The Marcus Graham Project and Hennessy Spark the New Black Wall Street • •
“Never Stop Never Settle” is not just a cool slogan from Hennessy, with legendary rapper Nas as its pitchman. Instead, it’s an effort to spark real change and encourage sustainable growth and wealth creation for the Black community as a whole. Spearheaded by the Dallas-based nonprofit the Marcus Graham Project (MGP), in partnership with the iconic liquor brand, this prescription for change rightfully zones in on entrepreneurship, particularly the lack of funding many Black startups face. That is one of the many challenges the pandemic exposed. It’s also one of the core values that reflections on Greenwood during this centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre has amplified. It’s a mission MGP co-founder Lincoln Stephens feels he was destined to fulfill.
“In the 21st century, I want to make sure entrepreneurship in the Black community is recognized. My mission is to amplify the presence of those redefining tomorrow, their resilience, and change the narrative of Black success by championing the next generation of what it means to be a Black entrepreneur, particularly in the field of marketing and media,” he shares.
Putting that vision in gear, the “Never Stop Never Settle Society” is “a comprehensive growth accelerator to ensure a more equitable landscape for Black entrepreneurs co-created with Hennessy. The $1MM acceleration fund provides Black entrepreneurs with high-impact funding, resources, and infrastructure to further their journey and ultimately transform communities,” Stephens explains.
Back in March, during the 52nd annual NAACP Awards celebrating Black excellence and achievement hosted by Black-ish star and Howard University’s own Anthony Anderson, MGP and Hennessy launched its “Never Stop Never Settle Society” initiative. An emotional commercial brimming with pride invited entrepreneurs to apply for one of 20 high impact funding awards of $50,000, coupled with mentorship from Moët Hennessy USA executives and other resources. The spot—which was created by Uninterrupted, the production brand from LeBron James and his longtime business partner Maverick Carter—captures a moment of legacy. In it, Nas reads a letter to his firstborn child, his daughter Destiny, who with the launch of her lip gloss line Lipmatic, (which was inspired by her father’s classic album Illmatic) became an entrepreneur at the age of 20 in 2014.
“Holding you in my hands, I knew I wanted you to see something I never saw; feel something our family had never grasped—Black excellence. Something like the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1921, 40 acres and 35 blocks of Black folks running the town,” he says, as vibrant archival images of “Black Wall Street” is interspersed with images of Black people of today keeping the spirit alive.
Stephens knows what it’s like to walk by faith and be guided by excellence. Inspired by Barack Obama to do more, he accepted his calling to be the catalyst for change when he left his career in advertising in November 2008, and never looked back. “I recognized a deficit in the type of mentorship and training programs that should be there to bring the next generation of leaders in the marketing and media field. I was also inspired by Chicago advertising expert William “Bill” Sharp’s Basic Advertising Course, which was created to help Black people learn about the business—and that occurred over 50 years ago,” he explains.
Yes, true to Stephens’ own advertising roots, MGP is inspired by Eddie Murphy’s character in the trailblazing 1992 film, Boomerang. MGP’s primary focus, shares Stephens, has been on “bringing more racial diversity to the media, marketing, and advertising industries.” To help achieve this, Stephens says “our project-based training programs help narrow the gap by providing mentorship, exposure, and career development that is often unavailable in higher education programs or as part of what used to be called on-the-job-training.”
Hennessy, Stephens says, stepped up for them early. “The company has been a long-time partner of the Marcus Graham Project, first supporting our annual Gala and over time through their Bootcamp fellowship program, where the leaders of tomorrow are tasked with creating an agency and tackling real-time business challenges for brands.”
The prestige spirits company’s support for MGP is no fluke, Stephens notes. “Hennessy is an established, legacy brand with both the credentials and the means to fuel Black entrepreneurship. The brand has demonstrated its progressive vision and leadership in support of underserved communities since the 1800s and has a rich history of assisting in the growth of African-American business and socioeconomic status,” he says.
Some of that hidden history of support includes Hennessy leaders being among the founders of what evolved into the National Urban League, as well as being the NAACP’s first corporate sponsor back in 1909, when it started. In recent years, it has the distinction of being the only company in its industry to be a founding corporate donor of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, plus the brand has committed $10 million dollars over the next 10 years to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.
Stephens is excited about this inaugural “Never Stop Never Settle Society” push and loves that it draws its inspiration from the triumph of Tulsa’s Greenwood district. “The ‘Never Stop Never Settle Society’ is inspired by the Black entrepreneurs who rose then, and who rise again today—with a mission to support the Black entrepreneurs who are redefining tomorrow,” he says. “This celebration of Black resilience is one that Hennessy has long supported and will continue to support.”
And they are doing that, he says by “changing the narrative of Black success by championing the next generation of Black entrepreneurs.”