By Edwin Buggage
On March 20th NOPD officers were in pursuit of what they believed was a car that was stolen. As officers became disengaged the car sped away and tragedy arose as the car crashed into Unity One Beauty Salon, causing a three alarm fire that left the iconic Broadmoor business building engulfed in flames leaving it presently inoperable. Also three lives were lost, the two young men in the vehicle and one women inside the salon who later succumbed to burns sustained in the fire.
After the fire an outpouring of support came from all over the city, state and nation regarding the rebuilding of what has become an institution in the African-American community. Data News Weekly spoke with Beverly Smith DPC (Doctor of Professional Cosmetology) who owns the business with her husband John Smith, who founded the business in 1981.
Unity One Trailblazer in Black Haircare Industry in New Orleans
As we is known the Black Haircare industry is a multi-billion dollar industry and was traditionally where Black Entrepreneurs could find support from the black community and build wealth. Today while there are still businesses like Unity-One that is Black Owned many have gone out of business.
But Beverly Smith is determined to continue the legacy they have built as they are on the road to rebuild their business.
“We are a family business that began in 1981 by my husband John Smith. I met him in 1982 and began working with him building our business that at one point had five locations and was the number one distributor of black hair care products in the Southeast region,” states Ms. Beverly, a name many have come to know her by in the community.
Continuing talking about the business she says, “We provide professional products to serve professionals in hair care industry the general public. We also have a salon as well. Beauty industry from all over the city gone on and started their own salon. We have been an incubator in the community for beauty professionals.”
Community Comes Together to Support Rebuilding Effort
Speaking of their contribution and the beginning stages of their rebuilding she says, “We are reaching out for resources. We have spoken to Mayor Cantrell and our City Councilman Jay Banks for support. We are a historic business with ties in the community and we plan on rebuilding bigger and better,” Ms. Beverly says with confidence and optimism ringing in her voice.
Speaking of their impact in the community she says, “We have helped the homeless to help transition to permanent housing. We offer training them how to run a business and grow. We have a product as well. Umoja Visions we employ people to work with the product line. Learn how to become entrepreneurs.”
Recently, the Bronner Brother Hair International Beauty Show came to New Orleans. There was an outpouring of support for Unity One and its rebuilding. Speaking of when they were present a check for 10,000 dollars presented to them during an event Smith says, “Bronner Brother brought us on the main stage talked about our tragedy and asked everyone to support us and James and Jessica Bronner gave us a check to start restoration and renovations.”
Locally, fundraisers are also being held to help. Recently, at Bertha’s Place, a local bar held a fundraiser that was well attended with an outpouring of support. “We had DJ Captain Charles there, someone we have known for a long time. He lives in our neighborhood we have done many things for us. Bertha, is someone we have known her for a long time. We started our business around the same time. She is just like family.
Deborah planned and organized the party to assist with us getting some things for our immediate needs.”
They’re both opening their businesses is not the only thing they have in common; recently, Bertha’s Place was also damaged by fire. But today Bertha’s is in a new location and is going stronger than ever with the community continuing to support her. This is something that encourages Ms. Beverly, feeling their family business will travel down a similar path. “It touched her heart because she also had a fire to her business. It touched her heart, she said I understand your pain and if I can do anything to help. Love and prayers is phenomenal. It something to keep us motivated and moving toward rebuilding our business. People really care.”
Also closer to home in Broadmoor where their business is located neighboring business are pitching in to help, “Propeller, a business accelerator that works with small businesses is definitely reaching out. They have been very supportive and will be doing a fundraiser on April 15. I have also talked to Kathleen Rhodes of Rhodes Funeral home and they said they are willing to help in any way possible.”
The Value of Life
All lives matter and in this tragedy three lives were lost. With compassion and care in her voice she says, “I talked to one of the boy’s mother and the other one’s grandmother and I gave them my condolences. We were there to support them with their prayer vigil.” Speaking of the young lady who lost her life she says, “Ms. Shawan, was one of our customers. We all went to her funeral and supported them. I remember seeing her coming in the salon. She was a very quiet lady; she didn’t say much. Monica Scott would do her hair who is one of the salon managers. I remember her just loving being in the environment and my heart goes out to her family and her son Anthony who also use to come and get his haircuts and line ups.”
The Continuing Importance of Black Owned Businesses and Unity in the Community
In post Katrina New Orleans with its many changes; the importance of Black Institutions, business and cultural footprint is essential. Speak of the future of her business and other Black Businesses she says, “Being Black owned business is sometimes a challenge; oftentimes we do not get the funding and support we need. But I feel there has been an upside to it as well, being a role model for the community,” Smith says proudly.
“We have young people who are now adults say they watched us and because of our example wanted to become a business owner. We give a lot of hope and encouragement that you can become a business owner. The community is proud of what we’ve become and we’ve inspired them.”
For those who know of all they have given back, it is now time for them to be on the receiving end as an outpouring of love and support is there as Unity One is on the road to rebuild. “Unity means coming together as one. We need to unite and be on one accord. Whenever there is someone in need. The community can come together to help together we can stand but divided we will fall. Together we can accomplish more. The whole city, not just Broadmoor.”
This article originally appeared in the New Orleans Data News Weekly.