Four years ago, I founded Buy From a Black Woman (BFABW), a non-profit organization that helps ensure that Black women have the tools and resources—such as educational programs, an online directory of businesses, and financial support—that will allow them to be successful as business owners.
I know that there is a reason for everything. I truly believe our experiences are seeds being planted for a bigger cause in our lives. However, I had no idea that I would become one of the lead advocates for Black women business owners. I spent nine years in the military, worked in a number of different non-profits and taught high school and middle school. I am here to be a resource for others.
At a very early age, I learned by watching my grandmother, Idella, that you are supposed to use your skills and talents to help those around you. She used her skills and talents to empower and provide for those around her. I had no idea that what she was doing would be my earliest example of what being a Black woman business owner looks like. I didn’t know there was a name or a title that went with that. I just knew she used her skills and talents to make money, and she loved what she did.
I Wanted The Same
Buy From a Black Woman was born the day I attended an event in Atlanta where I was the only Black woman, the only Black person, in the room. There was a woman there selling lip gloss for $20 who had just sold her entire inventory and I thought, ”I know Black women making great products like this one who are not selling them for as much as $20—but imagine the possibilities. What if people supported Black women on his scale?”
As I dove into the research, I discovered that what I observed that day was just a glimpse into a much larger phenomenon. Before the pandemic, Black women were founding 763 new businesses every day, making them the fastest-growing entrepreneur group in the country, according to last year’s State of Women-Owned Business report, commissioned by American Express. Yet, they were still making less than their counterparts. Black women-owned businesses earn less than 17 percent of the average yearly revenue for all women-owned businesses—and they lack equal access to resources. Only one percent of Black founders received venture capital funding compared to 77 percent of their white counterparts.
What I learned motivated me a great deal. After looking for grants to help me start my business, (remember, this is in 2016) I discovered there were none that center on Black women business owners, so I created my own. The first Black Woman Business Grant was funded with my own money and money from another Black woman who learned about the work I was doing.
She matched my amount, and we were able to award Shanae Jones, founder of Ivy’s Tea Co., a pop culture and Hip-Hop-inspired holistic herbal tea company, with $500 to help grow her business. It was then that I saw the power of community and how much an organization like Buy from a Black Woman is needed. (It should also be noted that since then, Shanae has poured back into Buy From a Black Woman and funds The Black Woman Trademark Grant. She credits Buy From a Black Woman as the reason she is still in business today.) Not surprisingly, the pandemic has only made things worse for Black women-owned businesses.
Fifty-one percent of Black small and midsized business owners have had to pivot their business models to survive, according to the American Express Entrepreneurial Spirit Trendex. And Black-owned businesses are shutting down at twice the rate of others—meaning that access to capital is more desperately needed and essential than ever before.
As the social justice movement inspires more honest discussions around the role race plays in funding opportunities, Buy From a Black Woman is not the only organization trying to help bridge this funding gap. Recently, I was selected as one of the recipients of American Express’ “100 for 100” program, created in partnership with iFundWomen of Color. American Express surprised me, along with 99 other Black women entrepreneurs, with grants of $25,000 each and 100 days of business resources kicking off soon.
These resources range from an education curriculum focused on early-stage issues like cash flow management, to mentorship, marketing support, virtual networking, and a (much-needed) subscription to the sleep and meditation app Calm. I’m thrilled to be in the company of the other incredible Black women in the “100 for 100” program, who have founded companies in all sorts of fields—finance, technology, fashion, and a lot more.
They are out to change the world and collectively represent an important sector of the U.S. economy. As a visionary, I often find myself in the position of having plans and waiting for the money to catch up, and I know I am not alone in this. It feels great to be seen and recognized for all of the work that I do, and to know that I can actually put some of my plans into motion with the help of the grant from American Express’ “100 for 100” program. I’m launching The Black Woman Business Accelerator Program which will assist Black women business owners in advancing their businesses. Each graduate will have the opportunity to apply for a small business loan through The Black Woman Loan Fund launching in March 2021.
Of course, there is still a long way to go. More people need to see the value in supporting Black, supporting small, supporting local businesses. The mind shift around being a conscious consumer needs to be amplified. More companies like American Express should continue to use their resources to help and stand in the gap.
And to any Black woman reading this, dream big and then dream bigger than that. Never doubt that your dream came to you, specifically, because you have what it takes inside to make it real. Your dreams are bigger than you. There’s a whole community waiting to support you.
You got this, Black woman.