As of April, roughly 450,000 Black-owned businesses – more than 40% – have closed due to COVID-19.
This bleak statistic, among many others, was shared during the latest Franklin & Marshall College Common Hour, “Fueling the Fire: Racism Highlighted in the Flame of COVID.”
The Oct. 7 virtual event featured panel moderator Atnre Alleyne, co-founder of TeenSHARP; artist Evita Colon, founder and CEO of Speak to My Soul; India Folk, political action chair for the NAACP Lancaster branch; and Michelle Patterson, founder and CEO of Credit Lab.
Figures vary, but only about 23% of Black-owned businesses were approved for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), said Patterson.
“Many people have not been able to even qualify for [loans] because of not having strong banking relationships,” she said.
In fact, many minority-owned businesses are still struggling to recover from the economic recession of 2007-2009.
“COVID-19 has exposed those same conditions that many have not got past since 2008,” Patterson said.
She shared the example of small banks that once served local Black communities, now shuttered and acquired by large financial institutions.
Economic disparity was not the only topic covered in a candid conversation that touched on activism, allyship and art.
“All of these things intersect,” Alleyne said.
Folk urged Black Lives Matter supporters to go beyond the “performative activism” of simply sharing social media posts.
“We have to go local and we have to write letters to our mayors, our governors, our representatives, our senators. You need to attend your city council meetings. There is a time where we can make a comment and we can bring our agenda for our reform,” Folk said.
“Real change comes from policy; it comes from legislation,” she added.
While Alleyne acknowledged the importance of financial donations for organizations like the ACLU and Equal Justice Initiative, “criminal justice is not the only area [where] we need support,” he said.
“Support Black founders,” Alleyne said. “A lot of us have been creating the change we need to see in our communities.”
On that thread, Colon encouraged individuals to consider “different ways and different avenues” to reach people.
“If I can continue to create and try to shape the narrative of what's going on through art, then that can get it out to people who may not be listening to protestors, or may not be listening to the newscasters … they might tune into a song, or they’ll tune into a poem,” she said.
In closing, panelists fielded questions from viewers including tips for navigating activism in a largely virtual world.
“You have to step from behind your keyboard and actually do something in your community,” Colon said. “This is very real for us. This is not something that just happens virtually; this is not just something that you see on social media.”
“We are Black; we can’t take that off,” she said.
“Support Black founders. A lot of us have been creating the change we need to see in our communities.”