Storefront Stories: AJ Events - Celebrating Black History Month Spotlights
In honor of Black History Month, we’re spotlighting #ACKChamber Black Owned Businesses! We asked AJ Events a few questions, here are her answers!
Q: How long have you been in business/in the event planning industry?
I have been in the event industry for over 25 years and loving it. In my business for 18+.
Q: How would you describe your business or services?
AJ Events is a full service event production firm specializing in fundraisers and luxury weddings. We focus on engaging experiences, innovative (and gorgeous) design work, and flawless execution. AJ exceeds expectations with event strategy & fundraising for my non-profit clients. Most recently I was named by BizBash as one of the "Most Influential Event Professionals” in the country.
Q: As a black woman entering the industry, how were you received as you were starting your business vs your treatment now?
It has been challenging. I noticed early on that subconsciously people were conditioned to expect less than from those that did not look like them - the “subconscious" stereotype against blacks. Early on, I was determined not to be perceived that way, and in order to compete, I differentiated myself by adding additional services. I constantly reminded myself, I am an event producer, and entrepreneur who happens to be black. I slowly grew and 10 years later, my events started to get noticed. I can tell you not much has changed, it’s been better, but post pandemic will tell whether this trend of supporting black businesses will stick. I certainly hope so.
Q: To what do you attribute your success?
Ultimately my resilience and tenacity, as well as my strategic and creative thinking. I have raised millions for nonprofits which have made me a success. Even last year, during the pandemic, I raised over $5.5MM and kept our nonprofits relevant in the event space with immersive 360 degree LIVE virtual events. I am known for throwing unconventional but epic parties.
Q: Can you share a story about your favorite event that you planned?
Sure, I’ll keep in theme with this article as I have many. The Founder of Kayak hired me to fully conceptualize a large fundraiser for the King Memorial he was building in Boston to celebrate the love story of both Dr. King and Coretta Scott King. I transformed the event into an immersive so much that the guests felt like they were in LA. The event featured Common, Taylor Dayne, civil rights icons, Tamron Hall, Esperanza Spalding, and Earth Wind & Fire. I raised $1,475,000 in under 6 months including $500k night-of during the live auction. It was THE most diverse event for a highly visible, high-ticket, high-end event in Boston. We meshed the many black and white multi-millionaires together in one room for the first time in Boston. I acted as Executive Director in this role, which was challenging but I loved it, it gave me the ultimate thrill ride.
Q: Who is the most influential black person throughout history in your life and why?
I think if I could pick any historic figure it would be Florence Higginbotham. Florence was an African American woman who purchased her property in the early 20th century on Nantucket. She would invite all into her home as she stood daily at 5 corners with a plate of cookies greeting folks that passed her. She was so hospitable to everyone and generous - that’s beautiful. I learned over the years to always have an open door and include all. That’s why Nantucket is so special, it’s hidden gems like her that are part of Nantucket history. Find out more, at the Museum of African American History, about her full story and you will learn that back then, diversity was part of the Nantucket community.
Q: Why do you think it's important to support other black owned businesses?
I’d like to to challenge all to be conscious that truly supporting Black-owned businesses means more than showing up during certain times of the year like Black History Month. I am grateful for the increased visitors during this time, but there’s a need for consistent business for AJ Events and other Black-owned businesses throughout the year. I want to thrive here, Nantucket is important to me and I plan to be a long-lasting part of the island community. I hope this is not a trend and a real effort to be inclusive with the black community.
Q: Any tips or advice for young black people interested in starting their own business?
Be ready to roll up your sleeves and be tenacious. Network a lot and seek mentors you can learn from. Make sure you have a strong business plan and all of your business paperwork, insurance, and any licenses in order. Sign up for NICE at the Chamber for business help.
Q: What can we expect next from AJ Events?
I’ve had so many requests to bring back the event Night in White and Black-is star, Anthony Anderson back to Nantucket. We listened, and am working with the Museum of African American History on bringing both back. I have reached out to Anthony and he’s all in when we open up safely for in-person events.
Top Left - Night in White: photo by Binita Patel Photographer (in photo winemaker Joe Carr with guests to benefit Museum of African American History, Nantucket held at The Nantucket Dreamland)
Top Right - Table Decor: location PPX Events (photo taken by Becky Zadroga Photography)
Bottom Left - King Legacy Night: (in photo Common) Photo by Binita Patel Photographer
Bottom Right - AJ Shot: photo by Cheryl Richards, Photographer