Penn State Alumnae ‘Rebuild The Block’ For Black-Owned Businesses Through Nonprofit

It’s no secret that Penn Staters are multifaceted and want to make a positive difference in the lives of others, and alumnae Alexis Akarolo and Zelnetta Clark are no exception. They’re using their passion to redistribute wealth and knowledge to help the Black community prosper through a new nonprofit.

Akarolo and Clark created Rebuild the Block, a nonprofit organization that raises funds to support Black-owned small businesses. But before the successful nonprofit came to be, it started as a GoFundMe in response to the heightened civil unrest and economic struggles happening in mid-2020. Akarolo and Clark decided to raise funds for Black small business owners.

“We had received so much support that we were just like, ‘Let’s be responsible, and let’s go make a real nonprofit organization, and from there, Rebuild the Block was born,” Akarolo said.

“With the events that have followed during June 2020 and just the pandemic and everything that was kind of going on…It kind of just felt within our hearts to create something to help the community, and then it became a nonprofit, so it kind of just fell in our lap,” Clark added.

Rebuild the Block gained success quickly. Its GoFundMe page raised more than $200,000 in two months, making for a quick turnaround to provide funding to Black-owned small businesses in states like Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, New York, and Pennsylvania. Akarolo and Clark want to expand their outreach to the West Coast to have even more of an impact.

To qualify for Rebuild the Block funding, businesses must be Black-owned, provide documentation that shows it’s a registered business, show documentation of profit losses, and certify that they were in business before January 1, 2020. From there, the Rebuild the Block team decides how much funding it can provide to the most vulnerable businesses.

Courtesy of Alexis Akarolo and Zelnetta Clark

Oddly enough, Akarolo said that the coronavirus pandemic helped kickstart Rebuild the Block because everyone was staying at home and scrolling through social media. Following the police killing of George Floyd, she felt like people wanted to help in any way that they could.

“I would say that that was a benefit for us because we were providing a solution when all we saw was problems…So when people saw that we posted [a GoFundMe], I think that they took it as inspiration,” Akarolo said. “I think they took it as people [who] just really wanted to really make a difference, and they invested in us.”

However, Akarolo said that probably the biggest challenge with starting a nonprofit in the middle of a pandemic — besides the obvious, of course — is the fluctuation of what events are trending at the time.

Although it seems like a daunting task to start a nonprofit in general — let alone in the middle of a pandemic — for two young alumnae, both Akarolo and Clark agreed that it doesn’t matter how old or successful you are to make an impact on people.

Courtesy of Alexis Akarolo and Zelnetta Clark

“We realized — you know, throughout this journey — that you don’t necessarily need to be established or feel like you need to be somebody, or in the height of your career to start something that will help other people and communities,” Clark said.

For Akarolo, her goal for Rebuild the Block right now is expanding outreach and providing relief wherever it can. From there, she knows the rest will work itself out to help the nonprofit flourish.

“At this point, it’s just about reaching who we can reach and providing as much assistance as we can. That’s my main goal from there. I’m sure a number of things will develop and grow to turn out for our benefit,” Akarolo added.

While expanding is also a priority for Clark, she also said that she would love to have Rebuild the Block be an advocate for other Black-owned businesses while also being able to provide other resources like help with marketing, social media, and building relationships with banks.

“Our mission is really about redistributing wealth and knowledge to the Black community to generate that generational wealth,” Clark said. “So, if we’re able to help these businesses, that’s how we’re going to be able to bring in that wealth within the Black community.”

Akarolo said that Rebuild the Block is always looking for people who are interested in making an impact in their communities, whether that’s through volunteering or partnering. She added that donating is another way that people can get involved and support Black businesses.

You can donate to Rebuild the Block on its website and keep up with the nonprofit through its Instagram and Twitter.

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About the Author

Mackenzie Cullen

Sadly, Mackenzie graduated from Penn State in 2022. She majored in English and served as one of Onward State's associate editors. You can keep up with her life and send compliments to @MackenzieC__ on Twitter.

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