Washington Informer Features BlackOutDC

Toward the end of his life, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. espoused the idea of economic independence among people of color, many of whom suffered from unjust labor practices that made their earning potential significantly less than that of their white counterparts.

Earlier this week, members of local philanthropic organization Capital Cause put King’s ideas into action during a “Black Out” that took place during the annual holiday commemorating the late civil rights leader’s birth. Under the local philanthropic organization’s guidance, millennials from across the D.C. metropolitan area did their part to support existing and up-and-coming black-owned businesses.

“We realized that there wasn’t much support and infrastructure when it came to black businesses,” said Kezia Williams, 32, chair of Capital Cause. In years past, Capital Cause has fed the homeless and held fundraisers in observance of the King holiday. Williams said the idea for the nonprofit’s Jan. 19 collaborative effort with the D.C. chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) came amid ongoing discussions about the economic welfare of black people in the United States.

“Even with a $1 trillion buying power, statistics show that black businesses aren’t successful. That’s why we thought about supporting these businesses during the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. We believe that this will resonate among entrepreneurs, especially since black wealth [as a whole] hasn’t grown beyond less than one percent in decades,” said Williams who lives in Alexandria, Va.

Data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that more than 2 million black-owned businesses operate in the United States, with the District having the highest proportion of black business owners at 28 percent. More than 920,000 gainfully employed people of color work for a black-owned business. In recent decades, people of color have pursued a host of ventures including auto repair shops, restaurants, salons, advertising agencies, and consulting firms.

While black entrepreneurs have made some progress, experts say there’s much work to be done in helping build the solvency of black businesses. A study conducted by BlackBusiness.org showed that an increase in annual revenue would allow black-owned businesses to hire at least two more people, potentially dealing a deafening blow to high unemployment rates among people of color.

On Monday, a steady stream of Millennials from across the D.C. metropolitan area representing a host of career fields joined Capital Cause and NSBE in Sankofa Video Books & Café in Northwest and offered their services to budding business owners. Capital Cause representatives doled out “Buy Black” stickers that would help consumers of color identify black owned businesses. A web developer also remained onsite to assist entrepreneurs in bolstering their web presence.

“We’re doing the same thing that we did in the years between the end of the slavery and the end of desegregation,” said Salim Adofo, national vice chairperson of the National Black United Front (NBUF),  a coalition of organizations working together to benefit the people of the Black Diaspora.

NBUF recently launched a “Buy Black” mobile app that helps users locate local black-owned businesses. The recent project counted among a host of programs the organization sponsored as part of its Buy Black Power Initiative, an effort to help people of color understand the importance of cooperative economics. Businesses involved in the King Holiday “Black Out” will be added to the “Black Buy” database.

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