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Charleston Business

Honoring Our Black Entrepreneurs: James and Grace Stephens

Feb 01, 2024 10:23AM ● By Genna Contino

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.

James and Grace Stephens

Asher Theatre 

Myrtle Beach

James and Grace Stephens are the husband-and-wife duo behind Myrtle Beach’s award-winning Asher Theatre – but their accolades stretch far beyond thespianism. Grace is chancellor of Generations College, a role she took on after serving as the first female president of the college and one of the youngest college presidents in the nation. James, an actor, comedian, writer, and producer, has performed in Carnegie Hall and the Grand Ole Opry. He’s worked with big-name actors like Jennifer Aniston and Will Ferrell, and his standup comedy has appeared on the major networks, HBO, Comedy Central, Showtime, and MTV.

This year, the Stephens will celebrate six years of business at Asher Theatre, described by James as a hip, cultural, and family-oriented live performance theater. 

“While entertainment venues closed during the pandemic, we survived because of a decision we made upon establishing our business – we decided that our primary mission was to enrich the lives of the residents of South Carolina,” Grace said. 

The theater was rated Best of the Beach by the Sun News for the last two years and given Trip Advisor’s Traveler’s Choice award for the previous three years. The Stephens prioritize their faith – Grace is an ordained pastor – and are proud to be an African American-, female-, and veteran-owned business.

“We are a gem in Myrtle Beach that brings A-class and celebrity entertainment in a safe, family-friendly, swanky, upscale environment, and the world needs to know and experience The Asher Theatre and Conference Center – the soul of Myrtle Beach,” Grace said.