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In one week this past June, Coffee at the Point sold some $5,000 in gift cards to groups looking to back a Black-owned business. Around the same time, Dianne Myles experienced a massive uptick in inquiries for her video production company, Dope Mom Life. The Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce (CBCC), meanwhile, fielded dozens of calls from corporations, community associations, and nonprofits looking to help the enterprises the chamber represents. All three entities trace the sudden rise in interest to the summer’s protests against police brutality and racial injustice, which ignited a wave of social consumerism. “We were definitely grateful and appreciative of that,” Coffee at the Point owner Ryan Cobbins says.
But Cobbins and others also wondered if the extra support would disappear as quickly as it arrived. Sure enough, after Coffee at the Point’s business steadied during the summer, reaching 80 percent of prepandemic levels, sales plummeted again when the state strengthened indoor dining restrictions in November. This time, there was no outpouring from good Samaritans to buoy the Five Points cafe’s bottom line. Lee Gash-Maxey, the CBCC’s executive director, says her team is used to riding waves of support based on the news: “We got some good headlines on social justice in the Black community,” she says. “But let’s be real—the headlines were once on Trayvon Martin, and they were once on Breonna Taylor.”
Increased awareness was especially important in 2020 because COVID-19 disproportionately impacted the Black business community. An investigation by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, a nonprofit that works to end inequities in lending, found that white people received more favorable treatment when applying for federal Paycheck Protection Program loans than Black applicants who had similar credit scores and financial histories. The number of Black-owned companies in the United States also declined an estimated 41 percent between February 2020 and April 2020, according to a Federal Reserve Bank of New York study, compared with a 17 percent drop for white-owned ones.
Local groups are working to stretch the summer’s blip into permanent support. From February 2020 to December 2020, the CBCC’s membership grew by more than 20 to 252. The CBCC has been able to connect those businesses with opportunities, like free seminars with the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business, as well as keep them apprised of funding options, such as grants from the nonprofit Energize Colorado Gap Fund, which provides money to organizations struggling because of the pandemic. In September, local entrepreneurs Mariam Kazadi and Ramond Murphy launched BBLK App, a free digital directory of Black-led companies across the United States that already features some 1,300 listings and will officially launch in app stores this spring. Its slogan? “Make every Friday a Black Friday.”
Dope Mom Life’s Myles knows better than anyone about the profits such sustained backing can reap: In 2020, her company produced twice as much work as it did during the previous year. “When you shop at a Black-owned business, you’re not just impacting that person. You’re impacting an entire community,” Myles says. “We also have some dope shit.”