LANSING – Before the COVID-19 pandemic and before police violence against Black people sparked nationwide protests, a group of Black entrepreneurs had been working to transition the Lansing Black Chamber of Commerce into a more fleet-footed organization.
The global and national events of recent months have cast their effort in a different light.
"I would say, in the last three months, that there has been a sense of urgency that I have never experienced in my lifetime," said Reshane Lonzo.
Lonzo is the owner of DRM International Learning Center, a vocational school, and is the president-elect of the nascent Black Business Alliance of Greater Lansing.
"Look at the current times," said Alane Laws-Barker, president and founder of the Black Business Alliance. "That makes you work faster."
"I think that with the COVID-19 pandemic and the systemic racist practices (have) contributed, not only to the Black unemployment rate being the highest in over a decade but also the closing of Black-owned businesses across the country," Lonzo said.
USA Today reported in early June that Black unemployment had reached 16.4%, the highest level in over 10 years.
Laws-Barker, an OB-GYN, Lonzo and others, including Laws-Barker's daughter, MiChaela Barker, an entrepreneur herself with Melanin in Medicine LLC, are spearheading the establishment of the alliance.
"Many black businesses are small and it's very difficult to run a business organization in a town that's small for businesses that are small, because often they don't have the time to take away from their business to run a chamber-type organization," Laws-Barker said.
"Our primary goal is to provide resources and networking and be an advocate for businesses," she said. "At this point, we're just trying to get businesses together and allow the community to recognize that they're here."
The work of establishing the alliance includes the creation of a Black-owned business registry. So far nearly 100 businesses have registered.
The businesses span every sector of the economy, from restaurants and retail to medicine and financial services.
Barker said the impact of COVID-19 on the Black community coupled with growing momentum around protests for racial justice created interest in highlighting Black-owned businesses.
"A lot of people will flock to the very well known Black-owned businesses, the ones that are known internationally or nationally," she said. "But a lot of times we overlook things happening at our local levels and things that are happening within our own backyard."
Laws-Barker noted that not all of Black-owned businesses are traditional. "They're not all brick and mortar because we don't have access to many of the loans and that sort of thing," she said.
"We support all businesses, regardless of size, because we know that with the right resources, businesses can and will grow."
Charles Moore, a CPA and member of the Black Business Alliance team, said running a small business can be tough.
"A lot of people just don't last," he said. "And businesses are based on relationships, so if your relationships are narrow, your opportunity for success is narrow."
The Alliance hopes to help Black business owners in part by expanding relationships and connections.
In addition to the formation of the registry, Lonzo said she has attempted to help businesses navigate the uncertainty of the pandemic.
"The last 90 days have consisted of trying to help be a lifeline for our local black businesses to see what their needs are and how we can help them not close their doors," Lonzo said.
Curated from: langsingstatejournal.com
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