Updated: Jul 7, 2020
If we have not met yet, I am Keneshia Raymond and I am the Program Manager here at Startup Tucson and also a small business owner of Blissful Creatives. On June 18, 2020, I had the honor of hosting our first ever Black Business Town Hall. During this impactful two-hour live-streamed event, we invited 8 Black business leaders for a timely panel on issues that impact Black-owned businesses in our region. These business owners included some of our community’s strongest entrepreneurs and non-profit leaders from a variety of industries. Using a virtual platform, we opened up the floor to have an honest discussion with them about how we can build a stronger Tucson for Black-owned Businesses. This conversation was live-streamed to a captive audience of over 80 Tucsononans. As we set out to understand the challenges that our Black Business owners are having here in the city, we learned so much about each other, where we started, and what we hope to see in the future.
We discovered a number of themes throughout the conversation, which will help guide Startup Tucson’s next steps as an organization and as a community of Black Business owners.
We learned during this conversation that we--as the broader business community-- need to do a better job of welcoming Black Business owners into existing programs and opportunities. A number of business owners described a similar experience of attempting to get plugged into networking and educational programs, but not continuing with participation as they felt the resources “weren’t for them”. Some business owners explained that they didn’t even bother in the first place, but instead “kept my head down and focused on my work”.
Another common theme was the challenge of invisibility. Again and again, we heard about a sense of isolation in the experience of being a Black Business owner, with comments such as “I didn’t even know that there were other Black-owned Businesses in Tucson!”. Without a centralized forum, such as a Black Chamber of Commerce, many business owners felt the need to go-it-alone. The panelist also suggested that Black-owned Businesses need to focus on picking each other up and sharing experiences with one another. We need to make sure we are reaching out and sharing what we have to offer other small businesses and support businesses in their growth. Moving forward, as our friend Ashley of La Roux Events stated, “This is not a trend! This is what we will be moving forward in the future and we need to see more support of black businesses here in our community.”
Finally, there was a broad consensus that we also need to see more investments and capital in our Black Businesses. This is backed up by years of national data showing Black-owned businesses have less access to capital than white-owned businesses-- and only exacerbated in the midst of a pandemic. As a city, we can create a movement nationally for uplifting and supporting our community. We need more alternative lending opportunities, like those of the Community Investment Corporation, but also need more black investors to take an active role in investing in Black-owned Businesses.
It has been said time and time again in the black community, if you can’t get a seat at the table, build your own table. Along with our panelists, we say now we are in a time where we would like to be invited to and sit at the table and make the table a welcoming space for Black Business owners. Our call to you is when you're thinking of making a change in your business and the community, think about how you are making sure you are being inclusive in all ways and not only inclusive to some.
This conversation was so uplifting and really opened our eyes to how we can move forward in supporting our community in some tangible ways. As a panel, we each took a personal pledge to make a change. We also asked our community to take their own personal pledges to do something different, to be better, to step up, and to be the change that we want to see in our community.
Our panelist took the following pledges:
Keep the momentum of the Black Business community going
Help other small businesses through mentorship
Create Community to support each other
Show up for networking opportunities and events
As a community, work together to be the change that we want to see
Take the time to get to know each other better so we can better support each other
Lead with the mindset of creating change
Startup Tucson also pledges to keep this momentum going and to create a space to have a Black Business Townhall every quarter to check in with our Black Business, get updates on the community, see the progress that has been made and learn what we can do to be better supporters.
We believe in order to see the change we want for our community, we have to first start inside. Our full team and organization is committed to continuing to educate ourselves so that we can help act on change for our community partners and organizations and bridge some of the gaps so our ecosystem is accessible to all.
If you missed the live stream of this impactful conversation, catch the replay here.
BBTH video link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3S0_XJjUun0
The Black Business Owners on the panel
Keneshia Raymond - Blissful Creatives
Ashley LaRussa - Roux Events
Justin Lloyd - Coalition for Change
Sam Brown - Tucson Urban League
Seanloui - Black Renaissance
Tina Marie -Profit Project