Raised on Simmonsville Rd. and Guerrard Ave, Bridgette Frazier is a Bluffton Gullah native. After teaching in West Palm Beach, FL for eight years she felt a longing to return to her beloved community and continue the work that so many before her had already started. Upon her return home, she became a volunteer with The Bluffton MLK Observance Committee. In her role, she was able to observe that Bluffton while still, a welcoming place was absent of many integral components; one being economic equity among black entrepreneurs.
Working in other communities as a community organizer, the desire to give the same commitment to Bluffton was stronger than ever. Witnessing the gentrification, evolving landscape, and cultural invisibility taking place within the Gullah community of Bluffton, she knew she needed to act and act fast. Frazier was on a mission to empower Bluffton’s Gullah Natives and convince younger generations that they need not flee to metropolitan areas to thrive as an entrepreneur, she wanted them to see that they could do it here at home, she just needed help to amplify that fact.
Thus, the chance encounter with Billy Watterson would be just the beginning of bringing the reality of empowerment for Black entrepreneurs to fruition. After the 2020 Bluffton Juneteenth Festival, Watterson’s office contacted Bridgette and members of Bluffton MLK to partner in the work the committee had already begun, to organize and connect the community to Black-owned businesses. She was inspired more and more each day in her talks with Watterson because he literally and metaphorically saw her community and whole-heartedly committed himself and resources to bridge the divide which prior had neglected such a vital fabric of the community. He was unafraid to admit that solving the issue of inequity as it exists in the community isn’t solely the responsibility of the Black Community, but should also be the responsibility of their white counterparts and the entire community as a whole.
Bridgette through so many community initiatives has always believed that Bluffton thrives when every corner of the community has an opportunity to be empowered, elevated, and promoted. Our focus will be achieved as we bring everyone to the table to help build equity in the community.
Billy Watterson, a seasoned entrepreneur, relocated to the Lowcountry in 2017. After selecting Bluffton, SC as the location for his whisky distillery he stumbled upon the elusive mystery of Burnt Church Road and it soon became the inspiration for Burnt Church Distillery. During his research, he realized that his Midwestern upbringing provided a white-washed version of history, not the true plight of the black community’s ancestry from the transatlantic slave trade to the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow era, and the Civil Rights movement. This opened his eyes to the current disparity and existence of inequity in our local Gullah community. He realized that many white people have difficulty acknowledging that the black experience in America is very different from the white experience, even today.
Inspired by the history and culture of the native Gullah, he wanted to learn more. During meetings with Black leaders in the community and newly found friendships with Gullah descendants, a common theme continued to emerge; what the black community needed most from the white community was: “resources and to open doors.” While Billy agreed with this assessment, how to achieve this goal was still unclear.
Then in 2019, a friend mentioned to Billy that there was no black-owned business listing available so if people wanted to patronize black-owned businesses, it was almost impossible. The exploration of this opportunity led Billy to connect with Bridgette Frazier at the Bluffton Juneteenth celebration in early 2020. During this meeting, he learned that the MLK Observance Committee was already in the process of creating a Black-owned business directory. The two soon discovered that they shared a common goal to not only spotlight Black-owned businesses but to elevate, empower and promote them as well. Because Billy has a passion for entrepreneurship, this was a sweet spot for him.
The desire to bring exposure to black-owned businesses quickly grew into the development of Black Equity University (BEU). This comprehensive training program was designed to equip Black business owners with tools, access to networks, and resources to scale their businesses in pursuit of achieving generational knowledge and wealth.
What initially began as a research project to solve the mystery of Burnt Church Road, became a transformational experience for Billy. Upon discovering the “burnt church” was called “Mission to the Blacks” he felt like it was an affirmation that the philanthropic mission of Burnt Church Distillery was to invest in the Black community. This led to the creation of the “Low Country Legacy Fund” at the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry to be used exclusively in the Black community for infrastructure, educational opportunities, and equity in the economy.