Before she was the first African American woman to run for Mayor of Buffalo, NY, Beverly A. Gray was a small business owner. She managed a daycare, using her own home as a safe space for neighborhood parents to leave their children when they went off to work or school. She became a pillar in the community as a business owner and someone people trusted. That experience sparked her interest in life as a public official.
In 1995 Ms. Gray ran for and was elected Council-member-At-Large for the City of Buffalo, becoming the first African American woman to hold a citywide office, starting on a path that forged her legacy as a fiery community advocate. In her years as an elected official, she served as the chair of many committees that empowered her to bring attention and resources to black neighborhoods that had been overlooked and under-served. She was an outspoken representative for the people of Buffalo, particularly the communities on the city’s Eastside along the main thoroughfare of Jefferson Avenue.
The economic revitalization of Buffalo’s Eastside was a focus of her work. Part of her illustrious legacy is the belief that supporting minority and women small business owners and entrepreneurs in that community would boost the vitality of the entire city. That belief and her work continue in her name today at the brand-new Beverly Gray Business Exchange Center powered by Next Street.
In 2014, with the support of Mayor Byron W. Brown, the City of Buffalo, Erie County Industrial Development Agency and others, Next Street was commissioned to develop a plan for a one-stop resource hub to connect Buffalo-area minority owned firms to the services they need to succeed. Located in the historic Jefferson Library in the heart of a neighborhood that Ms. Gray cared deeply about is an organization that will be known simply as the Exchange. At the Exchange, business owners can get invaluable expert guidance to grow their business and plan for the future. Our team provides startup and launch assistance, financing guidance, M/WBE certification support, and access to networking opportunities.
The Exchange is the newest small business resource center that Next Street operates. Our mission is to revolutionize how our clients provide capital, customers, and services to small businesses. Our vision is a more inclusive economy. Nationally, M/WBE firms are declined for loans 2-3 times the rate of non-M/WBE and when they do secure capital, they receive rates an average of 1.4% higher than non-minority business owners. We see the removal of barriers like these and access to capital as two critical ways to work towards realizing our vision. In 2018 alone, we served more than 4,000 small businesses through our small business development programs helping them gain access to resources, new economic opportunities, and secure almost $8 million in financing.
The doors to the Exchange officially opened this Black History Month, in time to honor Beverly A. Gray as an important black leader and her work in Buffalo. Above the main staircase now hangs a commissioned portrait of Ms. Gray holding her head high as if to say that she’s proud to see that the work continues. Already, we have worked with more than 120 Buffalo-area business owners. Next Street is proud to carry the torch that Beverly A. Gray once held as one of Buffalo’s most prominent advocates for the Eastside.