The Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce — thanks to donations from over 200 companies and individuals, raised 1 million USD for its "resiliency fund" which will award grants ranging between $2,500 and $10,000to to 150 black-owned business owners struggling to stay afloat during the Covid-19 pandemic.
It's one of several such funds created in the USA since the onset of the pandemic saw many businesses and schools close in the spring. Its existence echoes the challenges that businesses owned by black people have when seeking to obtain bank loans.
Cathy Adams, who heads the Oakland Chamber, explains that the fundraising initiative was launched because so many member businesses were having trouble getting financial help from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, passed by Congress in March, "Black-owned businesses have been marginalized for so long. And we figured we had a call to action to do something. The reason we started this fund is due to the systemic racism behind the PPP funds, also how our Black-owned businesses have been marginalized for so long. And we figured we had a call to action to do something."
Real National Disparities
Assistance greatly needed in African American communities — not only with limited access to resources and capital but also disproportionately impacted by coronavirus.
Judi Henderson, the owner of Mannequin Madness and a recipient of the Oakland chamber's grants, said her store was forced to shut down for a month and a half as business has been much slower since reopening in May. She shares that the $10,000 grant has allowed her to start new services, "I'm standing here right now because we did get the resiliency fund. I only had enough to kind of just pay payroll for a couple of more months, but I said no new initiatives. Now that we have some new initiatives, we have other revenue streams coming in. And that's what's helping to keep things up."
The fund has also been a lifesaver for this young fashion designer and entrepreneur, Iguehi James, who applied her $5,000 grant towards the expansion of her store’s online presence to reflect her new product line, Face Masks. When her usual designs — colourful dresses, head wraps and kaftans sold at festivals and conferences, saw a Covid-related plummet in sales.
She claims that the application process was simple and she qualified for her grant in spite of being a solo practitioner with no employees or storefront, "I think just the African-American community in general, we have a history of having to support each other. Right? And so there are opportunities that are presented that we don't often qualify for. So oftentimes we have to turn to our neighbour and turn to people within our community to assist us, to help us. "
The pandemic highlights the discriminatory policies which prevent African Americans from acquiring capital and amassing wealth in the United States. Nevertheless, the traditional solidarity within the community exemplifies resilience in of itself.