Organizers hope jazz event draws more Black businesses to downtown Middletown

Yolanda Drake and her band are performing a free jazz concert Friday at Governor's Square in downtown Middletown.
Yolanda Drake and her band are performing a free jazz concert Friday at Governor's Square in downtown Middletown.

Social justice goals emerge from police killing of George Floyd.

An initiative in Middletown hopes to create “a welcoming environment” in the downtown for the whole community, said one of the organizers.

Michelle Novak, a Middletown City School District board member and co-founder of People’s Initiative Network, said the group has scheduled a three-part jazz series in hopes of showcasing the city’s diversity and attracting more Black-owned and start-up businesses downtown.

She said the group was formed last year in the wake of George Floyd, a Black man, being killed while in Minneapolis police custody. The group plans to support social justice in education, health, criminal justice reform, political access and economic development, she said.

The small informal group of community members wanted to get involved in order to build “a better future in Middletown for our children and grandchildren,” said Novak, a mother of four.

The program to support economic development in the city is focused primarily on supporting local Black businesses and start-ups and it’s called the Middletown Black Business Collaborative (MBBC), according to Novak.

She hopes to provide a platform for small Black-owned businesses and start-ups to envision themselves in some of the vacant downtown storefronts, while drawing diverse crowds to the downtown area from around the region.

The fiscal agent for the event series and event partner is Downtown Middletown Inc.

“Jazz was the unifying factor,” Novak said. “We want to show those outside our community that we have a lot to offer.”

She said the Jazz series is an event for “everyone” and will generate “a different vibe than what we’re used to downtown.”

Novak mentioned three Black-owned downtown businesses, Potato Bar in the Pendleton Art Center, Mz Jade’s Soul Food on South Broad Street and Miracles on Broadway on Central Avenue.

There needs to be more such businesses, she said.

“There is a gap and we need to fill that gap,” she said. “There is not enough diversity downtown. We are here for the Black community. They don’t always hear that.”

The goal, she said, is to make all residents comfortable in the city and to keep them living and working in Middletown instead of moving out of the area. Novak said two of her four children have moved away.

“I have to do something so they can have a better life,” she said. “We want them to build their lives here.”

Another solution involves connecting existing regional resources in Dayton and Cincinnati to the Middletown community such as the Minority Business Assistance Centers in Dayton and Cincinnati. And the last approach is to create programming where gaps have been identified

The MBBC has applied for the United Way Black Empowerment grant but will not have a response until September. She said the group is looking for other community and regional partnerships. To help offset the costs for these community events, the MBBC is looking for event sponsors.

HOW TO GO

WHAT: Jazz series

WHEN: 7-9 p.m. July 23 featuring The Crew with Yolanda Drake; Aug. 27 featuring Audrey Whitaker Wright and her band; Sept. 24: an Afro-Latino jazz band

WHERE: Governor’s Square, downtown Middletown

COST: Free and open to the public