Jelissa Edwards always enjoyed writing, but she never saw herself as an author.
She has enjoyed the first two Black Business Expos put on by social entrepreneur Sabrina “Heymiss Progress” Madison, but Edwards never saw herself as a vendor.
“I would always say to myself, I wonder what it would be like?” she said. “But then I was like, nah, I’ll probably never be a vendor here.”
Now, both of Edwards' dreams are a reality. Saturday she’ll get a chance to sell copies of her new book at Madison's biggest expo yet, with over 60 vendors, activities, music, food and a job fair featuring over 40 employers.
The Heymiss Progress Expo and Job Fair will take place this Saturday, June 22, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Madison Area Technical College, 1701 Wright St.
Madison put on the first expo last summer to connect black entrepreneurs, companies and clubs with each other and the community after attendees of her popular Black Women’s Leadership Conference expressed a need for networking opportunities. That event was a success, with over 350 people crowding the Urban League of Greater Madison's space on Park Street.
So for her next expo on Black Friday in November, she moved to The Village on South Park Street. But that venue wasn’t big enough, either, necessitating the move to MATC.
Edwards said she loved the past two fairs, but she’s nervous to sell her own books for the first time. Recently, she had a chance to talk to some of the other, more experienced vendors who gave her helpful pointers and encouragement.
“It is very inspiring, because it shows me that everyone had to start somewhere,” Edwards said. “Their customers, their audiences, their network has grown quite a bit since being part of the expo.”
Edwards was recently struggling with homelessness and her book, “Loyal to the Game: A Woman's Ambition,” is about life on the streets. The story is a mashup of her own personal experience and that of her co-author and partner, Thylonius Edwards.
"I was just writing as I was going through these different channels and different emotions,” she said.
She’d love to establish herself as an author, not only because she loves writing but so she can start to work from home, giving her more time with her two kids and freeing up her schedule to allow her son to get involved in sports.
Madison wants to give vendors like Edwards a leg up, but she’s also looking out for attendees.
This year, Madison is intentionally providing activities at the expo for visitors who might not have extra money to spend on the soaps, candles, jewelry or clothing for sale by vendors. As a single mom, she always had a “super tight” budget, and wants to look out for those with similar struggles.
That’s why activities like the Madison Library Book Bike, a fire truck courtesy of the Madison Fire Department and music by DJ Pain 1 and The Boombox Madison are available at the free event.
It’s important to Madison to make the event family-friendly, because she wants kids to come and see people who look like them succeeding as entrepreneurs. It’s worth it, she said, just to see “their little faces light up.”
“Kids come into expo and their faces are so in awe when they see these black men and women who are selling them things, who look like them,” Madison said. “There’s not necessarily a lot inspiration for them to think of themselves as entrepreneurs or business owners.”
The kids will also get to see a fashion show by Eneale Pickett of Insert Apparel, a clothing line that aims to start conversations about race, gender and sexuality. Models will be black college students.
“I always dreamed of having a fashion show and when she gave the opportunity, I just had to take it,” Pickett said. “I want these students and kids to come to this fashion show, knowing that you can attain this, too.”
He’ll be showing his summer line of tank tops which say “Black Boy Brilliance” and “Black Girl Magic.”
To further encourage kids, Madison will present a youth entrepreneur award to Ajani Carr, a teenage motivational speaker with his own nonprofit.
“I’ve watched him grow,” she said. “He’s very much not sitting around, he just goes and does.”
She’s also looking forward to giving an “Entrepreneur of the Year” award to Jasmine Banks, who sells natural beauty products and candles through her company Perfect Imperfections. Last year, Banks was selling soaps at Madison’s leadership conference and now she’s taking orders from bigger organizations, Madison said.
“I’m recognized for a lot of the work that I do. Unless you’re well connected to the larger black community, movers and shakers, you don’t really get recognized for your work,” Madison said. “It means so much to me to see people get recognized, to give them the space to shine.”
While Madison is grateful for the support she’s gotten for the expo, as the sole organizer, she can always use more help.
But there’s a very simple way anyone can help her meet her goal of 2,000 attendees, she said: “Bring a friend.”