Community comes together to support Oakland's Black business owners struggling with funding through COVID-19

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Taylor Jay didn't think she'd be using her Oakland clothing store as an e-commerce fulfillment center when she signed the lease at the beginning of this year.

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"We were just going into a space of like, celebrating our customers, our calendar is full of the events and the store and all of these amazing things that you're going to be doing from this space," Jay recalled. "So as soon as COVID hit, it was kind of almost like a nightmare of like, 'Oh gosh, what are we going to do now?'"

The Bay Area native decided to pivot. Taylor Jay Collections, a women's contemporary clothing brand with a focus on comfy pieces, started making masks, and taking orders online.

As the pandemic stretched on, she got a grant from the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce, which ensured that her business would keep going too.

"We're oftentimes rejected, ignored or not even looked at," Jay explained. "So having a grant that you feel confident that you're going to receive and then not, 'I'm going to look at your business and that you're Black and just say, 'Oh, you know, no.' It's necessary. We need it. We have, we are the ones that have problems with funding."

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A study by the Kauffman Foundation found Black entrepreneurs rely the most on personal credit cards as a form of outside credit to fund new companies or acquire existing ones.

It also found nearly six in 10 Black entrepreneurs who did not seek additional financing despite needing it did so because they thought the business would not be approved by a lender.

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"I'm just happy the companies stepped up," said Cathy Adams, president and CEO of the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce.

Adams says challenges like those pushed the organization to raise $1 million for Black-owned businesses, hit especially hard during COVID-19.

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"When the PPP funds came out due to systemic racism, how our communities are marginalized anyway, our businesses were not getting their money," Adams says. "Some of the businesses have closed, it was our effort to say we can't save them all. But if we could just save a few."

The chamber has given grants to more than 150 businesses, including the Museum of African American Technology Science Village, which will use the money to further its vision of allowing children to play and have fun with science.

"We have the beginnings of our new exhibit that features outstanding scientists and engineers," said Hattie Carwell, co-founder and executive director of the Museum of African American Technology Science Village. "We have about 20 more of these that we will place."

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"The donations came from everywhere," Adams said. "I told everybody, no amount is too small. So we got like, well over 200 plus people, whether it was 10 or 25, it all made the difference."

It's a community coming together to ensure its survival.

If you would like to contribute to the chamber's Resiliency Grant, you can do so here.

See more stories and videos about Building a Better Bay Area here.

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