Black-owned businesses bloom in the Cedar Valley

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  • Ebony King finds joy in her jewelry business, but still faces many obstacles as a Black business that impact her visibility and her experiences with customers. She wants people to support her and her business not only during Black History Month, but year-round.

  • Ebony King of Waterloo, Iowa, started her clay jewelry business as simply a hobby during the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, she is the proud owner of Formed, specializing in jewelry design and workshops. She is pictured above with her husband Travor and her products on display at a vendor fair.

  • Joy Briscoe, executive director of ONE Cedar Valley, encourages both consumers and businesses to shop with local Black business owners to work toward creating a more equitable business environment in the Cedar Valley.

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ERIN MCRAE , Staff Writer

February is Black History Month, a time when local communities are encouraged to think about the profound effect Black History has on American History. In the Cedar Falls area, there are multiple opportunities for students and community members to show their support for the Black business community. 

Joy Briscoe is the executive director of ONE Cedar Valley, a local organization devoted to removing barriers for multicultural business owners as a response to the 24/7 Wall Street Report listing Waterloo/Cedar Falls in the top ten of the worst metro areas for Black Americans in the United States. According to Briscoe, ONE Cedar Valley serves as a mobilizer for the local community.

“We are providing equitable career readiness programming that not only assists with upskilling while addressing barriers to meaningful employment, we are seeking to be the bridge for employers to work with nonprofits to create stronger, more vibrant communities,” Briscoe said.

Some of the services that ONE Cedar Valley provides include local youth internships, connecting businesses with Black-owned suppliers, and facilitating information on increasing diversity in local organizations. 

For Briscoe, Black History Month is a time for Americans to remember not only our history but where we are going. “It’s a time to recognize Black leaders who have paid the price and continue to pay the price for democracy.  We have to look back to go forward and not make the same mistakes of the past,” Briscoe said. “We can and should always connect Black history to a need for financial freedom as well.  This is where businesses come into place and where we as a community can look to create a more equitable business environment.”

For individuals interested in contributing to a more equitable business environment, Briscoe said there are steps consumers and businesses can take. “Shop with local Black business owners, ensure they are a part of your supplier list and when they are a part of your diversity supplier program don’t just have them as a name, but use their services and products.  This can take a little more work to research and find Black-owned businesses, but the benefits of increasing economic mobility for our community is priceless and worth the investment,” Briscoe said. 

Ebony King is the owner of Formed, a business in Waterloo that specializes in clay jewelry designs and workshops. For King, the journey to owning her own business was not an easy one.“I was born and raised here in Waterloo, Iowa. I was raised in foster care from the age of 2 until I aged out at 18. I have always wanted to make sure my life was showing other children and youth in foster care that you don’t have to be a statistic,” King said. “I didn’t really get a say when I was younger, so I vowed to make something of myself and really try to encourage other at-risk youth to do the same.”

After experimenting with clay jewelry-making during the COVID-19 pandemic, King quickly discovered that a lot of people were interested in purchasing her products. Her business took off quickly, and King was featured on the popular Magnolia website founded by Chip and Joanna Gaines as one of the top 50 Black artisans to watch. “Business came sweeping in, and I made a decision to see where this would go,” King said. “I started selling at markets in 2021, in addition to my online shop.”

But her success was not without struggle. In the early stages of building her website, King encountered many obstacles as a young Black business owner. “I was not being seen on platforms even though I was doing the work, posting every day, posting at peak times, trending sounds, etc.,” King said. “I even hired a service to help. I have to work extra hard to be seen and appreciated. I also still have people making racial comments when I sell my items in person. It’s pretty crazy.”

King emphasized that Black History Month means reflecting on the sacrifices other Black Americans made. “I’m a firm believer that Black History is everyone’s history, and should always be celebrated. I don’t want someone’s business if it’s only in February. I want people who choose to support me 12 months out of the year because they believe in what I do all year… Not just when they feel obligated in February,” King said. 

For more information about Formed, including market dates, workshop events and private party booking, visit this website: 

For more information about ONE Cedar Valley, visit this website: