Happy MLK day, friends! Today we honor the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., a leader in the civil rights movement that advocated for racial equality and nonviolent resistance to racial segregation and discrimination. He is best known for advancing civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience. His message continues to inspire people worldwide to work for social justice and equality even today.
Many people do not know that his role in the worker’s rights and union movement was just as prominent. His civil rights activism largely overshadowed his support of labor. Martin Luther King Jr. was as vocal about union power as he was about racial injustice. King understood that racial equality was inextricably linked to economics. He asked, “What good does it do to be able to eat at a lunch counter if you can’t buy a hamburger?”
In 1961, King spoke before the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest and most powerful labor organization, to explain why he felt unions were essential to civil rights progress. One of his main goals was to improve the economic conditions of African Americans, that were disproportionately represented among the working poor. One of the major ways that African Americans were able to achieve upward mobility was through entrepreneurship.
If you have been following Blanket & Board on social media for a while now, you would know that I am very vocal about speaking on black entrepreneurship and the strengths and barriers we face. I opened my businesses in the worse city for black women in the country, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
African-Americans have and continue to have a profound role in shaping the U.S. economy. Innovations like the traffic light, automatic elevator doors, and even caller ID all sprung from the minds of black creatives and inventors. African Americans have a long and rich history of entrepreneurship. Within two decades of the abolition of slavery, African Americans established several thousand successful businesses that thrived in exclusively African American communities (i.e. Black Wall Street of Tulsa, Oklahoma). However, racial tensions and Jim Crow laws made these businesses vulnerable to targeting and destruction. With few resources available to Black business owners to rebuild after the Black Wall Street Massacre if their companies fell victim. African American business ownership began to decline steadily starting in the early 1940s. Black business ownership remained stagnant for several decades before resurging again in the early 1980s. Black business ownership has continued its upward trajectory ever since, despite the ongoing challenges of having to confront structural and institutional racism continually.
Today Black women are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs, with 17% in the process of starting or running new businesses (versus 10% of white women and 15% of white men), according to research published in Harvard Business Review. Even with our continued momentum, black entrepreneurs still face several challenges: “We have the insight, the creativity, the knowledge, and even the manpower. But without access to capital, our ideas come to a standstill, are stolen, or are manipulated.” Says Ron Busby, president of the U.S. Black Chambers.
A significant barrier for black-owned businesses is a lack of access to capital. Many black entrepreneurs struggle to secure loans and other financing sources, making it challenging to start and grow a business. This lack of access to capital is often due to systemic racism and discrimination within the financial industry, making it difficult for black entrepreneurs to obtain the funding they need to succeed. Another barrier that black-owned businesses often face is a lack of access to networks and resources. Many black entrepreneurs find it challenging to connect with other business owners and gain access to the support and resources they need to grow their businesses. This is one of the reasons we were so delighted to be chosen for the 2022 TikTok Support Black Businesses (SBB) Accelerator Program.
So enough about the barriers, and let me tell you how dope it is to be a black-owned business. Some of my favorites are
- Community support: Black-owned businesses often receive strong support from our local communities, and many want to see businesses representing them in their neighborhood.
- Access to resources: Many organizations and government agencies provide help and support specifically for black-owned businesses, such as grants and business development programs. The URA ventures program that invested $50,000 into our business specifically wanted to support black-owned businesses in Pittsburgh.
- Representation and diversity: Black-owned businesses continue to play an essential role in promoting diversity and representation in the business world.
- Connecting with black-focused networks: Knowing that I’m not alone when im frustrated and think about giving up is very comforting. Other Black entrepreneurs have continued to support and mentor me because they know what it feels like; for that, I am eternally grateful.
- Personal fulfillment: Knowing that I’m the judge, jury, and executioner of my destiny continues to push me forward. Being an owner of a business brings me a sense of pride and personal fulfillment.
- Economic empowerment: Serving and representing my community will always be and continue to be the goal for Blanket & Board as a way to promote economic empowerment within the black community by providing jobs and creating wealth.
- Showing resilience: I want to serve as an inspiration to others, showing that with perseverance and determination, anyone can overcome obstacles and succeed in their business; the knowledge that I have acquired from being in business is not my own, but for me share with those coming with or after me.
In conclusion, I am grateful for the MLK’s, Madam Cj Walkers, Lonnie Johnsons, Marie Van Brittan Browns and, George Crums of the world, and many other pioneers who paved the way for black entrepreneurship.