National Business League Inc. on Ensuring Racial Justice and Equity in the COVID-19 Economic Recovery

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The COVID-19 crisis and the rise in awareness of racial justice are reshaping our communities. Dr. Ken L. Harris, national president and CEO of the National Business League Inc., joined the Chamber to discuss efforts to address racial injustice and achieve economic equity.

The Black business community has been devastated by the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 virus, which created not only a health crisis, but an economic crisis.

“The virus has decimated Black businesses in the city,” said Harris. “More than 40% of Black businesses have closed their doors permanently or are on their way to closure.”

Black businesses make up 80% of Detroit’s 62,000 businesses, according to 2012 census-tracked statistics. Despite keeping the city’s economy afloat during recent recessions and economic hardships, said Harris, Black residents and Black businesses are now being left behind amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Recent racial unrest is the culmination of many forms of systemic oppression the Black community faces, and according to Harris, society cannot erase racism’s “constructed grip on humanity” until:

  1. The Black problem has been acknowledged to exist.
  2. The problem of the Black race has been repaired.
  3. Equitable solutions toward the Black problem have been implemented.

In response to how these systemic issues are being amplified in the wake of COVID-19, Harris calls for a “solution revolution,” measurable, data-based accountability and improvement. Looking back on the perceived economic progress in the Black business community since the Civil Rights movement, has there been much improvement? By critically evaluating how much money is being invested in what, to whom, and from where, significant disparities can be pinpointed and corrected.

Such disparities are evident in the distribution of CARES Act and Paycheck Protection Program funding. The first round of CARES Act funding missed small businesses, and the $60 billion allocated for minority businesses in the second round had large sums left even weeks later, indicating a disconnect between financial institutions and these business communities.

“It’s not about dispersion of cash, it’s about barriers to entry,” said Harris.

Guidance on application processes, direct outreach, and support in upgrading technology are key to breaking down the systemic barriers impeding the Black and small business communities’ access to capital.

The funding disparities also point to a need for more sustainable approaches to funding Black businesses and developing their equity within the mainstream economy.

“Inclusion does not mean equity,” said Harris.

Temporary and charitable approaches to funding Black businesses are harmful to their long-term success. Improvements in education and employment training as well as investment and policy support for Black entrepreneurs will be essential to this effort. By acknowledging and dismantling racism from these societal and economic systems, equitable solutions with longevity will be able to take hold.

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