By JR Valrey, The People’s Minister of Information
Small Black businesses, locally and all over the nation, have taken an economic beating because of the nearly year-long Covid 19 shelter-in-place mandate, which has starved them of the expected consumer cash, with no end in sight. Trevor Parham, the co-founder and director of the Oakland Black Business Fund (OBBF) has recently been awarded the prestigious “Executive of the Year Award”, from a locally based publication, because of OBBF’s work to keep Black businesses in the Black, and from slipping into the financial red zone. In this exclusive interview, we talk about what the Oakland Black business Fund does, as well as, we discuss the world of philanthropy in relation to the Black community, following the all the corporate promises stemming from the “Justice for George Floyd-Breonna Taylor” protests, nationally. Read up, and see how your business can benefit. Check out Oakland business community leader, Trevor Parham, as we discuss the Black business environment that we currently inhabit, at this critical juncture, in the history of this country.
JR Valrey: Can you talk about winning the executive of the year award? Who gave it to you? And what were some of the things you accomplished this year to even be considered?
Trevor Parham: The San Francisco Business Times chose me for the Executive of the Year Award. They chose me for my accomplishments in 2020 as both a small business owner who effectively navigated the pandemic, and a community leader that focused more on serving other businesses, more so than my own. The award was an effective way to create more visibility for the things I’ve been doing to serve the community; especially the Black community in Oakland. I considered it to be more of a win for the Black community and for Oakland, than for me, given that I was the only Black executive or Oakland-based executive (out of three) chosen for the award.
JR Valrey: What does the Oakland Black Business Fund set out to accomplish in 2021?
Trevor Parham: In 2021, Oakland Black Business Fund aims to reach its current goal of $1,000,000 in total funds raised and to reach a milestone of 250 businesses served. We also hope to hold our first ever in-person event at the end of the year (if health conditions allow) to celebrate all of the businesses who have been involved with the fund.
JR Valrey: Now that the country has been in the grip of a shelter in place mandate for almost the last year, how are the stats looking for the survival of small Black owned businesses in the Bay Area?
Trevor Parham: Black businesses are facing unprecedented challenges right now, especially since the pandemic has lasted so long. It’s hard for businesses, both mentally and materially, to tread water for this long without any real clarity on when to expect conditions to change. In Spring of 2020, approximately 40% of Black businesses were closing down or had closed down and those numbers have not changed, making our work even more relevant, as the pandemic continues.
JR Valrey: What are some of the creative ways in which Black small businesses have dealt with economic depression brought along by the pandemic’s shelter in place mandate?
Trevor Parham: Some of the most creative ways that Black businesses have dealt with this recent economic depression involve solidarity and collaboration. Members of the Black community are starting new businesses that explicitly focus on helping other Black businesses. Oakland Black Business Fund’s technical assistance program is a perfect example of that— we fund the costs of other Black businesses working together to combat the economic impacts of the pandemic. Beyond creative ways to simply make money or make new products, the key to Black business resilience in this time, is how creative we are in our ability to work together.
JR Valrey: Who are some of the small Black businesses that you are working with, that you are most excited about?
Trevor Parham: We’re really excited about working with some of the Black women owned businesses that we’ve funded — AVOCURL, Red Door Catering, and Mannequin Madness. Each of these business owners has had a track record for success and have done a great job navigating the pandemic thus far, that they’re now in position to support or collaborate with other Black businesses in need.
JR Valrey: As we approach the year anniversary of the pandemic-shelter in place with no end in sight, how has the local philanthropic world responded to the needs of Black businesses? Is there more of an urgency to support Black businesses after the year-long, anti-police terror protests, and the upheaval that has recently taken place at the Capitol, and after we saw all of those corporations supporting Black Lives Matter, from professional sports teams to international corporations?
Trevor Parham: After almost a year of unexpected shelter-in-place and pandemic life, the philanthropic world itself has been faced with a lot of challenges, so the response has been varied when it comes to serving the needs of Black businesses. I feel that there was an urgency to support Black businesses for the first 2-3 months after the George Floyd murder, and as we transition into the fall and headlines shifted towards the election (and continued coverage of the coronavirus), the urgency around supporting Black businesses declined. However, the overall awareness around diversity, equity, and inclusion sustained throughout the year, and has certainly heightened after the insurrection at the Capitol, and the recent inauguration of our first woman of color in the white house. Overall, more work needs to be done with the support of philanthropy, corporations, sports teams, etc to focus on curing the structural ailments of economic injustice instead of temporarily treating the symptoms when headlines arise in the news.
JR Valrey: Has the local philanthropic world been sincere in their wanting to help the Black community, or have these foundations used their tokens of support for public relations stunts, in your opinion? Please thoroughly explain.
Trevor Parham: I think that the local philanthropic world has generally been sincere in wanting to help the Black community, more so than wanting to use the Black community for publicity. However, the bigger issue is that most of the philanthropic and other endowed organizations have conventional structures embedded within them, that can often limit their ability to help in a way that aligns with the sincerity of their representatives. For example, most philanthropic organizations do actually have limits to the amount of funds they can contribute to philanthropic causes, and it is possible for a critical cause such as support for Black businesses to arise at a time when they simply don’t have any more funds, for their fiscal year. So, what you end up with is an interest in supporting, that exceeds their ability to support in a timely fashion. And unfortunately, many of these philanthropic organizations are structured in such a way, that one representative with the sincere interest in helping the Black community may not be able to make such a structural change to procure a meaningful amount of funding, in a timely manner. As a result, what we’ve found is that individual donors and some corporations are actually better positioned to support the Black community given that they have less process or bureaucracy to navigate, when it comes to providing timely support. Ultimately the role of the philanthropist does not have to lie exclusively with formal philanthropic organizations.
JR Valrey: What are some of the biggest challenges that Black small businesses in the Oakland and Bay Area face, this year? And what are some possible solutions?
Trevor Parham: The biggest challenges for small businesses right now are 1) access to capital and 2) operating businesses that rely on physical communities/interaction. Neither of these challenges are simply due to a lack of savvy or strategic thinking on behalf of the business owner; they’re both structural. The historical lack of access to capital for Black businesses (as shown by disproportionate numbers of Black businesses (23%) being able to access lines of credit as compared to white businesses (46%)) poses a major threat to them now, because they’re unable to supplement lower revenues with capital reserves or the ability to access capital quickly. The fact that many Black business owners create businesses within their community to serve the needs/interests of their immediate community (as a result of being historically underserved), means that they might not have products/services/models that can be provided exclusively using a tech platform. Therefore, the mainstream strategy of “going cloud-based” does not apply to Black businesses, because there is a cultural imperative for Black businesses owners to serve their communities on the ground, where the community can access them. The solutions are to focus on strategies for Black businesses to increase access to capital, whether through government/private funding or through Black-led organizations like Oakland Black Business Fund that will work tirelessly towards solving the problem. Incorporating technology is a possible solution, but it’s not a cure-all for the needs of the Black community.
JR Valrey: What are some of the tips that you would give aspiring Black business owners that are considering starting a business during the pandemic?
Trevor Parham: I would advise any Black entrepreneurs interested in starting a business right now that 1) they should ensure they have a reasonable capital reserve to start their business, 2) they should ensure that they’re not starting with a business model that will have a lot of high upfront overhead (rent, perishable supplies, staff), and 3) that they ensure their business mission and model will resonate with the times and our current shift in values (towards diversity, equity, inclusion) such that people will support the idea of the business, as a way to support businesses that align with their values.
JR Valrey: What does the Oakland Black business fund do? How can people get in touch with y’all?
Trevor Parham: Oakland Black Business Fund is a grantmaking organization that provides, capital, technical assistance, and growth strategy to cultivate a healthy local Black economy. We specifically focus on creating business to business relationships towards the goal of economic solidarity within the Black community.
People can get in touch with us via our website: Oaklandblackbusinessfund.org or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org