Black History Month offers us a time to reflect on the pioneers of our community who challenged the status quo and paved the way for Black people across numerous disciplines. Many were first in their field, such as Moses Fleetwood Walker, the first Black man to play in Major League Baseball, or Mae C. Jemison, the first Black woman to travel through space. However, few know the story of Herman Petty, an independent business owner who in 1968 became the first Black McDonald’s franchisee.

Petty opened his restaurant in the precarious inner city of Chicago during a time when diversity in business, and especially Black leadership, was rarely seen. Being a franchisee gave Herman the agency to not only establish inclusivity in the workplace, but also promote a new level of independence that the Black community could aspire to. He was the first, but others joined him soon thereafter, and by the end of 1969 there were 12 Black McDonald’s owner-operators with restaurants across the country.

Coupled with the pervasive discrimination Black people faced at every turn, many Black McDonald’s operators owned franchises located in high-crime areas, which presented a set of unique obstacles. This prompted franchisees to begin connecting with one another to discuss the challenges they faced. Soon thereafter, they formalized as the National Black McDonald’s Operators Association (NBMOA) to unite Black owner-operators nationwide. The NBMOA provided franchisees with a community where they were able share resources, exchange ideas and help one another problem solve.

Now over 40 years later, the community-driven spirit of the NBMOA founders continues through its’ national and local chapters. In Southern California, second-generation McDonald’s owner-operator Kiana Webb serves as President of the local chapter. Kiana grew up surrounded by the guidance of BMOA members like her father, Reginald Webb, one of the first Black McDonald’s operators in Southern California. Kiana continues the family legacy her father began by overseeing her family’s 16 restaurants, all while being an active BMOA leader and member of the community.

Like most BMOA members, Kiana is dedicated to giving back to the communities that have supported her throughout her career. “As a second-generation owner-operator, I feel blessed to run my own business and work alongside my family,” said Webb. “My fellow BMOA members and myself are honored to be able to pay it forward and share our blessings with our community. Without their support, we wouldn’t be successful.”

With their philanthropic work, BMOA members extend the communal spirit of the organization to the cities they work within. For example, second-generation operator Nicole Enearu makes a concerted effort to give back to the city of Compton, where she and her family own every McDonald’s location. Nicole creates programs that present entrepreneurship as an accessible career path for Black youth in Compton. As a community leader, she shares her tools to success with young people in hopes that they too will become leaders and role models in their communities and beyond.

The tenacity and courage of the NBMOA pioneers helped lay the foundation for what has become one of the most successful groups of Black entrepreneurs today. From partnering with their local school districts to sponsoring toy drives to supporting their local churches, the Southern California BMOA members have created their own local legacy of community building, leadership and philanthropy. This Black History Month, let’s remember the local pioneers who continue to shape the communities we live in.