By Verbal Adam | Special to The OBSERVER

Florin Square was the host site of the second annual Small Business Success Summit. Verbal Adam, OBSERVER

Before the pandemic, being a Black small business owner was daunting. According to the Census Bureau, nearly eight of 10 of Black-owned businesses failed within the first 18 months.

When COVID-19 became widespread in early 2020, the situation changed from daunting to dire.

“When the pandemic first started, 40% of Black businesses went under,” said Brianna Sanders of the Sacramento Black Chamber of Commerce. “We completely supported our chamber members at the first part of the pandemic, getting them loans, helping them with assistance, doing what we needed to do to make sure they didn’t go under.”

Brianna Sanders and Jordan Guzman represented the Sacramento Black Chamber of Commerce during the summit. Verbal Adam, OBSERVER

Without larger support, many minority-owned businesses found themselves all but shut out of the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program. Lacking prior relationships with lending institutions, they found themselves unable to secure adequate loans from the banks responsible for distributing the funds. The Downtown Business Partnership estimates that 10% of businesses in Sacramento County have permanently closed in the last two years.

Despite such adversity, many Sacramento Black small business owners have shown resilience and resolve. Black small business owners were front and center at the second Small Business Success Summit, held by the Florin Square Community Development Community, the MetroBusiness Center, the Sacramento Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Sacramento Black Chamber of Commerce.

August is Black Business month.

Nyabingha Zianni McDowell, author and founder of Sistaaz Heal Network, said the pandemic gave her the opportunity to discover herself. “It helped me stop, it helped me slow down, and it helped me see my worth,” she said.

Nyabingha Zianni McDowell realized her entrepreneurial dream during the pandemic. Verbal Adam, OBSERVER

Combining her passion of social work, writing and making jewelry by hand, McDowell left her $18-per-hour job and went into business full time. “I’m worth so much more than just a 9-to-5,” she said. “I can actually help my community, build something beautiful and pour into my own dream. I wasn’t able to see that until God said ‘I need everyone to sit down for a second.’”

She isn’t alone.

More than 30 Black small business owners came together with the goal of empowering the community, offering workshops on banking and finance, government contracting, and how to apply for grants. They were joined by Starbucks, SMUD, UC Davis Health, 97.5 FM, F&M Bank, Donaldson Properties, Keller Williams, Florin Road Partnership, Century Engineering and The Sacramento OBSERVER.

The event also presented the first Dana Maeshia award of $500 to a small business. Dana Maeshia was a staple of community empowerment in south Sacramento. She started several book club programs such as Around the Way Girls and Boys in the Hood, and was the owner of All Things Literacy, a bookstore filled with Black stories.

Local author Anya Jaleane has published 15 books. She shared her works with guests during the summit. Verbal Adam, OBSERVER

Anya Jaleane, an African American children’s book author and poet with 15 published books, stressed the importance of representation for Black youth. “Black children need to see themselves through storytelling,” she said. “I’m really focused on positive storytelling. There are many, many African American children who have a happy ending.”