By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor
Be black, shine, aim high. – Leontyne Price
A recent national survey of small business owners indicates that the nation’s angst from the COVID-19 pandemic may be waning.
A year ago, respondents of a Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Voices survey revealed only 39 percent of small business owners were open for business. Today, 84 percent are fully open for business, and another 15 percent are open partially.
Nearly half of black small businesses have not survived the pandemic and related economic recession. So, the Goldman Sachs report signals good news to black entrepreneurs and business owners such as Shanda Gore, Ed.D.
Gore serves as president and CEO of Mays and Associates, a local consulting firm with eight professionals that specializes in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. According to Goldman Sachs, although the most highly educated group, black women’s median revenue generates less than half of that for white male entrepreneurs.
Yet, Gore has been able to adjust during the pandemic, persevere, and survive due to inspiration from her father, in whose honor the company is named. “People ask where did you get that name and even the logo itself,” she says, beaming. “Mays is named after my father and the lion represents the Lion of Judah. I am a person of faith, and that’s why I wanted it incorporated in my logo.”
In helping organizations understand the process of developing initiatives and programs that produce inclusive workplaces, Gore’s consulting business is fueled by a strong desire to pass along to others the valuable insights she first received from her parents.
“My father represented several ‘firsts’ in a lot of different ways, and was my first teacher in diversity. He taught me a lot. He taught me how to function in a majority world,” she explained.
Erik C. Johnson is another black entrepreneur that also sees economic opportunities for small black businesses reemerging after the pandemic wiped out nearly 20 percent of all businesses.
The work of Johnson’s Ivy Entrepreneur Institute is where “my heart is really at and where I can make the biggest and my proudest impact,” he says. The firm assists low-income individuals in starting businesses. It helps them overcome difficulties in obtaining funding, to hire full-time employees, maintain and to grow their businesses.
In addition, Johnson performs diversity and inclusion management on construction projects for large contractors such as Rudolph Libbe Inc., Moser Construction, and The Lathrop Company.
Johnson also sits on the board of the Association of General Contractors of Northwest Ohio (AGC), where, notably, he advocates for minority businesses in the construction industry.
The arduous effort as a bridge for minorities to the construction mainstream has been a struggle, but Johnson refuses to give up.
“All of your major players are at the table, and they’re the ones giving out the work, so if minorities don’t really know the value of the affiliation, it’s hard to get in with this group. So, I requested some data. I need to know how many minorities are currently members of the AGC and once I understand that, I can start to probe and ask questions. I already know the answers to these questions. Why is it so low, and what are we not doing to attract minorities to be aware of the opportunity to be a member? And, how are we packaging the value that the membership brings to respective members?
Lastly, an often-overlooked segment of the community’s potential for sustainable economic growth and financial opportunity is the nonprofit industry. While a third of nonprofits risked closure during the peak period of COVID-19, nearly 50 percent of black nonprofits likely shut their doors during the pandemic.
However, HUD’s recent grant award to Lucas Metropolitan Housing (LMH) provides exciting new opportunities to nonprofits and low to moderate-income individuals and families. One of only 13 grants awarded nationally, the prestigious $450,000 planning grant is a collaboration between LMH, the City of Toledo, Lucas County, and local neighborhood groups and service providers. The award can be leveraged to provide access to much-needed social, economic, and community resources for its residents in addition to safe, affordable housing.
Yet, the good news does not signal a return to business as usual.
“Help us help you,” LMH President and CEO Joaquin Cintron Vega pleaded to residents during last week’s kick-off event in the McClinton Nunn public housing complex.
Resident engagement has been a perennial problem for local government and nonprofit social service providers even before COVID. Clients have become numb to agencies rolling out a new flavor of the month program with the typical template that communicates, “Yeah, we showed up in your neighborhood, had a bunch of politicians make speeches, and set up tables to talk about (worthless) stuff that you are only now attempting to include us.”
Vega, who has led LMH since March 2020 understands that the agency and nonprofits must engage residents and clients more effectively than they have in the past. Present-day residents demand to be treated as special and with dignity. Underserved communities also want to see legitimate, high-quality, and culturally relevant programming. Patrons are wise consumers who look for value and no longer buy into cost and corner-cutting, bargain-basement social service delivery.
The bottom line is that doors are opening and Toledo’s economy shows signs of returning to life for the black community.
However, because of COVID-19, the way we do business is forever changed.
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, PhD, at firstname.lastname@example.org