“We understand equality is important, but not everybody starts out on the same base,” Kamala Harris told the dozens of men gathered, all of them entrepreneurs.
Vice President Kamala Harris convened a small business roundtable of three dozen men of color this week to discuss ways the Biden-Harris administration can better support minority entrepreneurs.
Participants inside the Indian Treaty Room on the White House complex included more than 35 Black and Hispanic male business owners in various industries, from finance and technology to beauty and fashion.
Harris was joined by Don Graves, deputy secretary of the Commerce Department, and Donald R. Cravins Jr., the department’s first undersecretary for minority business development and head of its Minority Business Development Agency.
Seated at the head of the table, Harris said she and administration officials invited the group of predominantly Black men to share their stories of success and the challenges they face in growing their businesses.
“We want to give everyone an equal opportunity to compete and to not only survive but thrive,” the vice president said during her opening remarks Tuesday. She emphasized that the roundtable was intended to “listen more than we talk.”
Despite criticisms from “so-called leaders” about the Biden-Harris White House’s focus on racial equity, she said, “We are proud of the fact that equity is one of our guiding principles, proud of the fact that we understand equality is important, but not everybody starts out on the same base.”
The entrepreneurs shared their unique tales of triumph and the obstacles they encountered while trying to scale their businesses.
Brandon Blackwood, founder and CEO of Brandon Blackwood New York, said during the roundtable that despite his designer bag and accessory business earning $30 million in revenue, he lacked the capital and resources to grow and compete with his counterparts.
“That requires more resources, way more money [and] way more knowledge,” Blackwood told theGrio after the roundtable. “I learned about so many resources I didn’t know about before.”
Being able to share his “entrepreneurial struggles” in a room filled with other young Black and Latino male business owners was something Blackwood said he would continue to “hold on to.”
“We don’t really get to reflect or hear or talk to other people, and we got to really do that,” said Blackwood. “It felt like support and community in the room.”
Ryan Wilson, CEO of The Gathering Spot, a private membership club in cities throughout the country, including Atlanta and Washington, told theGrio that access to capital is a recurring matter he sees among minority small business owners.
Wilson said he agreed to participate in the roundtable to ensure the “interests of folks in my community are well represented.”
“I see what happens when a business is thinking about trying to figure out how to go after its first contract but doesn’t know how to do it,” he shared. “I see what happens when folks are trying to figure out how to employ more people.”
Wilson commended Harris for convening the group of minority entrepreneurs, noting that there are “any number of issues that the vice president could be spending time working on that are equally important.”
He recalled hosting Harris at his Atlanta club when she was a senator and vice presidential candidate and acknowledged seeing a “continuity between the conversation while she was running, to today while she’s in office.”
“It’s really important that those same values track,” said Wilson, “and that she has the same interests.”
Tuesday’s small business roundtable was the latest in a series of meetings the vice president has held with young men of color at the White House.
“[The] conversation shows the administration’s commitment to ensuring that the voices of Black men and their economic needs do not go unaddressed,” said Natalia Madeira Cofield, an economic adviser and a former assistant administrator at the U.S. Small Business Administration.
She told theGrio: “Although Black women represent nearly 60 percent of all businesses started and run by African Americans in the U.S., the reality is that until and unless Black men have equitable access to resources, contracts and capital to grow, the U.S. will never achieve entrepreneurial parity for Black Americans.”
During the roundtable, Harris touted the $12 billion that the Biden-Harris administration invested in Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs), which she said are “rooted in and run by folks who understand the community” and are “best situated” to “understand the capacity of the community [and] the needs of the community.”
Shaundell Newsome, a co-chair of Small Business for America’s Future, applauded the administration for making the Minority Business Development Agency a permanent agency within the federal government.
“That’s crucial because the MBDA will provide us with technical assistance, provide us with the access to capital, and they’re an advocate for, of course, Black-owned firms,” he told theGrio.
Newsome noted that during the COVID-19 pandemic, which the Biden-Harris White House inherited at its peak, Black and minority businesses faced record losses. More than halfway through the administration’s four-year term, he said, “We have record gains, [and] we’re at the lowest unemployment rate for African Americans in history.”
Harris told the young entrepreneurs of color that the administration wanted to recognize their achievements and excellence and to “hold that up as models of who we are as a nation and what we can do to continue to grow not only our economy but our capacity and strength.”
The feedback provided to the White House, she said, would be used to develop ways to “grow our administration’s focus on what we can do to support you.”
“It is about continuously focusing on what we can do to strengthen our nation,” Harris said. “And that means strengthening and supporting the work that each of you has accomplished.”
Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.
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