COVID Resources for Small Businesses in the PA, NJ and DE Regions
By Nana Ama Addo
Oprah Winfrey once said “I am where I am because of the bridges that I crossed. Sojourner Truth was a bridge. Harriet Tubman was a bridge. Ida B. Wells was a bridge.” As the world continues to fight against both COVID-19 and racial injustice, FunTimes investigates resources for small businesses of the diaspora, so that we too can be a bridge that helps Black entrepreneurs thrive. This time, we speak to Donavan West, the President and CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce (AACC) for PA, NJ and DE, to learn about his journey supporting businesses of color during COVID, and investigate how communities can make use of the resources available.
The AACC for PA, NJ and DE was birthed in 1993, in response to discrimination African American contractors faced in Philadelphia. It is currently a membership-based organization, and works to increase economic empowerment and growth for African-American individuals, agencies, non-profit organizations and businesses. West is the current president and CEO of AACC. His work as a consultant stretches from the AACC to his own company, Culturally Congruent Solutions (CCS), and more. He was recently invited by Mayor Jim Kenny to serve as a member of the Mayor’s Council on Black American Males. He utilizes his well-rounded skills and cultural competency to impact clients in Greater Philadelphia, Atlanta, DC and beyond. West holds a Bachelor of Art in Administrative Justice and Minority Studies from Penn State University and a Master’s in Organizational Leadership from Eastern University.
Surprisingly, the pandemic has not altered West’s role at the AACC. He says: “My role has not shifted during this pandemic. This is due largely to the fact that my plan for the Chamber has always been to increase our ‘day to day’ interaction with members. Essentially (pun intended,) the Chamber would become a way of life, as opposed to an event-based or situational asset. At the AACC, we focus on ensuring that our programming is reflective of a comprehensive, holistic and intimate approach towards business development. Prior to COVID, at the Chamber, Tiffany Gilbert, Barry Johnson and I were well on our way to facilitating activities, in partnership with organizations and professionals, to attend to all facets of the entrepreneurs we serve. “Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, we are now in the predicament of pushing critical thinking and emotional intelligence as the core components of our messaging and mobilizing efforts for our members.”
West gives a stark overview of COVID’s impact on minority businesses: “COVID’s impact on minority owned businesses in PA, NJ, & DE has been devastating. Most minority small businesses consist of 10 or less employees, and very rarely have the liquidity to survive beyond 1-2 payrolls without additional revenue coming in. This means that delays in relief, coupled with systemic barriers ranging from a digital divide to bank relationship deficits, create a toxic recipe that exacerbate an already fragile economy.”
The barriers that prevent minority businesses from progressing are not insurmountable, but to eradicate a problem, it is important to identify the cause. West describes the difficulties he encounters in supporting minority owned businesses during COVID: “While assisting minority businesses, it’s important to take inventory of the various hurdles:
- Communication: During a crisis, some business owners are not going to look for emails from various sources to seek guidance. Through various media partnerships, we use social media, radio and other forms of media to ensure maximum outreach coverage.
- Back Office Support: Many businesses lack access to an accountant or administrative arm to ensure orderly and timely responses to relief aid opportunities. We leverage our membership by providing skilled support to businesses in need.
- Digital Divide: Many business owners do not have the technical means to respond to relief funding opportunities. We had the most difficult time in this instance, as COVID eliminated the opportunity to leverage other spaces outside of a business owner’s trusted and non-contaminated circle.
- Banking Relationships: Business owners were shocked to experience the difference between having an account and having a relationship with a bank. We worked hard to connect business owners with banks and other lending institutions to ensure greater participation in the race to secure relief funding.”
Sending a special message to business owners of color West said, “The AACC is the marketplace of resources for your business needs, regardless of your size. While we are focused on serving all businesses in need, we are limited in how much we can advocate for you when you’re not a member. We want to be the curator of your business development experience. Kindly visit us hereto come home to the chamber. We look forward to welcoming you home!”
Nana Ama Addo is a writer, multimedia strategist, film director and storytelling artist. She graduated with a BA in Africana Studies from the College of Wooster, and has studied at the University of Ghana and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. Visit her storytelling brand at www.asieduasimprint.blog, and connect with her creative agency on Instagram: @chitheagency.