By Laurie Paolicelli
Small businesses across Orange County were hit hard by the coronavirus, but Black-owned businesses were affected most keenly. Black-owned businesses shut down at a rate more than double of white-owned businesses. There are 30.2 million small businesses in the U.S. But only a fraction of them will survive. Twenty percent of small businesses fail by the first year, 30% by the second, 50% by the fifth, and by the 10th year, a staggering 70% of businesses have shut off their lights.
For minorities, the numbers can be even more daunting. Eight out of 10 Black-owned businesses fail within the first 18 months.
Covid-19 has exacerbated some of the issues facing the Black community. African American entrepreneurs have had to close their doors at more than twice the rate of their White counterparts. Black-owned businesses declined by 41% between February and April 2020, compared with a 17% decline among White-owned businesses.
In the same way we cannot shop our way into environmental health, we cannot shop our way into racial justice. But we can use our collective power to show corporations what our beliefs are.
To help spotlight businesses owned by Black and Indigenous People of Color, the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau produced a local diversity website: https://explorediversitync.com.
There are two goals of the website:
1. Strengthen Local Economies
When small businesses flourish, so do their communities. A 2017 study by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition found that banks were twice as likely to provide business loans to White applicants than Black ones. This makes it harder for Black Americans and other entrepreneurs of color to start businesses or get them off the ground.
Consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of US economic growth, so imagine what directing some of that spending power to Black-owned businesses across the country can do.
2. Bring Access to Communities
Some Black-owned businesses are created to service specific needs that are often overlooked by mainstream retailers, whether they be for hair care, apparel, or toys. When you support Black-owned businesses, you get products that promote this kind of accessibility.
The https://explorediversitync.com website was created by the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau Board’s Diversity Committee to call attention to the businesses and policy makers involved in Orange County’s economy.
Committee members include Sharon Hill, Entrepreneur; Shenekia Weeks, Chapel Hill Diversity Officer; Spring Council, Owner, Mama Dip’s Restaurant; Lili Engelhardt, Entrepreneur; and Nancy Largent, Largent Creative Company. Visitors Bureau Director Laurie Paolicelli served as staff liaison to implement the website.
The website includes a video from Hillsborough native Kizzmekia “Kizzy” Shanta Corbett, an American viral immunologist. She is an Assistant Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Shutzer Assistant Professor at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute since June 2021. She played a key role in developing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
The website also includes a roster of policy leaders in Orange County who represent a diverse array of county, municipality, and school board leaders. Local news stories and community events are also included on the website, as well as the beginnings of a roster of businesses owned by Black and Indigenous People of Color.
If your business is led by BIPOC, we hope you’ll send in the details on the e-form included on the website. The producers of the website recognize that many businesses are missing from it. We’re depending, in part, on the community to help us create a comprehensive list. At this time, no comprehensive list exists — anywhere.
Orange County has a strong commitment to advancing Civil Rights. Chapel Hill has been at the forefront of the greatest societal and cultural changes of the last 100 years, politically, spiritually, even athletically, when Dean Smith recruited Charlie Scott to be the first Black scholarship athlete at UNC. That was in 1967. In 1969, Howard Lee was elected mayor of Chapel Hill, the first Black mayor to be elected by a White-majority city in the South. It’s a story of evolving equity, accessibility, and acceptance. Business should be part of that story, too.
Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.