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Leon Kaye headshot

A Year After a Summer of Promises, Black Business Owners Tackle Social Change on Their Own

Black business owners are far from waiting for corporate America to decide whether or not it will make good on last summer's racial justice pledges.
By Leon Kaye
Black Business

After the murder of George Floyd last summer, U.S. companies promised solidarity with Black Americans and pledged billions of dollars in funds to tackle the inequities rampant across society and the economy.

But a year later, many of those commitments, which Fortune has described as “hazily promised as investments in communities of color,” have not gone anywhere.

It’s a missed opportunity for companies and communities of color, wrote Greg Johnson for Fortune earlier this summer: “Corporate America is missing out on the opportunity to drive innovation and growth by creating business value and greater reach into international markets, which advancing racial equity would do.”

Assessing what has occurred in Minneapolis, itself a corporate headquarters hub and where Floyd died, the Brookings Institution assessed that the past year has been more about platitudes than progress, concluding, “Unfortunately, in the past year, corporations have prioritized highly visible national equity campaigns and philanthropic commitments over the harder, needed work to dismantle systemic racism inside their businesses and in the communities in which they operate.”

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Despite all the hard data out there verifying that diverse companies are successful companies, many Black leaders still see a lack of urgency in the business community – and there’s an impatience with press releases and public statements. “Business leaders who do not believe that social justice and racial issues are their problem probably should just retire before they embarrass themselves in public,” John Hope Bryant, the chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE, said in an interview with CNBC this June.

Meanwhile, Black business owners, many of whom have been hit hard by the pandemic over the past 18 months, aren’t waiting for corporate America to decide whether it will make good on its pledges or not.

According to a recent Bank of America survey, 94 percent of Black business owners said they are supportive of enacting social change through their business. Further, 85 percent of them revealed that the calls for social justice have affected how they approach conducting their businesses. About the same percentage also confirmed they have changed, or will change, how they look at employees’ benefits and wellness.

While about half of Black business owners in the same survey they would apply for a loan, only about a third said it would be done to expand their business; more replied they needed such funds to meet payroll or to deploy new safety measures.

In many communities, that need will have to be met by Black-owned banks. One example will be in Maryland, one U.S. state that has one of the more supportive environments for Black-owned businesses. Yet Maryland itself has only one Black-owned bank – one that became a vital resource for many local business owners at the onset of the pandemic as many banks we’re either unable or unwilling to process the federal government’s emergency loan programs.

The sentiment of Black business owners reflected in this BofA survey shows a sobering reality many local leaders face – go on one’s own if any difference is going to be made. But considering the effects of systemic racism and the role the financial sector has had in preventing many Black Americans from reaping the rewards of intergenerational wealth, that sentiment doesn’t leave corporate America off the hook.

Image credit: My Networking Apparel/Unsplash

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye