Culturally Significant Businesses In Black Communities

Just Economy Conference – May 13, 2021


Culturally significant businesses are essential as anchors that define historical communities. These businesses exemplify the success of minority entrepreneurship, and their experience during the COVID-19 pandemic is vital for policymakers, business owners and community advocates to understand. Here Dr. Prince discusses her interviews with Black business owners, how they have responded to the pandemic’s challenges, and what they need to remain in operation post-COVID, drawing from her recent report co-authored with NCRC.


  • Jad Edlebi, Senior GIS Specialist, Research, NCRC
  • Bruce Mitchell, PHD, Senior Research Analyst, NCRC
  • Sabiyha Prince, Founder, AnthroDocs
  • Jason Richardson, Director of Research, NCRC


NCRC video transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. They are lightly edited for style and clarity.

Edlebi 00:00 

Thank you all for joining us to talk about our upcoming report on culturally significant businesses in black communities. My name is Jad Edlebi and I am the senior GIS specialist at NCRC research. Joining us today is Dr. Sabiyha Prince who spearheaded much of the efforts of this project. Sabiyha is an urban anthropologist and artist who researches and writes about African American life and culture. A DC native her books include constructing belonging African Americans and gentrification, Washington DC, and capital dilemma, co-edited with Eric Hira. Prior to becoming an independent qualitative researcher, Prince worked at the Washington office on Africa, Greenpeace, American University and empowered the sea. We are also joined by Dr. Bruce Mitchell, Senior Research Analyst at NCRC research who also contributed to this report. We will start off with Bruce introducing the project and its scope. Then we will delve into the report with Sabiyha and the interactive mapping project that accompanies this report. At this time, I will let Bruce take over that for the overview, Bruce, 

Mitchell 01:16 

Thank you very much Jad. So welcome to our presentation on culturally significant businesses in black communities. And I want to start by thanking the sponsors of this study the Kresge Foundation and American Express, who support made this study possible. So we speak about culturally significant businesses. What do we mean? Are these businesses that are focused on the visual and performing arts? Well, those businesses and venues they’re certainly culturally significant. However, we believe that that’s a narrow definition. For the purposes of our study, we took a broader approach, we interviewed business owners in historically black neighborhoods. This enabled us to better understand how small businesses operate and contribute to the community. As a consequence, we believe that a broader definition is needed. That takes the neighborhood context into consideration. Finally, because of the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement, the profound political and cultural changes and the covid 19 pandemic over the past year, we want to know how these businesses are faring during this time, what challenges are they facing and how they responded over the past year. Our study focuses on the experiences of business owners in two historically significant black neighborhoods. First, the area around us street in Washington, DC, and the Pennsylvania Avenue corridor in Old West Baltimore. These have histories as vibrant cultural, and commercial neighborhoods, dating back to at least the late 19th century. There have Old West Baltimore, Pennsylvania Avenue. This adjoins the communities of sin sandtown Winchester, and also up in Baltimore. During the course of the interview, five major themes emerged. First off culture, how does the business contribute to the cultural significance of the area? Second, was the personal story of the business owner? What is their background? And how did they become involved in the business? Third, business operations, what were past operations like and where their current operations like, particularly considering the circumstances of the past year, the covid 19 pandemic, what has been the impact of that on their businesses, and banking and financing? What were the experiences of the business owners and gaining access to credit or to assistance during the time of the pandemic. All of these topics helped us gain a better understanding of the role of small businesses in historic black neighborhoods, a role that’s crucial to their integrity, as they face different challenges in Washington, DC and Baltimore. As you’ll see, US Street has undergone many changes related to gentrification of that area. While the West Baltimore area has contended with abandonment, and disinvestment. as business owners. They’re reclaim the historic and cultural significance of their neighborhood. The principal investigator of our study in this study, Dr. Prince has more details about the study, and the experiences of the business owners over the past year, as they cope with the pandemic and other challenges. Dr. Sabiyha Prince. 

Prince 04:55 

Thank you so much for the afternoon, everyone. And thank you to the organizers of this event. Thanks to everyone for attending, and a special thank you to my fellow panelists for their contributions for this entire project. It was really a distinct honor to be able to engage in this project, the the women and the men that I spoke with, I mean, they were very, very generous with their time. And considering the context, right, I mean, we’re in a pandemic, and this was a period it’s very detrimental for their businesses, very detrimental to them personally. And yet, they made time for us, for me, usually during work hours. And, you know, we were asking them very personal questions about their finances, which is not the norm in our culture. So, um, you know, I really just want to give a very special thank you and honor to them, you know, the gravity of all of that was not lost with any of us. And we’re very grateful. In the time that I have, I’m going to present some of what those business owners shared with me in our conversations about the pandemic, about the culture of their communities, about the histories of their communities. If you bear with me, I am going to now share my screen as well. So thank you so much for being patient. No, righty, here we go. Thank you. I hope everyone can see that. Okay. So yes, before we get started on the key data that we’re here to talk, I just want to really add briefly that by engaging in this project, we learned more than the findings that we were tasked with pursuing. This research gave us glimpses into two series of neighborhoods in cities that have very complicated histories. These are cities that are approximately 30 miles apart, so not very far in terms of distance. But these are cities that have frequently been viewed as opposites. And in the process, a lot of nuance gets lost and a lot of facts become obscured. Baltimore, is characterized as more of a working class city while DC has a large white collar federal workforce. DC also has significant poverty and a very vibrant black and Latin x working class. Both cities have in modern history anyway been associated with a predominantly black demographic, whereas Baltimore unlike DC has very noticeable white working class and very unnoticeable white low income population in the city. While the white population in DC is largely middle class. Baltimore appears to be gentrifying at a slower rate than DC. It certainly has a larger percentage of their native born population. desease native born population has always been in the minority. That number is now 36%. Baltimore is 67% African American and DC is 46% African American. That’s a number that’s down from its height of 71% in the 1970s. It’s also the case that both of these cities actually have noted levels of historical and cultural overlap. You And that’s remained largely unexplored, we discovered this, um, you know, there’s a lot more to be pursued regarding this DC Baltimore connection. And with us being DC based, we did have a learning curve regarding Baltimore. So help from historian archivist Philip Merrill was very much appreciated. And we also did an extensive literature review, to help in that area. In terms of what we’re here to focus on today. Our report presents data on 10 African American owned businesses specifically for in Baltimore and six in DC. And the breakdown looks like this. In Baltimore, we had a bakery, a bar restaurant, urban farm and a funeral home. And in DC we had an optometrist, I actually woman on second generation optometrists, hair salon, florists, gift shop, bookstore, cafe, housewares gifts, the virtual administrative assistant business. It almost goes without saying that none of these businesses were untouched by the pandemic. But the specific impacts were determined by the extent to which these businesses could one survive the onset of the pandemic when businesses deemed non essential were temporarily forced to close and patients were staying home, and to whether the business could continue to function at a survivable rate, while complying with social distance requirements. Some businesses would have the ability to do so more than others. For example, those relying on customers eating indoors, or the need to touch customers in order to groom them or help them choose glasses. They would have different impacts compared to businesses where patrons could simply come in, make a purchase and leave or those where it was easier to provide services virtually, with these assortment of characteristics. The manner in which owners respond to this dilemma the pandemic, which we’re calling the pivot is going to vary from business to business. Let’s move from generalities to specifics. For the sake of time, I’m going to zoom in on five of these businesses today. And these are Avenue bakery and red funeral services in Baltimore. And in DC, Lee’s flower shop, San cofa video and books cafe and Zawadi. I’m going to share some of our findings as these relate to culture, finances, shifts and operations picking up on Bruce’s comments. This discussion is also going to reflect one or some of the six criteria of culturally significant businesses, which are history, location, function, relationships with the community or with patrons, context, particularly political economic context. And also all project participants were asked the same questions, I always began in the same way. You know, you know, getting that basic information, making sure I had their addresses, right, the phone numbers, emails, making sure that’s correct. And then asking when the business started and whether or not the person I’m speaking to is the sole proprietor. After the basics were established, I moved to this list of 13 questions that the primary data set would be based on, beginning with the participants geographic origins and other information about their families, how they start their business, you can see the questions there. This was when the first key patterns emerged, the fact that all participants had very deep, very strong ties to the places in which their businesses were located. Let’s begin with Baltimore. Because all of the business is business owners. There were natives of that city. So they all had, you know, these origin stories that were, you know, very much related to that place. Some of them had older family members who were entrepreneurs in the city. Many went back numerous generations, one person went back six generations. They recorded expressions of duty expressions of belonging to the people in their community. I’d like to introduce you to one and that’s Mr. James Hamlin. He is the owner of Avenue bakery and Avenue bakery. That was the first business in Baltimore that we engaged So Mr. Hammond was the first man I interviewed from Baltimore. He purchased his buildings located on Pennsylvania Avenue in 2008. And he then opened the bakery in 2011. He hails from West Baltimore, and I have to say I just really enjoyed speaking with him. I Enjoy speaking with everyone. Mr. Hamlin was particularly jovial. He was very optimistic and he had a lot of history to share about his community. During our conversations, he spoke about his love for his community and his desire to his dedication to see it flourish. He wax nostalgic about what the neighborhood was like, before the 1968 uprisings and the municipal neglect that has come to characterize the area. He said that during his childhood, quote, there were many, many job opportunities for us. We had three newspapers, we had many shops and places from shoe repair shops, to grocery stores, to pharmacies, that we could get jobs. Now, he continued, quoting, most of the businesses are owned by folks that don’t look like us and don’t provide any job opportunities for us and quote, Mr. Hamlin, for him, community based development and job training are what the community needed. And he talked with me about the need for young people to have promising opportunities and outcomes to look forward to and skills to be economically self sufficient. He talked with me about his family, and how they pull together to keep the business afloat. Prior to the pandemic Avenue bakery was a major stop on the Baltimore history trail, and they would receive busloads of tourists. All of that ended with the spread of the virus. He also had to cut back on operating hours going from being open five days a week to three days a week, initially replacing older staff like his mother in law, and his wife with younger family members such as grandsons. Hamlin also stopped customers from entering the building, serving them instead from outside, there’s an entrance on the to the right of the building there, where they would let people come and get goods that way. He said that his community has been profoundly supportive. You know, they now constitute 100% of his business, whereas initially 20% of his business went out came from tourism, and from out of state customers from Pennsylvania and Virginia. Hamlin characterize the paid check protection program as an adequate for maintaining his staff. He presently only has his grandson’s on staff with his wife coming in periodically. He says that he hasn’t given serious consideration to closing at this time, but he has thought about entering into a sharing arrangement with the younger members of his family, or establishing a program for young people to learn how to run a business through his bakery. The second Baltimore business is owned by another Baltimore native, the red brothers. They are the sole proprietors of red funeral services, a business that their mother and father started in the 1970s. Samuel red was the last Baltimore business owner that I spoke with for this project. This family run business which was originally located in sand town, that’s the older photo that you see there. They relocated a few blocks over to the Bolton here, Hill area three years after Freddie Gray was killed by the Baltimore Police in 2015. Red share the too many clients perceived sandtown to be unsafe, prompting the brothers to move their business. The family still worships in sandtown. They support charities, they’re not only monetarily, but also by getting involved in various community activities. They maintain relationships in that community through their congregation. One thing that we did not talk about, in a specific way was death. Right. And that’s the subject that’s at the center of the work that the red family does. That said, it is reasonable to assume that because people will always die. The service that this business provides offers them a unique level of, you know, it’s kind of like a unique level of sustainability. So it kind of puts them in a unique category. Like other funeral homes across the nation, red shifted to offering memorials and funeral services on zoom and other online platforms, as well as doing an increasing number of services at the gravesite, where people could social distance right and be outdoors and minimize transition. face masks are required hand side sanitizers have been made available for people if they’re going to enter into their building. The extent to which people could do that is going to depend on the number of people attending so they wouldn’t limit the number of people that could come in for services. Read said that for their business this was easier because they did not do catering they did not offer space for repass. So they were not losing profits due to the pandemic in that way. He also reported that he received no support from the local government, there was no opportunity to obtain any as far as he was aware, he reported a negligible need for PPP funding support. His outlook for his business was not pessimistic at all. However, he did have questions about the fairness of how the PPP funds were distributed. And, you know, this experience of documenting the backgrounds and the experiences of you know, West Baltimore, business owners gave us a unique chance to explore a different narrative for this city. This is a city where all too often the conversation centers around poverty and crime and you know, these sorts of tropes associated with disinvestment, and with ghettoization. And these are topics that are all too often use to bolster pro gentrification arguments, these baltimoreans that we spoke with discussed growing up in a working class community that was thriving, with a very rich history of African American entrepreneurship, of community advocacy and achievement in the performing arts among other areas. I also learned about a cadre of young Baltimore entrepreneurs, activists and creatives making waves in Baltimore, most are natives, but some are transplants from DC who find housing, they’re a lot more affordable. And these are kind of ancillary lessons that added value to our project. And the same can be said for DC. In addition to what we came to learn, we left with so much more. This was important outgrowth of or a benefit associated with asking open ended questions and picking up on cues from participants to follow up on, you come away with unanticipated patterns and contrasting data. For example, our comparative data revealed that all but one of the self employed persons We spoke with in Baltimore owns the building, so they run their businesses out of a condition that may help them build equity, or promote economic stability, you know, for their businesses and then DC. The exact opposite was the case as only one business owners their own their building. And that was leased flower shop, which has been located in the Shaw greater us street area since 1945. I spoke with Stacy banks, who co owns leaves with her sister, Kristy Lee Jones, I believe Stacy’s The one on the right. And these businesses were started by this business rather, was started by their grandfather, Richard, a Massachusetts native who left life as a Pullman Porter to open the flower shop in DC. And he didn’t pass the business down to his son, who was the father of the bank’s sisters. Stacy banks was very keenly aware of the cultural significance of her business as well. You know, she had a sense of what you street once represented for African American entrepreneurs, who populated the area at one time, and she shared with me, saying, quote, this was the hub for black people because we could not shop downtown at golf ankles. So we had our own little whole collection of businesses on u Street. They called it the black Broadway bars, restaurants, floors. I think we have a couple of floors, just a couple of funeral homes on new street black owned, my dad always said felt like a family on us street because everybody knew everybody, each other rather. And everybody supported the businesses here because they couldn’t shop downtown, in quote, banks and our sister. They said that they were actually enjoying record sales, at least prior to the spread of the virus. Activists like so many entrepreneurs, the partner said they were unsure about whether or not they could survive the catastrophe. But then she said we and I quote, we couldn’t close down because we were getting so many orders in quote, their teams set up contactless protocols for deliveries and made a number of other adjustments. But banks was adamant about acknowledging the role of the community and helping their business stay afloat during the pandemic. The social justice protests that followed the killing of George Floyd during the summer, drove a portion of this interest according to her, and she says here I quote, we really have gotten a lot of support from the community. People were calling me Making sure that this was a black owned business before they made their purchase, she said and she also expressed her gratitude for the current state of her business. Lee’s has 15 people on staff, and banks express her gratitude that their business has been able to sustain these folks and their livelihood. She says that during staff meetings, I check in with employees to hear their feelings about workplace safety. And they use that opportunity to reinforce the practices that they’re currently engaging in. And here’s another quote she says, we’re just making sure that we all wear masks face coverings, we all make sure we work at a designated station. We use our hand sanitizer, and we’re just keeping all our surfaces cleaned off using designated tools, not sharing tools and things like that, and quote, at the end of our conversation, customers, as far as I know, at that time, anyway, customers could only enter their business by 15 feet. And as always, they have the options of ordering online for flowers and other items. Stacy also share that there were aspects of the pandemic that that made zooming like zooming and staying home, made for an increased desire for plants and for some of the other household decoration items that they sell at this store. She received both PPP and support from the government noted both of those and said they were appreciated. She was optimistic about their business, and she attributed a portion of that to owning their building outright. The second DC business is sankofa video books and cafe, which is owned by filmmaker in Detroit native Sheree Kiana Karima, who was featured right there in the left. That’s the person that I spoke with. She is from Detroit, and her husband is a co owner. His name is Hayley Karima. And he’s from Ethiopia. When I spoke with Sheree, Kiana we talked about the impacts of the pandemic when their business which actually sits across the street from Howard University, which is the institution where the husband and wife met each other back in the 1970s. Prior to the pandemic, sankofa was a very lively place where customers could go in, I’m familiar with the place I’ve shot very often there, come in, get food, get refreshments to go to have inside purchase jewelry videos. Now, various sorts of items there. Books for readers of various ages. The space was also used for book readings and performances and lectures, as well as film screenings. So it’s very much a community oriented kind of a space. The Rhema described the period when sankofa open during the 1990s as a time when DC was quote, known as chocolate city, and it was a spirit that ran what we do and still runs what we do. It was a feeling of being in a place where you were part of a community in quote, acknowledging that the demographics of the city have dramatically changed. Karima maintains that they have been fortunate in establishing the deep community roots that their business currently enjoys. Quote, we were fortunate she states in that chocolate city, the chocolate city spirit and determination of people with it just views what we did and continues to infuse what we do. We feel like our destiny has been cast, as long as we have black people that need us will be around in quote. And as your attitude reflects sankofa is a space where black people from the Diaspora can gather and share ideas and experiences that are that may be specific to their socio cultural, albeit heterogeneous positions. Aside from local grants, the San Copa owners did not avail themselves of PPP loans, and other funding sources associated with the Small Business Business Administration, describing the need to have a relationship with a bank requisite for success, the Rhema said and I quote, we went to one and then they were not going to be able, first of all, they were very slow. We were drowning by the time they could even tell us that we weren’t going to be able to get very much the couple then try the second bank. And by that time, the they completed that process, she says, I began saying difficulties that we’re going to amass, she specifically described the convoluted measures for accounting for spending. Ultimately, they decided not to pursue this category of funds based on their assessment. She said quote, one of the things that kept us in control of our property up until this moment has been realizing that bank Banks, they are not going to be sympathetic to your issues. And quote, she also said again in reference to banks, and given the chance they will, quote, seize your property or get your money no matter what. When I saw all the convoluted stuff around PPP, I said, this is one headache that I do not need, in quote. When asked about credit cards, she said that they were very careful about that as well. She used a company credit card, and she tried to get an increased limit, but she was declined. And she said that was very shocking, because we had, quote, been very such reliable clients, I’ll just be straight. They said, No, we had very high ratings, and we couldn’t get it in quote. On the other hand, she did describe getting the micro grants from the city as being a very, very smooth process that she was very pleased with. She liked their approach, which was you know, all they had to do was give them name and address a couple of pieces of other information, phone numbers about the you know, info about the business and Wallah. In terms of the pivot, St. COVID, did initially shut down, when they reopen, they did not reopen the cafe portion of the store, which is actually they rent that out to a another vendor. They limited the capacity to come in, they really began to lean more heavily on their outdoor space, which they have in the front and the back. They did shifted to a lot of online presentation, so they do quite a bit of those. And they also started partnering with the schools to provide students with packages, books and supplies that are purchased by their customers. So they use that as an incentive for their customers to purchase additional books. The final business that we’re looking at this afternoon is the wati. an afro centric housewares art and clothing and gift store that’s been at its use street location since 1991. So for 30 years. Irene Whalen is the owner, she hails from the DC suburbs, she’s the sole owner of this eclectic shop itself, this is beautifully, you know, good. So just so beautifully reflective of her travels and her educational values. waylynn describes how her merchandise resonates with patients. So why is the place she says where quote, they know they can go and find art, the art, the craft, the culture, the diaspora, and black Americans here. So it’s a place of comfort. People also tell her that even if they don’t physically enter this door, you know, at quote, as they are driving along the street, they’ll look up and see the sun and say, Oh, she’s still there. These are the personal community base elements that keep Waylon going, she says she’s making her contribution to her community in a changing DC. And that’s something that’s important for her wavin also has a very firm grasp on history. Because of the length of time that she’s been operating there on Ustream. She says that in terms of the black owned businesses, the street have a very vibrant energy back in the day to back in 2002 1007. She says, quote, a person could come and shop the entire day, there was trade secrets across the street, there was while women were read a couple of doors down, and quote, she recalls and she also acknowledged that there were some businesses here that are now owned by younger generation of entrepreneurs, who smoke shops, and others that she may not be aware of, quote, you street is a very special, it’s very special to the African American community and, quote, she notes but the cost of operating there, however, has made it very difficult, particularly for businesses like hers. Quote, there are businesses that may be doing very well. But for the business that focuses on the Diaspora culture, it’s been a difficult time and quote, the value of the waylynn places on the community on her customers is very, very stable and it comes salient. It comes across a quote, I’ve built a very loyal and wonderful customer, customer base over this 30 year period. And they’ve been very responsive, very supportive, and I take my hat off to them, and I give them a big round of applause because they’ve kept us going. And quote, Whalen maintains that the why he may have expanded his customer base actually in her pivot, because she’s added an e commerce addition there. And she says in some ways, it makes it easier for people to shop and they actually have recognize that not having to come to the street and look for parking for 30 minutes or more is an advantage. It’s also a possible that customers may continue buying online. Even after the pandemic, it’s been a really good pivot for us, she says. And these are changes that have even positioned her to reach to reach customers outside the DC area. She is finding customers in California and other areas, she did lose her staff person, she has one step that she had had to leave and go back home to Cleveland. And she had to cut her hours of operation she was originally open from Wednesday to Saturday. And now she’s only open on Friday and Saturday, pardon me two days out of the week. So that is my time guys. out go back out unshare. My screen. Those are just some of our data, we look forward to continuing to share data with you with the public, and seeing where these conversations are going to take us in terms of discussions around poverty policy, or studying culturally significant businesses, or locations. Thank you. 

Edlebi 34:31 

Thank you, Sabiyha. That was a great presentation. So along with the report, we released two interactive story maps that talks about the study areas and scope. On each map, we go over the history of both the US street neighborhood in DC and the area surrounding Pennsylvania Avenue in Baltimore. Then the story shifts to the journeys of the businesses we had interviewed in each city, the visual approach brings out the stories of these businesses, and about the challenges brought on by the covid 19 pandemic and how they found ways to adjust into those challenges. So I’m going to go ahead and share my screen to give you a tour of this interactive story map. So here we have one of those story maps. And in this case, we’re going to stick with Washington, DC. So we start with a view of the city and its surrounding area, then we will dive into its history and how segregation played a role in how the city was shaped. So much of this is it’s pretty easy to work with all you have to do is scroll through a lot of this shifts over time. So I’ll start with the work. We’ll begin with the history of DC so much of much of the city’s history had to do with segregation policies and and and restrictive covenants that were along racial lines. These racially restrictive covenants and social pressure pushed many African Americans out of more mixed neighborhoods into Saturday to communities where resources were reallocated to more affluent, predominantly white neighborhoods. In here, you’d actually see a picture of the Republic Theatre on Ustream around 1945. The Republic theater was probably one of the top parts of the economic hub of use Street to go to in that era. And lots of the residents that have been pushed out of these more nixed neighborhoods that were brought into more segregated communities. One of them happened to be the U Street corridor. But this had a profound impact on predominantly black neighborhoods throughout the following decades since resources were reallocated from these communities. However, within the segregated communities, life flourished with some neighborhoods developing economic hubs. However, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. triggered uprisings that led to the destruction of many of these businesses, especially in the US Street corridor. Here we actually see a spread of the minority population, and this is current. So right here, you could actually see where majority-minority neighborhoods are located. They’re mostly located in northeast and Southeast DC, with more predominantly white neighborhoods existing in northwest and also Capitol Hill. So much of this kind of stems from a lot of like the shifts from those racially mixed neighborhoods to the more segregated communities and when many of these communities settled in those places, I those resources, including education or any form of economic activity was then pushed over to areas in northwest so much, many neighborhoods Then had to find other means of providing for their own and actually keeping up with their own, with their, with their own businesses and their own neighborhoods. So through this, we actually see a lot of information discussing the history of us Street and Columbia Heights as well. And here’s a picture of the aftermath of those uprisings in DC, I believe this is us Street and 14th. Just a just where, where there are new developments currently. And the area basically went through a lot of destruction, many businesses had suffered from this. And it would take a few decades for this area to recover, which actually paved the way for gentrification in the 21st century. And I know many residents in DC are very much familiar with the powerful force that is gentrification. And we have with our studies that have observed the movement of this powerful forest. Black residents were definitely impacted by this, this new form of influx that actually brought in more affluent transients into pre previously low to moderate-income neighborhoods, especially in northeast and also the US Street corridor. So it was so impactful that according to NCRC study on gentrification and displacement, between 2002 1013 it was read DC was rated the number one most gentrified city in the United States. We NCRC has done shifted that to 13th place for 2013 to 2017. However, it was the impact of gentrification was still very much felt in the district. Much of this led to the displacement of black residents and families across the city and these newer developments started at Atari starting to shape up these previously. Previously, black-majority neighborhoods, especially on new street right here, this is a picture of V St. and Vermont Avenue, right near where we now know as Shaw, and lots of lots of these older buildings are now accompanied with these newer buildings in the background with a with values of homes being skyrocketed. So a lot of this led to the displacement of, of black communities, and many of them ended up moving into the inner ring suburbs of PG County, by PG County and in Prince George’s County in Maryland, just to the east of DC. But on the map, you could actually see where a lot of the displacement occurred, especially in areas such as the Atlas district, h Street corridor, u Street, Columbia Heights, brightwood, and also parts other parts of Northeast including Brookland. So much of this actually took shape up the recent structure of the city and, and the cult, the culture of many of these neighborhoods started to shift along with this displacement. So right now we’re gonna dive into the use record or and basically, we talked about this historic area and lots of the figures that have come through the folks like Duke Ellington, or Dr. Charles drew and lb Baylor, many of these really famous folks actually came out looking around this neighborhood in there. It’s actually known for lots of impactful black history. So here’s still a Duke Ellington actually leading as an orchestra in New York, back in 1944. He was known as a very high-energy person I’ve heard so much of the corridors of the local economic hub and it’s filled with nightlife filled with lots of businesses currently, and the main strip of the history corridor is you street itself and Florida Avenue. So, also another part known about this neighborhood is Howard University and strictly a historically, black university that actually really, really brought a brought more education, education and more culture to the community itself. It was founded in 1867 and encompasses a good portion of this area. Here’s the founder, the founders library. And this was a dedicated in 1939. Very, very, very important symbol of Howard considering, especially with the bell at the very top. So we go into the definition of culturally significant businesses across here, I’m not going to explain most of them. But I will say that they are essential to their communities, and that they’ve brought a sort of comfort to those who were very familiar with the area. And we start to go into the businesses themselves, including as awadhi, which Sabiyha did a really awesome job of showing on an presentation, we talked about the body, we show pictures, we show quotes, every single business is represented from the study, black and white look, optical is another one. We talk about a lot of these business owners experiences, especially during the pandemic, and how it, how they have found their own ways of sort of moving forward with lots of these challenges in place. sankofa is another good one. Then we also have leaves flower and card shop. And that is it, I think I will go ahead and end it right there. So that’s our report on culturally significant businesses and, and DC and we are glad to be taking any questions that you may have. Thank you very much.  

Richardson 45:22 

All right. So my name is Jason Richardson, and I’m the director of research for the National Community Reinvestment Coalition. And I want to thank Sabiyha, Jad and Bruce for a great presentation, I’m going to start a question and answer session now. And I’ve got a couple of questions ready to go. But I do want to remind folks that you can drop questions in the chat, and we will do our best to answer them also, the first thing and this was mentioned in the chat already, there was a question about are we going to be doing additional research on other communities outside of DC and Baltimore. And ideally, we would love to expand this report and do research on other communities, not just in other cities, but also in other communities. And I believe one of the commenters mentioned, South America and South and Central American, Caribbean, Middle Eastern, there are dozens and dozens of possible communities that I think is important that are important to look at, and understand, you know, how are culturally significant businesses in those communities important to their survival and their development, and also how they’re being affected by the pandemic, or just by you know, you know, other circumstances such as gentrification pressures, displacement of their, of their, of their consumer base and problems like that? So yes, we would like to expand this into a larger study, looking at more cities and more communities, if we’re able to. I did want to start off with a couple of questions for the for the panel. And this one, I’m gonna throw out to everybody here, because it’s one. For us. This was kind of a new study in a lot of ways, especially by, you know, the conclusion of interviews. And there was a learning curve, I think, severe right, to the challenge of getting, you know, busy business owners to sit down and talk about these issues. You touched on that in your presentation a little bit. But, you know, I guess I wanted to ask of all of the panelists, though, what surprised you the most about this project? So you, we all kind of go into research with some sort of preconceptions. But as researchers, we try to balance that bias with our with our methods in our in our training. But yeah, there’s always something that’s kind of surprising. Did any of you find anything this time that that just really kind of, you know, kind of shook you a little bit or made you raise your eyebrows. 

Prince 47:45 

Hi, Hi, everyone. And thank you all for joining us. And thank you, Jason. And everyone on the panel, I would say, you know, I’m a scholar of African American History and Culture, as you guys know, um, entrepreneurship was not necessarily on my radar screen. I didn’t really have a lot of expectations, per se. But I will say one thing that did surprise me was the, the turf war kind of component to this, if you recall, we talked about in Baltimore and how protective people were there and this sort of tension of people who weren’t from Baltimore, that were business owners, so there was a very kind of close knit I felt in the Baltimore community that is a city where they do have less people who are nonnative living there. I think people in DC are much more accustomed to, you know, people coming from other places, you know, this notion of DC being a transient place, which a lot of native Washingtonians don’t really like that characterization, because they feel that it erases them, and people who have long history here, but I do think that contrast was really interesting. And that kind of surprised me. And I was also encouraged by the close relationships between business owners and patrons. I thought that wasn’t something that I just was thinking about unnecessarily, and as you guys know, that help to inform our development of the criteria for what is culturally significant when we begin to uncover some of these data. 

Richardson 49:15  

Yeah, that’s, that’s great. There’s a question in the chat here, I want to, I’m just reading it out loud. It sounded like a few of the business owners interviewed utilize support resources, whether from the federal government or local organizations, what do you see as the key to getting more black business owners to tap into the resources and supports for business growth that are in their communities? And before you answer I just want to throw in there also, we’re also working on a couple of other projects related to small businesses and pandemic support programs. So I know that Bruce has done some work with our Women’s Business Center looking at similar questions. You know, about the challenges that business owners face in accessing some of these Sabiyha? You also touched on that I know, in some of the interviews that, you know, it was a headache that they didn’t need, for example, for the Paycheck Protection Program. Loan. So how would you answer that what you know, from the work you guys have done? What do you see as the key to getting more black business owners to access these resources? Or is that really putting a burden on them? That’s really misplaced? Is is a is what was the challenge, really hear that for you with the PPP program, the SBA bore some responsibility for making the program easier for small businesses to access? What do you all think? 

Prince 50:39 

Well, I’m interested in hearing what Bruce has to say, cuz I know, he has a lot of information on that, um, me less. So I would just say my observations would be I agree with you, I wouldn’t put the onus on the business owners. There was definitely an issue of trust that came up. Right. And that’s a historical issue. There’s an issue of a relationship, because this there was this discussion about having a previous close relationship with a lending institution. So that was a problem. And that’s not the, you know, the fault of the business owner, per se, I think that sounds like that’s a larger, perhaps structural issue. So yeah, those would be at least two areas that there needs to be more, the lenders need to be more aggressive, they need to be more open. And there’s access to information, I think, issue two information being convoluted, complicated, and not necessarily easy to navigate this the process of getting the funding. 

Mitchell 51:37 

Jason mentioned the work that we’ve done with the DC Women’s Business Center. And in that survey, we surveyed over 274 women business owners, and a large percentage of those were African American business owners. And what we found was that about 45%, had been able to have some access to the SBA program for the paycheck Protection Program, or the economic injury disaster loan program. So that was pretty high participation within DC, I think, relating that to what we did in this present work for Baltimore, is there seem to be lower participation in Baltimore. And maybe some of that may have been impacted by whether the businesses had a deck in relationship to begin with or not. There seem to be just generally that businesses that had a banking relationship had much more success in navigating the paperwork and the difficulties of poker with the paycheck protection program and getting a loan. Grant, in essence for the paycheck production program. 

Richardson 52:45 

Yeah. And Miriam in the chat actually noted, I thought she made a good point, especially for women business owners that the return of after school programs and open schools, you know, the the the requirement that usually the mom has to do double duty, and, you know, run the business and also take care of the kids or be a primary caregiver. You know, there’s gonna be something that they encounter also, you know, as to be there when we started this project, you know, we all and we’ve done quite a bit of work together in the past on things like redlining segregation and things like that. But one year, we started thinking about cultural, cultural spaces, and culturally significant businesses. And one of the requirements of this report was we need to really come up with a definition of what that meant. And I think you did a really great job at not only laying that out clearly, but discussing it in your presentation that cultural significant businesses are different from other businesses, because they, you know, they take several different checkboxes, you know, time in the community place in the community, the services they provide, although those can be sometimes secondary to the to their place in the community socially. You don’t you were the one sitting down and talking with folks, though none of us did. So, when you talk to the business owners do, do you feel that they see themselves as culturally significant, even if they didn’t verbalize it that way? But do they understand their role in the community? Or do they just see themselves? As you know, just another business owner trying to get by? What do you think? 

Prince 54:21 

Yeah, I think that they do. I mean, you know, that was a question that we asked them, and it seemed like that did resonate with them on numerous levels. I think one basic level is the geographic piece, right, which was why we chose the neighborhoods that we did, because those neighborhoods are culturally significant. And the business owners have a sense of that they really do. So they’re already one that they’re like, this base is important, this is linked to our history, and to our struggle. And you can’t extricate that those businesses out of that context. So there was a general sense of significance, and then you can get into the specifics of what they have to offer. And that was definitely the case, whether they provide food and what was described as a food desert in Baltimore, almost all people felt that that was significant. There were individuals that were like, Hey, I grew up here, you know, I know this space, I know, these people, this is significant to me, these are my folks, I want to serve them, I want to be here for them. You know, and that’s really important, especially again, for the Baltimore community, which is a much more disinvested area. So there is a there’s a sense of, you know, a almost like a sense of care, you know, I have an obligation to be a part of this community and to be here and not to abandon folks. So there’s that, and that was made us come up with the relationship criteria, right? We didn’t, that wasn’t on my radar screen initially. You know, we use the data that we gathered to build this sense of what is culturally significant, and then you have the issue of them, the products that they serve, and you know, a lot of folks that that shrieky on it, and Zawadi said that in St. kofa, they both were like we’re providing a space for people to come and be here, we’re not going to be this is not a racially profiling space, right. This is a space where we see you as more than just $1. Now we actually see you as a person who lives here in this community and as a person, that we have some sort of a connection to, and that we know what your needs and wants are. So we’re going to give that to you, you know, in the products that we sell. So I would say yeah, I came across. 

Richardson 56:42 

Good. Yeah, that’s, that’s great to hear. So you know, one thing that kind of surprised me. And we’re, we got a couple minutes left here in the q&a. So if anybody has any questions, please put those in the chat. And we’ll take a crack at them. They’re the one thing that I really noticed, you know, in the reason we did two different cities like this, we really wanted to get a compare and contrast. And the one thing that really stuck out to me in part, because our team has done a lot of work on gentrification was that the business owners in DC brought that up on their own. They noted the you know, that gentrification was a threat. That was not something that I don’t think the Baltimore owners really, really brought up unless you prompt them for it, I believe. And that says a lot about you know, the differences between those cities and the pressure on business owners. Another thing I noticed Sabiyha was that when you were talking to you know, the business owners, the the bakery is in specifically in Baltimore, he bought his business or he bought the building. At the same time he opened the business or before he opened the business, he already owned that building. And these are extremely rare. Business owners often are beholden to a lease with a landlord, or they don’t have a lease with the landlord. And that makes their position in Crete increasingly precarious. You know, each year as more and more pressure builds from gentrification, that there’ll be displaced. 

Prince 58:07 

Yes. Can I add something to that drink center? Because I think that gentrification is it’s so interesting, I think, you know, you’re right in Baltimore. Some folks even said something like, I would like to have gentrification here, you know, because of the disinvestment, and I think what that reveals is that people Often conflate development with gentrification. I mean, there are other ways to develop right in this community-based development, and there’s bringing other people to the table and figuring out what it is that people need and want, and not just, you know, slapping something down there in the interest of another part of the class or the real estate industry, etc. So I thought that was kind of what represented both the disinvestment piece of which is profound, to be very clear, and also that people, particularly in a disinvestment situation, do conflate those two things and think it’s gentrification or nothing. Sometimes those are the options, we’re left with having nothing or we have to have gentrification, like there’s no middle ground there. 

Richardson 59:07 

Yeah, that’s a great point. And when you mentioned that somebody asked about gentrification from Baltimore, that was Bruce that got that question, I think from an audience member at a conference at an NCRC annual conference about two or three years ago, following our one of our gentrification reports, they asked, How do I get gentrification in my area? That’s a good point. What they really meant was, how do I get economic investment? gentrification, by definition comes with an element of displacement, where people are businesses that are in the area are pushed out by that process. When you don’t see displacement, what you’re really talking about is economic investment. And I think that’s what that’s what they really like to see. We’re a little over time here. I think we’ve answered all the questions in the chat though. So I think we’re gonna wrap it up. I want to thank doctors Prince and Mitchell and jetted levy for the excellent visualizations he did. We put links in the chat to all the reports and to the visualizations. I would really encourage you to click on those, scroll through them, see what you think. And if you have any questions, shoot us an email. We’d love to talk to you. Thank you very much. Thanks, everyone. 

All 1:16:00 

Thank you. Thank you. 

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Redlining and Neighborhood Health

Before the pandemic devastated minority communities, banks and government officials starved them of capital.

Lower-income and minority neighborhoods that were intentionally cut off from lending and investment decades ago today suffer not only from reduced wealth and greater poverty, but from lower life expectancy and higher prevalence of chronic diseases that are risk factors for poor outcomes from COVID-19, a new study shows.

The new study, from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) with researchers from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee Joseph J. Zilber School of Public Health and the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab, compared 1930’s maps of government-sanctioned lending discrimination zones with current census and public health data.

Table of Content

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Redlining, the HOLC Maps and Segregation
  • Segregation, Public Health and COVID-19
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion and Policy Recommendations
  • Citations
  • Appendix

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