I can still remember every corner that I passed while walking eight blocks from my childhood apartment home in Chicago to the Harold’s Chicken Shack on 83rd and Ashland. With a few extra dollars in my pocket, it was hard to resist the seductive smell of fresh-fried chicken and Chicago mild sauce. It wasn’t until much later that I realized how important this experience would be to activate my passion and advocacy for support Black-owned businesses.
At the time, it didn’t matter to me whether it was black-owned or not. It was the best alternative to cheap pizza puffs from corner stores. Especially, on the days that I had to wait up to 6-8 eight hours between my last meal at school and the time that my mother finally came home in the evening from work to cook.
Years later while I was in college, I took an interest in connecting political philosophy to African American History and economics. I remember doing research to learn about black-owned businesses during a Hip Hop & Entrepreneurship course I had enrolled in during my Junior year at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Like most students from Chicago, I was homesick – and I was particularly missing the smell of Harold’s when walking down Ashland St. So, making Harold’s Chicken the subject of my studies was a convenient reason to travel home to do some more… “immersive” research.
After a semester of research, I learned that the founding of Harold’s Chicken in 1950 was a response to the socioeconomic response to the tense climate of race relations in Chicago. The founder, “Harold” Pierce of course, built Harold’s Chicken Shacks in black communities – where he discovered fast-food brands were intentionally avoiding establishing their restaurants. He had to fight through all sorts of legal, bureaucratic, social, and political “redlining” that sought to prohibit the establishment of black businesses.
Some would argue that “things are different now. That was before the Civil Rights Act of 1963″…bleh bleh blah…”
But, are things really that different now?
In 2020, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that only 20% of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans were distributed to areas with a large concentration of Black-owned businesses. Discriminatory lending practices have been historically prevalent in furthering the racial wealth gap in America.
Another 2020 study by the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act shows that Black applicants are denied at a rate that is 80% higher than White applicants. It’s no secret that real estate is one of the most common and effective ways to build wealth in America. However, the numbers from 1963 to 2020 still reveal that the discriminatory practices that keep Black Americans out of the game are still in play.
It’s no wonder that 8 out of 10 Black-owned businesses fail within the first 18 months of business. Despite Black Americans making up approximately 13.2% of the population, only about 2.1% own employer businesses – businesses with paid employees. Compare that to White employers that control 88% of all sales 86.5% of all the jobs in the United States, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA).
Does that sound like equality? Does it sound like things have changed?
Most Black-owned businesses cite lack of capital as their biggest challenge. So…if Black businesses cannot rely on financing from banks, where and how are they suppose to finance their businesses?
As an entrepreneur, you naturally assume all the risk to start and grow your business…it’s literally in the definition of “entrepreneur.” However, I would argue that as Black business owners, we are risking much more than many of our counterparts.
Harold already had a soul food restaurant called H&H that he founded with his wife, Hilda. Harold “risked” his reputation, money, and livelihood to create a brand for the culture – with no desire for it to fit into a mold like other franchises. If it failed, he would be bankrupt and his family would lose everything.
This is just one story of, perhaps, millions of Black-owned brands that have waxed and waned across the horizon of American business.
Black businesses represent the most vulnerable communities in our nation. There, they create jobs, sponsor community and charity events, support social justice initiatives, pay taxes that support local schools and educational programs, as well as employing diverse and inclusive hiring practices that elevate the socioeconomic status of the communities they serve.
Without consistent support from everyone, our Black businesses will fail and our communities will fall into turmoil.
When I say “communities,” think of the children and families that will be kicked onto the streets that even you may have an inner thought to avoid.
I know this reality all too well because I’ve been in that unfortunate position at least twice. First, when I founded my business, B-EZ Graphix, in 2004 at the time I was homeless and “couch-surfing” throughout Champaign, Illinois. Then again in 2018 when my wife Sierra was ill and I had to stop working to stay home to help care for her and our family of 10 children. We didn’t have a healthy savings account or trust fund to lean on. Just eviction notices circulating our old mailboxes.
If reading all this doesn’t make you uncomfortable with the former and current economic climate in the United States, you may need to check your “humanity meter.”
This is real.
Real human lives at stake. If you believe that “Black Lives Matter,” then it should naturally follow that you believe that “Black Businesses Matter.” It is dangerous to assume that you should understand them as separate from one another because our businesses are often deeply woven into our lives.
We obviously cannot solely rely on the government or the federal financial system for support. Yes, there are grant and lending programs that target Black businesses. But, many of them have application requirements that most Black businesses cannot meet.
So, they are still just out of reach…and we are left with no choice but to put our trust in the people around us to give us a chance so that we can craft a better future for our children, our culture, and the communities that need us to succeed.
Here are some reasons why you should support Black businesses:
- Closes the racial wealth gap
- Strengthens local economies
- Promotes job creation
- Empowers and celebrates Black culture and communities
No, it will not always be pretty. You will not always get the best product, service, or customer experience from a Black-owned business. Although, the same could be argued for other businesses. Your focus is needed on how you can help us grow and improve with discreet, meaningful, and transparent feedback.
With so many Black businesses failing within 18 months, there is no one to pass down the skills, knowledge, and wisdom needed to understand the fundamentals of running a successful business. Many of us, (yes, including myself) are first-generational business owners and have to learn, literally, by failing – over and over again. We aren’t taught about business finance, operations, logistics, customer service practices, merchandising, pricing, and so on.
But, I hope you would agree that it shouldn’t mean that we don’t deserve a chance to learn “on the job” with empathy and understanding from allies, like you.
Here are several ways that you can be a Black Business Ally:
- Make at least 1 out of every 4 purchases from a Black Business
- Invest in a Black Business (i.e. Crowdfunding)
- Write a positive review, or record a positive video
- Build a relationship with the owner(s) or management
- Share and talk about them within your social circles
- Ask what they need and how you can support them (don’t assume it’s always money)
- Become a coach or mentor if you own a successful business
There will always be many more ways that you can support Black businesses. All it takes is setting the intention to do your research, get engaged, and take action.
Then maybe one day…Black businesses will matter.
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