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THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C. (Virtual)

MODERATOR:  Good afternoon and welcome to The Foreign Press Center’s latest briefing in our Understanding America series:  Resiliency in Black Business Communities.  My name is Bryce Johnson and I will be your moderator today.  First, I’d like to introduce our speakers and then I’ll give a basic overview of the ground rules. 

The COVID-19 pandemic, having a disproportional effect on black-owned businesses, several U.S. cities have developed resiliency funds to support the black business community.  One example is the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce, which launched a $1 million resiliency fund for small black enterprises.  With us today, we have Oakland Chamber’s CEO and president Cathy Adams.  And two business leader recipients of the fund will discuss how they are rebuilding and supporting an equitable recovery, the difficulties business owners have faced during the pandemic, and the need for these type of funds. 

The business leaders joining Ms. Adams today are Ms. Cindy Hill, CEO of Grace Marketing and a founding member of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women East Bay Area Chapter, and Mr. Derreck Johnson, a native Oaklander who opened Home of Chicken and Waffles, a restaurant which has become a pillar of the Oakland community, and a founder of the Black Owned Project. 

During this Black History Month, we’re honored to have our speakers come and highlight African American achievements.  The Foreign Press Centers will be programming a series of briefings on racial equity in coming months and we hope to have you join us for future programs.   

And now for the ground rules.  This briefing is on the record.  The views expressed by briefers not affiliated with the Department of State or U.S. Government are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of State or the U.S. Government.  Participation in Foreign Press Center programming does not imply endorsement, approval, or recommendation of their views.  Later, we will post the transcript of this briefing on our website, which is fpc.state.gov.  If you publish a story as a result of this briefing, please share your story with us by sending an email to dcfpc@state.gov.  And with that, I would like to introduce Ms. Cathy Adams. 

MS ADAMS:  Thank you so much, Bryce, for that warm introduction.  And good afternoon, everybody.  I am so excited to join the Washington Foreign Press Center virtually today.  Today’s theme, Resiliency in the Black Business Communities, resonates with me.  As president of the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce, we support black-owned businesses.  The Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce was established in 2003.  We are a private, non-profit organization whose mission is to advance economic opportunity and strengthen Oakland’s black business community.  We provide a number of services for our business associates and members, including access to capital workshops, business development, and we also advocate for our businesses. 

Every African American entrepreneur need encouraging conditions to make it.  Black business owners and entrepreneurs make a – invaluable contributions to the communities in Oakland.  Success is essential to our economy.   

When COVID-19 pandemic hit us like a ton of bricks, our businesses were hit harder than any other businesses with losing – with losses starting in April, as early as April.  So in March 2020, around March 15, our Governor Newsom enforced shelter-in-place.  I’m going to fast forward today, because I always like to hear what others have to say and questions.  So I started receiving a lot of calls from our business owners indicating that they were hit hard – no revenue was coming in, they’re losing staff – you name it, they were going through everything.  And it was really hard for me to hear, and I knew that we needed to have a call to action.  And after countless calls, I knew we needed to do something.   

Leadership of the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce was critical.  We started the OAACC Resiliency Relief Grant Program to assist our members affected by COVID-19 health pandemic.  Initially, I said I would raise $500,000.  I talked to my vice chair, now chairman of the board, Ces Butner, and he said, “Why not a million?”  And I said, “Why not.”  And the journey started.   

We committed to raising $1 million.  It was critical.  We worked hard to achieve our goal.  Our black-owned businesses did not receive funds from the payment protection plan.  Those funds did not make it on to the bank accounts of black people.  OAACC leadership team performed a robust fund development to amass a war chest of resources that granted our small African American minority-owned businesses to assist them financially, emotionally, and during these unprecedented times with ongoing business expenses, including payroll, office, rents, goods, services, food, anything you name.  The eligibility requirement, we wanted to make sure it was something that we could ascertain information we needed, but we also didn’t want to ask people for their grandmother’s birth certificate for the most part.  You know how those applications was for the federal government. 

We – while we recognize that these grants were in no way to make up for all the financial losses experienced by many of our African American business, the intent was to provide relevant short-term relief.  Grants were made on a first-come, first-serve basis to those who met the application eligibility criteria.  There was a limited application of money subject to the funds raised, so as we collected the funds, we got them out.  We had five judges to make up from the board of directors.  I sat on the application review and did not vote.  Each applicant had an ID number for transparency.  Grants ranged from $2,500 to $10,000.  The contributions came from major corporations, members of our OAACC board members, and individual donors.  Some of our bigger donors included individuals like Clorox, who donated over $200,000; Kaiser, Blue Shield, Okta, Horizon Beverage, and I would be remiss to say that companies owned by my chairman of the board.  And it’s important to say that we step up and take a leadership role, so I’m pleased to say along with others, our board member Ces Butner donated $100,000 to the fund.  So that really helped us when we started initially.  The Oakland As have been very instrumental in helping us.   

So we also had our impact report that acknowledges all of the donors and over 200-plus businesses that received the grant.  I think that it is very important and critical that when you create funds like this, what’s the question:  “What did you all do with the money?”  So I felt really good in having a – in having a impact report.  Disparity is on my mind.  That’s a whole other story there.  But I want to just let you know that we had – we provided over 200-plus businesses with grants ranging from $2,500 to $10,000.   

So just finally, black entrepreneurs, we lack the access to funding and other resources critical to building a successful business.  We have been in meetings with a few banks to talk about how we can remove the barriers due to systemic racism.  I feel that we’re getting close.  We’re not there yet, but we’re getting close.  So we want to be able to change this narrative.  So I just want to just say that we are currently doing a survey to just make sure that we know where our businesses are.  What I know to date that most of the businesses that are members of the chambers are still in business.  So we hope that we might discuss an opportunity to do resiliency 2.0.   

I know that Derreck Johnson is on the call doing amazing work around the Black Owned Project, so I’m just going to close by just saying that – you know how they do, I’m going to close, I’m going to close, but I promise I’m closing now.  But I think it’s important to let you know that we work closely with the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce.  Ron Busby, who is the president, he had an opportunity to invite me as president, along with other presidents throughout the United States, to be a part of Vice President Kamala Harris’ conversation to talk about the American Rescue Plan.  And as I tell people, as we begin to have the conversation, at least we’re at the table in the room.   One shoe doesn’t fit all.  We’re not going to fix it all overnight, but at least we’re starting the conversation. 

So I just want to let you all know I thank you for this opportunity, I hella love Oakland, and thank you so much. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much.  That was excellent.  Ms. Hill or Mr. Johnson, would you like to say any remarks? 

MS HILL:  I can jump in.  I just want – I definitely want to thank the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce for the grant that I received through the Resiliency Fund.  As Cathy mentioned, it was a little bit daunting to put together all of the information and the requirements for the PPP loans.  As a new business, I had literally left corporate America and started my business about eight months before we had the big COVID impact.  The Resiliency Fund made it possible for me to continue on with my business.  I lost one large account right after COVID hit, and the monies that I received gave me the ability to continue with my marketing agency.  And then I was also able to attract a couple of small businesses, of course, that during the COVID needed to market their businesses in a different way and more than they did prior to this event.  But had it not been for the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce, I’m just not sure that I would have been able to continue with the lease that I had on office space down to the subscriptions for PR Newswire, as you can imagine.  So those are the services that we offer, and those monies that we received gave us the ability to continue. 

MR JOHNSON:  Yeah, and I just – I’ll just second that.  I mean, I have to applaud Cathy and the Oakland African American Chamber.  I received a grant and from a business – we have been in business for 18 years.  I employ mostly – well, not mostly; all, 100 percent – African American and Latino, black and brown individuals that are from Oakland.  A majority of my employees are formerly incarcerated, and that’s the space and the work that I’ve been working in for a long time.  We’ve done great work there.   

And just to give you a little – a scale of the impact of this pandemic, our restaurant annually does about 2.5 – about 2.6, 2.7, a little under 3 million a year at one location.  So I have a really busy place, and I have about 47 to 48 employees full time – full and part time – on a regular basis.  And when the pandemic hit, it dropped – sales dropped to – like by 80 percent.  When that unemployment hit, unemployment became available, most of our employees opted out to get unemployment because I couldn’t provide – we could no longer provide the space and the jobs for them.  So not only was it hard to stay in business because sales dropped so low, but we also didn’t have the manpower or the staffing to actually come in and do the job.   

So the Resiliency Fund helped us tremendously, and what I decided to do with the money – because I did do the PPP.  I did all the PPP and I did the SBA loan.  I actually was a recipient of both.  They helped tremendously also, but the problem with those loans was that the messaging and the information wasn’t given to the African American community in a way that we could understand it.  Now, fortunately for myself, I have a great banking relationship.  I bank at a very – I bank at a local, small bank, so I know the actual owners of the bank.  So I pretty much was walked through how to deal with it.  But had I not had that type of mentorship in filling out the paperwork, it would have been very, very difficult. 

The other thing that intimidated me about the PPP was that, well, if I can’t hire back 60 percent of my people, then I have a bill.  It’s like, “Wait a minute.”  Fortunately, through the efforts of Oakland African American Chamber with advertising and the resources that they use and giving us that grant, I ended up making a pledge to support other black businesses and looked for black businesses that I could purchase goods from to use at the restaurant, and I’m continually doing that today.   

So I want to make sure that we circulate the dollars in our community, because that’s one of the biggest problems today in America, is that in black communities citywide – I mean nationally, around this country – we know that there’s disparities, we know that there’s low income, we know that there’s crime, we know that there’s poor education.  And we’re constantly looking to the government – and don’t get me wrong, I don’t – I believe that the U.S. Government owes us, but at the same time, what the Oakland African American Chamber is doing and promoting in partnering with me with this black-owned project, it’s time for us to uplift ourselves.  Our dollar doesn’t stay in our community for more than six hours, and that’s a very disturbing statistic.  And like other cultures that the dollar stays in their community for 10 days, 15 days, 30 days, the way to increase and to improve our community is to do business with one another and understand that we have to support each other in business. 

And so thanks to the chamber.  The chamber in Oakland and Cathy Adams has allowed us to do that.  And so I’m wearing one of our T-shirts here, so I’m really into it.  (Laughter.) 

MODERATOR:  All right, thank you all so much.  I’ll open up the floor for questions now.  If you have a question, please just raise your hand in the chat.  It looks like we already have one from Pearl Matibe.  If you could please identify yourself, unmute yourself, and ask your question.  Thank you. 

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  My name is Pearl and I’m with the Power FM 98.7.  We are the largest – single largest radio station in Houghton province in South Africa.  I am here in Washington, D.C., though. 

So I wanted to go first.  I have to get to another briefing, so I will be leaving shortly.  First of all, I wanted to applaud your efforts, certainly.  This is very, very interesting not only to me but to my audiences.  My audiences would be predominantly the African continent as a whole, but mostly Southern Africa.  Hearing everything that you have said here today, the biggest question that my listeners would ask me would be:  What lessons could they learn from you?  Yes, while your community and your association – your Chamber of Commerce – has gone through these experiences, businesses like yours in Africa as well as the African diaspora living in the United States are far worse.  So what lessons would you – have you got for them?  And are you creating any linkages with the African diaspora in the United States to share some of those experiences and see where their businesses can go? 

MR JOHNSON:  Can I jump on – okay.  So hello, Pearl, and thank you for asking that question.  Derreck Johnson here.  The biggest lesson that I learned:  If you’re in business, I don’t care if you have a dollar or $100 million in a bank, get to know your banker.  Get to know them, 100 percent.  Get to know who the decision making person is in that bank.  Don’t just familiarize yourself with the teller.  And I think we as African Americans, we don’t understand the financial model because we’re generationally behind in that area, and I think that’s something that we need to really catch up on all over the world.  Black people are financially illiterate for the most part when it comes to understanding finances and what to do with them and how they work and how to leverage them to your advantage and to grow and build your community.  And banking systems have been set up systematically to keep us out of the financial pool.   

So get to know your banker.  Everybody feels that these big banks – and nothing against the big banks, Wells Fargo, Bank of America – nothing against them whatsoever, but they’re not designed for people like myself in business.  They’re designed for larger businesses, and you never get to know the people.  So I took my money out of the big bank, went to a very small bank that only has I think two or three branches, and they’re a local bank.  And I know the people.  I know the president.  I know the founder, Shirley Nelson, who created – Summit Bank is where I bank, and they do a lot for our community. 

Also make sure that when you’re putting your money and you’re spending your money outside of your community, that the people that you’re spending your money with, what do they do for your community.  We have to be more active and we have to also be more aggressive when we are putting our money somewhere and when we’re spending our money, and our voice really does matter, especially if we get together and collaborate and demand that there are certain services and opportunities that are provided to our community.  And that’s one good thing about linking and participating with organizations like the Oakland African American Chamber, that they can be your voice, because a lot of times people don’t want to speak up.  Unfortunately, I don’t have that problem.  I speak up all the time.  (Laughter.)  But there’s – are people that don’t feel comfortable.   

So go to a local resource center like the Oakland African American Chamber, and if you all don’t have that in South Africa – I mean, I’m not sure if you do or don’t – but create one.  Cathy has been a pillar in our community for years and years and years; so has Cindy.  Cindy was in the hotel industry.  You just have to – “Okay, can I get a discount on that room today?”  (Laughter.)  You have to network and work with each other. 

But I would say the most important lesson I’ve learned was definitely have a serious banking – know your banker.  Know who’s there, because when these loans come in through SBA and through the government, they go through the banks, and the banks then talk to – like anything else – people that they know and that they know their best.  So definitely get a relationship if you’re in business for yourself with the banker. 

And then the last thing I’ll say is it might be a little inconvenient, but inconvenience yourself to find another black-owned business that you can do business with, because that’s the only way we’re going to improve our community is you have to support each other.  If we support each other, it’s not alienating any other culture or any other race, but if we support ourselves, it’s just like when you’re getting a loan at a bank.  They want to know how much money are you putting into your business yourself.  Well, if we keep circulating the money in our own community, then we can build our community within our own culture and we can have better, safer communities, better neighborhoods, better education system – everything will just improve. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Thank you.   

MS HILL:  I just want to – I wanted to add a little bit to what – I’m Cindy Hill with Grace Marketing.  I wanted to add a little bit to what Derreck just said.  I was one of those people who was with a large bank, so please – understanding that being with a smaller bank, now that I am with a smaller bank, I have the ability to form the relationship that Derreck described.  So again, I think that I will always be with a local community bank from this point moving forward, and all of my dollars there. 

One of the other things I think that’s an important lesson for all of us to learn during any type of crisis – and I’m not saying this only because I have an agency; if I was still in the hotel industry, I’d say the same thing – but I really do think that a lot of us decided to wait to see what happened, and I think that you have to move very quickly and you have to show up online.   

Our technology is moving very quickly and I think that a lot of us sometimes tend to be uncomfortable with technology.  Get uncomfortable and get out there and make sure that you’re testing and that you’re inspecting what you expect.  If you expect more business, you definitely have to inspect how you show up online.  That’s everything from making sure that you’re touching your database on a weekly basis, that you’re sending out promotions and offers about your business, that you’re checking every single social channel to make sure that you show up the way that you want to be perceived in way your business is communicating. 

So my biggest lesson is don’t wait for anyone.  No one’s coming to save you; you have to save yourself.  And saving yourself means looking at how you look online to your customers. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.  

MS ADAMS:  Yes – and I would say finally, Pearl – and I thank you, that was just the right question.  And I think being with the chamber of commerce, we’re utilizing our ecosystem, which is some of the things they’re talking about, doing business with each other.  Even like, quickly, our caterers. – well, that business was hit hard, so those that had a brick and mortar, they were actually letting (inaudible) the shelves use their kitchen.  So we just got to go back to that network.  It’s enough for all of us.  Cindy, talking about the technology – we had to start training our members on how to use Zoom.  And so you got to get with the program. 

MR JOHNSON:  Yes.  (Laughter.)   

MS ADAMS:  We have to — 

MR JOHNSON:  And you see I have somebody over here helping me now.  (Laughter.) 

MS ADAMS:  I know, and if you’re doing stuff and being creative – because we’re going to be in this space for a long time, so I will say that if you have organizations there, please feel free to connect with us or connect with the chamber being able to help start those networks.  And I know Derreck know – I won’t jump into that, but we do – we have a relationship with Abidjan and some of our sister cities.  So let us have the opportunity to help you, because now that we’re on Zoom, we can share our resources this way.  So thank you. 

QUESTION:  Thank you very much, appreciate that. 

MODERATOR:  All right.  It looks like we have another question from Martin Burcharth.  If you could please unmute yourself and identify your outlet and your country and ask your question, please. 

QUESTION:  Yes, hi. 

MR JOHNSON:  Hello. 

QUESTION:  My name is Martin, very nice to meet you.  I work for a newspaper in Denmark.  I’m the U.S. correspondent.  Sorry about the bad picture quality.  It’s light.  Very encouraging to hear what you’re doing in Oakland.  I have a couple of questions. 

One is:  I found myself a couple of years ago in Greenville, Mississippi where, I was doing a story, and I ran into some African Americans and I asked them about banking, and they told me that – because I had heard that in Greenville and generally throughout the South, African Americans do not have much confidence in banks, and in particular, in banks owned by black folks, which I thought was very odd.  And so I asked them and they said, “Well, we just – we don’t trust our own folks.  We actually trust bankers who are white.”  And I said, “How is that possible?”  And I don’t know how widespread that phenomenon is, but I think that it’s an issue, and I would like you to address that.  So that’s one thing. 

Another thing I wanted to ask you is this, and that is:  The Biden administration is putting so much emphasis on racial equity – not equality, but equity.  And I would like to hear from all of you what your expectations are.  It’s very good to say – to talk about racial equity and it’s very important, of course, to start with the federal government, how it handles that issue.  Another thing is with society as such, what can be done there?  And that’s a real big challenge and I’d like to know from your perspective, where you sit, what you expect.  Thank you very much. 

MS ADAMS:  Thank you.  Well, being from Mississippi – and I’ll let the – our other panelists jump in – being from Meridian, Mississippi – and I relocated to Oakland, California – what you’re talking about is what our parents and grandparents and everybody went through.  And I have to just kind of temper my comments here because I don’t know what I can say and what I can’t say.   

But I can say that there was a lot of putting money under mattresses and not having trust in banks owned by non-African American people.  And I think that kind of comes with our culture in a sense, and the only way that I can speak of is just speaking of my own relationship with my own parents.  And of course, they did have bank accounts and they had their little books back then and then they would write down what’s there.   

So we were able to do that, but I can tell you what you felt, what you experienced, it absolutely was real.  I don’t want to go into any deep conversations, but that’s why it’s so important now that we bridge those relationships, as Derreck was talking about.  And then you – they just didn’t have the level of support, particularly my family and where I grew up, to be able to be educated to understand that putting your money in the bank is safe, you are protected, but you couldn’t prove that.   

So I just thought that – speaking of Mississippi, I remember going back to Mississippi about five years ago, and I wanted to do an account because I was sending money to my sister.  And I was like, well, let me open up an account here, that’ll be there.  Well, they wouldn’t even let me open up – that was five years ago – open up an account.  I was born in Meridian, Mississippi.  “Well, you don’t live here, so we can’t open up an account.”  So that’s a whole another story.  I don’t even want to go down that path. 

So Derreck, I’ll let you take it – take it.  

MR JOHNSON:  I was about to say you know this is right up my alley as far as subject matter, so – Martin, thank you for that question.   

It’s been 400 years that we have been behind, and basically, “The white way is the right way”; that’s the way that it’s always been in our community.  We have a lot of issues, and that’s why I started this Black Owned Project, and the – why the t-shirt is black on black, because we all – we have so much colorism issues within our own ethnic group, that we feel the lighter you are or the whiter you are, it always represents better, and that comes back from slavery.  And that is still in our genes, it’s hereditary, it’s genetically been passed down for generations to generations, and that reflects us in business.   

We’re always like, “Why doesn’t this business look like this,” or “You should do this to your business.”  Well, we don’t have access to the same amount of capital.  We don’t have the resources.  There’s a whole lot of systematic issues of why we’re behind, and now it’s time for us to not be behind anymore and to educate ourselves, and we don’t trust each other.  So the reason why blacks in Mississippi and other places don’t put their money in black banks is because we feel the white bank is the better bank, because that’s how we’ve been programmed.  But it’s not the right way, because white banks don’t give us access to capital.  White banks – I was offered – I had a – like I said, my business does normally damn near $3 million a year in business.  I was offered a loan when I was trying to expand for 75,000 when I needed 300,000.  I could do nothing with that.  That’s just another debt.   

So there’s a much larger discussion, but the reason why – the main reason why the trust isn’t in our community is because it’s genetically been passed down, and that’s just been the philosophy: “The white way is the right way.”  Just like with our neighborhoods, when someone in an African American community is successful, we all want to move to the hills or to the suburbs as opposed to staying in our community and building it up and making nicer neighborhoods.  And that’s where I feel that the younger generations are more conscious now, people are tolerating it, and hopefully progressing in the future that we’re moving more towards building up our own – building up our own communities. 

And as far as your second question, I can speak personally to say that this administration definitely has someone in office – in both Biden and Harris, but it’s particularly Harris – that has had a real life; that has not grew up in systematic government; that hasn’t grown up in a senator’s home and with a silver spoon in her mouth; that has worked and came from a single mother that worked very, very hard; comes from a family that were all working class people.  I’m a little biased, because senator – senator – “vice president” is still a trip – (laughter) – the Vice President is a relative and very close to me personally.   

So I know that we have somebody that represents and understands the struggles that we as Americans – not just African Americans – that Americans go through.  And I know that she’s going to work really hard to change that for women, for African Americans, for the LGBTQ+ community.  And I feel that when you have someone that has lived and – lived a life and has had experiences, then they can take that to this office and then make some really valid decisions.   

One thing that always has troubled me and really bothers me about government is that we have people that write policy and make decisions, but they haven’t had the experience of what they’re writing the policy on, so therefore it’s kind of like an oxymoron to me.  I don’t understand, how are you creating this policy if you don’t – if you haven’t really experienced the situation at hand?  But yet you’re making decisions for those people.   

So – but – yes, but I’m expecting this administration to definitely undo some policies that aren’t beneficial to society as whole, and to definitely create some policies that’s going to open doors for those that the doors has been closed to for a very long time. 

MS HILL:  And Martin, I like how you said more about equity versus equality, because we’ve been talking the equality speech for quite some time, at least my entire lifetime.  And I am looking to this administration and I’m very confident that they will provide access.  I think that access is the most important thing for us.  There can be all of these programs, but if we don’t have access to it as a small two-person business, it’s very tough for me to compete for certain contracts or to get involved in certain contracts unless there is access for me to do so.  And so I’m expecting that this administration will make it easier and will make the playing field a little more level for small businesses like mine.   

And I just concur with what Derreck said: having someone in that administration who has been raised by a single mother, who lived in a very diverse community, understands all of our needs, just – not some of our needs.  And I think that that’s the key there, is making sure that you have the experience to really contribute to the conversation.  And I believe that both Biden and Harris have that.  So I’m very encouraged. 

MS ADAMS:  Yes. 

QUESTION:  Thank you. 

MR JOHNSON:  Considering what we just came from, yes, we’re – it’s a breath of fresh air.  (Laughter.) 

MS ADAMS:  We’ve got – we’ve got to watch our ground rules.  (Laughter.) 

MR JOHNSON:  Yeah, I know.  I know, Bryce.  I see you over there, Bryce.  So you don’t have to get nervous, because I am the time bomb on the – probably – on the call.   

MS ADAMS:  Yeah, I’m glad that Derreck was able to talk, because as I said, I was struggling with that one.  So thank you, Derreck.  You did well.  (Laughter.) 

MODERATOR:  All right.  Thank you very much.  Do we have any other questions?  If so, please raise your hand in the chat, or you can type your question in the chat.   

MR JOHNSON:  I actually —  

QUESTION:  If there’s a follow-up question possibility, I’ll do that.  Otherwise — 

MODERATOR:  I think, yeah, go for a follow-up question, Martin. 

QUESTION:  Well, I mean, I really appreciate what all of you said.  I’ve been here for a long time, and I’m pretty well acquainted with the African American community.  But what I worry about in the present situation, and I’d like to hear what you think about this, is that there will be some kind of counter-reaction to the racial equity policies.  And what I mean by that is that not liberals, but kind of middle-of-the-road liberals and conservative intellectuals will start talking about reverse discrimination, if you know what I mean by that – that is, that racial equity goes too far, and there will be backlash.  I wonder, I mean, are you familiar with that discussion?  Do you have it?  I wonder what you think about it.   

MR JOHNSON:  Well, my personal thoughts are when you’ve enslaved people for years and years and years for free labor, and we have 100 percent built this country, there is no such thing as reverse discrimination, period.  And yes, there’s going to be talks, and yes, everyone’s going to have their views.  We’re in America, and you have the right for freedom of speech.  But it is time for us to organize and build our own communities, and those that want to fight against that – you can always have that.  We’re going to have to raise our voices a little higher and a little harder, and make sure that we have conversations, and the conversations are going to be probably tough and difficult a lot of the times, because race is a very – when you talk about race, equality, equity, anything to do with uplifting those that have been oppressed, it’s always a touchy situation.   

But at this point in time, I feel that you have the – the times have just changed.  The course of America, what America looks like, has changed.  America is a – it’s always been diverse, but it’s extremely diverse now.  It’s not like you have a majority white America anymore.  It’s turning into a more colorful, more diverse place.   

And people are just tired of double standards and being held down.  It should be a – if this is going to be the land and opportunity for all, then we need to really, truly adhere to that and make sure that it is. 

MS HILL:  I also think that a 400-year running start is a little bit of an advantage, I think. 

MR JOHNSON:  Right. 

MS HILL:  And when you look at generational wealth and how it’s been passed on, African Americans do not have that.  And so I – again, I understand that we may have those conversations happening, but it’s difficult for me to really have the empathy as to reverse discrimination and how that would necessarily impact it. 

QUESTION:  You have to prepare yourself for it, because it’s coming. 

MS HILL:  Yes, of course. 

QUESTION:  I can tell you that. 

MR JOHNSON:  We in Oakland, we ready.  (Laughter.) 

QUESTION:  Oh good.  I appreciate that. 

MS ADAMS:  Well, then, sir, we stand ready, so we don’t have to get ready.  (Laughter.)   

QUESTION:  Thank you very much. 

MR JOHNSON:  Thank you. 

MS HILL:  Thank you for your questions.   

MODERATOR:  Wonderful.  I actually have a question myself as well.  You guys have mentioned that you’ve worked with other communities and the importance of working within the community and with different communities.  I was wondering, as far as the fund goes, have other communities reached out to kind of – trying to replicate the model that you’ve utilized?  Have you reached out to other communities to help you build this? 

MS ADAMS:  Well, thank you, Bryce.  I meet twice a month with the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce, where it’s comprised of chambers of commerce throughout the United States.  So what I actually did, because this is what we have to do is knowledge transfer here, I shared with them all of the documents that we used to start the fund, and some of them were having conversations about doing it.  And now the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce, we just had a conversation last month where we’re talking about how we could raise money collectively, because some of the chambers of commerce are not always 501(c)(3) nonprofits, so they are not able to get the money. 

So yes, there have been talk of it, communicating, and then currently kind of piggy-backing off of every opportunity we can get, because I will go back to – even to the Black Owned Project.  All of the sales of the t-shirts, while it’s promoting the businesses, will go back to the African American Chamber of Commerce, and we’ll just use those funds to support business.   

So the answer to your question, yes, people are speaking of it.  We’re thinking about it.  I haven’t decided yet, Resiliency 2.0, because we still need the money.  Yes, the road ahead is going to be tough, but working together as a collective within our community and across the U.S., I think a lot of companies probably – I mean organizations may adapt that process.  But what we’re doing, which is critical, is we all work together with the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce, then those funds raised, each chamber will have an opportunity to actually apply for those funds through the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce.  So definitely there is a conversation. 

MODERATOR:  All right, thank you very much.  It looks like we have a question from Enrico Woolford.  If you could please identify your country and news agency as well, thank you. 

QUESTION:  Enrico Woolford from Georgetown, Guyana, and my news agency is Capitol News.  That is on WRHM Television here in Guyana.  My question is this:  I’ve traveled within the United States covering various stories, and almost in every neighborhood where there are black communities, the – as we see in Guyana, the corner shop, the bodega, the business right next to the communities, they’re not owned by blacks.  What’s being done to reverse that situation, beginning from what you guys are doing?   

And secondly, how are the Caribbean people, who are – and Latin America from northern Brazil and so on, who are perceived as black throughout the world, how are they involved in the process? 

MS ADAMS:  So, Derreck, do you want to take that one? 

MR JOHNSON:  Well, I think that when you talk about the bodegas, the corner stores, the liquor stores traditionally were owned by African Americans in the ‘60s, ‘70s, even in the ‘80s.  I actually used to be president of an African American liquor – the African American Liquor License Association for the state of California. 

And what has happened over the years, we sold out.  People come in from other countries with briefcases full of money and want to buy your business, and we have seen other opportunities, and so we have – we’ve sold our businesses.   

So to answer that question, yes, we do need to reclaim our own businesses back in our own neighborhoods, because that is a trickle-down effect because we hire ourselves, we hire other African Americans and other Latinos, which creates jobs, which creates money going into that household. 

So I believe there is a movement, and that’s what our own Black Owned Project is all about is supporting and creating businesses back in our community.  So that’s a very good, good point, because when you hire within your community, when you establish business within your community, then you do what?  You take care of your community and you have more loyalty and just more care and concern about it, as opposed to an outside force coming in and just getting money out of the community and then taking it back out. 

So on that level, I believe that that’s what the Oakland African American Chamber and what we’re trying to promote is a resource center and a literacy hub through this Black Owned Project in connection with Oakland African American Chamber in order for us to bring education, literacy, and awareness about finances, business to – back to our communities so that people have the resources to do just that: open up businesses in our community. 

MS ADAMS:  Yes, and I think that it’s happening – well, they tried to do it here with some of our businesses that – during COVID that were having trouble trying to meet their rent, their lease payment every month.  And so that’s why it was so critical for us to – not just the Resiliency Fund, but every company that had a grant, we made sure – we pushed that out to our members, because Derreck is absolutely right:  There were people waiting with a bag of money, and basically we leave, they don’t give us any reprieve around the rent, and you go, and then I go down there next week and it’s already open and painted with a sign like they were already ready to go.   

So that’s why it’s so critical that we as a black community have to do a better job working with each other, supporting each other, keeping our dollars in the community, because what you’re talking about is real.  They’re waiting.  If Derreck has a wonderful location right there in Jack London Square, if anything happened, I guarantee you the building will be painted and the sign will be up in less than three days.   

MS HILL:  I want to take that from a different angle in our community, and I’m sure that Derreck and as well as Cathy can relate to this.  I think that in our community we’re taking a new approach to parenting as well.  We’re trying to raise entrepreneurs.  I think that there was a time when our parents, or at least my parents, I was raised to go to college and then get a great job, and I think that we were not raising entrepreneurs. 

MR JOHNSON:  Yes. 

MS HILL:  And I have a 13-year-old son, and I can tell you that I have written two business plans already for him because I want him to understand and think that we can create things within our community for our community versus going off to get a big job at a big corporation.  After 20 years in corporate, I can tell you that even as a new entrepreneur I couldn’t be more happy, and I definitely think that as parents in the black community we are definitely taking a different angle at how we are raising our children and raising our children to sit at the table, to be at the table versus being invited to the table. 

MS ADAMS:  Yes.   

MODERATOR:  All right, thank you, guys.  Are there any other questions?  All right, it doesn’t look like we have any other raised hands, and it doesn’t look like we have any other questions in the chat.  So with that, I would like to conclude our briefing.  I would like to very much so thank our briefers for coming out.   

MR JOHNSON:  Thank you for having us. 

MODERATOR:  You will be able to find our transcripts on our website and the video on our website later today, most likely.  Thank you all for coming out and continuing doing the important and good work that you’re doing.  Have a good day. 

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future