“Just be a giver.”
Giving back has been an essential part LaRese Purnell’s life since childhood. Even when his family didn’t have a home, his mom made sure they volunteered to help others. Today, that message of giving back informs everything Purnell does — from his role as the Managing Partner of CLE Consulting Firm, an Accounting, Tax and Payroll services company with 74 employees in downtown Cleveland, to the founding of The Real Black Friday to bring awareness and opportunity to Black-owned businesses throughout Greater Cleveland. He is also a co-owner of Black Box Fix restaurant.
Purnell, a graduate of Warrensville Heights High School and the University of Toledo, where he received his MBA in Finance, serves on numerous boards and is a proud husband and father of two. The busy entrepreneur recently found time to sit down and talk with GCP about his background, his businesses, Black entrepreneurship in Cleveland — and the importance of giving back.
By Laura DeMarco
Can you talk a little bit about your background?
It’s why I’m so passionate about the work I do. I was born in Cleveland, then we went to the Virgin Islands and came back. My mom was a single parent.
We lived in shelters and went to school in various places. It was really a struggle. But even through all that, my mom pushed us to be better and give back. Even when we were in shelters and we were going through challenges, we would get on the bus and volunteer at kitchens. My mom taught us everybody gives it their own level — just be a giver.
How do you carry that mission into your financial services business?
Historically, many African-American business are first generation. That means that there’s a lack of education. I spend a lot of my time educating people on what they should be asking me, or what their actual needs are.
Also, if you just don’t have that experience or business education, you tend to stay away from resources from a lack of knowledge. We were able to build trust in the community, so people feel comfortable coming to our doors. Our goal is to educate them, to give them that confidence necessary to handle the financial aspects of their business. And this helps them scale.
How does your mission apply to your employees?
My goal is two-fold: to help clients, but also to help Black financial professionals. Less than 1% of CPAs are Black, and the numbers are getting worse. We want to help build these leaders and attract talent, to say ‘you can be successful, and you can be respected.’ We’re building clients and staff at the same time.
In what other ways do you strive to give back?
I sit on a lot of boards, including Step Forward Today (formerly CEOGC, the largest community action agency in the state of Ohio). I just became Chair for the Economic Empowerment Program for the 100 Black Men of America. I create programs around financial literacy and things that are going to economically empower the Black community. And, I started The Real Black Friday.
The Real Black Friday has become enormously popular. What inspired you to launch this program?
Growing up, even when we went through challenges, it was entrepreneurs in our community who reached out to me, guys who would pull me in to pump gas, attorneys who sent me to go file their briefs at the courthouse.
I realized that that small businesses are truly the foundation of our communities — they are our communities. I wanted to give back. The Real Black Friday was formed to bring awareness and to create educational and networking opportunities for Black-owned businesses in Northeast Ohio.
Our flagship annual event averages 10,000 to 12,000 people. For the NBA All Star year, 57,000 people came over a two-day period — we featured 250 Black- owned businesses.
We have tracked about $5.5 million economic impact. And that’s only the impact we can directly calculate — that’s not how many people stayed in town for the event, restaurant visits or other impacts.
And I want to make clear, this is not just for the Black community. It is a cultural event. If you go into Little Italy for an event or if you go into Slavic Village, you see a lot of different cultures. I want the Real Black Friday to be like this.
What can you tell us about this year’s event?
We’re going back to one of the Metroparks. I’ll be ready to share more next month.
What do you hope others can learn from your experience?
People say ‘life is the best teacher.’ But I disagree; I think that adults that have been trained or have certain talents and gifts, we can give those talents back to others so they don’t have to experience what we had to experience — to-lessen the chance of them being in poverty or not having the information necessary to grow financially.
How would you rate Cleveland as a place for minority entrepreneurs?
It is probably right in the middle. It’s a city of opportunity. Resources are starting to be directed to where it feels inclusive.
CLE Consulting Firm — Creating Leading Enterprises
Story of Giving: Meltrice Sharp and LaRese Purnell of CLE Consulting Firm | Cleveland Foundation
In honor of Black History Month, Greater Cleveland Partnership is spotlighting Black-owned businesses, leaders, changemakers and events throughout February on our blog, website and social channels. We’d love your input. Email suggestions to email@example.com
Greater Cleveland Partnership’s All In vision for a Great Region on a Great Lake has five key priorities: Dynamic Business, Abundant Talent, Inclusive Opportunity, Appealing Community and Business Confidence. All of our work ties back to these values. This story relates to Inclusive Opportunity.