Rolling Out

James Parker and 1921 transforming lives and changing communities

The CEO and founder of 1921 has a big vision and is determined to make a meaningful impact
James Parker and 1921 transforming lives and changing communities
James Parker (Photo credit: Amber Marie Green)

James Parker is the CEO and founder of 1921 Coworking and Incubator. The Minnesota native is well traveled and educated. While traveling the world, he noticed that his way of life was not the norm for people of color. Parker recognized the absence of opportunity can destroy a community. As a result, he started 1921 to revive communities and change lives. The first space will launch on the South Side of Chicago in the Roseland neighborhood. Rolling out spoke with Parker about 1921 and how it is designed to level the playing field.

Why did you create 1921?

I owned a company called Go Black Biz. What I learned was there was no Black tech circle unless you were in a circle of other people. I said, what if there was a way to create a tech incubator that would launch African American-, Hispanic- and women-owned startups, get them trained, funded and launched?

We wouldn’t launch the tech startups in the downtown area where everyone else is. We would launch them in the communities that needed it the most. We had Roseland, we had Austin, Pilsen and Little Village. When you look at the Chicago tech scene, nearly everything is in downtown [at] Fulton Market. That means startups go to 1871, which is the No. 1 incubator in the world. They launch and they put offices in Fulton Market. People want to work where they live, right? So they built high-rise apartments and condos. Well, what happens when you have good paying jobs? People can afford to live there. We need restaurants. You need Walgreens or CVS. All these things come to a community when a good paying company [with] jobs come[s] to that community. What if we launched tech startups in Roseland, train the people for help desk tech support and cyber security? We could come in and train individuals on that.

Once they have their certification and the companies launch, they’re making 70, 80, $90,000 a year in Roseland. Imagine 3,000 people in Roseland making 90,000 a year. It changes everything.

Why did you name it 1921?

1921 is named after Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Black Wall Street was this thriving community. A lot of Black people were coming there, there was an opportunity. There were Black millionaires.

White neighborhoods were jealous and created a fake story about Black Wall Street and tried to burn the whole thing down. What people don’t know is that there were Black owned-businesses that opened right back up. 1921 is named to honor that resiliency and determination.

What made you choose Chicago?

I met my wife here. The more I worked in nonprofit, the more I saw how people are just hurting and they’re using the same formula and it’s not changing anything. If I can change Chicago and we believe the formula will work here, the formula will work in Aurora. The formula will work in Haiti. I could launch a tech startup anywhere. I can launch a manufacturing startup anywhere. I’m intentional about that.

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