Interview with J Hackett
Interview with J Hackett
Black Wall Street-AVL, The Grind Coffee Shop, Grindfest, Green Opportunities -- all entrepreneur organizations and businesses started or led by Joseph Hackett, known locally as J Hackett.
Hackett is dedicated to making Asheville a business and tourist destination for BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color). As a community ally, Carolina Jews for Justice is committed to supporting Black-owned and Black-led businesses.
J has a compelling story to tell.
He grew up in Philadelphia but went to school in North Carolina. J was given a scholarship by Elizabeth Dole, then Director of the American Red Cross. He could choose any school; he picked UNC-A. He started as an opera singer, then switched his major to sociology, with a minor in Africana Studies. He got married in Asheville and then moved to Richmond. His wife, Dr. Alaysia Black Hackett, was appointed in 2022 by President Biden as Chief Diversity Officer of the US Department of Labor.
J relates about a pivotal time when he started a business at age 26. As a young leader without strong financial knowledge, his business failed, resulting in a prison sentence for organizational mistakes. Since completing his sentence and probation in 2018, Hackett has made it a priority to help people like himself learn how to be better leaders of their organizations.
J returned to Asheville and was appointed Executive Director of Green Opportunities (GO) at the Edington Center in the Southside Community. He expanded the Kitchen Ready program and developed other work programs focused on developing skills for people unemployed or previously incarcerated.
After leaving GO, J worked internationally for Tremm Global Charities briefly before turning his attention to improving the opportunities for Black-owned businesses in Asheville. With Gene Ettison, he founded The Grind as the first Black-owned coffee bar and networking space, especially for Black entrepreneurs. He and his current partner Bruce Waller have grown The Grind to be recognized as the 3 rd best coffee shop in NC, the #1 minority owned business in WNC, and the fastest growing startup in Asheville in 2022.
Hackett is also the founder of Black Wall Street AVL (https://blackwallstreetavl.com/), which he describes as "a black business incubator that helps start, grow and expand Black Businesses"; As those two business ventures continue to thrive, Hackett has focused on helping others learn to
write grants for their non-profit organizations.
The idea for providing such opportunities evolved from the State of Black Asheville (https://stateofblackasheville.com/) data started by Dr. Dwight Mullen, currently chair of the Reparations Commission (and J’s former professor at UNC-A). The data demonstrated how few successful black businesses were in Asheville. J sought support from Rotary, the Chamber of Commerce, the Tourism Board, and elsewhere. He was successful in receiving grants from the City of Asheville and NC Idea Foundation -- and Black Wall Street AVL took off. His dream was to start with 20 businesses in 2021; instead, they enrolled 74. Revenue was projected to be $250,000; instead, it exceeded $1 million. Since then, they have enrolled 135 businesses, generating over $2 million in revenue and 24 new jobs.
Another city grant allowed the working space at The Grind to move to its own space at 8 River Arts Place, still known as Southside to the Black folks who lived there. “Grindfest,” a celebration of Black Wall St/AVL members and supporters, brought in more revenue.
I asked J how the Jewish community could be supportive of Black Wall Street AVL. His response included:
- Volunteer for activities of Black Wall Street, including at Grindfest, May 26-28 (https://blackwallstreetavl.com/events)
- Share knowledge about business strategies with members
- Support participating BIPOC businesses
- Host events at Black Wall Street spaces
- Reach out as a friend and make personal connections with members
For more information about J, watch (https://tedxasheville.com/speaker/j-hackett/). To join us
in working for racial justice, go to carolinajewsforjustice.org or contact Judy Leavitt