By Jon G. Mickens, IT Contributor
For decades, small businesses haveplayed a crucial role in fueling the American Economy. However, it is well documented that African Americans have not been able to enjoy the same benefits of White Americans, Asians, Middle Eastern and other groups who form small businesses for their families and communities. I won’t bore you with all the statistics related to the lack of government investment in the Black business community (or the community in general) and the unhealthy outcomes that result. We are all familiar with the raw and anecdotal data, either through knowledge of the statistics or our own lived experiences.
Small Black-owned businesses are often drivers of economic vitality and job creators in their respective communities and fortify them as owners, influencers and power brokers.. The latest “bamboozle’” experienced by the Black community is the short end of capital received from U.S. Government’s $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding. Of approximately $349 billion earmarked to help revitalize small businesses that have been compromised by the mandated shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, very little was directed toward Black-owned businesses. This has led to an amendment of the CARES Act and a second phase of $350 to $670 billion in funding to be directed specifically set aside for insured depository institutions, credit unions, and Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) that help small firms and companies located in underserved areas.Translation: this is thegovernemtn’s response to the complaints of Black-owned businesses and other marginalized communities not receiving a proproionate share of funding. The jury is still out on the impact of the second phase of funding.
This all underscores a recurring theme: when America is sick, Black America is hospitalized. Without a doubt, the CARES Act will prove to be a great resource for a number of businesses but will fall short on helping, assisting and aiding its share of Black-owned businesses. The Black-ownedbusinesses that are present in the U.S. will significantly decrease not only due to the Stay At Home Order that hinders consumption but also because these business will not benefit fully from Federal Aid programs and there are numerous reports that larger companies and franchise businesses have received funding. Of course, companies like Ruth Chris and The Los Angeles Lakers received millions of dollars from the U.S. government, which proves the systemic funding of businesses is atrocious with respect to helping those truly in need. Through today’s technology, we are able to witness how government programs help the rich and keep the poor… well,poor.
When examining the universe of Black-owned businesses, ranging from beauty supply stores to boutique accounting firms to food service and all sectors in between, the African American community and its “ownership economy” is on life support right now. Collaborative government programs and financial institutes claim to work hard to provide funding, technical assistance programs, and other resources to Black-owned businesse owners and aspiring business owners. Most of this support seems to be to no avail for a variety of reasons, with “token support” right near the top. Moving forward, , and in times of a potential depression, such support may be redirected to other communities altogether. However, the African American consumer still remains so there will be an economy built around our community’s needs and wants. If we think Asians, Middle Easterners and White Americans own a disproportionate amount of resources working in their favor and “call all the shots” in our community, moving forward you definitely may be right. Think about it, if African American are not in business, not receiving funding like our counterparts, not gaining access to business building resources, how does that empower this generation and future ones as it pertains to ownership and having a “seat at the table” of politics, economics and social progress? Meanwhile, African Americans will continue receiving stimulus checks and spending its disposable income on fueling other people’s dreams, hopes, aspirations, businesses, communities, etc. This narrative is all too familiar to many of us. This destructive cycle is continuing and gaining momentum. The perpetual questions remain: What does the Black community do in the face of a broader landscape that demonstrates time and time again it is not invested in preserving and strengthening the Black community? What does the Black community do when the broader community seems indifferent to the disproportionately negative outcomes experienced by the Black community?
We are well beyond time for the BLACK COMMUNITY to circle the “economic wagon.” Black-owned businesses are essential to the Black community’s foundation. Local organizations like Pacific Coast Regional Corporation and Vermont Slauson Economic Development Corporation, and One United Bank are engaged in the struggle for Black economic viability. However, beyond relying on noble organizations like CDFIs or Black-owned banks that funnel government resources into our community, ALL of us, as private citizens, have to make a point to BUY from Black businesses, contribute a portion of our disposable dollars to organizations that intentionally focus on Black economic development, and pool our dollars to provide a community-based economic safety net for ourselves. We need to fight for our existing businesses and fuel more business now more than ever. The economy will bounce back. We, as a people,will spend our money on goods and services. African Americans always rank in the top 10 of “spending countries”around the world. However, we must fund and fuel our own economy like other groups have and will continue to do. We all know the dollarcirculates in the African American community less than a day, as opposed to circulating for several weeks within other communities. Ownership and economic empowerment provide a road map for our future. We must rescue ourselves through entrepreneurship and either create or support Black-owned businesses to provide the array of economic opportunities that the “Ownership Class”creates within all walks of life.
The L.A.-based Black Cooperative Investment Fund (BCIF) is one of several efforts in which you can get involved. If you want to put your dollars behind your passion, I invite you to visit the website (www.bcifund.org) and become part of a community-driven, economic safety net for YOUR community by donating dollars that are directed unapologetically for Black economic development.
Those who are indifferent or otherwise benefit from our community’s destruction will NOT save us! This is not a novel concept. WHAT WILL WE DO ABOUT IT?
Issa Rae with BCIF Founder Robert Lewis