By Logan Langlois

NASHVILLE, TN — On January 9, Fisk University, in partnership with Nashville Mayor John Cooper, held an event celebrating plans to open an Incubation and Innovation Center named after recently-passed local Black community mentor Darrell S. Freeman Sr. 

The Center is to be located within the long-standing Burriss Hall and its goal is to carry on the inspirational legacy of the entrepreneurial titan, who after building his own tech company, Zycron Inc., and selling it for millions of dollars, was revered for his giving back to the Black community within Nashville and its surrounding areas.

“Having Fisk as a partner I think is just a great way of communicating what the community that the center is focused on serving,” said Mayor John Cooper in a recent interview. “This is a way of bringing this service to north Nashville’s … small business and diverse business community, with program[s] designed to reach out and benefit that community and no longer make business development just be part of a downtown thing, but it’s all Nashville to benefit from it.”

While speaking at the ceremony, Darrell Freeman’s daughter Ebony Freeman stated that, “simply providing water and sun to the next generation of Darrell Freemans can and will inspire, empower, and enhance the lives within and beyond the community.”

The Freeman Center will be outfitted with more than 13,000 square feet of space available for programming and engagement, as well as wraparound services and resources available for students, faculty and Fisk’s surrounding community to utilize while scaling their businesses and testing ideas. These renovations have been made possible following Metro’s COVID-19 Financial Oversight Committee unanimously approving $10 million of the federal American Rescue Plan Act funding for refurbishing Burriss Hall. The Freeman Center will also host different events such as tech boot camps, mentoring programs and classes, all of which with the goal of assisting entrepreneurs with the groundwork of building their own self-sustaining businesses or further private investment. 

Fisk University Executive Committee Interim President Frank L. Sims, left, with Mayor John Cooper. Photo courtesy of the Mayor’s Office

“The city has needed an inclusive economic development strategy,” said Mayor Cooper. “That needs to focus on small businesses, on our diverse community, on getting hard-to-employ people jobs … and hopefully there will be other opportunities to do this as well. But by partnering with Fisk, you’re trying to bring those benefits to a underserved part of Nashville.”

While describing the city’s previous economic strategy, Mayor Cooper stated that “at best you could say [it] is trickle-down.” He also hopes that the more inclusive economic strategy could lead to more incentives for people to move to Nashville to start small businesses within the city. All of this, he said, is with the end goal of Nashville’s success as a city being shown through better incomes for all its people through wages, successful small business communities, and a “flourishing next generation of Black small business owners.” 

Cooper went on to describe the great joy and celebration within Fisk’s community while hosting the kickoff ceremony on January 9 alongside the family of Darrell S. Freeman Sr. The attendees were described as happy to celebrate the life and legacy of someone Cooper described as a “bridge builder” who “brought people together.”

He stated that since Darrell Freeman was working alongside Cooper on building the innovation center before his passing, finishing the building felt like completing a mission of Freeman’s, as well as continuing Freeman’s larger mission in life which Cooper describes as “let’s create Black wealth for the next generation of Black business leaders.”