Renard Beaty wasn’t a Wells Fargo customer last May when his girlfriend Samantha Williams pushed him to apply for the bank’s Small Business Neighborhood Renovation Program and its Community Builders recognition program.

But that didn’t matter.

Beaty and his 10-year-old Grant Park business, Kick Start Martial Arts, won the bank’s Atlanta 2017 Small Business Neighborhood Renovation Program Grand Prize of $25,000 in July to make needed renovations at his new location at 749 Moreland Ave. in Atlanta.

Seven months later, Wells Fargo is celebrating Beaty as a community builder in full-page advertising in black and neighborhood newspapers and at www.wellsfargomedia.com/communitybuilders/.

And he is still not a Wells Fargo customer.

Wells Fargo’s Community Builders initiative, which launched in 2017, celebrates small business owners across the country who shared their stories about running their businesses and the ways they contribute to their communities.

At a Feb. 17 Community Builders Event hosted by the bank at Beaty’s business location, Darrell Green, Wells Fargo Southeast Small Business Development Leader, said the program is about celebrating African-American small business owners who go above and beyond to invest in and build up their neighborhoods. And there is no requirement that they be Wells Fargo customers.

“Black-owned businesses are an important cornerstone of a thriving African-American community,” he said.

Historically, and still today, Green said many African Americans view small business as a path to financial freedom.

“Small businesses can create life-changing opportunities for families and communities,” he said. “For our communities to prosper, we need small businesses to succeed financially, grow and add jobs.”

Beaty, a longtime martial arts practitioner, is a former corporate recruiter and trainer. He said he started Kick Start Martial Arts to help impart skills he found missing in young people he was recruiting for management training.

“I was bothered by how smart but unprepared many students were,” he said in the essay that helped win him the grand prize. “I often thought my job would have been easier if the young people had been exposed to similar martial arts principles and training that I had experienced during my youth.”

During the Feb. 17 program, Beaty showed off his renovated facility and some of his nearly 200 students demonstrated the martial arts skills they have learned at the center. But Beaty says they learn much more – discipline, and the opportunity to develop their character, self-esteem, and leadership skills.

Green says Wells Fargo is helping small businesses with its creditready and Works for Small Business Neighborhood Renovation programs. The latter focuses on improving neighborhoods through storefront makeovers of local businesses.

Kick Start Martial Arts is one of seven small businesses in Atlanta, Baltimore, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and New York being recognized as Community Builders.

There is no monetary prize associated with the Community Builders Program but two of the businesses – Kick Start Martial Arts and Clyde Davis-El, owner of Main Street Hat in Baltimore – are also recipients of Wells Fargo Small Business Neighborhood Renovation grants.

The other Community Builders are Lisa Phillips, owner of Celebrate US Event Co. in Baltimore; Mandy Bowman, owner of the Official Black Wall Street App in New York; Marques Armstrong, owner of Hope & Healing Counseling Services in Minneapolis; Cary Jordan, owner of Jordan’s Hot Dogs in Los Angeles; and Orgena Keener, owner of Kaffeine Coffee Internet and Office Cafe in Houston.

Keener will be recognized at a Feb. 24 Community Builder Event in Houston.

Bowman will be recognized Feb. 28 at a marquee event in New York City featuring guest host, entrepreneur and celebrity chef Roble Ali.

In the grant-winning essay, Beaty said he wanted make his martial arts studio safe and comfortable after he had to relocate quickly when this old landlord sold his first location.

“Although we did our best to create an appealing, comfortable and safe place for our students and their families, there were many things that we could not afford to do,” he wrote.

This week, he said that all his renovations are now complete.

“Now with all the state-of-the-art technology, the new mats, the fresh paint on the doors, and seeing my customers happy, I’m gonna be more proud than I’ve ever been before.”

Kick Start Martial Arts is not a sports program, Beaty says.

“It is a program to help young men and women to become strong young adults who can handle failure, success,” he said.

Because he also lives in Grant Park, where his business is located, Beaty says he is connected to it.

“I walk the streets in this community,” he said. “I know that kids and the parents in this community.”

To make a difference in his community at home and abroad, Beaty hosts backpack drives for a school with low-income population, raises money for the Kind Fund – Kids in Need of a Desks – that provides desks for kids in Africa.

“We have to work in our community if we want it to change,” he said. “You can’t wait for someone else to do it.”