The world is changing — and we are no longer talking about COVID-19. In fact, there's a much bigger problem to be solved here: the issue of systemic racism and America's violent history of oppressing the Black community. The good news, however, is that the conversation and the movement are gaining traction in unprecedented ways, and supporters' voices are rising to meet the volume of Black outcry.
Over the past few weeks, allies have been asking how they can support Black-owned businesses and Black entrepreneurs. And while the lists going around of companies to support and buy from are a positive start, they're not enough to drive real change. Not even close.
Christina Blacken, founder and chief story strategist at The New Quo. Courtesy of Dreamers // Doers
"Supporting us means seeing us as equals and experts and not assuming our skills, services, and creations are less than, which has been the common narrative when discussing supporting Black ideas, creativity, and business," explained Christina Blacken, founder and chief story strategist at The New Quo, a professional development and communication consultancy that helps leaders tap into the psychological power of narrative intelligence and storytelling to achieve inclusive, status quo breaking goals. "Black creators have built movements, companies, and more with little to nothing despite the odds, and there's wisdom that can be learned from that."
Bianca Maxwell, founder at Skinary, a digital health company that uses data to understand and track skin health and provide recommendations, via an app from home, agrees. "My ancestors accomplished more with less," she said. "It fuels me when the odds are down, and it's cause for a louder celebration when the odds are up."
Bianca Maxwell, founder of Skinary. Courtesy of Dreamers // Doers
Simply put, this is not about helping just to help. This is about reflecting on and learning from the Black entrepreneurial experience. It's about recognizing and amplifying the value of Black entrepreneurs. And it's about doing the work it takes to establish this value as a given, so that Black business owners can have equal access to resources and networks that help their companies to flourish.
So how can we go above and beyond our surface support for the movement and render tangible change? Blacken and Maxwell, along with Wadeeha Jackson and Alexandria Carroll — four members of the entrepreneurial collective Dreamers & Doers — have been kind enough to share their experiences and insight as Black founders and entrepreneurs and offer advice for how we can all change the game. For good.
Listen to the stories of Black founders
Alexandria Carroll is the founder and CEO of License to Drift, a platform for travel-loving professionals who seek tailored trip recommendations that save planning time without sacrificing quality. She recalls a childhood experience that helped to shape her entrepreneurial drive by showing her that not everyone consciously acknowledges the deep seeds of Black oppression.
Alexandria Carroll is the founder and CEO of License to Drift. Courtesy of Dreamers // Doers
She was in seventh grade, doing a homestay with a family in a small Australian town. "At dinner one night, they kept asking me where I was from, and they weren't satisfied when I said D.C. or that my parents were from Pennsylvania and Maryland. I knew what they were getting at ... the national origin of my ancestors. It was a little awkward though, because I assumed that they, as citizens of the British Commonwealth, would know the history of chattel slavery in the US and how that hampered my ability to know specifics about my roots."
What's even more surprising, said Carroll, is that she's had similar ancestry questions from fellow Americans who she expected to be more informed. "It highlighted to me the necessity of cross-cultural exposure and learning both internationally and within the US."
Carroll's experience is just one of the countless stories that illustrate the invisible biases and hurdles that accompany the Black entrepreneurial journey. And it's important to seek these stories out — they're a powerful foundation for understanding and change.
Blacken, in fact, built her entire company on this principle.
"My childhood of being an outsider religiously, politically, and racially taught me how powerful story can be for influencing how we treat one another," she explained. "It inspired me to found a storytelling training company that uses story as a tool for development and social change. I know the inequities I have faced and the problems I am passionate about contributing to solving will only be moved through new models of communication, personal development, and business practices."
Understand the barriers
Wadeeha Jackson is the managing partner at Cowry Crypto Asset Management LLC, which provides alternative financing options for entrepreneurs and project initiatives. She cites a more recent and specific challenge she's faced as a Black entrepreneur.
"As a regulatory advisor for fintech startups, I've witnessed a growing consensus of frustration with raising capital for minority entrepreneurs," she said. "Statistically, black entrepreneurs represent 1% of covered venture-backed capital. In addition, technology nonprofit startup accelerators and incubators represent a small percentage of black entrepreneurs. This experience has inspired me to identify alternative financing through the use of BlockChain technology."
Wadeeha Jackson, managing partner of Cowry Crypto Asset Management LLC Courtesy of Dreamers // Doers
"Discriminatory lending practices are well documented for Black business and homeowners," she explained. "I encourage persons at the top and on the front lines of banking institutions to ensure financing for Black customers is at the same rates as other Americans of the same FICO score and risk profile. I also think a database of financing terms by region/business type, akin to a Glassdoor salary database by job function, would be a helpful tool to ensure greater transparency and equity."
While it's crucial that practices change from a systemic level, it's also important that the average person understands these barriers. They're real, and it's only when we recognize and understand them that we can call them out and advocate for change.
Sponsor Black entrepreneurs
But in the meantime, we can all look to remove barriers for Black entrepreneurs in our own work and life. "I am not asking for charity," said Jackson. "I seek fairness in the process for access to resources where I am not restricted based on my ethnic background."
To begin building toward that fairness, Jackson highlights the importance of sponsoring Black entrepreneurs. "As Carla Harris sites in her book "Expect to Win," 'a sponsor represents someone who will use their internal political and social capital to move you forward,'" she said. "Sponsorship is imperative to work towards supporting Black entrepreneurs and granting them access to networks and opportunities that would aid their growth."
What does that look like? Maxwell suggests the following for VCs and investors, but they're steps that any well-connected professionals could take: "We need revenue-generating support in the shape of client introductions, and lead generation support. We need cost savings support, such as technology sponsorships, and value-added partnerships. Give us marketing support such as PR, assistance elevating our work, and introductions to publications that are willing to publish the stories of more than one Black founder per month."
Carroll adds that another way to support Black businesses is by including them in cross-marketing collaborations on digital or other media.
"Particularly if your business is non-competitive but shares a similar target demo as that of a Black-owned business, use your brand and audience to help raise awareness of their products and services," she shared.
"Lastly, write the check, complete the wire," Maxwell emphasized. "Cash is king, and founders with less melanin and experience are not expected to build businesses off of compliments and pats on the back. If you can't write the check, make warm intros to people that can write checks. Inviting us to events and dinners is wonderful, but make sure it is an opportunity for connection-making, not for optics."
And yes, do business with Black-owned companies
Carroll also suggests that business leaders do an earnest audit of the vendors, freelancers, and other service providers that drive their companies — and proactively work to ensure that a meaningful portion of those collaborators are Black-owned businesses.
"If contacts aren't in your company's direct networks, leverage Black Chambers of Commerce or your diverse customer base and crowd-source referrals through LinkedIn and other social media," she said. "Another way companies can help broker more business with Black enterprises is to ensure that Black subject matter experts are among the keynotes at their town halls, off-sites, team retreats, etc. It signals to other decision makers lower in the organization that 'it isn't difficult to find Black experts in our field, so there should be no issue finding partners and collaborators for our firm's projects."
"Consumers can do the same with the purchases they make for their household," she said. "Focus not only on low-priced items like food and accessories but also incorporate Black businesses for higher ticket expenditures like home contractors, new car purchases, and repair services."
Again, this isn't about supporting for the sake of supporting — it's about doing better business. "I am seeing more stories in the media overall on the focus in the Black community being more about handouts and perceptions around help than the overall excellence of what Black businesses do that is ignored or missed out on," said Blacken.
To that end, think about anyone in the Black community who has helped educate you on diversity or inclusion efforts, and ensure they are compensated fairly. "We have a culmination of years of intense study and experience that backs our work and expertise, so we are often asked to have our brains 'picked,'" said Maxwell. "Compensate us for our time with either cash, or an offer/barter."
Keep the momentum going
Most importantly, take time to internalize that any real change requires a long-term view.
"Any plan of action has to be intentional and cannot be the 'flavor of the month,''' cautioned Jackson.
Blacken adds that this work needs to be an ongoing practice.
"Adopt an anti-racist lens into your daily life through self reflection and action," she said. "Do you follow, study, or learn from Black experts and thought leaders? How do you speak to and interact with Black people? Are you leveraging various aspects of personal power — financial capital, social capital — to invest in, partner with, develop, and buy from Black entrepreneurs? Inclusive habits are a daily practice that will shift the status quo for the better."
Christina Blacken. Courtesy of Dreamers // Doers
The Black community needs change. They deserve change. And they deserve an end to over 450 years of trying to survive within a system that was not created for them. We need to burn the old system to the ground and rebuild — and that's going to take more than a month of protesting and an overhaul of well-intentioned social media posts.
Please listen. Please act. And please let's all do our part to end the stress, the trauma, and the cycle of discrimination and oppression in the United States. The time is now.
Curated from: Dreamers & Doers. Copyright 2020.
What changes do you feel need to be made immediately for the Black Community to use this time as a catalyst for substantial change for the better? Share your thoughts in the comments!