Black Leaders Detroit launches no-interest business loans and a month of grants to local nonprofits

Since we began in 2019, Black Leaders Detroit has worked to introduce real capital for Black-owned businesses and nonprofits in the city. There are systemic barriers that persist for Black, even longtime business entrepreneurs, and for nonprofit leaders when it comes to accessing money for their organizations. These may look different over the years, but even in a city that’s predominantly Black, they’re still here.

At BLD, we’re focused on removing these barriers. In less than two and a half years, we’ve donated over $400,000 exclusively through grants to Black-owned businesses and nonprofits operating in Detroit. We’ve been able to give financial support to 132 organizations and businesses that are responsible for over 450 jobs, most of those held by Detroiters. We’re happy to be able to help put money directly into the hands of people running jobs and nonprofit leaders who understand the problems they’re trying to solve and are bringing real, measurable solutions and impact.

In January, we launched our no-interest loan program. We’re really excited about this. Detroit-based Black-owned businesses can apply for a loan up to $20,000 through our website. We’ve been getting applications, which we’ll start processing on March 15. If our funding allows, we hope to increase our maximum loan amount to $50,000 by the fourth quarter. Our goal is to dispatch between $400,000 to $500,000 in loans this year.

In honor of Black History month, BLD has been granting a minimum of $2,000 each business day to a Black-founded and operated nonprofit in the city. I feel like I have the best job in the world, being able to encourage and even surprise these leaders with support. You can learn about the hard work each one of these organizations are doing for Detroiters from the short, celebratory videos on our Facebook page.

What’s really meaningful is that each of these organizations were nominated by our members. One of our core values ​​at BLD is to share power, as well as resources. Our members know Black leaders who are doing significant work here that needs funding. We’ve asked them to guide some of the decision-making within our organization by recommending these nonprofits, as they’ve recommended others needing emergency help during the pandemic.

BLD members are everyday people who want to be a part of an equitable solution for Detroit. One way that we raise money, and the way we see ourselves raising money long term, is by asking individuals to give $1 or more a week toward our work. We know there are concerned and giving people willing to donate $52 a year toward real solutions that already exist, or to create an access to capital for people in the for-profit sector by way of a no-interest loan. Our goal is to change the face of the hero, and grow this number to one million partners.

We’ve been fortunate to raise over $92,000 dollars and counting this way. But we’ve also been fortunate to receive grants from places like the Ford Foundation, the Kellogg Foundation, Huntington and Flagstar Banks, the Hudson-Webber Foundation, the McGregor Fund, Pathways and others. We appreciate people who are in positions to help bring about equity in a real way, and are willing to put action behind the word equity.

When it comes to Black leadership, I think we’ve all been conditioned to second guess it. The only way you don’t, in my opinion, is if you’ve done some work internally to overcome the messaging we’ve received about Black people and Black leadership here. In some lending institutions, we have some folks in leadership now who want to fix the problems they’ve inherited. But they’ve often learned their professions in those institutions, so a desire to change it and the ability to change it are two different things.

At BLD, we weren’t raised in the institutions that’ve historically kept us on the outside looking in. So, we’ve already done the work. When we see Black leaders in the for-profit and nonprofit space, we assume they have the same abilities and capabilities that our white colleagues have when they’re running similar businesses or institutions. I think it’s a big difference to have a pot of money that’s controlled and managed by other Black leaders who are in and from Detroit. We don’t think we’re the whole solution, but we think we have a part of it, and we hope to continue to earn the trust of our community.

In the near future, we’d love to see some of the ARPA dollars (American Rescue Plan Act) go into our no-interest loan program. Readers who believe in our work can help us by joining our $1/week membership, and by reaching out to the mayor’s office, and to their congressperson or senator to recommend we be considered for some of these dollars, especially because so much of it will be focused on the small business community.

I’m concerned we won’t be given serious consideration, and that a study five years from now will show the low percentage of Black entrepreneurs who were given access to these dollars just like we saw happen with PPP loans. We end up addressing it way too late.

BLD is in a position to help those programs and dollars succeed right now. Help is often presented as one-sided, and while we could definitely use funding for our program, I think our government could really use our help in figuring out what to do with those dollars. It’s frustrating, because there’s a lot of money spent on researching things that we, as Black folk, talk about in the barber shop, the beauty supply shop and around the dinner table. We understand it because we’re living it. But we take that frustration and use it to motivate and inspire us to be great.

We’re trying to build something longstanding and sustainable cities here, something we think will also going be very beneficial to other cities with large Black populations. We want to iron all the kinks out and learn as much as we can over the next couple of years so we can share this model.

Dwan Dandridge is the CEO and founder of Black Leaders Detroit. This entry is part of our Nonprofit Journal Project, an initiative inviting non-leaders across Metro Detroit to contribute their thoughts via journal entries on how COVID-19, a heightened awareness of racial injustice and inequality, issues of climate change and more are affecting their work–and how they are responding. This series is made possible with the generous support of our partners, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Co.act Detroit.

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