From: WAVY By: Kara Dixon

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Black business owners and entrepreneurs are spending the start of the holiday shopping season learning about businesses and resources available to them in Hampton Roads.

It’s the fifth year of Black Diamond Weekend — which is put on by Black Brand, the region’s Black Chamber of Commerce.

Blair Durham, who is the co-founder of Black Brand, says the organization decided to put on the event virtually this year, despite almost canceling it due to the pandemic.

“It’s a greater need than any of the prior years,” she said. “Certainly, everything that’s happened with the pandemic has highlighted that our business community needs that support and empowerment.”

The event featured 60 speakers and events, including motivational speaker Les Brown, as well as the opportunity for networking, vendor spaces, and talks catered to helping Black entrepreneurs succeed.

Durham says Black Brand was founded in the fall of 2016 to fill a need in the region.

But COVID-19 has hit Black business owners hard.

According to a study done by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the number of active business owners fell 22 percent with active Black business owners falling 41 percent and Latinx 32 percent.

White business owners fell 17 percent, according to the study.

Durham says that having this during a difficult year for many is important.

“I’ve heard numbers as high as 50 percent for Black businesses that could potentially close for good as a result of the pandemic. Having something that not only provides education but also provides a platform for shopping particularly for a vulnerable business community — we felt it was something we needed to get behind,” she said.

“Small Business Saturday is a huge national initiative but doing something in our little corner to make sure our community is highlighted is definitely important.”

While the business community will lean on each other to use its resources to come out stronger, Durham says it’s also important for another community, their customers, to show support as well.

Sunday is the last day of the event and will focus on real estate.

Durham hopes that those who attended, leave feeling empowered despite the toll 2020 has taken on many.

“I want them to take away, ‘now is not the time to quit,’” she said. “What it means to be an entrepreneur is not ‘oh no, a pandemic. I’m going to get a job.’ It means ‘oh no. It’s a new problem to solve. Maybe this one is not working anymore but that doesn’t mean entrepreneurship isn’t my path.’”

“We’re hoping they have everything they need to translate that into something positive, something stronger for 2021,” Durham continued.