Rachael Hawk knew it was time to do something different. As a Black woman and digital professional, Hawk wanted to do all she could to help her community.
In her role as Facebook’s Small Business Manager, Hawk has personally witnessed how Black-owned businesses have been among the hardest hit during the pandemic in 2020 and by a host of ongoing challenges in 2021.
In response, she decided to do something about it via her professional platform.
In honor of Black Business Month, she founded the first ever Facebook Elevate #BuyBlack Summit, a free one-day virtual summit that was held Aug. 24.
“We want to celebrate Black business for surviving in this tumultuous environment,” Hawk began. “It’s a great opportunity to educate Black small businesses… and get prepared for the holiday season.”
According to the National Retail Federation, 2020 holiday sales grew 8.3 percent despite the pandemic. Hawk said it is important for Black business owners to know how to drive digital sales ahead of the upcoming holiday season. She said access to technical skills and capital for small businesses are also paramount.
Meanwhile, according to Facebook’s Global State of Business Report, some Black-owned businesses reported drops in sales that sometimes reached more than 50 percent during the pandemic.
Hawk said it is important to first recognize and then celebrate the resilience of Black entrepreneurs and share success stories of how they were able to remain viable on their road to recovery and once again become thriving businesses.
One success story in Los Angeles is Anitra Terell, CEO and founder of Reflektion Design, an Afro-modern lifestyle brand targeted at people who appreciate culturally inspired decor and accessories.
Terell said she used Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, to garner additional revenue and create engaging content around African decor. Ultimately, her digital strategy helped sustain her business during the pandemic.
“I was raised to believe that supporting Black-owned businesses should be a way of life,” said Terell. “It’s a way to keep our communities thriving and build generational wealth. So whenever I need a product or service I look for a Black-owned business first. I also make highlighting other Black-owned businesses a part of my social media content mix and feature many Black entrepreneurs.”
Terell’s goals are ever evolving but viability is a must.
“(Some of my top goals are to) create additional revenue streams including brand partnerships, corporate gifting accounts and designing exclusive collections. As well as expand the list of African artisans we work with (in Ghana, Kenya and Uganda),” Terell continued.
Hawk said sharing Terell’s story can be inspiring for others because many businesses have been forced to transition and rethink their business and revenue models over the past 18 months.
“I think it is increasingly important to have a digital storefront,” Hawk said. It is a way to meet customers where they are and a way to engage with an eager audience starving for content.
Sharing inspirational stories of resilience is a central theme of why Black Business Month is so important to Hawk and others. The examples can help Black businesses learn from each other.
Hawk said she feels supported by Facebook’s ongoing commitment to invest in the Black community. She’s been working for the social media platform since 2018 but last year was different. She found herself at a crossroads and she knew she could do more to help communities of color and women-led businesses.
With America’s so-called racial reckoning last summer and the surging pandemic which still looms, Hawk felt a responsibility to merge her personal values with her professional life.
“It’s a movement not a moment,” Hawk explained. “We understand the stakes are very high. The fact is that Black businesses closed at twice the rate during the pandemic.
“I feel personally grateful that I get to work on it… seeing how this #BuyBlack program impacts Black businesses and has been personally fulfilling for me.”
Hawk knows so many businesses suffered unforeseen and unimaginable losses, in particular because Black-owned small businesses closed at higher rates. She believes in the power of working relationships with Black Girl Ventures, US Black Chambers, Inc. and the National Urban League.
Inspiration combined with action is also key.
“It’s a personal passion of mine… I’m surprised and grateful I get to do it professionally,” Hawk concluded.
At last week’s community briefing co hosted by Recycling Black Dollars and the Black Business Association, Kaine Nicholas, executive director of the Black Business Cooperative Investment Fund (BCIF), a local 501c3 organization specializing in microloans, spoke of the nonprofit’s goal of building community wealth.
“BCIF is ready to continue to take action in our community,” Nicholas said of his five-year-old institution, which wants to make sure that color is represented in the local business landscape.
“The resources we’re putting into the community are high caliber,” he said of the micro loans. “These are accessible to people of color and small businesses in general. Small business is minority business, really, but it ‘hits different,’ as the young people say.”
Nicholas was reared locally, and became an economics and finance major when he went away to earn an MBA from Babson College for global entrepreneurship and received a B.S. in economics & finance from Bentley University.
Nicholas explained that he is motivated to position BCIF as a trusted ally in efforts to close the racial wealth gap. The fund is a community-based organization rooted in self-help economics that unapologetically provides microloans to the Black Community.
“I am a product of the community and I’m excited to give back to the community,” he said. “I like to consider myself a generation Xer, with millennial tendencies.”
BCIF is a unique organization that believes in “no talk, all action” and pools its capital from people in the community, rather than other financial sources.
“When you pool Black dollars and lend to Black businesses something is very different,” Nicholas said. “The application is different, money is different, the outcome is going to be exponentially different.”
As BCIF investors are not necessarily looking for monetary gain, Nicolas said his organization is offering social profit and does not have to chase financial profit.
“We offer venture capital money at a microloan stage,” he said, explaining that the organization is looking to make a long lasting impact for everyone in the community. The services they provide can assist businesses to become bank loan ready. “When they borrow our capital, it gives them opportunity to access more.”
BCIF has worked with more than 800 businesses in Southern California.
In addition to providing the microloan, Nicholas said the organization at the same time is walking with the loan recipients, who “come in all shapes and flavors,” making sure they go through the process of building their business without slipping. They may provide a business with help navigating quickbooks, or find angel funding. BCIF also provides progress reports to new businesses.
“This is not your average loan organization,” Nicholas said. “But at the end of the day, all businesses need to make money.”
Nicholas said his group is filling a need, a niche where new Black businesses can get the money they need to move to the next level. They know that criteria for business growth begins with capital, credit and collateral. The new “C” here is community.
“We are actively looking to lend capital as soon as possible,” he said, in what he called a “mighty mouse effort.”
“If we can take care of this little pebble called capital, then the sky’s the limit.”
For additional information, visit www.bcifund.org .
Lisa Fitch contributed to the this story.