Breanna Reeves |

August marked National Black Business Month, a month in which Black businesses and Black entrepreneurs are recognized and celebrated for their successes, milestones, and historical progress.

According to the Annual Business Survey data, “Blacks or African Americans owned approximately 124,551 businesses, with about 28.5 percent or 35,547 of these businesses in the Health Care and Social Assistance sector, the highest percentage of any minority group,” as of 2018.

Throughout history Black businesses have endured systemic racism, redlining and even violence as evidenced by the Tulsa Massacre in which an economically thriving Black community in Tulsa’s Greenwood District was attacked and destroyed in 1921.

This past year and a half has also disproportionately impacted Black businesses due to the pandemic which forced many businesses to close, resulting in a 40 percent drop in Black business ownership. 

In spite of it all, Black businesses continue to grow and succeed. According to the Yelp Local Economic Impact Report, Black businesses and women-owned businesses have persevered despite the setbacks caused by the pandemic. The report noted that the rate of searches on Yelp in the U.S. for Black-owned businesses increased by 3,085 percent. 

In 2020, Yelp introduced attributes such as “Black-owned” or “Latinx-owned” for business owners to tag their businesses and allow consumers to more easily support such businesses. (Photo courtesy of Yelp)

Black business owners today can partially give credit to historic figures like Booker T. Washington and W.E.B Du Bois who established organizations and guidelines for the development and growth of Black enterprises. They also encouraged financial  literacy among Black communities by establishing organziations such as the National Negro Business League.

Origins of Black Enterprises

Founded in 1900 by Washington, the National Negro Business League established an institution that convened members of the Black community who were businessowners, community figures, and educators in order to pursue prosperity, financial growth and economic development among the African American community.

Washington outlined the standards and guidelines for how the local leagues should operate, conduct their members and interact with White merchants in order to be successful. 

According to a booklet on “Organizing a Local Negro Business for the League,” written between 1915 and 1923, members were expected to, “Come prepared to discuss, in a practical way, business propositions and give your community an opportunity to learn of the material progress of the race; Bring a new member with you. Seek the doubters and bring them into your organization; (And) Come prepared to prove that in union there is strength.”

The National Negro Business League Executive Committee. (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Today, the National Negro Business League is recognized as the National Business League, headquartered in Washington D.C. The legacy of the National Negro Business League is evident in several economic and business organizations across the U.S. such as the U.S. Black Chambers and the National Black Chamber of Commerce.

In 1993, the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC) was incorporated in Washington, D.C. and has 140 affiliated chapters throughout the U.S. The NBCC, “is dedicated to economically empowering and sustaining African American communities through entrepreneurship and capitalistic activity within the United States.”

The State of Black Businesses Today

Recognizing, supporting and celebrating National Black Business Month this year may be more important than ever as Black businesses continue to recover from the economic losses caused by the pandemic.

“Well, certainly I believe that National Black Business Month is especially important to celebrate in this time and day, simply because we’re coming out of history’s worst pandemic, a situation that has caused the most damage to Black businesses that is, in memorable history, other than slavery itself,” said Pepi Jackson, president of the Riverside County Black Chamber of Commerce (RCBCC).

Pepi Jackson, President of the Riverside County Black Chamber of Commerce. (source: twitter)

The RCBCC works to promote small businesses in the region and provide them with a safe space to discuss their business ideas. The organization also offers technical support in order to help businesses grow and expand.

Jackson believes that in order to rebuild the African American business community, the community must reassess where they are headed in the future and consider opportunities that were once deemed impossible.

“We need to reimagine what’s possible, if I may say it that way. We should be able to know that we have a stake in the future. We have a stake in renewable energy. We have a stake in rebuilding the infrastructure of the country,” Jackson said.

One thing that is possible is Black women’s ability to lead and grow as business owners. The 2019 State of Women-Owned Business Report commissioned by American Express recognized the rapid rate (50 percent) by which Black women-owned businesses grew from 2014 to 2019.

Data from the 2019 State of Women-Owned Business Report commissioned by American Express. (Image by Breanna Reeves)

According to the report, businesses owned by Black women accounted for 21 percent of all women-owned businesses. Additionally, Black women-owned businesses have grown at an annual rate of 12 percent for the past year compared to an eight percent annual growth rate between 2014 and 2019.

The rapid rate at which Black women-owned businesses are growing is a success that Jackson is excited about. Jackson comes from a family of very prominent women and knows first-hand that Black women have a sense of commitment to the future.

“I see that African American young women, women of any age, are pushing forward to make sure that they take care of their community. I think that it’s a spirit in which it has been determined, it’s called ‘Black Girl Magic,’ Jackson said. “But actually, seriously, I think that it’s a time where women are encouraged to know that their contributions are as significant as their male counterparts.”

Celebrate Black Businesses All Month (and Beyond)

For the month of August, Black Voice News will be highlighting Black-owned businesses throughout the Inland Empire as a way to celebrate and recognize Black businesses and their endeavors.

Check in with Black Voice News every week to see what businesses we spotlight and learn how you can support them.

Breanna Reeves is a reporter in Riverside and uses data-driven reporting to cover issues that affect the lives of Black Californians. Breanna joins Black Voice News as a Report for America Corps member. Previously, Breanna reported on activism and social inequality in San Francisco and Los Angeles, her hometown. Breanna graduated from San Francisco State University with a bachelor’s degree in Print & Online Journalism. She received her master’s degree in Politics and Communication from the London School of Economics. Contact Breanna with tips, comments or concerns at breanna@voicemediaventures.com or via twitter @_breereeves.