At the end of April, Cincinnati City Councilmember Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney launched her #CincyBuyBlackThursday initiative to remind Cincinnatians that local Black businesses need their support. “Every time someone patronizes a Black business, we ask people to take a photo of it, post it on social media, and use the hashtag #CincyBuyBlackThursday,” Kearney says. This seemingly small act of support can go a long way for struggling local businesses.
According to a research team at the University of California Santa Cruz, 41 percent of Black-owned businesses in the U.S. were forced to permanently close due to COVID-19; whereas, white-owned businesses experienced only a 17 percent loss. The systematic discrimination in the Payroll Protection Plan (PPP) is partly responsible for this high percentage of closings. Roughly 95 percent of Black business owners who applied for PPP compensation were rejected. Many of these business owners are sole proprietors, do not have a substantial payroll, and/or do not have access to bank credit, making it very difficult for them to stay afloat during the current economic decline.
“What I hope is that people start integrating Black-owned businesses into their lifestyles and routines. Instead of going online and supporting national companies, find a local business here,” she says. A detailed directory of more than 200 local Black-owned businesses can be found on Kearney’s city council page. This tool is free to the public, and it’s a great resource for learning about Black businesses.
In addition to her #CincyBuyBlackThursdays, Kearney is working to support the Black community in other ways, including providing affordable housing, reforming the police culture, and improving resources for Cincinnati Public Schools. To support affordable housing, Kearney is working to prevent neighborhood development from pushing residents out of their homes. “We can all live together—different races, different economic levels—in a thriving neighborhood. There’s room for everybody,” she says.
In efforts to decrease police violence and provide citizens with appropriate support, Kearney hopes to incorporate human services agencies and social workers into the law enforcement system. She also is working to increase summer youth employment and provide volunteer tutors for disadvantaged students. In the future, Kearney wants to see greater minority representation on corporate boards, provide small businesses with much-needed government funding, and close the health and economic disparities between races.
All of these combined efforts support Kearney’s goal to uplift disadvantaged populations, particularly people of color. “At one point, Cincinnati was the fifth most segregated city in the United States, and it is still known to be a segregated place,” Kearney says. Her mission is to change this, and her first step is with #CincyBuyBlackThursday. “There are so many fantastic people here doing great things,” she says. “Cincinnati is a strong place. We’ve got a very bright future.”