Folks may recognize Amanda Fitzpatrick from her nightly news reporting on WWAY. Now, ILM is seeing her in a newer role. She and her husband, Yusef Abdur-Razzaaq—who works in federal law enforcement—saw a need in our community, so they decided to take a chance and attempt to give black professionals in Wilmington space where they could come together and support one another. Now two years since Fitzpatrick and Abdur-Razzaaq’s leap of faith, the Wilmington Black Professionals has become a staple in the community as an organization offering a fun environment for people to make new friends, network and grow their businesses.
Open to all races, creeds and sexualities, Fitzpatrick and Abdur-Razzaaq hope their organization allows aspiring entrepreneurs to link up with people who are interested in their products. As well the focus is to link black professionals with businesses interested in hiring minorities.
According to a 2017 census, Wilmington’s ethnic composition is composed of 92.1% white, 17.9% black or African American, and 6.31% Hispanic or Latino. With 119,045 people living in Wilmington, African Americans make up 20,700 of those residents.
“It’s safe to say we are the minority,” Fitzpatrick tells. “What that also means is when black professionals move here from larger cities, like Atlanta and Charlotte, where it’s nearly half of their population, they feel isolated. I’ve heard from employers they can’t retain black employees because they feel like there isn’t anywhere for them to go to meet other people who look like them, or share their similar experiences.”
When Fitzpatrick and Abdur-Razzaaq first moved to Wilmington three years ago, they shared those feelings. The couple spent much of their lives in major metropolises, where Fitzpatrick attended several African-American networking mixers. She wanted to bring the same connections to Wilmington. Fitzpatrick and Abdur-Razzaaq kick-started Wilmington Black Professionals’ Mix and Mingle in September 2017 to 75 people. “It was a free minority networking event to see if there was an interest for the group,” Fitzpatrick tells.
Turns out, there was.
The organization really began to take off in December 2017 with the Fifty Shades of Black Party. The name encompassed the fact it was a black professionals event, held at Blackfinns Ameripub (currently Marina Grill), and everyone wore black. Almost 200 people were in attendance, including city stalwarts.
“Mayor Saffo made an appearance!” Fitzpatrick tells. “We had educators from UNCW, heads of nursing programs, doctors, lawyers, business owners, parents, people that don’t usually come out because they assume it will be childish. When people came up to us afterward and asked when the next event was, it was an eye-opener. That’s when we knew we had to keep it up.”
Since their first mixer they’ve hosted nine events, some of them have included a ‘90s vs. 2000s Day Party, Jamaica Nights Party and Spring Fling Mixer. They’ve also coordinated fundraisers. Their last fundraiser took place during the 2018 holiday season. Fitzpatrick and Yusef saw the damage Florence caused to the community and decided to help with a Christmas toy and coat drive. Through the help of Northside Bridge Builders, Sanctuary of Wilmington and donations from citizens, they collected more than 75 coats and dozens of toys to be gifted to families still recovering from the hurricane.
But that they’re empowering black professionals all over North Carolina is the real reward. One member, Dr. Felice Carlton, registered nurse and certified health coach, works out of Rocky Point, NC. In 2015 she started Felice Carlton Enterprise aiming to help women cultivate a positive mindset for life improvement through coaching, retreats and public speeches. Dr. Carlton has attended many Wilmington Black Professionals events and has become close with Fitzpatrick and Yusef.
“Prior to this group, I knew there were other black professionals and business owners, but I rarely had the opportunity to meet and connect with them,” Dr. Carlton explains. “This group enabled me to network in ways that have increased the visibility of my business brand and make connections with businesses I never knew existed.”
Fitzpatrick and Abdur-Razzaaq give attendees a chance to personally introduce themselves and their work at each event. During their upcoming All-White Day Party, Dr. Felice Carlton will speak, as will Jermol Edward, a graphic designer who started 24 Media. Plus, Waymon Hyman will talk about his fraternity’s upcoming charity event.
“[During one event] we had the head of the nursing program at UNCW speak,” Fitzpatrick offers. “After, I got an email from someone I didn’t know saying thank you for doing that because ‘I was able to connect with her, and I am looking at going into the nursing program.’”
Sometimes the connections move beyond the Rolodex, too. They go into everyday life. “If you’re new to the area, your kids may need other kids to play with, you may [say to yourself], My kid is the only kid at this school that is black. I’d love for him to have another friend who looks like him,” Fitzpatrick notes.
“I have a 13-year-old daughter, and I’ve met people at our events that have kids that are around her age, and I’ve linked up with them and our kids have played,” Abdur-Razzaaq explains.
On June 22, the Wilmington Black Professionals will host their ninth event: The 2nd annual All-White Party. Already 100 tickets have sold. “People love an All-White Party!” Fitzpatrick says. “I think it started with Diddy. I remember thinking in college I wanted to go to [one.]”
The party will take place at the Rooftop Bar at North Front Theatre (née Level 5), located at 21 N. Front Street, overlooking the Cape Fear River. After Florence, the bar was completely remodeled, with new floors and a roof.
“It is so nice to have someone backing us with a venue that loves the idea of diversity because no one is really doing this in Wilmington,” Fitzpatrick explains.
They will have complimentary food catered by Diamond Food Enterprises. DJ Scooter Flesh will spin oldies, modern pop, R&B, hip-hop; there will even be line dancing. Corey Young will take pictures, which will be posted on the group’s Facebook page. The dress code is important, so dress to impress.
Folks are encouraged to bring business cards. The support of businesses and sponsors is also greatly appreciated, as some of them will have tables at the event. Fitzpatrick and Abdur-Razzaaq have recently started offering $100- and $200-level sponsorships in order to help expand their organization.
Readers can buy tickets or become sponsors at Wilmington Black Professionals’ Facebook page, which also is frequently updated with monthly events.