Trade groups unite in fight for equity for Detroit’s Black businesses

The group will be a resource for Black business owners and will assist in ways for them to access capital

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Three Detroit-based commerce organizations are combining forces and membership to help Black-owned businesses secure capital and to hold corporations accountable for their diversity commitments.

The triumvirate consists of the Booker T. Washington Trade Association, the Detroit Black Chamber of Commerce and the National Business League Detroit Chapter, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Together, the groups form Detroit United Front and will have a combined membership of 11,000 people, the newspaper reported.

In 2021, among cities with at least 100,000 residents, Detroit led the list for highest poverty rate, Forbes reported.

In this March 24, 2020 file photo, Woodward Avenue is shown nearly empty in Detroit. Before the coronavirus showed up, downtown Detroit was returning to its roots as a vibrant city center, motoring away from its past as the model of urban ruin. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

“One of the ways to address poverty and inequality in an 80% Black city is to support Black businesses and entrepreneurship,” Chad Rhodes, a Detroit real estate professional, said in a press release. “Black businesses should be the number-one employer of Black people.”

But that isn’t the case.

Census data shows that Black people are about 14% of the nation’s population, and only 2% of American businesses have Black ownership. And of those Black businesses, 4% of them don’t employ anyone besides the owner, according to the Brookings Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think tank that researches methods to solve societal problems.

Detroit United Front intends to serve as an advocate to improve that statistic and others. It will focus on helping Black entrepreneurs find funding for their businesses and holding large corporations accountable for all the promises they made to the Black community after the death of George Floyd, the Minneapolis-area man who died after a police office knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes in May 2020.

Crystal Gunn, who chairs the Booker T. Washington Trade Association, said Black businesses want to benefit from the business assistance white small business owners receive. 

“There’s always been barriers and discrimination while trying to operate in that marketplace,” Gunn told the Freep. “The socioeconomic inequalities and exclusion of Black businesses still exists and it’s totally unacceptable. Our goal is to address it with a collective voice.”

Additionally, as Black Lives Matter protests increased around the globe in the summer of 2020, “corporations made a plethora of grandiose announcements, unfulfilled commitments at numerous press conferences, appeasing platitudes and Black racial equity promises,” the Detroit United Front’s press release states.

“But most companies have failed to deliver measurable results….No real economic advocacy in Detroit’s present political climate is holding…private sectors accountable for…reneging on commitments made to the Black community.”

On March 7, at the 12th Annual State of Black Business Summit, United Front will swear in its new leadership. Those leaders include: Bartel Welch and Gunn of the Booker T. Washington Trade Association founded in 1930; Danielle Cato-Benson and Rhodes from the Detroit Black Chamber of Commerce founded in 2000; and Cecil Forbes and Orena Perry of the Detroit Chapter of the National Business League that Booker T. Washington established in 1900.

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