award. The Alfresco Awards celebrate New York community groups and establishments that are revitalizing the city’s neighborhoods by redefining open spaces.
Moving forward, Carter wants to attract corporate sponsorship. “We would love to develop corporate sponsor relationships to construct more subway car seating on our permitted space to continue to provide artists with a public platform for expression, maybe even some worldwide graffiti competitions,” she said.
“We want to open more shops and hopefully raise enough investment capital to launch a real international franchising campaign. Hip-hop fans and artists, coffee lovers, and craft beer drinkers are all over the world. This is a winning combination that could do well in Paris, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Johannesburg, Rio de Janeiro, Bogotá.”
Why did Carter bring Boogie Down Grind to the South Bronx?
“I’m from here. This is where I want to see talent retention instead of brain drain happen. But just as hip-hop became a worldwide success, there is no reason this concept can’t franchise and spread to all the places where people love the culture that came from here, too,” she shares.