The African American Leadership Forum (AALF) is committed to being a resource for the African American community throughout the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Our Collective Impact Task Force, a group of dynamic Black leaders using a human-centered design process to find solutions to the challenges Black Americans face, recently reflected on the problems the virus is posing for our community. Here are their insights:

How can we support Black businesses and community resources during this public health crisis?
In the short term: Ensure that even when challenging, we do everything we can to shop Black. In addition, in all ways possible promote black business.

  • In the medium term: One idea maybe is that we use a loyalty program that earns extra credits and other benefits to try to use our services and our contractors. Also, is there a way that we can create a joint fund to support qualified businesses within our community? Qualifications can’t be developed based on our overall needs and market-driven objectives.
  • In the long term: as the economy will start to adjust to the new reality, for the Black community to prosper we will need to start to develop service providers, contractors etc. in order to harness technology and service dissemination in real time. Unfortunately, most of our businesses are sole proprietors, mainly contractors or some type of service or clerical support, and they’re not engaged in the public/civic economic engine.

A challenge will include the ability of small businesses to participate in government contracts as contracts that are paid out 60 to 90 days after services are rendered. This will be impossible for small businesses to cover and excludes many companies from participating. These rules have not changed at the state level nor at the municipal level and needs a major adjustment for us to be able to participate.

The biggest consideration will be how black businesses are incorporated into the large civic and public response to the issues. Every business from supply to service dissemination etc. will be needed to keep our residents safe and secure.

What are your thoughts on the economic impacts of this issue? What challenges do you foresee, particularly for low-income African Americans who are unable to take time off work during the crisis? How might some of these challenges be addressed?

Unfortunately, our families will be hit drastically as the retail norms of the economy are stalled. Most of our community’s workforce is at the whim of these cycles. There is one proposal that may have some benefit to individuals’ current situations. Akin to corporate bailouts, Universal Basic Income should be considered greatly at this time to help families overcome the fundamental changes to the economy.

An additional solution would be internet access provided free to all customers for a specified period. For those entities providing the services, they should be able to write them off as corporate gifts to the public for that period of time.

Further as several cities across the country, including Minneapolis has done, public utilities should have a “jubilee”/non-paid services for at least 60 to 90 days. Further, a moratorium on rental evictions and mortgage payments should also be a part of the equation. These actions will have to take place at the state level.

Mental health impacts of social distancing and isolation

Unemployment impacts mental health tremendously. For folks who lose employment due to the impact of Covid-19, if possible replacing income with a new method (even if less) will help. In addition to folks who are not working, finding a way to contribute to their families/communities can support positive mental health outcomes. Finally, even when challenging, ensuring time for mindfulness (deep breathing, setting intentions, etc.) can support positive mental health outcomes.

Impact on African Americans working in the service industries (i.e. restaurants, bars, etc.). Many of these venues have been forced to close or reduce capacity.

  • Dealing with the short term, the issue of basic needs being met right now for all Americans is a primary focus during this economic crisis. Congress is in the middle of a debate about various benefits Unemployment Insurance Short Term worker activity, etc.
  • There is an additional proposal being pushed dealing with the $1,000 payout at least twice based on proposals. We should be pushing hard for that to take place at the federal level and for the state to consider something comfortable as well.

Impact on African Americans working in the gig economy (particularly artists and others), as many events have been cancelled.

  • If possible, potentially turn that talent into a new hustle. Give one-on-one lessons or provide group master classes having payment electronically transmitted through Venmo.
    Begin booking now if necessary, at a discount for summer or even fall/winter events. 50% down contract for weddings, performances, etc.
  • Because it is incredibly difficult to predict the exact time of decrease in Covid-19 concerns and/or the financial impact on potential customers, seeking additional employment at least in the short term is advised.

Solutions for Black businesses that rely on in-person traffic
• Use all free (at least) platforms possible to market sales and specials now. If possible, give out coupons for next purchase to increase repeat customers.
• Look into SBA disaster loan

Increased childcare needed for children who are at home

  • If possible, try and connect with another family/group of families and do a childcare swap where possible.
  • Rather than having to pay, trade the service so each family can work without losing income on childcare.
    Swap services or goods for childcare (auto repair, admin support to small business owners, etc.)

Lost income for African Americans who do not have the privilege of working from home

A major concern is lack of time to gather information. For folks that are still holding down work as usual, managing unusual childcare arrangements and keeping household items stocked during times of skewed supply and demand cycles will be incredibly challenging. Specifically, when it is a program or time consuming application process it is challenging to get the time.

Learn more about the Forum’s Collective Impact.