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TWG 2022 and the Business of Birmingham’s Black Community

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Joell Regal, owner of the local tea and lemonade company RoyalTea, with some of her products inside the Civil Rights District Marketplace in downtown Birmingham. (Amarr Croskey, For The Birmingham Times)
By Javacia Harris Bowser
For The Birmingham Times

Joell Regal, owner of the local tea and lemonade company RoyalTea, is pleased to be a part of at the Civil Rights District Marketplace held in the historic Kelly Ingram Park during The World Games 2022 (TWG2022).

However, she’s more focused on the impact the Games will have after the July 17 closing ceremony.

“This is bigger than The World Games,” Regal said.  “My company is still going to be here after The World Games and Birmingham’s still going to be here after The World Games, so how I can connect with people in a way where after The World Games I still benefit from what happened during these 10 days?”

After the international athletes and out-of-town spectators have departed and returned to their homes and the tents of The World Games Plaza at City Walk have been taken down, what remains – from partnerships to infrastructure – will have the potential to have a lasting impact for Birmingham’s businesses, schools, and residents.

Taking Care of Business

Regal spent the first few days of TWG2022 vending at the Civil Rights District Marketplace, which highlights Black businesses and artists and features entertainment from Black performers.

The marketplace is hosted by the Birmingham Business Resource Center through a partnership with Mastercard and in collaboration with the World of Opportunity Vendor Program, a division of The World Games 2022 Birmingham.

The World Games Plaza at City Walk features a merchant market of local businesses but the World of Opportunity vendor program asked the BBRC to host a satellite market to give even more local entrepreneurs a chance to showcase their products and services to visitors from all around the world, and The Civil Rights District Marketplace was born.

Eager to seize all opportunities, Regal also set up shop in the merchant market at City Walk for a few days. But she believes the connections she’s made with local organizations such as the BBRC and national corporations such as Mastercard as well as relationships she’s built with other local business owners will have the most significant impact on her business.

“When you’ve got those components coming together, you’re going to win,” she said.

Bernika Cox of Queen B’z Treats is also participating in the merchant market at City Walk. Though excited about the amount of foot traffic at the Plaza, she felt she would also benefit from the meetings hosted by the World of Opportunity program leading up to the games, meetings that introduced her to various resources available to small business owners.

“When you know what’s out there for small businesses,” Cox said, “that pushes you out a long way.”

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Bring the World to the Yard

The World Games 2022 may be about athletes showing that they’re at the top of their game, but it’s also a time for Black Birmingham to show off its best and brightest too.

The opening ceremony, which was held July 7 at a packed-out Protective Stadium, was a great example. The ceremony was produced by LRY Media Group, a Birmingham-based professional event agency owned by Rashada LeRoy. Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin helped to run flags to the stadium to kick off the event. Henry Panion, III one of Alabama’s most accomplished and decorated composers and University Professor of Music and Director of Music Technology at UAB, served as artistic director.

The future of any city is only as bright as its young people. TWG 2022 partnered with Microsoft to create programs meant to promote Alabama’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Historically Black Community Colleges (HBCCs).

The program connects students to career and business opportunities in technology. The partnership has included a series of virtual events, a Minecraft Challenge for HBCU/HBCC students to explore game development, a scholarship fund for Alabama HBCUs and HBCCs and an HBCU Experience activation at the World Games Plaza.

Raquel Liverpool, a junior at Miles College studying political science and business administration, hoped the HBCU Experience would give visitors a taste of what she loves about attending an HBCU.

“Coming to Miles College was a culture shock in a positive way,” said Liverpool, who grew up in New York and Florida and attended a predominantly white high school. “I was able to meet people just like me [at Miles]. I was able to connect with other people who were just like me.”

In an effort to “bring the World to the Yard and the Yard to the World Games,” the HBCU Experience at The World Games Plaza gives visitors a taste of the culture that students like Liverpool experience at HBCUs and HBCCs.

Each day, a different school serves as the host offering panel discussions, mini pep rallies, strut and step showcases from Black sorority and fraternity members, and more.

Miles College kicked things off on opening day, followed by Tuskegee University, Alabama State University, and Lawson State Community College. Alabama A&M University and Stillman College are to host on July 15 and 16.

Inside the HBCU Experience visitors will find a gaming lounge, a 360 photo booth, a Minecraft Corner featuring work from the finalists of The World Games HBCU Minecraft Challenge, a music beat-mixing station and more.

Microsoft’s work with HBCUs and HBCCs will continue after The World Games in hopes of supporting students’ professional growth and development. “They have so many plans involving Microsoft that are going to bring such an experience to the HBCU life that students are going to want to attend,” Liverpool said.

Setting the Stage

Birmingham residents like Tricia Ford, a 5th grade teacher at Phillips Academy, are excited that the city is buzzing like never before during The World Games.

Ford was one of the spectators who gathered for the Breaking competitions held at Sloss Furnaces on Sunday, July 10. Despite having to be rescheduled from Saturday, July 9 due to severe thunderstorms, the break-dancing games drew massive crowds to watch B-boys and B-girls battle for the gold and show off their footwork, handstands and head spins.

“Birmingham does not have a lot of events that are as big as this so being able to enjoy a historic moment here in the Magic City is awesome,” Ford said.

Sunday proved to be quite a day for hip-hop heads. In addition to the break-dance competitions, fans were also treated to a free concert at The World Games Plaza featuring Grammy award winning hip-hop artist Lupe Fiasco. The show was also rescheduled from Saturday, but that didn’t dampen the spirits of music lovers who filled the streets for the performance.

On June 11 in a radio interview with Isis Jones of V94.9 FM Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin shared his hopes that The World Games and all of the infrastructure improvements that had been in the works for years leading up to the Games will set the stage for Birmingham to become a sports and entertainment capital of the South.

“Our new football stadium – Protective Stadium – and the renovation of Legacy Arena, these two venues have allowed us to continue to attract national talent to our city where our families and residents can enjoy themselves, so they don’t have to drive to Nashville or Atlanta for a show or a sporting event or a concert,” Woodfin said in the interview.

In the weeks leading up to The World Games, Birmingham welcomed a wide range of musical artists including country music icon Garth Brooks, R&B legend Keith Sweat, gospel sensation Kirk Franklin and rap stars Bun B and 8Ball & MJG.

“I don’t think you’ll find a better fan base of all genres than Birmingham, Alabama,” Woodfin went on to say. “From the blues, to rap and hip-hop, to R&B, it goes down right here with a very supportive, huge fan base and any artist who comes here, we’ll show them love.”

On Sunday, Birmingham showed love to Lupe Fiasco, singing and rapping along not only to popular hit songs like “Superstar” but also to lesser-known tracks like “Go Go Gadget Flow.”

Risk and Reward

All in all, The World Games 2022 is about taking risks both big and small. The International World Games Association (IWGA) took a risk by staging this massive event in a city that’s never hosted anything of this magnitude. Birmingham took a risk by stepping up and declaring it could handle this huge undertaking. Likewise, with weather and response unpredictable, small business owners are taking risks vending at the marketplaces around the city.

Asked why she decided to bring her small business to a larger-than-life event, Regal of RoyalTea said, “Starting a company was a huge risk because I started in the middle of COVID. Ever since then everything has been a risk because we’ve still been in the middle of a pandemic, but I just kept moving forward.”

Just like Birmingham, just like the athletes competing in The World Games, Regal isn’t afraid of risks.

‘That’s the only way you’re going to get anywhere,” she said.

For more on Joell Regal visit www.royalteabrands.com or find her on Instagram @royalteabrands

For more on The World Games 2022 visit www.twg2022.com