Celebrating National Black Business Month

August is the month to celebrate, acknowledge and encourage black-owned businesses in the United States.

National Black Business Month was created on the 4th of April 2004 by John William Templeton, president and executive editor of academic publishing company eAccess Corp, and engineering executive Frederick E. Jordan, who could not secure financing for his San Francisco-based company. They shared the goal of driving changes in the policies that affect African American entrepreneurs, seeking more significant equity and more inclusion.

The history of businesses owned by Blacks throughout the United States harkens back to the 1700s when free and, in some cases, enslaved African Americans opened small companies that proliferated after emancipation. The period from 1900 to 1930 was called the ‘golden time’ in which the size of businesses owned by Blacks grew exponentially. These numbers have increased to 3.12 million and generated 206 billion dollars in revenue.

Celebrating National Black Business Month

But, these figures only are 2.4% of the nation’s companies, while white-owned firms comprise 86.5%, even though Blacks make up 12.8% of the population. As per John Harmon, Sr., the founder, CEO, as well as president of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey (AACCNJ), 16% of the small-scale companies that are located in New Jersey are Black-owned (80,000) in an area where 1.19 million African Americans reside.

“There are several reasons why there is such a disparity and systemic challenges, such as the absence of capital, funding opportunities, being a first-generation entrepreneur – and more importantly – the public sector’s lack of policy and commitment to diversity,” Harmon notes.

New Jersey has been slow to set diversity goals, especially in ensuring that funds are readily available for public procurements, in contrast to New York, which currently has an allocation of $3.2 billion.

As per Harmon, Harmon, the COVID-19 pandemic devastated many black-owned firms located in New Jersey. More than 41% didn’t reopen because of state mandates, health concerns, and an absence of capital despite the stimulus programs.

The social justice movement and the demise of George Floyd abruptly created awareness of the existing disparities. Non-profits, corporations, small-sized companies, and banks approached the Chamber to inquire how they could bridge the gap and create more opportunities for businesses owned by Blacks.

Josh Cone, along with Earl Cone, Jr., Father and son partners with Upscale Medical Transportation in Bloomfield and Bloomfield, has seen growth in businesses owned by Blacks. Josh started the company in 2013 following his experience in medical transportation and believed he could provide more efficient services and a better experience for patients and members of the medical profession.

It was a battle initially, and the situation became complicated when the original partner decided to quit. He considered shutting down the company with no network, financial backing, and a backup system. Earl, who had a background in finance, relocated away from North Carolina to assist, giving the needed support his son required.

“Just as the business was beginning to grow, the pandemic came along, taking things a step back,” Josh says. Josh. “Once again, I thought the business would fold, but the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and stimulus helped to sustain us through a difficult time.”

In the words of Earl, “The social justice movement brought a wake-up call for businesses and companies who started to recognize what African-American entrepreneurs had experienced. The private sector has begun in developing programs to guarantee greater diversity, equity, and fairness in contracts as well as requests to submit proposals (RFPs).”

Although positive changes have been positive, like the availability of Small Business Administration (SBA) grants and loans, the shortage of funds remains the most significant obstacle, the process of obtaining capital and loans from banks with larger branches is a complicated task, and agreements from public sectors as well as hospitals remain inaccessible as well.

Despite these challenges, Upscale Medical Transport has maintained and cultivated its operations. Today, the workforce is 12. Employees have the opportunity to grow through training and the possibility of obtaining Medical Operator certifications.

“The future looks brighter for the advancement of Black-owned businesses, and opportunities exist,” Josh remarks. “However the majority of Blacks are hesitant to step into the entrepreneurial world, frightened of the lack of funds and contracts. There is a need to create a better support system is the main issue.”

Erica Lauren is the founder and director of Journey to Purpose, A motivational program designed to help entrepreneurs and mothers who are overwhelmed to discover themselves. Lasan creates innovative strategies and systems that assist clients in finding happiness, peace, and Purpose in their professional and private lives.

Her journey to entrepreneurship has lasted for more than two decades and was firmly established in 2020, following the onset of the outbreak. She was recently offered an opportunity in marketing, and soon after that, she learned they were expecting their first baby. Then her job was cut off abruptly, and she was left with a decision regarding the direction of her personal and professional life.

The idea of entrepreneurship was born out of a chance when I started an online blog about motherhood and work. This led to a podcast and then the creation of workshops for training. The organization of Lasan has seen significant growth over the last two years. She admits that most of this was due to COVID and the feeling of isolation as people started to doubt what they were doing in their lives, both professional and personal. Journey to Purpose was transformed into a support system.

“Obtaining large contracts and funding is not a challenge for me at this time, but challenges exist nonetheless,” Lasan states. “Not having a support network or business mentor, particularly when starting out, was one of the greatest barriers I faced.”

Lasan has noticed that many women want to be entrepreneurs but struggle with the mental aspect of creating a company. Self-confidence, self-worth, and the fear of failure are all typical in her client group discussions.

“Support groups for women, and particularly women of color, are critical, especially when launching a business,” Lasan states. “My goal is to build a business and a legacy for others to benefit from, helping them to find the avenues that can lead to success, prosperity, job satisfaction, and personal growth.”

“The future looks bright for Black-owned businesses, yet more work is needed in order to create greater equity and less disparity,” Harmon says. “We are a strong group of people. We have made it through 1619 [the very first year that African slaves were brought to North America in a British ship slave ship], Jim Crow and segregation, as well as the demise of George Floyd. I am confident that we’ll continue to overcome the obstacles and progress with determination and determination.”

By Mia

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