By: Jonnel Doris, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Small Business Services (SBS)
This year has been life-altering for most of us. Senseless deaths of unarmed Black individuals and the triggering of an economic crisis caused by a health pandemic has left many of our small businesses looking for guidance. Like many other Black leaders across the nation, I contemplated my role in the quest for equity, and how we could bridge the racial wealth gap. This is why we launched BE NYC, to act as a mechanism to address wealth disparities in the Black community by empowering its entrepreneurs.
BE NYC, the country’s first municipal-level commitment to advance Black entrepreneurship, is not just a great civic responsibility. For me, it’s also personal. As a former entrepreneur, and an immigrant New Yorker, I have shared many of the experiences and challenges of other Black business owners. Like many others, I have experienced a lack of access to capital and the necessary resources needed to get a business off the ground.
Access to capital is something Black businesses still need. In May, it was reported that just 2 percent of federal Paycheck Protection Program funds were disbursed to Black-owned businesses. That’s a huge problem, especially considering that Black-owned businesses are being hit the hardest by COVID-19, with reports of 41 percent drops in business activity between February and April alone.
Bridging the digital divide is another barrier to economic mobility and generational wealth for Black entrepreneurs. Black adults are at a staggering disadvantage. A little over half of this group has internet access, compared to 82 percent of white adults, and many individuals have to share this access with even more people. A broadband infrastructure is needed to help close this gap in the City and establish a more level playing field for small businesses.
The disparity between the profits made from the hard work of Black Americans, and investments made to support Black entrepreneurship is staggering. There are countless examples of white wealth that can be attributed to Black inventions, from the cotton scraper to Jack Daniel’s whiskey. Today, white families still earn nearly 10 times as much as Black families, and an alarming 37 percent of Black families have no savings or are succumbing to endless debt, contributing to the ever-accelerating racial wealth gap. My city, New York City, is often credited with being a place where people of color, immigrants, and other marginalized communities can thrive, but despite the fact that the Black community makes up 22 percent of New Yorkers, only 3.5 percent of businesses are Black-owned.
It’s time for us to take action and correct the mistakes that have been made for centuries, and I am excited to be here on the front lines of this sea change. At SBS, we know the most viable and sustainable solution to address the racial wealth gap is entrepreneurship, and BE NYC is a first of its kind model in any major American city to actively work on addressing racial disparities, break down barriers to access, and begin to build generational wealth in the Black community.
Over the last year, we’ve listened to more than 1,500 Black entrepreneurs, business and community leaders, and advocates. In August, we released Advancing Black Entrepreneurship in NYC, a blueprint for growing Black-owned businesses and highlighting opportunities for public-private partnership. With BE NYC, we’re working to increase equitable access to financing, create digital equity, strengthen connections with NYC’s Black entrepreneurial community, scale Black businesses for long-term success, and meet the challenges of the economy of tomorrow.
These commitments are the first of many to combat the troubled past of this country and stamp out the injustices ingrained in American society. We must work together to collectively rid the stain of racism and anti-Black sentiment in the marketplace. We must progress to a place where all Black-owned business leaders truly have the tools and the opportunity to fulfill their full potential and thrive.
SBS is committed to equity of opportunity, which means balancing our economic scales in a way that thoughtfully cultivates the many talents and needs of a historically diverse population so that everyone can participate. New York City does this best when we work together. Join us at nyc.gov/benyc.