The National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) and U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) stopped through Atlanta Aug. 11-13 to encourage the black lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community to turn passion into a prosperous future.
Both organizations partnered to host a day-and-a half long financial empowerment and social justice series, Many Faces.One Dream. The 13-city tour gives budding LGBT business owners of color the opportunity to participate in one-on-one workshops, panels, seminars and town hall meetings on financial counseling which they might go on to seek through companies similar to LegalVision to help ensure their tax practices are legal and up to date, franchising, government contracting, strategic planning, business plan development, credit scores, certifications, marketing and securing financing.
“You have to be president and CEO of yourself. You have to wake up everyday with the ownership that your success is based on yourself. A dream can come true. You don’t have to choose to be black today or to be gay today,” says Sharon Lettman-Hicks, Executive Director and CEO of NBJC.
Despite ongoing discrimination and high instances of unemployment particularly for the black LGBT community, SBA hopes outreach and educational programs like Many Faces.One Dream will inspire future entrepreneurs to take action in mastering their fate.
“You have to have a clear idea of what it is you want to have. Being an entrepreneur means being willing to take on risks. We just try to help take a calculated risk. It’s about coming together and learning to support each other. Fifty percent of something is better than 100% of nothing. We can help in laying the foundation. We want people to feel we’re an option for them,” says Terri Denison, Georgia District Director, SBA.
Eugene Cornelius, Jr., Deputy Associate Administrator for Field Operations, SBA, concurs. “We’re spinning our wheels trying to reach out individually to communities where we can take one point and reach all of the communities. Our biggest problem in the African American community is we don’t have ownership. We are relying on other people. We don’t need to wait for our 40 acres and a mule. Let’s take it,” says Cornelius.
Passionate and full of vigor, Cornelius further acknowledges Many Faces.One Dream’s importance 50 years after the March on Washington. “We are in the third phase of the Civil Rights Movement. This is better than demonstrating and holding a picket sign. This is action. This is taking responsibility. If we are going to unshackle the chains of exclusion, empowerment is equity,” he says.
Atlanta, the third major American city for LGBT population per capita, was the second stop to feature both NBJC and SBA executive staff, financial experts, civic leaders, federal government officers, professors, life coaches and small business owners.
Councilman Kwanza Hall represents Midtown, Atlanta’s core LGBT area. The benevolent, down-to-earth representative believes both black LGBT entrepreneurship and consumerism are essential in breaking down cultural, sexual and economic barriers.
“Small business opportunities are huge avenues to improve the economy, increase jobs and provide a variety of services and goods to our communities. We want to make sure equality rings free for anyone. It’s supreme over all things no matter your background, color or orientation. Those factors should not define how you interact with anyone in society. You should have a level playing field, and small businesses are the life blood of our economy,” says Hall. No one said running a business was easy, regardless of the industry. But with that being said, with there being potential solutions such as Zenefits (that assists with managing HR) and software that can help with dealing with the financial side, running a business may not be as challenging as people may have initially thought.
Like Hall and Cornelius, Lettman-Hicks reiterates that Many Faces.One Dream encourages LGBT communities of color to take ownership in their own plight.
“Our community has gone through so many trials and tribulations of dealing with acceptance. You can use yourself to your advantage by seeing yourself as a consumer market. You have to look at the different needs of our community that can be overtly marketed to. We need to be strategic to want to own our power,” says Lettman-Hicks.
This post was written by Christopher A. Daniel, pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.