HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – Holyoke Community College (HCC) is celebrating Black History Month with a panel discussion on Wednesday.

This event highlighted local business owners who were able to share real-life insight on what it took for them, as people of color, to get their businesses off the ground

The Kittredge Center in Holyoke Community College was a buzz in advance of a panel discussion celebrating black history month. The theme of this year’s discussion was “Resistance and Persistence: Celebrating Black Leadership in Our Community” and featured local entrepreneurs of color who shared the experiences they had getting their businesses off the ground. Student Sarah Wedderburn thinks having black business leaders here is inspiring for students.

“I think it’s so important, said Sarah Wedderburn, president of the Black Student Alliance. “We need role models of color for our students of color just so they know that they can do anything; that they can just aspire for bigger.”

Zee Johnson, owner of Olive Tree Books, and Leonard Underwood, founder of Underwood Photo and Upscale Socks, participated in the discussion. both businesses are based in Springfield.

Both of these unique entrepreneurs share stories of the hard work and resources it took to get their businesses off the ground. Leonard Underwood, the owner of Upscale Socks and Underwood Photography, literally dreamt about having a sock line seven years before it launched. “Know that anything is possible if you stick and focus on what your goals and dreams are, to know that there are resources out there in the community, said Underwood.

Zee Johnson owns a bookstore called Olive Tree Books n Voices Store, which reflects the African American experience. “I’m glad to meet the students, glad to present my story of being a black owner, and glad to kinda encourage them to think about becoming an entrepreneur as well,” expressed Johnson.

This was one of five events the college is hosting for black history month. All the panelists for the event were Tony Bass, the owner of City Beat Multi-Media Group in Springfield, Zee Johnson, the owner of Olive Tree Books in Springfield, and Lenny Underwood, the owner and founder of Underwood Photo and Upscale Socks in Springfield.