WARREN, Ohio – Candice Dukes is using her business mindset and the passion for advocacy she inherited from her grandfather to empower the Black community of the Mahoning Valley.
Dukes is the founder of the Black Business Market, a vendor show designed to spotlight Black-owned businesses.
After years of work in the retail and banking industries that left her feeling unfulfilled, Dukes pivoted to an entrepreneurial route.
“I was good at what I did. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t feel like it was fulfilling for my purpose and my passion,” Dukes says.
Dukes grew up in the business world while being raised in Warren. In 1976, her grandfather, James “Doc” Pugh, turned a little house on the corner of Palmyra and Risher Road into R.B.G. Music, and eventually added a second story and an attached car wash.
Over the years, the lot also featured clothing stores, a shoe store and a butcher shop. The 34-year-old says entrepreneurship was a family tradition long before she was born.
“That is all I know. I literally grew up in it, and that groomed me to naturally be in business,” Dukes says.
During the downtime afforded to Dukes by the pandemic, she decided to start her own business selling women’s clothing and accessories, and named her enterprise Milk and Honey.
Running Milk and Honey came naturally to her thanks to her upbringing, but she still felt something was missing. As she questioned whether it was the right fit, the death of George Floyd and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement made national headlines.
Floyd’s death sent shockwaves through the country, but particularly in the Black community. Dukes says the community felt both despair and rage. She felt the pull toward advocacy she inherited from her grandfather, and she knew she had to do something to uplift her community in the aftermath.
Dukes brainstormed with her sister and came up with the Black Business Market to highlight the Black business community during a time of such negativity, she says.
“The mission of the Black Business Market is to bring positivity to the community. And to just shine a light on Black businesses in our area and the surrounding area,” she says.
The first show brought in 40 businesses, despite not having a solid plan going into it, Dukes says, and she held them monthly after the initial event. She credits the groundwork her grandfather laid in the community for the success of the market.
Pugh served as president of the Warren-Trumbull County NAACP chapter, served on the board of the Trumbull Community Action Plan, was a member of Black Men in Union and was elected to Warren City Council. Pugh was a “huge pillar of the community, especially the Black community,” Dukes says.
Supporting Black-owned businesses specifically is important because many owners do not have access to the same resources as their White counterparts, Duke says.
Access to capital is a common challenge for Black entrepreneurs. According to the Federal Reserve, 80.2% of White business owners receive at least a percentage of the funding they request from a bank, compared to 66.4% of Black, indigenous and people of color.
The Black Business Market gives local entrepreneurs a launchpad and allows them to connect with other business owners and customers.
“I’ve met a lot of people that have these great ideas, but they don’t necessarily have the wherewithal to move forward or even know how to move forward,” she says. “Those first beginning steps are crucial.”
The Black Business Market is in a season of change, Dukes says, and she is shifting toward a new business plan. She plans to hold the event quarterly in the new year instead of monthly, giving her time to focus on her 13-year-old son, Justice, and other ventures that are coming down the pike.
Dukes wants to dedicate more time to coaching business owners and entrepreneurs in growing their businesses by using tools such as social media. She started the one-on-one sessions over the summer and plans to expand in the spring.
“I could sit and talk about business all day long. I love when someone tells me their idea or the type of business that they have,” she says. “The ideas start coming in as far as creativity and different things that they could do to grow their business. That is really what sparks my interest.”
In another move to empower her community, Dukes started the Sister Circle – a group geared toward helping Black women become happy, healthy and whole, she says. Dukes wanted to create a safe space for Black women to gather and support and empower each other.
“I think it’s important for us to have our own spaces because we’re protected, and sometimes we’re not always welcome in other spaces,” she says.
The group discusses topics on self-care, mental health, motherhood and more. They meet annually for brunch, do monthly meetups and will be launching a podcast next year.
Dukes says she has an incredible support system of family and friends.
Her friend Ashley Wilson is an important part of that system. Wilson says Dukes has big dreams, but she has the tenacity and work ethic to make them come true.
“She’s the most hardworking person I know, and she makes the best use of every minute of every day. As a Black female entrepreneur, and with a strong family legacy behind her, Candice really believes in the potential of Black communities and business owners, and she demonstrates this every day in her work,” Wilson says. “I believe this is why people are so drawn to her expertise and trust her with the visions they have for their lives and businesses.”
Wilson has known Dukes for five years, and describes her as bubbly, driven, intelligent and hard-working.
“It’s her heart that makes her special. She genuinely cares about everybody around her, and that’s not a characteristic that’s common in entrepreneurs,” Wilson says. “Combine this with her brilliance, incredible work ethic and positive mindset and I know she is destined for greatness in Ohio and beyond.”
Dukes says she’s “addicted to seeing things in her mind and making them happen,” which is why she has managed to sustain the success she has achieved. She also believes that her work throughout the Black community is her purpose in life.
“I’m very faith and purpose driven. So, I know my gifts and my talents and the things that I’ve been blessed with, they didn’t come from me – they came from God. So, I feel like it’s my duty to carry out the work that I was sent here to do,” she says. “It’s a mixture of Jesus, my kid, my friends and my family – that’s what keeps me going.”
Pictured at top: Candice Dukes started the Black Business Market to support the Black business community.