Four-Hundred Years of Service
In the early 18th century, several years before becoming a state, France introduced Illinois to slavery.
Throughout the United States, Black people would toil in slavery for decades, unable to craft legacies for themselves while being forced to build them for others. Long after the Emancipation Proclamation and even after the Civil War ended, African-Americans were still held against their will in bondage throughout the U.S. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865, a full 2 ½ years after the Emancipation Proclamation, that the slaves in Galveston, Texas, the last remaining holdout in our country, were finally told that “the enslaved were now free.”
This Sunday, Juneteenth marks another celebration of this moment and a reminder that freedom for some is not freedom for all.
Following the end of slavery, the Black population of Chicago boomed. After the Civil War, Illinois enacted some of the more progressive anti-discrimination laws of the time and Southern Blacks poured into the city during the Great Migration. Sadly, while slavery may have ended, the country was still at odds. The reconstruction of the South. Segregation. Race Riots.
The United States was performing open-heart surgery, attempting to find its conscience, and Chicago was the epicenter. Over the next 140 years, African-Americans would inextricably tie their history to that of their home’s. They had to fight for equality, fight against racism and fight to prove that they would not be defeated. The American dream was to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, and while Black people had had their bootstraps stolen their efforts to build the African-American dream could not help but come to fruition.
In 2006, hundreds of years after the first Black people of Illinois were enslaved, a century since the beginning of the Segregation Era, decades removed from the assassination of Dr. King—after 400 years of service—WDB Marketing was born in the southern suburbs of Chicago.
So, Who is WDB Marketing?
If you navigate to the “About Us” section of the WDB Marketing website, you’ll find two pieces of content: a team photo and a statement that reads:
“As fellow entrepreneurs, we understand the daily challenges you face with running and marketing your business. WDB Marketing is not just another print and design company! We’re your marketing family, here to help you with full-service marketing solutions that drive growth that connects your brand authentically to your audience. Let Us Bring Your Vision to Life!”
Of the three sentences written, a few words specifically catch my attention.
“WDB Marketing is not just another print and design company!”
So, what makes WDB Marketing so unique? Well, I’ve already mentioned that they’re “not just another” printer, but let’s talk some more history.
The United States’ commercial printing industry began when Elizabeth Harris Glover and her late husband, Rev. Jose Glover, brought the first printing press to England’s American colonies and established the Cambridge Press. This was back in 1638, nearly 100 years before the first slaves were brought to Illinois Country and more than 200 years before their descendants would be freed from bondage. Nowadays, it’s made up of approximately 35,000 companies that generate $90 billion in revenue every year. You’ve probably heard of some of the giants in the industry, like RR Donnelley, and if you’ve spent any time in the Domtar Paper Gallery, you’ve seen what printers like J&J Printing can accomplish. Unfortunately, the majority of printers tend to fly under the radar because of the sheer size of the industry so when one of our own accomplishes a first, they deserve to be praised. Now, take a look at the team that’s adding new chapters to the history books.
I mentioned earlier that there are 35,000 printers operating across the US—WDB Marketing isn’t just one of the relatively few Black-owned printers included in that number, it was the first Black-owned full-service print manufacturing company in the entire country.
Building a Legacy
Breaking barriers wasn’t WDB’s only goal. They also intend to build a legacy. Despite its relatively young age as a business, WDB has already established itself as a part of the community.
The staff at WDB Marketing understands that they have the ability to do more than just business; they can make an impact. They believe that representation matters—and you best believe that they’re leading from the front. From CEO Keeana Barber to Customer Experience Manager Mama Leah, almost every face you see on the company’s website is black.
Did you know that Chicago, the third-largest city in the United States of America, has a nearly 30% Black population? That’s almost 1,000,000 African-American men, women and children in a single city. What do you think it means to them that the first Black-owned print agency came from their community?
WDB is a business that visibly and actionably represents its community and has since day one. Keanna and her team knew from the start that they didn’t just want to support their home financially, they also wanted to leave a legacy that could be used as a pathway to new places.
10 Years of Black Excellence
As part of their tenth-anniversary celebration, WDB Marketing created the L.E.G.A.C.Y. Awards Gala to celebrate black business excellence in the area of 7 categories: (L)eadership, (E)ducation, (G)rowth, (A)dvocacy, (C)ommunity, and (Y)oung Entrepreneur and the overall L.E.G.A.C.Y. Award.
At first, their goal was to connect business owners and honor community figures, but when more than 500 businesses attended the first year, Keanna knew they were on to something big. Guess what? The Gala has only grown in the six years since. This year, in a city where Black people were once prohibited to live, this Black-owned business is in a position to give its 2022 Young Entrepreneur of The Year Winner thousands of dollars in prize money to help their vision grow.
The WDB difference is clear—the Black business community of Chicago stands as evidence. As quickly as their team was able to get up and running, they turned around and began helping others to do the same.
In an interview with N’Digo in early 2020, Keanna said that her keys to business are:
- Customer service is the most important aspect of marketing.
- Be better than you were yesterday.
- Give back.
That’s it. Take care of people. Improve every day and share what you have with others.
Juneteenth is a celebration of the end of slavery, the L.E.G.A.C.Y. Awards Gala is a celebration of what the future holds and this blog is a celebration of what a Black business can do for a community. WDB Marketing is furthering the proud legacy of the Black men and women who came before them by building up their community.
THESE ARE THE PEOPLE JUNETEENTH CELEBRATES.
What will you do that should be celebrated?
Bonus: Q&A with Keeana Barber
Keeana Barber is the CEO of WDB Marketing and a rockstar in her own right. If you thought WDB was cool, she might somehow be cooler. With a background in promotions, graphic design, marketing and print, Keena’s resume includes editing a community-based publication, What’s Da Bizniz newspaper, sitting on the board of Chamber 57 and Neighborscapes and founding the WDB L.E.G.A.C.Y. Awards.
Part of being an ally means knowing when to use your voice and when to amplify another’s. While we’re using our platform to help shine a light on WDB Marketing, we also thought it was important that you hear from someone within the business itself: Enter Keeana.
Recently, she sat down with Deborah Corn of Print Media Centr as a guest on Deborah’s Podcasts from the Printerverse and talked about being Black in Print.
Click the link below to hear from Keeana herself about WDB’s legacy:
Creating a Legacy for Print with Keeana Barber, CEO of WDB Marketing episode of Podcasts from the Printerverse.
Visit the WDB Marketing website for more on their team or return to our blog for more printspiration.