Black History Month a time to honor and reflect on; our load does not end there

Black History Month, celebrated annually in February, is dedicated to honoring the rich and varied contributions of African Americans throughout our nation’s history. It is a story that necessarily includes many examples of heroism and courage by African Americans to demand access to equitable services and opportunities in the face of systemic racism. The effort to address disparities in access and outcomes, as well as systemic racism, is also an ongoing charge of the Flint & Genesee Group and its divisions.

To start, we’ve added several new members to our board who challenge the group to think creatively about how we can work with our marginalized peers and use our platforms to elevate the voices of these star people to the beyond Black History Month.

As a member of the Flint & Genesee Task Force on Racial Inequalities, the group has actively examined how COVID relief has affected businesses in different ways. In particular, we saw that the first round of small business relief grants offered through state resources had requirements that created barriers for many minority-owned businesses.

One of these obstacles was access to traditional means of financing to develop and sustain business operations. To address this challenge, we worked with local financial institutions to better understand how barriers could be lowered or even eliminated entirely. Banks like Chase and Huntington, among others, have implemented large-scale outreach efforts, loan programs, financial literacy training, and other programs to increase access for minority-owned small businesses.

Within the Group, we have implemented a privately funded grant scheme, specifically targeting minority-owned businesses and their COVID-related sourcing needs. Since then, we have also designed better tracking mechanisms to ensure that resources are distributed fairly.

Several of our divisions have also worked to help increase engagement and increase support programs for minority-owned businesses. The Flint & Genesee Chamber is home to the African American Advisory Board which is establishing a renewed and more focused effort to better serve minority-owned businesses. Co-chairs Ebonie Gibson, owner of I’m Building Something Consulting, LLC, and Luther Brown, COO of The John L Group, lead the committee through strategies to increase resources available to minority-owned businesses, improve management capacities and develop networks.

The Flint & Genesee Young Professionals, another House committee, recognizes and encourages support for Black-owned businesses each week in February on its Facebook page. The Chamber will also host its monthly After Hours Wine Down event, an informal networking event, on February 22 at one of the recognized businesses – Prime Eight Ten, 4418 W. Pierson Rd.

The Flint & Genesee Economic Alliance is home to the Small Business Help Desk, which allows any small business to connect with Tracy Joseph, a business finance manager, who can help entrepreneurs navigate service providers, access to capital and trade relations. Appointments with Joseph can be made directly on the Economic Alliance’s new website – developflintandgenesee.org. A directory of minority-owned businesses for Flint & Genesee is also in the works.

The Flint & Genesee Education Talent team uses Black History Month as an opportunity to educate and engage young people in thought through its Black History 365 program. organization sharing a book with students and posting on our website.

Here is a sample of our activities, programs, efforts and messages highlighted during Black History Month. But our work and our obligation do not end on February 28. Working to address disparities and improve outcomes for minority businesses and residents is an ongoing commitment of the Flint & Genesee Group.

Kristina Johnston is the Chief Operating Officer of Flint & Genesee Group.

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