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Black business group bikes from Detroit to Mackinaw City, seeking investment

Michigan Advance
Sep. 13, 2021
Ken Coleman

Members of a Detroit-based organization on Sunday launched a 377-mile bike ride from the Motor City to Mackinaw City, making the case that African-American entrepreneurs, businesses and nonprofits are not getting their fair share of opportunities.

“The pandemic has shined the light on an issue that has been here,” said Black Leaders Detroit CEO Dwan Dandridge, who founded the equity fund group in 2019. “And for those of us in the know, it’s not news to us.”

The group of about a dozen departed with Marygrove College in Northwest Detroit. They are riding about 50 to 60 miles each day through Sunday and will sleep in motels at night. After the group arrives in Mackinaw City, Dandridge plans to take the ferry to Mackinac Island to attend the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Mackinac Policy Conference. The largest Michigan political confab of the year begins Monday, Sept. 20,

He plans to lobby corporate leaders, legislators, foundation officials and others to create more economic opportunities for African Americans. He said that it is time to “call attention to the lack of access to capital Black entrepreneurs face.”

Sandy Baruah, Detroit Regional Chamber president and CEO, told the Advance on Monday that “we wish the Black Leaders Detroit team a safe and successful ride to Mackinac.”

“Advancing economic equity is a pillar of the Mackinac Policy Conference, and the chamber supports the mission of Black Leaders Detroit to expand opportunities for Black-owned businesses and Black employees throughout the region,” Baruah said.

The four-day annual conference will feature events focused on diversity and businesses including, “High Expectations, High Returns: Investing in Minority Entrepreneurs” and “Racial Equity in the Workplace.”

Nationally, Black entrepreneurs are nearly three times more likely than white entrepreneurs to have business growth and profitability negatively impacted by a lack of financial capital, according to a study from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“Given that 70.6% of Black entrepreneurs rely on personal and family savings for financing, lower family wealth for Black families overall drives more of a divide in access to capital,” its report reads.

What’s more, in 2016, white families had the highest level of both median and mean family wealth: $171,000 and $933,700, respectively. Black and Latino families have considerably less wealth than white families. Black families’ median and mean net worth is less than 15% that of white families, at $17,600 and $138,200, respectively, according to the Federal Reserve. Latino families’ median and mean net worth was $20,700 and $191,200, respectively.

There also have been racial disparities in federal coronavirus aid to businesses. In 2020, the nonprofit group Accountable.US reported that 90% of businesses owned by people of color “have been, or will likely be, shut out of the PPP [Paycheck Protection Program].’” Overall, only 12% of Black and Latino business-owner applicants had secured relief requested from Small Business Association (SBA) programs, including PPP.

Accountable.US found last summer that Michigan’s 13th and 14th congressional districts, which are largely composed of Detroit and majority African American, were “shortchanged” by the PPP. In one Accountable.US study, the 14th District ranked among the top highest percentage of Black residents left behind by PPP. In another, the 13th ranked among the poorest districts neglected by PPP.

David Contorer, executive director of Free Hebrew Loan Detroit, attended the bike kick off and said Black Leaders Detroit’s is important and his charitable organization is working to support the effort. Founded in 1895, Contorer’s organization has used an interest-free loans model to assist the Jewish community.

“It’s a personal mission to me and I will do anything I can do to help,” said Contorer.

Scott Benson, a Detroit Council member and avid bike rider, supports the organization’s effort and has pledged to work with other city of Detroit officials in an effort to leverage federal American Rescue Plan funds toward entrepreneurs and entities affiliated with Blacks Leaders Detroit. Additionally, Benson said he wants to see city government offer zero interest loans as a way to create economic equity throughout the city.

“We want to make sure that we are using federal dollars to bring more resources and access to capital through non-traditional methods,” said Benson.

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