SACRAMENTO – A new organization has formed to help advocate for minority-owned businesses who may get left out of the resource loop. Former legislative consultant Salena Pryor started the Black Small Business Association of California (BSBA) last month in response to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Salena Prior

Ms. Pryor said the organization has quickly come to represent hundreds of small business owners, sole proprietors, independent contractors, and individuals who are self-employed. A lot of outreach has been aimed at barbers and cosmetologists who aren’t allowed to officially do their jobs due to social distancing orders meant to help slow down the spread of COVID-19. Online, the BSBA calls barbers and salon owners “essential” to the Black community.

“Right now they’re angry,” Ms. Pryor shared. “They’re not working and they don’t have a way to make any income. They’re not qualifying for unemployment. We’ll see how the pandemic unemployment goes but that’s just $767 a month, definitely not what they’re used to making.”

Many, Ms. Pryor says, are ready to defy mandates in order to survive. Her group she says exists to turn that anger and frustration into action.

The BSBA has taken concerns to Gov. Gavin Newsom and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, sending letters to them and other leaders. In a letter to Mayor Steinberg dated April 27, Ms. Pryor said efforts to provide financial assistance during the pandemic have not been equitable. Of the City’s emergency loan, Ms. Pryor said, “The information about this loan was not disseminated to the Black small business community and as a result only three out of the 101 emergency loans went to Black small businesses. This is especially concerning given that two years ago, the City of Sacramento sued local banks for their discriminatory practices against Blacks, institutionalized and systemic racism has plagued access to financial resources for the Black community for far too long.”

Ms. Pryor said, “We’ve got a whole community of barbers and cosmetologist that are sitting at home right now that don’t qualify for unemployment, they couldn’t qualify for the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) or the EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan), which are the Federal loans, they’re not going to qualify for the loans that the State is giving, because I-Bank (California Infrastructure Economic Development Bank) has a history of not funding Black businesses. What do we do?”

Like others, Ms. Pryor points out that COVID-19 has exposed long-standing issues of inequity.

“The City of Sacramento has a history of excluding Black small businesses from loan programs and from contracts,” she said. “They get together in these little small silos and they decide who gets what contract and then after they determine how much they need to make, what’s left they leave that part for the group of minorities. They’ll call up one or two Black businesses and they’ll give them a little piece of the pie. Why do we get a little piece of the pie? Why aren’t we allowed to compete with the rest of them? Why don’t we get invited to the meetings? The piece of the pie has to be divided among all the minority businesses in the city and that’s not right.”

The BSBA hosts online broadcasts every Tuesday and Friday to generate support and awareness. It’s also conducting a “Tell Your Story” campaign.

“We want to get our stories out there,” Ms. Pryor said. “We want to make sure that people know that we’re here and we’re tired of being excluded, we see what you’re doing and we’re not going to go away.”

She says feedback for the BSBA’s efforts has been positive.

“What I’ve been hearing is that this is something that’s needed.”

Ms. Pryor said California Black Chamber of Commerce President Jay King asked to sign on to the letter she sent to the government officials.

“Just to have them come on and say ‘hey what you’re doing is great, we want to be a partner with you, as opposed to ‘we’re already doing that, why don’t you be a partner with what we’re doing,’ is pretty big,” she said.

Gov. Newsom has announced the gradual reopening of some businesses, including bookstores and florists, as of this Friday. Ms. Pryor says the BSBA will also act as a liaison to show officials that the barbers and beauticians are also prepared to open back up responsibility, following any mandated safety precautions.

“We want the city and state to see us as partners, not just a group of people making a bunch of noise,” she said.

Prior to starting the BSBA, Ms. Pryor served as a consultant for the California Legislative Black Caucus, acted as executive of its policy institute and was the legislative coordinator for the Sacramento NAACP.

By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer

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