On February 18, The Afro-American Newspaper hosted its Black Business Matters 2021 Expo highlighting key resources to help businesses thrive and survive. As part of the expo, Comcast hosted a virtual workshop on Comcast RISE, a program to help strengthen and empower Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC)-owned small businesses – many of which have been hard hit by the pandemic.
RISE – which stands for Representation, Investment, Strength and Empowerment – is part of a larger $100 million Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative that Comcast launched last summer.
The AFRO workshop featured two Comcast RISE award recipients – Sharayna Christmas of MUSE 360 Arts in Baltimore and Matt Evans of Code Super Powers in Bowie, Md – talking about how the program is making a positive difference for their businesses. The panel was moderated by James Lavallee, Vice President, Marketing, Effectv, the advertising sales division of Comcast Cable.
Christmas, who is receiving a technology makeover that includes computer equipment and internet, voice and cybersecurity services for 12 months from Comcast Business, describes how these resources will help MUSE 360 Arts. Due to the pandemic, her in-person, hands-on programs experienced a drop in enrollment forcing the business to offer virtual opportunities to keep youth and their families engaged.
Evans, who had to lay off roughly 50 percent of his staff, said school closings due to the pandemic caused him to pivot to a hybrid structure to continue offering support to families and school districts. As a Comcast RISE award recipient, Evans is receiving creative production services consisting of a 30-second TV commercial, a media strategy consultation and a 90-day media placement schedule. He said Code Super Powers is already seeing an impact. Employees are excited again because they see a future for the business, which now has an opportunity for a national – maybe even global – impact.
While the pandemic’s ripple effect has impacted many businesses, a National Bureau of Economic Research report from June 2020 revealed Black, Indigenous and People of Color-owned organizations have taken a bigger hit. Nationally, the number of Black business owners plummeted from 1.1 million in February 2020 to 640,000 in April 2020 – a 41% loss – while the number of Latinx business owners dropped from 2.1 million to 1.4 million (32%) from February 2020 to March 2020.
COVID-19 is not the only challenge impacting small and BIPOC-owned businesses, of course. They also face old and new difficulties due to systemic social and economic injustices, civil and social unrest, and environmental events – and these ongoing inequities have been further highlighted during the pandemic. According to the AFRO, overcoming centuries of systemic racism, Black business owners have continued to improvise, innovate and adapt to claim or maintain their position in an ever-evolving marketplace.