On that social media-driven day of protest on July 7, millions of people pledged not to spend money unless it was at a Black-owned business. It was an event intended to uplift Black businesses and artists, demonstrate the economic power of the Black community and its allies and make a statement that companies need to stand up for justice and equality for Black Americans if they want their dollars, organizers said.
Murphy and Kazadi decided one day wasn’t enough.
“We were all looking for a more curated space to find Black businesses,” said Kazadi, who works for Comcast Business and is a writer for Christain lifestyle magazine Back2Basics. “We thought, let’s provide a platform that anyone could use.”
Now, two months after Blackout Day 2020, the BBLK app has arrived.
The app — pronounced “Black”– went live Friday. It can be downloaded by visiting bblkapp.com. A release through smartphone app stores is expected later.
The app provides addresses, hours of operation and phone numbers for more than 1,100 Black-owned businesses across the country, at least one in all 50 states, its creators say.
Murphy and Kazadi, both 29, are Denver residents. Naturally, there is an emphasis on the Mile High City. Around 400 businesses in and around Denver are listed on BBLK and counting.
“A lot of times, (Black-owned businesses) they’re smaller, they don’t have big presences online,” Murphy said. “The hardest part for people is just to know where they are.”
That growth will be facilitated by the app itself. BBLK isn’t just a directory for consumers, it’s a free marketing tool. Business owners can download it and add their company information for a potential listing. After vetting to make sure it meets BBLK criteria, the business will be added to what Kazadi and Murphy expect will be an ever-expanding database.
Beyond cofounding BBLK, Murphy is also listed on the app. Under the arts & entertainment banner — one of 17 business categories in the BBLK search menu that also includes headings like food and beverage, financial services, education and real estate– you’ll find Murphy. He’s a rapper who records and performs under his first name, Ramond.
Earlier this year, Murphy collaborated with other members of Denver’s hip-hop scene on the song “I Can’t Breathe (Again),” a musical amplifier for the pain, angst and determination behind the Black Lives Matter movement. He sees the BBLK app as another way to support that movement, this time from the economic side.
“It was kind of the same as the song. It was just looking at ways to use your voice and platform to do more to effect change,” he said.
Murphy and Kazadi may have had the vision but they reached out to a friend to help them design and build BBLK: graphic designer and fellow Denverite Leonard Johnson.
Johnson, who can be found on the app under his nickname/tradename, Grafitti, has designed cover art for Murphy’s musical releases. He saw Murphy and Kazadi discussing the idea that would eventually become BBLK on social media. When they asked him to be part of it, he jumped at the chance even though he had never built a directory app before and had to learn some new skills on the fly.
“I’m big on promoting the community,” said Johnson, 33. “As we were going through the concept, it was kind of a no-brainer.”
As a freelance graphic designer, Johnson knows a lot of clients in the Black community that could benefit from the exposure the BBLK app stands to provide.
“For that company that’s just starting and they don’t know how to reach people and they don’t know how to be found, it will definitely help them,” he said.
Beta testing on the app started weeks before its release date. Murphy let both his grandpa, who is over 80, and his nephew, who is in his 20s, try in out, he said, making sure it was as user friendly as possible ahead of its launch.
Murphy’s friend and fellow entrepreneur Jonathan Lobato tested out the function for adding a new business listing. His West 29th Salon in Wheat Ridge opened a little over a year ago. It has had a challenging start, being temporarily shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic, but things are coming around. The salon just hired someone to provide massages, adding to its hair and nail services. Lobato is now in the market for an esthetician.
“I got on and it was easy to navigate which is huge when you’re looking for a business these days,” Lobato said. “This app is really something that could help catapult people in our shoes.”
Lobato is hoping to put the app to use when making future business decisions like where to host special events. He sees that as a way to double down on the benefits for the Black community.
“It’s not something that’s just for (the salon), it’s helping a lot of people, helping foster a sense of community,” he said.
The BBLK app is free to consumers and to people who want to list their businesses on it. The only way Murphy and Kazadi will earn money is via donations and merchandise sales. The donate tab in the app allows users to give as little as $5 and as much as $500 and offers a link to a site selling BBLK app T-shirts.
Even a portion of the donations will be cycled back into the community. Murphy and Kazadi plan to pick at least one historically Black college or university to direct some of the money to each year. Out of the gate, 10% of the donations will go to a school or schools and scholarships, Murphy said.
The BBLK app team has partnered with the Denver’s Juneteenth Music Festival Corp. The nonprofit, which organizes the annual Juneteenth celebration in Five Points, will help with promotion, fostering additional community partnerships and support when it comes to channeling donation dollars to schools and scholarships, Murphy said.
“We are excited to serve as a fiscal partner with the BBLK app,” Norman Harris, who leads Denver’s Juneteenth Corp. said in a statement. “We believe that this platform will stand at the forefront of our community and create innovative solutions for connectivity and commerce.”
Murphy, Kazadi and Johnson plan to put most of their share of the donations early on back into the app, adding more functions and improving the user experience as much as they can. All three said they would love for the app to blossom and become a longtime focus for them.
The point of the BBLK app isn’t to eclipse businesses owned by people of other races, Murphy said. It’s about providing an easier avenue to support these businesses more frequently for those that want to do so. Kazadi said she hopes people will embrace using the app to find and support Black-owned businesses at least once a week.
“Our slogan for BBLK app is to make every Friday a Black Friday,” she said.
Updated Sept. 5, 2020, at 10:33 a.m. Because of an error by a reporter, Mariam Kazadi’s place of birth was incorrect in the original version of this story. Kazadi was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.