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Lesley Montgomery, owner of Divas on the Go, greeted shoppers at her booth at last year's Black Friday Business Expo.

PHOTO BY SAIYNA BASHIR

Sabrina Madison offered free gift wrapping at last year's inaugural Black Friday Business Expo, but is not planning on bringing it back to the second installment on Friday, Nov. 24.

“We realized people were shopping for themselves,” she said. “There were some gifts, but it was more people like, 'Look what I got for myself!'"

Madison can’t blame them, as she’s also guilty of pocketing most of the things she buys. As the organizer, she gets to shop before the expo opens to the public, and she loves picking up bracelets and earrings from vendor Papyrus and charms or mango candles from Solitude Scents.

Holiday shoppers can browse from those and about 30 other black-owned vendors at the expo this Friday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. at Madison College's South Campus, 2300 S. Park St.

Madison, well known by her nickname "Heymiss Progress," organized the first expo to connect black entrepreneurs, companies and clubs to each other and the community after attendees of her popular Black Women’s Leadership Conference expressed a need to network.

Since then, Madison has found the event helped push some wanna-be entrepreneurs into action. She’s had people shop at her expos and tell her, “Hey, I’m going to be one of your vendors next time around,” Madison said. It’s been exciting to watch them keep those promises, she said.

That was the case for Maia Chen, a mother of three who was constantly trying, and failing to find diverse cards for the birthday parties her kids attended. The options in stores didn’t look like her kids or their friends, and she couldn't find many cards online, either. She went to a Black Business Expo and decided that she would fill the gap.

“I was like 'hey, next year, I’m going to create this,'” she said.

She and business partner, Chenelle Baines, brought Sweet Sorrel to a summer expo and will set up a booth again on Friday. Sweet Sorrel brings diversity into greeting cards and other art, Chen said.

Around the city, Madison said she can usually find “like five cards aimed at black people,” but with Sweet Sorrell, “I don’t have to go Walgreens and be disappointed.”

“They pick up on all of those things that are unique between black and Latino families,” Madison said.

Chen said Sweet Sorrel vends at a lot of events, but nothing is quite like the Black Business expo. Chen said she loves being around other black-owned businesses. She grew up in Madison, but at the expo, she discovers vendors she’s never heard of before.

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“It’s a different kind of feel,” Chen said.

Last year, the vendors took home almost $24,000, a number Madison is looking to beat on Friday. She’s been asking attendees to save up at least $50 to spend on the beauty, apparel, art, baby and other products, but she said that even people who don’t have any money to spend can come for free cookie decorating and family photos.

“At the end of the day, my internal private goal is to have always young people and children witnessing entrepreneurs who look like them,” she said.

Madison is also raising funds for her recently announced project, the Progress Center for Black Women. The organization will put her current projects (including the expo) under one roof and add an entrepreneur collaborative space, a leadership accelerator and a small-dollar lending program.

She just passed the halfway mark of her $150,000 goal, she said, but she’s got even bigger plans for the future. The long-term goal is to buy a house and renovate it into a permanent home for the center.

“I’m excited, I just don’t have time to enjoy the excitement right now,” she said, laughing.