Honoring Juneteenth on Main Street

June 19, 2020 | Honoring Juneteenth on Main Street | By: Dionne Baux, Director of Urban Programs, NMSC | 
Juneteenth is a testament to the perseverance that defines the American spirit. It honors the long and still-unfinished road to freedom and self-determination for all. – Renee’ Graham, Boston Globe Columnist

As Main Street America honors Juneteenth, the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on the current challenges that face Black entrepreneurs in our commercial districts and provide suggestions of actions we all can take to ensure equity and inclusiveness within the broader field of community and economic development.

Recent data points suggest that over the past decade, Black entrepreneurship has been on the rise. In the Kauffman Foundation’s State of Entrepreneurship 2019, African Americans saw a faster increase in entrepreneurship over other racial sectors, rising 39.6% from 2016 to 2017. While this is positive, the increase is reflective of a low starting point.

According to the Small Business Administration, as of 2013, Black-owned firms represented only 7 percent of all U.S. businesses, despite making up 13 percent of the population. Furthermore, equity and inclusiveness relating to access to markets, financial, social and human capital remain overwhelming issues. The COVID-19 crisis has only more profoundly exposed these systemic issues as Black-owned businesses have incurred disproportionate losses. A June 2020 report by the National Bureau of Economic Research found “the number of African-American business owners plummeted from 1.1 million in February 2020 to 640,000 in April.” The report indicates while overall the United States lost 22 percent of its business owners over the same period last year, 41 percent of Black-owned businesses were lost, nearly double overall losses.

The field of community economic development has slowly begun to wake up to the fact that traditional economic market drivers do not work for everyone and that the development of targeted initiatives in equitable economic development are needed to address the disparity.

What Can You Be Doing?

While there are a number of larger, programmatic, and institutional shifts necessary to change our course on equity and inclusiveness within the broader field of community and economic development, there are some initial steps we can be taking. The following are a set of examples:

  1. Inventory your businesses by demographic profile.This will help you better understand your overall mix and how it relates to your overall population demographics. Is it representative?
  2. Provide additional support. Given the disproportionate COVID-19 impacts on Black entrepreneurs, examine opportunities to dedicate funds to assist those businesses to pivot their business models in order to sustain, but also to assist with new growth in a recovery.
  3. Conduct an audit of your existing economic vitality/economic development programming. For example, for training programs are you reaching your minority business owners? When conducting outreach for entrepreneurial opportunities, are you using the same local stakeholders or developing new partnerships in traditionally underserved markets?
  4. Learn more. This past winter we highlighted primarily African American Main Street districts in Atlanta, Ga., Chicago, Ill., Tulsa, Okla., and Washington, D.C., in a four-part blog series exploring their histories as thriving Black Wall Streets, spotlighting local businesses operating there today. Check the series out here and check out our new resource library, which has additional information on historical and current struggles impacting Black entrepreneurs.
  5. Directly support Black-owned businesses. Check out We Buy Black, a marketplace for Black-owned businesses, search & discover thousands of Black-owned businesses near you using Official Black Wall Street site, and explore Shoppe Black for content related to Black business ownership and Black culture.

It’s a pivotal time for community economic development practitioners to work alongside communities, particularly disinvested communities and communities of color, to disrupt the system as we know it today and increase rates of African American entrepreneurship, ensure Black business owners have access to capital and other resource they need, and in the current environment especially, help to stabilize businesses impacted by COVID-19. Communities are beginning to take the reins to create equity and community wealth building opportunities through intentional initiatives developed and vetted with the local community.

Main Street America is working to gather and begin implementing a number of economic development tools and deepen partnerships with organizations leading in the field economic justice for communities of color. Next week’s UrbanMain Neighborhood News newsletter will feature a blog post on a community implementing equitable economic development tools and highlight additional concepts such as incremental development, commercial land trusts, co-op models, master leasing, and creative investment models. Sign up for the newsletter here.

Check out how Main Street communities across the country are honoring Juneteenth here.

Meet the Author

DB_bio_pic.pngDionne Baux, Director of Urban Programs: As Director of Urban Programs, Dionne leads the initiative to broaden the Center’s offerings and engagement in urban neighborhood commercial districts. Dionne has over a decade of experience in project coordination in the fields of urban economic development and commercial district revitalization. She has extensive expertise engaging community stakeholders, identifying and implementing projects in conjunction with community based organizations, government institutions, and real estate development, as well as supporting capacity building opportunities.

Read Dionne's full bio.