By Clifton Bullock Jr. | Special To THE OBSERVER
The murder of George Floyd last summer forced the country and the world to deal with the hegemonic results of racism and its affects on Black and brown people.
It also called on White allies to lace their shoes, put on their masks, to use their voice to battle against the system with national protests; to protest for Black lives but to advocate for Black life in America in every avenue of Black existence in the United States — policing, politics, education and health care. That also encompassed a movement to support Black businesses.
According to Data USA, Black people make up roughly 13% of Sacramento’s population but Black-owned businesses are very few. There is no repository or database showing the actual number of Black businesses to understand how few there are. And in the wake of the pandemic, there are a lot less.
Azizza Davis-Goines, CEO of the Black Chamber of Commerce, said Black-owned businesses have suffered greatly over the last year.
“During this pandemic, 41% of our businesses have gone under. And our numbers tend to trace the numbers on a national level. That’s about the same nationally; that minority-owned businesses [have gone under] so that’s Black and brown businesses,” Ms. Goines said. But the bifurcation between chamber members and nonmembers is evident.
“The chamber’s businesses have done fairly well. One: we’ve taught them how to get access to capital,” she said.
Ms. Goines explained that these numbers are for businesses registered with the Black Chamber of Commerce while also giving clarification to why there is no database of Black businesses in California.
“Not every Black business belongs to the chamber. We have over 400 members. How many are there in this region? I couldn’t tell you. The reason why I couldn’t is because no one keeps that data and they don’t have to,” she said. “Frankly, I think it’s a racial issue.”
She points to Proposition 209, the legislation passed overwhelmingly in 1996 prohibiting state government to consider race, sex, or ethicity effectivley ending affirmative action. This absolved the state the responsibility of having data based on race.
A Los Angeles Times exit poll of the voting population showed support for Prop. 209 at 63% for White Californians, while Black voters opposed it at 74% and 76% of Latinos opposed it.
During last year’s racial awakening, Prop. 16, the proposition that would overturn its predecessor, Prop. 209, was voted on during the November election cycle.
The Black Chamber of Commerce was among many organizations, officials, political parties, and corporations to support Prop. 16 but the voters voted against it in greater numbers than those supporting Prop. 209 24 years earlier.
“Institutional racism no matter how you look at it,” Ms. Goines said.
Businesses who are members of the Sacramento Black Chamber of Commerce are able to benefit from the organization’s advocacy prowess.
Among other benefits, the SBCC was able to get their businesses access to capital and essential funding during the pandemic by way of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. Businesses who are active members don’t have to advocate for themselves.
For instance, Kenneth Johnston, owner of KJ2 Productions, a media production company with 11 employees and a member of the Black Chamber of Commerce for six years, can attest to those benefits.
“One thing that plagues Black business is that 92% of Black-owned businesses are one employee,” Johnston said. “How do you sustain? Individuals become secondary but product is primary.”
He mentioned how being a part of the SBCC helps business owners become financially savvy and develop business acumen. The chamber also helps with political negotiations to fight for those more often left to fight for themselves.
Regarding America’s racial reckoning’s effect on business, Johnston was clear. He didn’t want solvency from “White guilt.”
“My challenge in every professional and social space is to be disarming, calculated and strategic,”Johnston said. “I don’t want handouts, just an even playing field. I’m constantly chipping away at the predetermined notion of subpar Black business.”
Unlike Johnston, Chris Branch, owner of Cut Creators barber shop, is not a member of the chamber.
In fact, Branch, who resides in Sacramento but operates out of Fairfield, is not a member of either Solano Black Chamber of Commerce nor the Sacramento chamber. He has no access to advocacy to gain access to government subsidies as part of the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act or the American Rescue Plan.
“I didn’t receive anything. I probably didn’t receive anything because it’s a Black business in a Black barber shop,” Branch said. “They said it was a lottery system but there’s only so many applicants you can get the money to.”
Since Branch is not a member of the chamber, he had to contact the Small Business Association directly but never heard back nor did he receive money. He doesn’t feel Governor Gavin Newsom considered the effects Covid-19 regulations would impact all sectors of business in California.
“He was doing what he felt was right, but I don’t think he looked at how many people in this industry really suffered,” Branch said. “I don’t think he took that into consideration.”
Regarding America’s racial reckoning, Branch hadn’t noticed an influx of white patrons anymore than those who supported the business before Floyd’s passing. But he has considered Chamber of Commerce membership, learning from this experience.