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Riding in style: How BRAVE is supporting Meridian Rentals LLC and other Black-owned businesses

Scooters - Photo by Shaelee Haaf
Scooters – Photo by Shaelee Haaf

Students could be zooming around campus instead of Zooming on their computers, and seniors Shakir Blackett and Seth Crosby are making it possible.

Alongside Meridian Rentals LLC, BRAVE — Black Rights, Activism Visibility and Equity — and the Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce are helping the company bring rentable, electric scooters to campus and the city.

According to USA Today, the popularity of electric scooters in cities across the world has spiked in recent years. Schools like Ohio State University and University of Toledo have also introduced fleets of scooters on their campuses.

“The concept of the electric scooters and micro mobility has kind of been around for a little bit already, and obviously it’s been capitalized in other cities and other campuses. It was just kind of strange when we thought about it and realized, we don’t have that here in BG. Nobody else was on it yet, and (we) decided it was time for somebody to,” Crosby said.

Meridian Rentals LLC has been in the works since mid-2020, but they have already received an overwhelming amount of support, Blackett said. This past summer the company did a test run with a two-scooter fleet and generated over $1,000 in donations and investments by the end of 2020.

“We’ve had a lot of support from students, faculty and professors. We’ve had people actually donate funds and we’ve had investors interested as well, so really and truly we’ve had overwhelming support,” Blackett said.

Blackett and Crosby said their number one goal right now is to establish a partnership with the university. Expanding the fleet is next on the list and Crosby said that would eventually create job opportunities for students.

Although COVID-19 brought on challenges for the company, both business partners attribute a large part of their success to BRAVE for helping them set up connections and getting the resources they needed.

“It’s a perfect example of ‘it’s just not what you know, but also who you know,’ so those connections were invaluable and definitely accelerated the process of getting our business where it needed to go,” Crosby said.

One of several goals BRAVE is dedicated to involves supporting Black-owned businesses in Bowling Green. The organization created an official partnership with Tony Vetter, director of the Downtown Business Bureau, and Mary Hinkelman, director of the Chamber of Commerce, to connect Black business owners with resources.

Keisha Merriweather, the BRAVE public relations coordinator, wrote in an email, “We will have quarterly check-ins with each small business about their marketing, future planning, business plans, and local networking so that they are a more liable business. We do this to help make Bowling Green a more diverse and inclusive city and community, so people of color can feel represented inside the city of Bowling Green and eventually small towns alike.”

BRAVE started working with Blackett in October 2020 and met with him on a bi-weekly basis, according to BRAVE President Anthony King. In addition to helping Blackett with marketing and business-planning aspects, BRAVE also set up informational meetings with Vetter and Hinkelman, where Blackett gave a presentation about Meridian Rentals LLC.

“The information and feedback was reciprocated to us and what steps were needed in order to be successful in this venture,” Blackett said.

At-large City Council member Sandy Rowland also worked with Blackett and described him as very self-motivated.

“He was the type of business owner that just thrived on getting more information, so he was already well underway, but he was still learning and thrived on those learning experiences,” she said.

As BRAVE continues to develop, one future goal is to form a grant program, which would fund Black-owned, start-up businesses. The organization plans on raising those funds by way of several means: applying for governmental grants, starting a GoFundMe page and through monthly memberships on their website, which is in the process of being built.

Giving Black-owned businesses substantial support could affect the overall business climate in Bowling Green, King said. He put emphasis on the importance of making Black people “feel more at home” and creating a space that “helps them feel more welcome.”

In a BG Independent article, Chris Douglas, 10-year resident of Bowling Green said at a city council meeting, “the number of Black-owned businesses in the city can be counted on one hand.”

King mentioned the barbershop Beyond Blends, which opened its doors in summer of 2020. It is currently the only Black business that has a space to operate in Bowling Green.

“As students and community members, I believe it’s mentally taxing to not only study and be a student, but also have to figure out how you’re going to live day-to-day life, because there are no businesses that treat you and cater to you as a Black person,” King said.

BRAVE plans on bridging that gap, and Meridian Rentals LLC is the first of many Black-owned businesses BRAVE hopes to lift up.

Blackett said BRAVE has been there for the company every step of the way.

Crosby also recognized Black businesses in and around Bowling Green seem to be receiving a lot more support and encouragement lately from the surrounding community.

“I think that (BRAVE is) a great, great organization that already has empowered a lot of Black businesses and organizations. They’ve done a lot of good already, and I think as they continue to gain traction and support, that they’re going to continue to do more good,” he said.

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