With a desire to feed his family, provide for their needs and live up to the father figure he never had, this husband, father and friend is a shining example to Black entrepreneurs everywhere. (NOTE: One need not wear a suit to be a true entrepreneur.)
It is 6 a.m. in Harrisburg, Pa., and Leroy A. Jackson, III, (or “Mister” as he’s called by his close friends) is already dressed and eager to start his workday. Dressed in an unassuming blue-collar ensemble, he builds up a sweat—in 35 degree weather—as he stocks his delivery truck for today’s run.
“It can be a grueling career, for sure. But I have to feed my family,” he says without missing a beat while stockpiling.
Jackson, a 36-year-old Black entrepreneur, provides for his family as owner and operator of Milk N Mor, a company he started less than a year ago.
I asked Jackson, who attended college, why he would choose a delivery business as a career.
“It’s all about the economy. I have four other people who depend on me for their daily needs,” he says proudly. “I could sit around and wait for that perfect job to come along or even hustle on the streets—I have a lot of [former] friends who went that route. But it’s more important for me to serve as an example to my children and to show people in my community that I have integrity.
“Besides that, I like coming home every night to my family. In the corporate world you don’t always have that option…and when you’re hustling, you definitely don’t.”
When asked what special challenges he faces as a Black entrepreneur in today’s society, Jackson says: “I think any Black entrepreneur faces a certain amount of scrutiny—from our own communities, from other communities. And depending on the industry you’re in, you have additional challenges as well.
“For instance, I’m in the service industry—I deliver staple foods to businesses and individuals in this region. As a Black man, I’m aware that people of other backgrounds might view me as a threat: I deliver food to people in their homes and new customers aren’t sure of my motives. ‘Is he going to try to rob me? Will he attack me? Am I safe?’ are all questions that I’m sure some people might have about me simply because of the color of my skin.
“On the other hand, most Black people don’t view me as a Black entrepreneur—even though I run a successful business—because it’s not what some might call ‘glamorous.’ They see me as ‘some guy’ who delivers food. And that’s okay, I’m not really hung up on the ‘entrepreneur’ thing all that much. I’m just a man feeding his family.”
The end result is well worth the scrutiny
Jackson admits that it took some time to see himself as a Black entrepreneur.
“I think I was afraid of moving forward. You know it’s a problem some of us have: we know we can do better, but are we willing to take the risk to do better?”
And there were risks.
With little savings left and his unemployment scheduled to run out before long, Jackson faced an uncertain future.
“I knew I had to do something fast. I refused to be like my own father who lived just around the corner and yet never spent time with us, never provided for us, never attended a school game or any of the things that a real dad is supposed to do.
“I wasn’t going to be that guy.”
So Jackson decided to ‘help out an old friend’ by delivering foodstuffs throughout the neighborhood.
“Jim* was an older guy who was ready to retire, so he was looking for someone to take over his route. I pitched in and helped out, since I wasn’t working at the time, and before I knew it I had his entire client roster.
“From there I decided to really buckle down and give it all I got. Jim was old-school, so he didn’t know anything about the Internet or strategic marketing and planning or things like that. I decided to do some research and after I crunched the numbers I realized that, if I did things the right way, I could be successful at this.”
With no background in marketing and advertising, Jackson was out of his realm. But there was no stopping this Black entrepreneur, who was a force to be reckoned with.
After convincing an editor of the necessity of his business, Jackson was featured in the local newspaper. The results were incredible: in addition to an added 40 customers and a monetary donation from an anonymous source who’d read his story and “just wanted to help out an up-and-coming entrepreneur,” Jackson’s business has become so popular that he’s taken on added help.
“I have a few part-timers that pitch in from time to time. And my current client base is very supportive. Some have become my friends. It was worth the risk.”
The true essence of a Black entrepreneur
Most people imagine a Black entrepreneur as someone who sits behind a desk, stylishly clad, eating in all the finest restaurants and driving a BMW. And while those things are admirable, Jackson has a more down-to-earth approach to being a Black entrepreneur.
“At the end of each day, I get to play with my kids, have dinner with my family and worship as a unit. That’s the most important part of my work-life: it provides what my family needs to survive throughout this life.”
…And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the true essence of what it means to be a Black entrepreneur…and more importantly as a man.
*Name changed for the sake of anonymity.