By Laurie D. Willis
In the 1980s, a music scholarship to attend Winston-Salem State University brought Reginald McCaskill from Jacksonville, Florida, to the Twin City. His penchant for helping minority businesses succeed has kept him here.
McCaskill is the founder and coordinator of the Triad Minority and Women’s Business Expo, being held Aug. 24-25 at the Benton Convention Center in Winston-Salem. Make no mistake about it: helping minority businesses is his business.
“Reginald does whatever he can to promote other businesses in the community,” says Taleona Mayfield, who owns Jewellery Unique Gifts & Accessories with her husband Kelvin. “He promotes minority and women’s businesses through social media and through his own platforms. He does whatever he can do to help somebody else.”
The Mayfields live in Kernersville but their business – which specializes in unique and one-of-a-kind items such as handbags, fashion jewelry, custom apparel and men’s accessories – is on Fourth Street in downtown Winston-Salem. They are planning to sponsor a booth at this year’s expo as they have since its inception five years ago.
“We’ve been in business now for seven or eight years,” Kelvin Mayfield says. “The one thing we’ve learned is we struggled with awareness because sometimes people just don’t know you’re there. The expo is a great way to get exposure, and it’s amazing to see how much time and effort Mr. McCaskill puts into it.
EXPO BEGAN IN 2014
McCaskill started the expo in 2014 when it was held at The Enterprise Center on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, just south of WSSU’s campus. The first year, about 25 vendors set up shop at the expo, he said. The next year, about 42 business owners participated, and the third year more than 60 vendors participated. Last year there were about 85 vendors at the expo, and this year McCaskill says he expects the number of vendors to exceed 100.
The types of businesses the expo attracts run the gamut. For example, a Triad-based chiropractor with offices in Winston-Salem and Greensboro has been attending the expo since the beginning.
The event will also feature two days of workshops with topics including developing and sustaining meaningful business connections; the seven biggest mistakes you make when networking; and marketing strategies for small businesses and building a sustainable brand. Presenters include Bob Brown, president and CEO of B&C International; Tara Ezell, transformational speaker and life coach at Virtue of Women; and Garland Scarboro, diversity and inclusion manager at Food Lion.
The presentations on Aug. 24 will be held in the Anderson Center on WSSU’s campus from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Presentations on Aug. 25 will be held at the Benton Convention Center between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. There also will be an awards reception on Aug. 24 at 7 p.m.at the WSSU Donald J. Reaves Center. The reception is for sponsors and vendors; however, tickets can be purchased for $25 at the www.triadminoritybusinessexpo.com. Also, a party will be held at the Benton Convention from 9 p.m.to 1 a.m. on Aug. 25. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door.
‘From humble beginnings’
“I’m excited about this year’s event,” McCaskill says “It’s gotten bigger. The Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce is one of our corporate sponsors this year, for the first time in five years. The cities of Winston-Salem and Greensboro and WSSU as a whole have also been very supportive.”
A city street has ceremoniously been named Triad Minority and Women’s Business Expo Boulevard, and a proclamation has been issued for the event, McCaskill says.
“From our humble beginnings at The Enterprise Center, now we’re at the Convention Center,” McCaskill says. “You don’t move to the Convention Center unless there’s some relevancy to it. It’s a leap of faith.”
Thomie Douthit, director and founder of Douthit Funeral Services in Winston-Salem, met McCaskill when McCaskill was a WSSU student and came to perform at Union Baptist Church. Douthit says he has supported McCaskill since he started the expo, in part because of McCaskill’s role some 13 years ago in finding young people to help renovate Douthit’s Funeral Home business. At the time, McCaskill worked for the Piedmont Triad Regional Workforce Development Program mentoring young men and helping them learn trades.
“When he started his Black Business Expo, I was a part of that because I’m a person that believes we need to push entrepreneurship and we need to start with our own,” Douthit says. “Reggie started small but never lost his dream or his vision about what he wanted to do.”
Elliott D. Lowery and McCaskill became friends when they sang in the WSSU choir. Lowery, who teaches music at Griffith Elementary School, helps coordinate the expo’s Artists Showcase. The way Lowery sees it, McCaskill rivals the Energizer bunny as he rarely takes a break from helping others.
“He’s constantly in motion,” Lowery says. “Every time I look around he’s always going live on Facebook promoting something – a community cookout or whatever. A young lady opened a bakery on Clemmonsville Road and he came in live and promoted it. There was a building on Patterson Avenue, almost like a dining hall, and he promoted that. He’s never, ever, ever just about Reggie. He’s always about helping somebody else, and it’s never about his personal gain or what he can get out of it. He’s definitely a vital part of the Winston-Salem community.”
‘champion for the underdog’
McCaskill earned his bachelor’s degree in political science with a concentration in public administration and a minor in music from WSSU in 1985. In July, he celebrated his thirty-third wedding anniversary with wife Aimee, who serves as his business manager and is among the 17-member expo planning team. In January, he retired from the Piedmont Council of Governments, where he worked for just under 33 years.
“I’m the type of person people say doesn’t meet strangers, and I’ve always been a champion for the underdog,” McCaskill says. “That’s why the expo was started. I saw a need and the need more so was that, unfortunately, minority and women businesses don’t get the exposure that the other major companies get because we don’t have the competing infrastructure or dollars. I wanted to give minority businesses an outlet so people could see their products. If they couldn’t rent a billboard or advertise in a local paper, the expo would provide them an avenue for exposure.”
The Mayfields say the expo is invaluable to small business owners.
“It gives you an opportunity to collaborate with other businesses and an opportunity to know other people in the community,” Taleona Mayfield says. “It’s also an opportunity for workshops, meeting community leaders and being able to ask questions of other business leaders.”
McCaskill is grateful to the Mayfields, Douthit, Lowery and others who support the expo year in and year out. The way he sees it, if African Americans and other minorities supported each other more, their businesses and organizations would flourish.
“I tag the expo as a big celebration of minority businesses,” McCaskill says. “It’s incumbent upon us to support each other and lift each other up. That’s certainly not to say we don’t appreciate and want support from non-minorities because we do. But at the end of the day, we must be our staunchest advocates.”