Black Women Were Among The Fastest-Growing Entrepreneurs—Then Covid Arrived

Sherika Wynter was on a roll. Since releasing an insulated luxury tote bag for professionals in 2018, and subsequently selling out three times, her Maryland-based research and development company Thomas & Wynter had been featured in British GQ and the International Business Times and on several local news segments.

She walked into February 2020 with more notches on her belt: a Google small-business award and a joint venture deal with a prominent Black law firm to create another product for professionals.

“We were growing exponentially,” says Wynter, a Black entrepreneur who, with cofounder Shallon Thomas, started the business in 2014.

As the coronavirus threat escalated in early March, their sales declined, nearly hitting zero by  April. That same month, Wynter laid off almost every member of her five-person team, save for one contract worker.

“Right now, we’re treading water and have applied for ten different grants with no success. It’s a little daunting, but we’re trying to carry the company on our backs,” Wynter says.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the pandemic has decimated small businesses and early-stage ventures, especially those owned by women and people of color. Black women sit at this juncture, bearing a disproportionate share of the virus’ impact.

For years, Black women have created new businesses at a rapid clip, far outpacing other racial and ethnic groups. But strong financial headwinds from the pandemic and a lack of access to new funding sources threaten to wipe out decades of economic progress, leaving Black female business owners in a state of perpetual uncertainty, waiting for relief they fear will never come.

Sherika Wynter of Thomas and Wynter
Sherika Wynter of Thomas & Wynter Research and Development. SW

The face of female entrepreneurship overall is becoming a lot less white. Black women represent 42% of new women-owned businesses—three times their share of the female population—and 36% of all Black-owned employer businesses.

High levels of educational attainment, coupled with overcoming barriers to corporate advancement, have prompted Black women to pursue entrepreneurship, where they’ve become a potent economic force. Majority Black women-owned firms grew 67% from 2007 to 2012, compared to 27% for all women, and 50% from 2014 to 2019, representing the highest growth rate of any female demographic during that time frame.

“There’s this assumption that entrepreneurship is a tech startup that’s venture-capital-funded because we see so much about Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk. People discount informal entrepreneurship and part-time business creation, which creates a narrow view of entrepreneurship,” says Donna Kelley, who has led research on the rate of Black entrepreneurship and serves as a professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College.

But the decade-long boom in Black business creation masks deep inequities in access to the financial resources needed to create businesses that reach maturation, which is widely recognized as past the five-year mark. There are fewer established Black female business owners relative to their high rate of entrepreneurship, Kelley says. “This is persistent over time, which tells us that fewer of them are sustaining their businesses into maturity.” 

In America’s business ecosystem, it’s not uncommon for companies to operate in the red for years before becoming profitable. Their lasting power is often made possible because of outside investors or their ability to secure loans from commercial banking institutions or credit unions. But Black entrepreneurs have historically been locked out of these funding opportunities. 

“A commonality for Black people, especially women, is that it takes longer to obtain capital, and so they have to put in a lot more sweat equity,” says Laquita Blockson, director of social innovation at Agnes Scott College and co-investigator on a study about the success of African American women-led entrepreneurial ventures.

The lack of access to capital also dictates, in part, to which industries Black women flock. “If you don’t have the personal resources to get your business up and running, you may pick businesses that are easy to get off the ground, but that are crowded with competition for similar products and services, and less opportunity for differentiation,” Kelley says.

Many of those businesses are in industries that have been severely affected by the pandemic, with about 40% of revenue generated by Black-owned businesses in the hardest-hit sectors, including leisure, hospitality, transportation and retail. 

“Hair salons, catering, restaurants or anything related to events . . . all of that shut down, and so the success of business owners in those industries depends on how much they have in reserves or were able to get from the federal government—both of which pose challenges for Black entrepreneurs,” says Jeffrey Robinson, founding assistant director of The Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development at Rutgers Business School. 

When Sundrae Miller was forced to close the doors to her Adara Spa on March 26, she immediately sought out new funding sources. She received $2,300 under the Paycheck Protection Program, a $64,000 Economic Injury Disaster Loan and deferred her spa’s mortgage payment for one month. The Small Business Administration covered the next six months.

“That was my saving grace. If I hadn’t received that mortgage break, I’m afraid I’d be out of business,” says the Raleigh, North Carolina, resident.

Adara Spa reopened to the public on May 22, but business remains slow, and she fears a second state-mandated closure as winter approaches. In November, she’ll have to restart her mortgage payments.

Hunting for business grants has become like a full-time job for Miller, who often finds herself searching and applying for sources of capital until 2 a.m. She has applied for 21 grants to date, securing $23,000 from five of them. While the additional funding may seem sizable, Miller says she lost $20,000 each month her spa was closed and is losing $10,000 monthly since reopening at half-capacity. “I have a few grant applications out right now and I’m thinking to myself, ‘Okay, Lord, please let something come through,’” she says.

Little of the $670 billion PPP funding reached Black business owners, largely due to built-in structural limitations, such as stipulations around minimum headcounts and revenue requirements. When Wynter received a $1,000 PPP loan for her research and development company, she laughed. “They said, ‘Here’s a 30-year loan for $1,000,’ and I said, ‘What am I supposed to do with this?’ It was a slap in the face.”

Others had some success. The majority Black-owned architecture and engineering firm Sabir, Richardson & Weisberg (SRW) received a $150,000 Economic Injury Disaster Loan and a $280,000 PPP loan less than one month after applying for each.

“We usually have far under three months of runway. Without the PPP loan, we would have had to lay people off and not take a salary,” says Yvette Richardson, one of the company’s four partners, three of whom are Black. 

SRW, Sabir, Richardson & Weisberg
Yvette Richardson, on the far right, at SRW. Peek Photography, LLC

Access to capital is a major predictor of business success and Black entrepreneurs find it difficult to weather economic duress, reach scalability and pivot away from unsustainable business models without financial backing.

“A lot of Black businesses will not survive this pandemic without more help. That is the sobering truth,” says Asahi Pompey, president of the Goldman Sachs Foundation.

Black business owners who apply for funding have a rejection rate three times higher than that of their white counterparts, according to a Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses report that surveys participants in a program bearing the same name.

Some 43% of Black-owned businesses in Goldman Sachs’ entrepreneurial program say they are likely to lose their cash reserves by the end of 2020, versus 30% of the overall program’s population, and 31% say less than 25% of their pre-Covid revenue has returned, compared to 16% of the overall population. The report defines growth-oriented entrepreneurs as individuals with businesses that have revenues of around $150,000 and two to six employees.

“This data lays bare the structural inequities Black people face and that’s born out in their entrepreneurial endeavors,” Pompey says. Already, Covid-19 has shuttered 41% of Black-owned businesses, compared to just 17% of white-owned businesses.

Blockson warns that not only will Black female entrepreneurs find it difficult to survive this period of economic downturn, but also that those who temporarily close shop will find it far more challenging to reopen. 

“It will be a huge shock in the economic system, and it is raising alarms,” she says. “But I am also very hopeful and optimistic that this could be a great opportunity for those who are positioned for it and able to make a shift.”

Some Black businesses are getting creative and diversifying their offerings to stay afloat. SRW, for example, has sought out more healthcare projects and is dabbling in HVAC technology, anticipating the services clients will need as the demand for indoor ventilation systems grows. 

However, many small businesses aren’t easily adaptable without a massive infrastructure overhaul, which requires a significant financial investment. And most Black and women-led businesses only have a few weeks to a month of cash flow. 

“This is a critical moment in time that is going to set us on a trajectory that could certainly be problematic in terms of the state of Black businesses for years to come,” says Goldman Sachs’ Pompey.

When small businesses flourish, so do their communities, and Black business owners often intentionally locate themselves in Black and Brown spaces, acting as economic spigots in these neighborhoods. Their erasure comes with far-reaching consequences, including the loss of jobs, community development and new economic opportunities for residents of underserved areas.

Nearly 75% of Black business owners in Goldman Sachs’ survey say they recently mentored others in their communities, compared to 50% of white business owners.

“It’s not just that it’s a single business that shuttered. It’s that it’s a pillar of the community and someone who’s a leader or a mentor. The blast radius impact of the pandemic on Black communities is something that can’t be overstated,” Pompey says.

The pandemic’s paradoxical silver lining is that it has brought increased attention to revitalizing small businesses, which provide almost half of all jobs in the U.S. At the same time, a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement has generated an influx of support for Black-owned businesses and corporate grants that cater to Black entrepreneurs. 

Wynter is capitalizing on this surge in public interest and has seen a spike in online sales since the national reckoning on racial injustice began in June. Sales jumped from 7 orders in May to 87 in June, she says. “People have really been a free marketing mechanism for small businesses, which has been a blessing.”

Even still, she and her cofounder are wary about the longevity of their company. They tapped into their savings in September, putting a combined $8,000 into the business, and are raising new funds through a friends and family round.

“As a business owner, you plan and you try to bob and weave through things,” she says. “But there is no way to bob and weave this pandemic. You have to take its hits and hope that you don’t get knocked out.”Follow me on Twitter. Send me a secure tip

Ruth Umoh

Ruth Umoh

I’m a reporter covering the various aspects of diversity and inclusion in business and society at large. Previously, I was a reporter at CNBC, where I focused on leadership and strategic management. I’ve also dabbled in video journalism, working as a breaking news digital producer for New York Daily News, followed by a yearlong stint as a producer at Rolling Stone. My work has been featured on New York Daily News, Yahoo Finance and Time Out. I’m a proud alumna of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, receiving honors for my investigative thesis on the alarming number of physicians dying by suicide. Tweet me @ruthumohnews or send tips to rumoh@forbes.com

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What Black Business Owners Need Most Right Now

The day Hello Alice launched in 2017, we committed that our primary focus would be the New Majority of business owners, which includes Black business owners. We did this because we saw the major opportunity to work with some of the fastest growing companies in the country, while also closing gaps faced by entrepreneurs of color. 

In our continued commitment to Black-owned businesses, our company partnered with the business support organizations Black & Brown Founders, DivInc, and Digital Undivided to compile anonymous owner data and publish a new Impact Report on our Black-Owned Business Resource Center that analyzes challenges that the Black business community is facing right now. Based on responses from more than 28,000 Black owners, 77 percent told us that they need emergency grants immediately. 

One of the owners asking for funds was Bridgette Baker, the owner of Sunshine Remodeling, a New Orleans-based property company. Nobody in her family had been landlords, and everyone told her she didn’t have the knowledge, let alone the money, to remodel and rent out real estate. But after years of repairing her credit, watching countless home improvement videos, and building some literal sweat equity alongside her husband, Baker now owns and manages a multi-family unit and a single-family home. The difficult journey was all worth it, she says, because of what it means for her daughter’s future.

“As an African American female, I wanted our daughter to know you can do anything you set your mind to with determination and a zeal to achieve your goals,” she says. “I wanted to put myself in a position to create generational wealth and a legacy for our daughter.”

The term generational wealth might be the key to unlocking the unique challenges facing Black business owners. Talent and hard work are not always enough to overcome a persistent racial wealth gap that puts Black entrepreneurs at a disadvantage when starting a small business. Combine that reality with the challenges of COVID-19, and certain estimates project that more than 40 percent of Black businesses are in danger of closing forever.

While Black entrepreneurs overwhelmingly said in the survey that access to capital is their number one need right now, it’s certainly not the group’s first time facing this issue. Deldelp Medina and Aniyia L. Williams of Black & Brown Founders put it best in the report’s opening letter: “You can’t fix what you don’t even consider counting.” In other words, just because you haven’t been paying attention doesn’t mean these problems are new.

Many business leaders continue to lack a basic understanding of the historical obstacles facing Black business owners because they haven’t taken the time to gather information on the community. We must all gather specific data and educate ourselves on the longstanding institutional barriers standing in the way of success for all New Majority business owners, but particularly the Black community.

Collaborate with organizations that promote entrepreneurs of color. 

DivInc CEO Preston James implores in the report that business leaders can proactively engage in collaborative partnerships with organizations, such as ones like DivInc, BlckVCBlack Woman Talk Tech, and Black Innovation Alliance which help promote underrepresented entrepreneurs and build profitable, high-growth companies. 

Business owners and consumers themselves can also open pocket books and seek out collaboration. A great example is the My Black Receipt, a campaign led by The Black Upstart and Kezia M. Williams, which quantifies collective purchases from Black-owned businesses, and has so far driven nearly $10 million in sales to Black-owned small businesses.

Finally, community leaders can harness their power and influence. If you hold any sway with governments, foundations, the VC community, or other groups, remember that Black business owners often need access to social capital as much as financial capital. A simple introduction or mentor relationship might change the course of an entrepreneur’s life.

Enterprise has a role to play as well.

As Robert F. Smith of Vista Equity Partners points out, “Nowhere is structural racism more apparent than in corporate America.  If you think about structural racism and access to capital, 70 percent of African American communities don’t even have a branch bank of any type.”

Black business owners overwhelmingly requested access to funding, with 81 percent of respondents to our survey reporting that they need less than $100,000 to stay in business. Part of this means continuing the call for rent relief, tax deferrals, and tax waivers that business owners are asking for. It’s also about pressuring government leaders to extend emergency funding programs.

In response, Smith is pushing an initiative that urges the nation’s enterprise leaders to invest 2 percent of net income over the next decade into minority communities as a small step toward restoring equity and economic mobility in America.

Tackling these problems will be hard, yes, but leaders who ignore the Black community will do so at their own peril. Black women are already the most educated group in this country and comprise the fastest growing group of people creating businesses. What could Black entrepreneurs accomplish with the proper support and resources? What incredible innovations, experiences, and generational wealth do we forfeit if we continue to neglect this community?

As for Baker, the Sunshine Remodeling owner, I’m happy to report that she was one of the recipients of the COVID-19 Business for All Emergency Grants. During the crisis she’s been waiving late fees, extending rental due dates, and assisting tenants with their utility payments. Baker embodies the best of entrepreneurship in our country. Join us in investing time, money, and resources into the Black business community for years to come.

By Elizabeth Gore, President and chairwoman, HelloAlice.com

How to Have That Tough Conversation About Race, Racism and Racial Identity

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The nation—and the world—have been glued to their televisions over the sadness and anger following the death of George Floyd. Scenes unfold of multi-racial crowds of people wearing masks in the midst of the Covid-19 global pandemic. Their hands are raised, they chant “we can’t breathe,” and they carry signs reading everything from “Black Lives Matter” to “Am I Next.” Then there are the images of the many demonstrators being tear-gassed, and others of looting and burning, and still more of both protestors and police officers alike being injured and in some cases killed. It has been heartbreaking, and terrifying.

“I think what I am feeling is that it is an important statement for our community to make about the way we have been treated, about the way we worry about just traversing this society, and the worry that somehow we might be singled out because of our color” says Spencer Crew, the interim director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, when asked by CBS Radio News how he is feeling personally.

“I think with many others,“ Crew continues, “I am frustrated by that being a norm in society, and I am really hopeful that the kinds of frustration people are expressing will have an impact on those in leadership and help us move forward in terms of the kind of society we should be.”

Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III, the founding director of the African American History Museum, earlier this week released a searing statement referencing the long list of people of color who have died at the hands of police and others, made even more poignant in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, which has been disproportionately killing blacks, Latinos and Native Americans in this racially splintered nation.

“Not only have we been forced to grapple with the impact of a global pandemic, we have been forced to confront the reality that, despite gains made in the past 50 years, we are still a nation riven by inequality and racial division. The state of our democracy feels fragile and precarious,” Bunch wrote. “Once again, we struggle to make sense of the senseless. Once again, we bear witness to our country’s troubled history of racial violence, from Freddie Gray and Eric Garner to Sandra Bland and Trayvon Martin. Once again, we try to cope as best as we can, whether suffering in silence, participating in protests, or engaging in conversations that evoke all our emotions. Once again, we try to explain to our children that which cannot be explained. Once again, we pray for justice and we pray for peace.”

In the middle of it all, the museum launched the online portal, “Talking About Race,” to help people, educators, communities and families discuss racism, racial identity and how these concepts shape every aspect of our society from politics to the economy to the nation’s culture. The site is chock-full of digital and video tools, exercises and a host of multi-media resources. Crew thinks it will help drive discussions that are clearly critical at this juncture in history.

“The Talking About Race portal is for anyone in a learner stance,” says Candra Flanagan, the museum's director of teaching and learning, adding that there are tools there for anyone who wants to begin or deepen their knowledge and ability to speak about the role of race and racism in this nation.
“The Talking About Race portal is for anyone in a learner stance,” says Candra Flanagan, the museum’s director of teaching and learning, adding that there are tools there for anyone who wants to begin or deepen their knowledge and ability to speak about the role of race and racism in this nation. (Marlena Sloss/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

“I think what we know of our work at our museum over many, many years, is that one of the issues that worry people or challenge people the most is the idea of how do you talk about race? . . . We believe our portal will provide tools and guidance and a way of beginning to have those conversations because they are tough conversations,” Crew says.


I think people have a hard time figuring out how to enter into them, how to do them in ways that are fruitful, to do them in a way in which people don’t have to be worried about being judged for what they have to say, but can allow us to grow and to know each other better.”

The portal features eight foundational subjects, among them: “Community Building,” “Bias,” “Historical Foundations of Race,” “Race and Racial Identity,” “Self-Care,” “Social Identities and Systems of Oppression” and “Whiteness.” Crew thinks one of the most important offerings is the section called Being Anti-racist, defined as a “conscious decision to make frequent, consistent, equitable choices daily.”

“What it does, is suggest that we all carry biases,” he says, “but we want to be aware of those biases and begin to try to live our lives in a way in which we don’t let those control how we treat and interact with others.”

Anna Hindley, the museum’s director of early childhood education and the education department, along with the museum’s director of teaching and learning, Candra Flanagan, led a team of educators that spent years building the foundation of this portal.

“The work started with some separate experiences both Anna and I were involved in, . . . as we were thinking of how we wanted to bring the stories and the mission of the museum to life,” Flanagan explains. “We both began to come to the conclusion that we really needed to explicitly talk about identity, to talk about pride and love in one’s own identity. . . . And both of us also, we’re looking at the need for explicitly talking about race and identity in age appropriate ways within our own different target audience demographics.”

Hindley says she thought deeply about what race means for young children and their parents, and how this is a lifelong journey that begins the minute a child is born.

“Children are not color blind, and silence keeps children from understanding and learning so we must have these conversations throughout childhood,” Hindley says. “A good first step is to acknowledge and name what children see, which is people come in all different shades of brown. Black and white are labels that are given in our racialized society. For young children, these labels can be confusing when no human is black like a crayon or white like a crayon, but these labels have significant impact on a person’s life.”

“Children are not color blind, and silence keeps children from understanding and learning so we must have these conversations throughout childhood,” says Anna Hindley, the museum's director of early childhood education.
“Children are not color blind, and silence keeps children from understanding and learning so we must have these conversations throughout childhood,” says Anna Hindley, the museum’s director of early childhood education. (Getty Images )

The portal includes published research from a variety of activists, historians and thought leaders ranging from Audre Lorde to Julie Olsen Edwards to Tim Wise and Jerry Kang. Flanagan says she was touched by the work of the prominent anti-racist educator Enid Lee.

“She really has spoken to the educator population about how to do this in the classroom, and that has been really impactful in helping me think about how to continue to support educators and what they’re thinking about,” Flanagan says, “because they are dealing with a lot of different home background cultures that are coming into one space and then having to also speak within a system of their own and having to elevate this somewhat challenging conversation.”

Hindley thinks that the “Self-Care” section in the portal is not only important, but illustrates the fact that she and Flanagan worked on it together and were able to depend on each other in ways that might help so many people of all races deal with the fallout from the continued attacks on people of color as well as the protests that have ensued. Rest and rejuvenation, both women note, make it possible to sustain the continued work on these issues.

“It truly was a complete collaboration where we sat together, just hours and hours and months and months working on each (subject). It came out of our lived experiences of running workshops and facilitating the workshops in person,” Hindley explains. “It was something we identified from the beginning as critical so there would not be burn out, so that’s the self-care and community care piece.”

There is even something to be learned here, Flanagan says, for a white supremacist who might want to reflect on the lens through which they view race.

“The Talking About Race portal is for anyone in a learner stance,” Flanagan says, adding that there are tools there for anyone who wants to begin or deepen their knowledge and ability to speak about the role of race and racism in this nation. “I think there’s absolutely moments and opportunities for someone who might consider themselves very firmly in the white supremacy camp to come and do some learning and some thinking about what these historical foundations of race have been for this country, what the impact is, how the aspect of whiteness and white dominant culture shows up again and what that means.”

This week as charges have now been filed against all four Minneapolis police officers involved in the death of George Floyd, and as protests continue around the globe in the midst of the continuing Covid-19 pandemic, both women have deep feelings about how to move forward.

“I feel even more committed to this work,” Hindley says, “and more inspired to continue it and continue my own learning and to think about what I could do as a white person to continue to fight for equity and to uplift black voices and do the work that’s really played out in this portal.”

Flanagan says she feels inspired to want to do more and continue to add to the portal as well as provide more resources to the public at this critical time. “And then as a black woman,” Flanagan says, “particularly with young black male children, thinking about what I need to do and say, and what kind of care our community needs right now to endure these moments.”

Allison Keyes

By : Allison Keyes

Allison Keyes is an award-winning correspondent, host and author. She can currently be heard on CBS Radio News, among other outlets. Keyes, a former national desk reporter for NPR, has written extensively on race, culture, politics and the arts.

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The Most Famous Collector Of African American Art Is Using The Past To Reframe A Better Future

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For more than 40 years, Bernard and Shirley Kinsey have amassed one of the largest private collections of Black paintings, letters, books and other artifacts to teach the next generations what history has erased.

Bernard Kinsey was born to educate. His father, Ulysses B. Kinsey, was the living embodiment of W.E.B. DuBois’ philosophy that a solid liberal arts background was the path to true freedom for Black Americans. After graduating from Florida A&M University in 1941, U.B Kinsey set aside his dream of becoming an attorney to teach at his alma mater, the all-black Industrial High School in Palm Beach, Florida.

That same year, he and other teachers sued the Palm Beach County school board so Black students could attend classes as long as whites and also fought for equal pay for Black teachers. Kinsey’s side won the class-action suit, which was represented by future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and, as Bernard Kinsey notes, “that case became one of the building blocks for Brown v. The Board of Education 13 years later.”

Now 76, Kinsey owns an original copy of the brief from that landmark 1954 Supreme Court case, which ruled that “separate-but-equal” education was unconstitutional and became one of the pillars of the civil rights movement. The Brown brief is part of The Kinsey Collection, an extraordinary repository of art, books, documents and artifacts that chronicle Black America from 1595 to the present.

A former Xerox executive and philanthropist, Kinsey—along with his wife, Shirley—started collecting African American artifacts to fill gaps in their son Khalil’s knowledge of Black history. “We saw that Khalil was not getting the right education as it relates to his blackness and in terms of making sure that he understood that he came from a great place,” Kinsey explains. “The whole idea of the Kinsey Collection is achievement and accomplishment.”

‘Bernard and Shirley Kinsey’ and ‘Khalil Kinsey’ by Artis Lane, Canadian (b. 1927) (Oil on Canvas)

COURTESY OF THE KINSEY ART COLLECTION

Their humble intent to show their son that he was more than the legacy of hurt, shame and anger of slavery, has far exceeded the Kinseys expectations. The collection, which he conservatively estimates to be worth more than $10 million and does not have a permanent home, has been seen by some 15 million viewers from Washington D.C. to China since when the family began displaying the collection in traveling exhibits in 2006.

Among the more than 700 treasures the Kinseys own are Phillis Wheatley’s 1773 book Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, the first book of poetry published by an African American woman, letters from Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, quilts by Bisa Butler, paintings by Richard Mayhew, Alma Thomas, Ernie Barnes, Norman Lewis, and Jacob Lawrence, prints by Ava Cosey, letters from Zora Neale Hurston, and commissioned pieces from friends, such as sculptor Artis Lane.

“[She] is very special to us because we became friends with her before we ever owned any of her pieces,” Shirley Kinsey says. “We used to say we didn’t know if we could afford her because she had done a bronze portrait of Rosa Parks. College friends commissioned her to do a portrait of me and Bernard for our 35th wedding anniversary, she said she always wanted to paint us but didn’t know how we’d feel about it because we said we didn’t want to be hung on a wall. She said, ‘Be casual, because I want to paint you as I know you.’”

Letter from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to his literary agent, 1957, Letter from Malcolm X. to Alex Haley, December 3, 1963.

COURTESY OF THE KINSEY ART COLLECTION

To know the Kinseys—who have been married for 53 years—is to understand that theirs was a partnership from the very beginning. They met at a 1963 civil rights protest. Shirley had been arrested and Bernard was part of a Florida A&M University student group handing out supplies to jailed protesters. After Shirley served her three-day sentence, the couple courted over “library dates,” which was a euphemism for leaving campus to watch movies. Since the college cafeteria closed early on Sundays, Bernard made a routine of bringing over shrimp burgers each week. “My friends would tease me about getting to have something to eat that late at night and they told me he loved me before he ever said it,” Shirley Kinsey, now 74, recalls.

Throughout his life, Bernard Kinsey has sought to elevate the black experience and advocated for people who looked like him. After graduating from FAMU, he landed a job at the National Parks Service in 1966, one of the first African Americans employed at the federal agency. After a brief stint overseeing Grand Canyon National Park, he left for a position at Exxon in South Central Los Angeles, 18 months after the Watts Riots.

Kinsey excelled in the position for five years—where his job, among other things, was to make sure the company was in good standing in the mostly Black and Hispanic neighborhood—but he sought more tech-focused work and was lured by Xerox, which was looking for affirmative action hires.

“Even with a B.S in mathematics and an MBA from Pepperdine University going to a liberal company like Xerox it took 12 interviews to be hired,” Kinsey says. “I interviewed for the top job with 100 employees. After 12 interviews I ended up a field service manager with 12 technicians. I found that my managers didn’t even have a college education, in nine months I blitzed the job and they gave me the job I should have had.”

Eventually, he rose to become a vice president of Xerox. Along the way, he cofounded the Xerox Black Employees Association, which paved the way for the company’s first Black female CEO Ursula Burns in 2010. “We have a saying: ‘leave the door open and leave the ladder down,’” Kinsey says. “In other words, at Xerox you couldn’t be successful by yourself, you had to bring brothers and sisters with you, that was part of the ethic that we formed back in 1971.”

‘Hence We Come,’ Norman Lewis

COURTESY OF THE KINSEY ART COLLECTION

Just as Kinsey was retiring from Xerox in 1991 another incident of racial violence gripped Los Angeles and galvanized civil rights activists across the country: the brutal police beating of Rodney King. Although King survived and was later awarded $3.8 million for the injuries he sustained, the officers involved in the attack—which was captured on video—were acquitted and the city erupted in violence.

Kinsey responded to tragedy by once again finding a way to uplift the local Black community. He postponed retirement to help found Rebuild LA, a revitalization project for which Kinsey generated more than $380 million in investments from the private sector for inner-city Los Angeles.

“After the ’92 riots, 2,000 building burned, 50 people were killed and police were shooting real bullets, nothing close to what we’re seeing now,” Kinsey says, “and it was unbelievable, anything you could think of was gone. We had to bring those businesses back and they didn’t want to come back because they had lost so much.”

Kinsey leaned on the world he knew best: Corporate America. “If you don’t solve the problems of the poorest among us how are we ever going to solve these other problems,” he says. “Enlightened executives have tremendous resources that they can apply and begin to deploy some of these resources differently. You have to make sure that Black folks, African Americans are the ones in receipt of it, and you’re going to get some backlash.”

The History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade by the British Parliament, by Thomas Clarkson, 1808, ‘Frederick Douglass,’ 2003, Tina Allen,

COURTESY OF THE KINSEY ART COLLECTION

Reinvesting in the Black community is just one part of the path forward. Some of the work also requires acknowledging Black’s contributions to America and throughout the diaspora. And this is where the Kinsey Collection has had a tremendous impact.

“The myth of absence” permeates all aspects of American life, Kinsey notes. From corporations to the White House, there is a notion that Black people are invisible. The myth suggests that “Blacks are not a part of the dialogue, the picture, the narrative of this country.” The art and artifacts in the Kinsey Collection reveal the breadth and depth of the Black journey and offer insight and hope for overcoming America’s systemic racism.

“I love seeing Black Lives Matter because it shows we have agency,” Kinsey says. “Black citizenship is not valued at the same level as white citizenship is, and we absolutely know it.”

Many of the names of African American achievers have been lost or intentionally written out of history. The Kinseys have created a platform for unknown artists lost to whitewashed history, deliberately featuring those who have been erased and overlooked.

‘Folk Singer,’ 1953, Charles White

COURTESY OF THE KINSEY ART COLLECTION

“In his work, Bill Dallas is an activist of sorts,’ Shirley Kinsey says of the Black painter whose Blue Jazz is featured in the collection. “He’s been involved in a type of protest there because he feels he’s never been accepted as a good artist.”

While the fight for justice and equality has been ongoing, Kinsey says he’s never seen an awakening quite like this current movement. “I hope we’ll be able to get at [police reform] while we have this momentum because white America has a way of going back to sleep on this [race] question and the energy that’s being expended right now,” Kinsey says. “I love what I see because there are so many people involved in this struggle all over the world.”

As communities around the world awaken to the struggles that Black people face, Kinsey believes that part of how America heals is through art and reclaiming the narrative that positions Black people as less than.

“There was a time that as a Black teen I started getting close to certain pitfalls and traps,” Khalil Kinsey, who now manages and curates the collection, says of his parents’ mission to educate him on Black history. “But these foundational elements always kept me from making certain decisions.”

‘As Violence,’ 1973, Phoebe Beasley, American

COURTESY OF THE KINSEY ART COLLECTION

He says many of his Black friends weren’t as lucky to have this positive influence and often didn’t have an outlet for their feelings about injustice and experiences of racism. Years before the killing of George Floyd, it was Phoebe Beasley’s 1973 painting As Violence that embodied the rage and despair many young Black Americans experience.

“It conveys frustration without an outlet, and the influence of American violence,” Khalil Kinsey continues. “It’s the reflection of young people who understand that they’re under siege but don’t know how to articulate it in other ways.”

Through his life’s work and his collection, Bernard Kinsey hopes that Black people will continue to exercise agency and become the authors of their own stories. Above all, he longs for fiscal policies that demonstrate Black lives, in fact, matter.

“It’s amazing to me still, two young kids from Florida, who came to California to do what we’re doing. I don’t take it for granted, and we have to share it,” Shirley Kinsey said. “When we’re gone this will carry on.”

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I serve as assistant editor for Forbes Innovation, covering cybersecurity and venture capital. I have covered politics at POLITICO, entertainment for Time Out New York, but my most fascinating beat has been covering the intersection of technology, finance, and entrepreneurship. I’m also an alumna of CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, and the University of Washington. Email tips to mmelton@forbes.com

Source: https://www.forbes.com

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Asian Americans Reflect on Race Amid COVID-19

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Diseases and outbreaks have long been used to rationalize xenophobia: HIV was blamed on Haitian Americans, the 1918 influenza pandemic on German Americans, the swine flu in 2009 on Mexican Americans. The racist belief that Asians carry disease goes back centuries. In the 1800s, out of fear that Chinese workers were taking jobs that could be held by white workers, white labor unions argued for an immigration ban by claiming that “Chinese” disease strains were more harmful than those carried by white people.

Today, as the U.S. struggles to combat a global pandemic that has taken the lives of more than 120,000 Americans and put millions out of work, President Donald Trump, who has referred to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” and more recently the “kung flu,” has helped normalize anti-Asian xenophobia, stoking public hysteria and racist attacks. And now, as in the past, it’s not just Chinese Americans receiving the hatred. Racist aggressors don’t distinguish between different ethnic subgroups—anyone who is Asian or perceived to be Asian at all can be a victim. Even wearing a face mask, an act associated with Asians before it was recommended in the U.S., could be enough to provoke an attack.

Since mid-March, STOP AAPI HATE, an incident-reporting center founded by the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, has received more than 1,800 reports of pandemic-fueled harassment or violence in 45 states and Washington, D.C. “It’s not just the incidents themselves, but the inner turmoil they cause,” says Haruka Sakaguchi, a Brooklyn-based photographer who immigrated to the U.S. from Japan when she was 3 months old.

Since May, Sakaguchi has been photographing individuals in New York City who have faced this type of racist aggression. The resulting portraits, which were taken over FaceTime, have been lain atop the sites, also photographed by Sakaguchi, where the individuals were harassed or assaulted. “We are often highly, highly encouraged not to speak about these issues and try to look at the larger picture. Especially as immigrants and the children of immigrants, as long as we are able to build a livelihood of any kind, that’s considered a good existence,” says Sakaguchi, who hopes her images inspire people to at least acknowledge their experiences.

Amid the current Black Lives Matter protests, Asian Americans have been grappling with the -anti-Blackness in their own communities, how the racism they experience fits into the larger landscape and how they can be better allies for everyone.

“Cross-racial solidarity has long been woven into the fabric of resistance movements in the U.S.,” says Sakaguchi, referencing Frederick Douglass’ 1869 speech advocating for Chinese immigration and noting that the civil rights movement helped all people of color. “The current protests have further confirmed my role and responsibility here in the U.S.: not to be a ‘model minority’ aspiring to be white-adjacent on a social spectrum carefully engineered to serve the white and privileged, but to be an active member of a distinct community that emerged from the tireless resistance of people of color who came before us.”


Location: Harlem, Manhattan

Location: Harlem, Manhattan

Justin Tsui

“I didn’t think that if he shoved me into the tracks I’d have the physical energy to crawl back up,” says Tsui, a registered nurse pursuing a doctorate of nursing practice in psychiatric mental health at Columbia University. Tsui was transferring trains on his way home after picking up N95 masks when he was approached by a man on the platform.

The man asked, “You’re Chinese, right?” Tsui responded that he was Chinese American, and the man told Tsui he should go back to his country, citing the 2003 SARS outbreak as another example of “all these sicknesses” spread by “chinks.” The man kept coming closer and closer to Tsui, who was forced to step toward the edge of the platform.

“Leave him alone. Can’t you see he’s a nurse? That he’s wearing scrubs?” said a bystander, who Tsui says appeared to be Latino. After the bystander threatened to re­cord the incident and call the police, the aggressor said that he should “go back to [his] country too.”

When the train finally arrived, the aggressor sat right across from Tsui and glared at him the entire ride, mouthing, “I’m watching you.” Throughout the ride, Tsui debated whether he should get off the train to escape but feared the man would follow him without anyone else to bear witness to what might happen.

Tsui says the current anti­racism movements are important, but the U.S. has a long way to go to achieve true equality. “One thing’s for sure, it’s definitely not an overnight thing—I am skeptical that people can be suddenly woke after reading a few books off the recommended book lists,” he says.“Let’s be honest, before George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, there were many more. Black people have been calling out in pain and calling for help for a very long time.”

Location: Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Location: Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Jilleen Liao

Liao was on a grocery run on April 19 when she stopped to adjust her mask. A tall older man in a Yankees cap crossed the road toward her and walked in her direction. “Next time, don’t bring your diseases back from your country,” he told her.

“He was so close I could see the lines and wrinkles on his face,” says Liao. Frightened, she waited until he was several yards away to correct him and say, “I’m American, sir. Have a nice day!” At the time, Liao was carrying four grocery bags. Now she makes multiple grocery trips a week out of fear that carrying too many bags could put her in a position where she couldn’t defend herself. She also rides her skateboard to create more distance between herself and other pedestrians.

“Scapegoating is both a timeless and universal tool, so we shouldn’t be surprised COVID-19 racism is coinciding with an election year,” she says. “Especially as marginalized people, we can’t be afraid to speak out about our experiences. I believe community building starts with relationship building—however messy or imperfect that process might look. The Black Lives Matter movement continues to show us a new world is possible.”

Location: Midtown, Manhattan

Location: Midtown, Manhattan

Abraham Choi

Choi was in a Penn Station bathroom on March 13 when a man stood behind him and started coughing and spitting on him. “I was shocked more than angry,” Choi says. “ Why would he do that?”

“You Chinese f-ck,” the man said. “All of you should die, and all of you have the Chinese virus.” Choi waited for the man to leave and then reported the situation to a police officer. “I was told that spitting wasn’t a crime, and that it wouldn’t be worth the paperwork I would have to go through to take any sort of action,” he says. Not knowing what else to do, Choi later anonymously recounted the story on Reddit, but he was hesitant to come forward in fear that his family might become the target of future attacks. Because of the shame he felt from the incident, he didn’t even share the story with his parents. But when attacks against Asian Americans kept occurring, Choi felt that he needed to speak up. “This whole thing made me into more of an introvert. I’m worried about my kid. I don’t want her to face this kind of racism,” he says. “It should just be love that we hold for one another.”

Choi says the events of recent weeks have made him more passionate about fighting racism than ever before. “I will not stand silent until everyone in the U.S. can be considered equal.”

Location: East Village, Manhattan

Location: East Village, Manhattan

Ida Chen

“Hey, Ms. Lee, I’d be into you if you didn’t carry the virus,” a man called after Chen on March 30. Chen told him off, but he turned his bike around and followed her for three blocks, shouting to her that “no one is into ‘ching chongs’ anyway” and that “this is why Asian men beat their wives.”

Afraid she would be in physical danger, Chen dialed 911 and put the phone on speaker, sharing her exact location and the details of the situation. The dispatcher said that they would send someone to look for the man, who disappeared, but she was never contacted again.

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Since then, Chen has been doing everything she can to avoid similar situations. “The other day, I walked 40 blocks to avoid taking the bus or the subway. I’d rather be out in the open where I can run away if I have to,” she says. “I wear big sunglasses, and my hair is ombré blond, so I wear a hat to cover the black hair so you can only see the blond.”

In recent weeks, Chen says older family members have told her not to involve herself in “Black-white battles.” But, she explains, “In my opinion, oppression of one minority group results in oppression of all minority groups eventually.”

Location: Astoria, Queens

Location: Astoria, Queens

Rej Joo

Joo was on his way to the post office when a Latino man wearing a cap labeled PUERTO RICO mumbled, “Chinese,” at him. Joo turned around, and the man continued: “I was gonna see if you were Chinese. I was gonna put on my mask if you were Chinese.”

“First of all, I’m not Chinese,” Joo responded. “Second, you should wear a mask anyway. Do you understand how ignorant you sound? You’re a man of color, and it’s gotta be hard for you during this time. Why do you want to cause other people stress too?”

The man said he was sorry, that it was his mistake. Joo attributes being able to get an apology to his work as a program manager at the Center for Anti-Violence Education.“We’ve been helping people come up with strategies to intervene when they witness or experience hate-based violence or harassment,” says Joo.

Joo says it wasn’t the first time he’d heard racist comments from other men of color. “When you’re lashing out at each other, you don’t see the big picture,” he explains. Still, he hasn’t thought much about the incident lately. “The increased level of attention given to anti-Blackness is a must and a critical part of working toward eradicating racism overall,” he says.

Location: Flatbush, Brooklyn

Location: Flatbush, Brooklyn

Haruka Sakaguchi

Before Sakaguchi started this photo project, she was waiting in line to enter a grocery store on March 21 when a man came up behind her, hovering and making her feel uncomfortable. She politely asked him for some space, to which he responded, “What’d you say to me, chink?” He then proceeded to cut in front of her.

“Before the Black Lives Matter protests, I had contextualized my incident as an act of aggression by a single individual—a ‘bad apple,’ so to speak,” she says. “But after witnessing the unfolding of the anti­racism movements and encountering heated debates between police abolitionists and those who cling to the ‘few bad apples’ theory, I came to realize that I too had internalized the ‘bad apple’ narrative. I gave my aggressor—an elderly white man—the benefit of the doubt.

“As an immigrant, I have been so thoroughly conditioned to think that white Americans are individuals that I wrote him into an imagined narrative in a protagonist role, even while he had so vehemently denied me of my own individuality by calling me a ‘chink.’ The protests have brought public attention to the idea that individuality is a luxury afforded to a privileged class, no matter how reckless their behavior or how consequential their actions.”

Location: Financial District, Manhattan

Location: Financial District, Manhattan

Jay Koo

“I wondered if I should’ve given my girlfriend an extra kiss before I left that night, if I should’ve spent more time with my brother,” says Koo, who was followed by two men after dropping off his brother at the emergency room at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital on March 24. The men called him racial slurs and yelled, “You got the virus. We have to kill you.” Wanting to appear strong and confident, he turned around and moved his book bag in front in case he needed to defend himself. “Unfortunately, Asians are often targeted for violent attacks because Asians are stereotyped as weak and non­confrontational,” he says. He escaped by fake-coughing and saying, “I just got back from the ER. You want this virus?”

Friends and family have asked him the races of the men who confronted him, but he says it doesn’t matter. “The men acted out of reflex in quoting President Donald Trump and stated that I have the ‘Chinese virus,’ which propped up the Chinese as the scapegoat.”

Koo turned to history to process the incident. “I was reminded that the recent attacks against Asian-American communities due to COVID and the murder of George Floyd are connected and rooted in racist histories,” he says. “We can never truly be free unless we are all free, or as Dr. King states, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’”

Location: Brooklyn

Location: Brooklyn

Hannah Hwang

“I don’t want to speak to you. You’re Chinese. Please get me somebody else to work with,” a customer told Hwang, an essential employee at a bank. The social-distancing measures put in place, including a window by the entrance so customers don’t have to step fully inside, have at times magnified the racism she has faced. “I’ve felt like a zoo animal, having glass separating us while they’re pointing and yelling at me,” says Hwang, who asked that her exact location not be shown because of privacy concerns.

As the wave of Black Lives Matter protests began, she initially felt guilty about focusing on what she had personally endured. “I can handle racially charged slurs thrown at me. Yet that only led me to acknowledge that my experience is not in any way less valid,” she says. “Instead, I pivoted my mentality in acknowledging my privilege and recognizing the critical role Asian Americans play in standing in solidarity with the Black community.”

Location: Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn

Location: Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn

Eugenie Grey

Grey was out walking her dog on March 17 when she was body-slammed by a stranger. The aggressor also kicked Grey’s dog, which howled in pain. In the moments before the attack, Grey was bent over, picking up her dog’s waste, and her hood fell over her head. She couldn’t see the stranger approaching and was already in a vulnerable position.

Grey was the only one on the block wearing a mask at the time, and her eyes were visible above it—“That’s probably what immediately identified me as Asian to them,” she says. Later, she shared the incident on Instagram, using her platform to spark conversation and bring awareness to the issue. “In my last post about the racism I’ve experienced during this virus hysteria, I expressed gratitude that at least I wasn’t assaulted. I guess I can’t claim that anymore,” wrote Grey, who urged her nearly 400,000 followers to “take the time to be extra empathetic and kind to strangers to hopefully make up for their treatment from the rest of the world.”

“As horrifying, triggering and deplorable as what happened to me was, it was the one and only time I actually felt like there could be bodily harm inflicted on me,” she says. “Some people live in fear of that all the time.”

Location: West Village, Manhattan

Location: West Village, Manhattan

Douglas Kim

In early April, Kim opened an Instagram direct message from a concerned customer. It was an image of his West Village restaurant, Jeju Noodle Bar, the first noodle restaurant in the U.S. to achieve Michelin-star status. The words “Stop eating dogs” were scrawled in Sharpie across the eatery’s windowpane. Disheartened, Kim went in the next day and scrubbed it off.

Even before then, Jeju Noodle Bar was closed not just for dine-in customers, but also for takeout and delivery because of concern for employee safety. “Our employees were scared,” says Kim. “They were worried about using public transportation, not because they were scared of getting the virus but because they were getting awful looks from strangers and hearing the other stories.”

Kim says there’s a common thread between what happened at his restaurant and the incidents of police brutality around the U.S. that have led to ongoing protests and calls for change.“When you look at the larger picture, it all comes from one thing: racism,” he says. “As human beings, we should all be united. We should be all together. It’s good that we are trying to get together and fix things. Asian people coming together with Black Lives Matter protests.”

By Anna Purna Kambhampaty | Photographs by Haruka Sakaguchi for TIME

Source: http://www.time.com

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Asian American leaders have been hearing about the racial incidents, if not experiencing themselves. Now they are putting political leaders on notice to do something about it.
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