Atlanta nightlife trailblazer Mark “Biddy” Barnes has helped put on some of the best events in the South. He spoke to rolling out about what makes Atlanta the Black mecca.
What brought you to the city of Atlanta?
I came to Atlanta in the early ’90s to attend Clark Atlanta University — where I learned so much — and never left.
Describe the moment you fell in love with Atlanta?
I came, and I was like, “Wow. This is different.” It was really Black, and you can just feel the love. Growing up in New York, I just did not feel that. [Atlanta] was an untapped place waiting to be molded.
What about Atlanta makes it a Black mecca?
Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse [College], Spelman College, Morris Brown College, Georgia State University, Georgia Tech … [Many CAU grads] became entrepreneurs, corporate [executives], athletes and stayed here to do it. There are people from so many different places, and so many things have grown out of it.
How do you feel Atlanta supports and encourages Black entrepreneurs?
Atlanta is the first place that I’ve seen where you see Black people helping other Black people. Black people [mentor each other] and [show each other] how to get to the next level, which is critical. It creates a great level of synergy. As a college student, I knew about partying. Now, in Atlanta, there are at least 20 clubs owned by Black people, and out of those clubs, at least 15 of the owners connect with each to make [themselves] better.
What cultural assets attracted you to Atlanta?
Most of the CEOs and a lot the things that took place happened with people who are my friends. There weren’t a lot of executives and CEOs in the early 90s. [This] started taking place around 1996 and 1997 with LaFace Records [and radio stations]. A lot of the students went into these fields. These guys became the executives: Jerry Clark, Clay Evans and Chaka Zulu.
A lot these guys came out of Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Spelman College and Morris Brown College. There were a lot of young hungry cats looking to find the next opportunity. It would be great [to] bring back all the people who went to Clark Atlanta University and [helped] build this city [into] what it is today.
What would you encourage first-time visitors to experience?
I would say go see what the Black college experience looks like. I suggest driving through “the ‘hood” [to] see how much culture exists in these places. Go by [The] King Center [to see] where it started. Go to Busy Bee [Cafe on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive] and have lunch, or go to The Beautiful [Restaurant] on Cascade Road and visit [T]he [Mall] West End. [That’s] Atlanta.