A local entrepreneur’s mobile app has become a valuable tool for an overlooked market
Then Delaware marketers and event planners want to share news of particular interest to the Black community, they often turn to a local website, DelawareBlack.com. The site has delivered news, events, and Black business listings to readers since 2006, and has recently evolved.
DelawareBlack.com is the creation of Leonard J. Young, of Newark, a 1994 Alexis I. duPont High School alumnus who returned to his home state after obtaining a mechanical engineering degree from Florida A&M in Tallahassee, Fla.
After college, Young lived in Philadelphia and Texas. “These places had forms of Black media, whether it was radio, newspapers or magazines,” he says. “I thought, ‘Let me see if I can do something like that.’”
In 2018, Young expanded his DelawareBlack.com brand by creating the National Black Guide mobile app. In January 2020, he relaunched the app, pairing it with a website to enable mobile and desktop access to the guide’s data.
National Black Guide absorbed the previous DelawareBlack.com content and added city pages for 21 major metropolitan areas — from Atlanta in the East to Seattle on the West Coast. Young also added pages for Canada, the United Kingdom, and Africa, enabling the site to publish international news and Black business listings.
The inspiration for DelawareBlack.com and now the National Black Guide began with Young’s grandfather, Leonard J. Young, Sr. “My grandfather had lived in Wilmington for a long time. He was always telling me that Shipley Street used to be all Black businesses.
“He told me about a Black shoemaker. As the person was looking to retire, he was looking for someone to become an apprentice, and he couldn’t find one, so he went out of business.”
Today, Shipley Street is dominated by apartment buildings and parking garages, not Black businesses.
That story helped inspire Young in his mission to promote Black businesses and events around Delaware, and now beyond with National Black Guide.
His work has allowed him to do well while doing good. He and his wife, Yolanda, who is also self-employed in marketing and social media influencing and with whom he shares four children, are able to take frequent international vacations.
Prior to the pandemic, the Youngs had also begun looking for investment opportunities. They secured financing, and once conditions allowed, they began searching for properties. They recently made their first major investment: a mobile home park, far from their Newark home — in Albertville, Ala.
Young says he had no previous connection to Alabama before this transaction, but he and his wife jumped at the opportunity.
Albertville Mobile Home and RV Park comprises 31 lots on six acres of land. The Youngs have done their research around the mobile home business, and Young says it is “really hot right now.”
“We are focused on building wealth and building a legacy,” he says. “I really hope this is something we can pass down to our kids, as a wealth-building tool for them as well.”
Pedro Moore, a venture advisor and business owner in Wilmington, has known Young since the early days of DelawareBlack.com, and he sees the logic in the Alabama investment.
“The Black and Hispanic communities suffer the most in terms of wealth creating,” Moore says. “One of the fastest approaches to acquiring wealth is to acquire something that exists rather than building from the ground up.”
Significance and Symbolism
Moore also recognizes the significance and symbolism of Young’s investment. “Especially for a lot of Black people down South, they grew up in mobile homes,” he says. “They rented. And here’s a Black couple who owns the whole mobile park. It helps set the tone for legacy.”
While the mobile home park wasn’t much to look at, Young saw the potential to make it beautiful, and what began as a financial investment has come to inspire the couple.
The Youngs have already increased occupancy by more than 70%, to 15 tenants, and are getting to know the residents.
Young says that Alabama’s Marshall County, like many communities around the country, is experiencing a significant housing shortage. Now, he says, “We are directly able to serve those people in the community who are looking for affordable housing. We get calls every day and hear everybody’s stories.”
While a property investment and a media outlet might look like disparate business interests, Young’s desire to uplift a community seems to be a common thread in his business endeavors.
“Like how some people love volunteering, I definitely enjoy being able to help businesses and people get publicity and recognition,” he says. “It’s one of the reasons we started doing news coverage on the app. A lot of great things happen, and they don’t always get noticed.”
The importance of Black-owned businesses is gaining recognition. Yelp added “Black-owned business” to its search tools in June 2020, in response to a sharp rise in such searches amid nationwide justice protests.
What’s more, supporting Black businesses makes economic sense for the Black community. In 2009, a landmark study by Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business showed that out of $1 trillion in Black buying power, only 2-3% goes to Black-owned businesses. The study further demonstrated that nearly a million new American jobs could be created if middle-class Black consumers would increase their spending within their community by just 10%.
Beyond the economic advantages of the National Black Guide for the Black community, it may also create a subconscious feeling of safety.
There are parallels between National Black Guide and The Green Book, a segregation-era travel guide known by various names, including “The Negro Travelers’ Green Book” and “the bible of Black travel.”
The book, published from 1936-‘67, highlighted restaurants, hotels and salons, much like the National Black Guide, although the book’s focus was on businesses that welcomed Black customers, rather than just Black-owned businesses. It enabled Black people who were traveling from state to state to obtain goods and services without being turned away, or worse.
Although times have changed, safety may still be on the minds of Black travelers, and patronizing a Black-owned business can assuage worries.
Beyond simple listings of selected businesses, the guides have another thing in common: both The Green Book and National Black Guide foster the possibility of making a visit to a new city more enjoyable. Where The Green Book offered travel essays and travel tips, National Black Guide features destination-related news, such as the Delaware Art Museum’s “Afro-American Images 1971: The Vision of Percy Ricks” exhibition on the Delaware page. And today’s content can be accessed with a mobile device, a tool a traveler from the Jim Crow era couldn’t have imagined.
Dave Coker, Proprietor of DAV/Mark, Inc., a marketing and events company in Delaware that regularly uses National Black Guide for Delaware promotions, calls the guide “an excellent source for traveling and being able to patronize businesses that you would normally never know anything about.”
National Black Guide continues to find ways to add value for its users, with recent stories about accessing Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, vaccines, and unemployment benefits.
Young does it all on a shoestring: his staff consists of himself and two interns — for a media outlet that has more than 6,000 businesses with listings and a million users.
While National Black Guide is now international in its reach, Young sees plenty of potential right here at home. “There are a lot of Black businesses that are starting in Wilmington,” he says, “and we hope to partner with them to give them more visibility.”