Honoring Our Black Entrepreneurs: Meisha JohnsonFeb 01, 2024 10:22AM ● By Amy Bonesteel Smith
In 2022, more than 20 percent of South Carolina businesses were owned by people from racial minorities, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Of those businesses, more than 72,000 were owned by Black entrepreneurs.
A 2023 study conducted by Lendio, a company that specializes in loans to small businesses, used data from the Census Bureau and the U.S. Small Business Administration to rank each state’s support of minority-owned businesses.
The study ranked South Carolina 14th in the nation, citing a 147-percent job growth at minority-owned businesses.
Every entrepreneur faces challenges in getting a business off the ground and keeping it on a growth trajectory through the ups and downs of the economy and the upheaval of the Covid-19 pandemic. And many minority business owners face additional hurdles ranging from discrimination to a lack of mentorship opportunities, according to Lendio.
Meet some Black entrepreneurs around South Carolina who are navigating the challenges and putting their own stamp on the business world.
Neema Fine Art Gallery
For gallery owner and art consultant Meisha Johnson, connecting people to art is a passion. But before she began earning a living in the arts arena she explored other avenues, including education. A graduate of the University of South Carolina with a degree in psychology/elementary education, Johnson worked at schools in Atlanta, where she also started an extracurricular arts program for children.
Growing up in the Columbia/Anderson area, Johnson had been a frequent visitor to Charleston, and when a space on Broad Street became available she opened Neema Fine Art Gallery in 2018. During the pandemic Johnson took the gallery online, a move she continues now. A single mother, she has recently been accompanying her daughter on acting auditions, and the online gallery gives her the flexibility she needs. (The gallery will shift back to “brick and mortar” in June of this year.)
Some of the Black artwork Johnson sells includes paintings by Dana Coleman, who documents his Gullah heritage and life growing up in the Lowcountry, folk art by Lorenzo Scott, and work by painter and sculptor Otto Neals. Other notable names include collage artist James Denmark and South Carolina potters Rosa and Winton Eugene.
“My focus is Southern art,” says Johnson.
Her business also provides collection management services, art curation and works with private collectors, designers and businesses to display investment-worthy Black art. “I’m not a typical gallerist,” she notes. “I am an artist myself –– one of the things that I have learned is that people are drawn to whatever work speaks to them. It’s one of the beautiful things I have been able to witness as an art gallerist.”