As the COVID-19 pandemic rages in Southeast Michigan with no end in sight, excessive numbers of Black small businesses in Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties face increasing challenges to remain profitable and, in far too many cases, stay in business. In countless instances, small Black businesses in the tri-county areas are only surviving, not thriving. Even before the pandemic began, Black small companies in the region were struggling due to little or no access to capital and other critical business tools such as information, resources, training and guidance.
To champion and advocate for Black small businesses in the region, Metro-Detroit Black Business Alliance (MDBBA) was unveiled on March 19, 2021. Backed by a $1 million gift from TCF Bank, MDBBA’s mission is laser-focused on creating and implementing platforms to support and elevate Black entrepreneurs in the region.
“Our mission is to create policies and programming that will result in driving Black-owned businesses in Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties,” said Charity Dean, president and CEO of Metro-Detroit Black Business Alliance, at a recent Michigan Chronicle editorial board meeting. “We want to make sure that we are focused on closing the wealth gap which is really crucial to our goals.”
According to Dean, MDBBA will create several tangible resources to assist Black businesses in the tri-county area.
“On the programming side, we hope to launch within the next couple of months a Black Business Directory which will list all Black businesses in Metro Detroit on our website,” Dean told the editorial board. “We will also establish our Business Resource Center where Black-owned businesses come to have coworking space, conference rooms and access to the internet. We are also going to launch one of our core programs called Capital Connect.”
Dean told the editorial board that Capital Connect would allow MDBBA to “deep dive” with Black-owned businesses to help ready them and ultimately connect them to grants, loans, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and other vital pools of funds to promote growth and sustainability. Dean said the number of Black businesses in the tri-county area that have received the SBA-backed PPP during the pandemic is dismal. She pointed out that MDBBA will conduct detailed surveys of Black businesses in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties to determine the levels of policymaking and programing needs for advocacy.
Asked by AJ Williams, Michigan Chronicle’s managing editor, about engagement in political arenas and elections across the region, Dean said, “We will be very immersed in what’s going on politically. However, we won’t be making any endorsements of candidates. But being born and raised in Detroit, what I’ve seen over the years is that when people want to run for political offices, a lot of times, they go on tours. They go see seniors and go to the churches. I haven’t seen the drive and necessity for political candidates to see Black-owned businesses. Our job at MDBBA is to ask candidates what their platform is for Black-owned businesses and inform politicians what Black-owned businesses need. We want them to know that we are a constituency that is valued, must be heard and must have a seat at the table.”
Dean said there is more than enough room at the table for other organizations with similar goals. She admits MDBBA alone can’t meet the massive needs of Black businesses in three big counties.
“There is absolutely no way that we can do this by ourselves, and we don’t actually want to do it alone,” Dean said. “We need to identify every single barrier that has presented itself to Black-owned businesses. There have to be other organizations to help Black businesses succeed.”
Charlie Beckham, a retired city of Detroit powerbroker who served in executive roles for six Detroit mayors, agreed that Black businesses need all the help they can get. Beckham, however, felt that before MDBBA formed, its organizers should have had early talks with the National Business League, the 121-year-old historic Detroit-based organization. Such meetings, according to Beckham, could have produced one powerful voice to overwhelmingly advocate for Black businesses in Southeast Michigan.
Beckham also said MDBBA’s startup was problematic in a couple of ways.
“I know Charity Dean and Kai Bowman very well. They are two sharp leaders in Detroit,” Beckham said. “The problem is that they started the organization when they both were mayoral appointees. It was not a good way to start because what is needed is neutrality, to advocate for everyone without the appearance that it’s politically driven.”
Nevertheless, Beckham would still like MDBBA and NBL to find common ground as one powerful voice. Beckham gave several examples of how organizations have worked in harmony for the success of Black business owners and contractors in Metro Detroit.
In 2011, Beckham said he and Bill Brooks founded the Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce (MBCC), which benefited Black businesses around the state. In 2017, MBCC morphed into the National Business League. Ken Harris is NBL’s president and CEO.
Years earlier, Beckham formed A3BC to bring local and regional Black business organizations to the table to collectively gain greater access to the major corporate dollars available at the time. According to Beckham, such collaborations resulted in $1 billion worth of business for African American companies throughout the 1990s. He believes there needs to be similar connectivity between MDBBA, NBL, and other like-minded entities. Although MDBBA and NBL are currently operating independently, Beckham would like to see a change.
Alisha M. Moss, founder and CEO of Detroit-based VM3 Consulting Corporation, a small, minority- and woman-owned strategic management consulting firm which provides services to architecture, engineering and construction industries, said she believes it’s too early to know if MDBBA can successfully advocate for Black businesses.
“I don’t know much about the new organization,” said Moss. “But looking at its Board members on its website, the new organization should be better than what we have now. And we have, or have had, organizations and associations created to support and help Black businesses, but our businesses are still not getting any help. Whatever has been done in the past is not currently effective.”
Moss continued, “There are many Black businesses that on the front end are strong,” explained Moss. “But many are failing in operating businesses on the backside, like knowing how to run their books, knowing how to turn a profit consistently, knowing how and when to invest or reinvest in their businesses, knowing how to train people to represent brands for growth. Black businesses need training, need support, need resources and need access to capital. A Black business advocacy association should exist for those purposes.”
Kevin Johnson, president and CEO of Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, the city’s economic catalyst believes MDBBA has the potential to help Black businesses receive the support they need to prosper.
“The effort with MDBBA is intentional and specific about policy and programming
advocacy and about information sharing and the like,” said Johnson. “I think that benefits many Black small businesses that would lean on that type of effort to help get them where they want to go from a business perspective.”
Johnson was asked if DEGC will work with MDBBA.
“The people who are engaged in this new organization are people that I know, people that I have a lot of confidence in, that have a good heart in what they want to accomplish,” said Johnson. “And at such a time, if there is an opportunity for DEGC to be in a place of partnering with MDBBA – as we do with other organizations that are in the small business space – our leadership would expect us to take that partnership on.”
Like any new organization, especially one that can be a great assistance to helping
Black small businesses in Southeast Michigan grow, prosper and sustain, Metro-Detroit Black Business Alliance has its work cut out. Yet, Dean said she is up to the challenge of leading MDBBA to succeed in its mission of advocating for policies and programming to empower Black businesses in Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties. Dean told The Michigan Chronicle’s editorial board that she vows to do one other important thing.
“After George Floyd was killed last year, and suddenly everybody cared about Black issues, lots of statements were issued about helping and supporting Black-owned businesses,” Dean said. “A big part of our role at MDBBA is to make sure those conversations will never end.”
The statements were heard loud and clear by TCF Bank, a founding partner with the Metro Detroit Black Business Alliance. TCF promises its support of the advocacy organization through a $1 million gift over the next five years.
“This is precisely what corporations should be doing,” Gary Torgow, chairman of TCF Bank, said. “We are enthusiastic about this partnership and are committed and honored to continually serve and lift up Black-owned businesses in the region.”
For more information about Metro-Detroit Black Business Alliance, its membership and events, log on to www.mdbba.com.
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