Wyclef Jean and Google are joining forces this week to help struggling Black-owned businesses survive the holiday sales season, which is expected to be a rough one for small business owners throughout the country.
Google recently tapped the Grammy-winning musician to score a series of animated commercials promoting its #BlackOwnedFriday campaign, encouraging shoppers to “buy Black” on Black Friday next week and beyond.
“This is going to be a day to galvanize people to support Black businesses,” Jean told CNN Business. “When you look at where we’re at economically with the small businesses, I felt like this campaign is really vital.”
The campaign aims to redefine the Friday after Thanksgiving — an unofficial starting gun for the holiday shopping season, marked by steep discounts and large crowds flooding big-name retailers like Walmart and Best Buy (BBY). The hysteria around Black Friday has faded in recent years, and philanthropic groups and companies use the day to shine a light on anti-consumerist and environmental causes.
Google has been spotlighting Black-owned businesses through its social media channels every Friday since October 16. The company is working with the US Black Chamber of Commerce to develop additional ways to support Black entrepreneurs who have been disproportionately hurt by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The US Black Chambers of Commerce represents 145 local Black chambers in 42 states. Its president and CEO, Ron Busby Sr., says he expects only about 5% to 10% of the nation’s shuttered Black businesses to reopen in 2021.
An estimated 41% of Black business owners nationwide were forced to close their doors indefinitely between February and April, according to a New York Fed report released in August. In contrast, just 17% of White-owned businesses shut down during the same period, according to a University of California, Santa Cruz, study released in June.
Busby says the bulk of the estimated 2.6 million US Black businesses that were operating prior to the pandemic fall into five business categories — restaurants, personal care, entertainment, retail and construction. Each of these sectors, Busby says, has been decimated by reduced foot traffic, government shutdowns and mandates meant to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
None of those sectors are expected to fare well over the holidays, according to Busby.
“I could easily see anywhere from 30%-35% of all of our businesses never coming back,” Busby said. “The challenge is how do we keep that revenue in our community?”
Busby says Black business owners’ primary customers are Black consumers who are overrepresented in employment sectors still experiencing mass furloughs and layoffs, which he expects will hurt Black business sales even more.
In October, the overall US unemployment rate fell to just 6.9% after peaking at 14.7% in April, but the nation’s Black unemployment rate remains at 10.8% after hitting an all-time low of 5.5% in September of last year, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. And so far, Congress has failed to pass a new stimulus bill to provide underemployed individuals with much-needed income to get through the holiday season.
“Many of those Black customers are going to be facing challenges themselves,” Busby continued. “Without any additional stimulus package coming from the federal government, Black-owned businesses are going to really suffer.”
With relatively little Paycheck Protection Program loan money being allocated to Black business owners earlier this year, Busby says Black entrepreneurs in need have been forced to rely on the good will of corporate donors like Google and charitable efforts from Black influencers like Jean. Sean “Diddy” Combs, Magic Johnson, Beyoncé, Alicia Keys and Ciara are some of the other famous faces who have led efforts to support Black businesses this year.
Jean says Black America’s pandemic struggles have affected him personally in more ways than one. He said multiple members of his family have died from Covid this year.
“I lost my uncle and my wife lost her uncle,” the singer said. “My independent musician friends, a lot of them, 50% of their income was coming from touring. A lot of venues got shut down. That hasn’t been too good for them.”