From The Virginian-Pilot By Blair Durham

The last two years have been eye-opening to the inequalities surrounding working people of color. At the beginning of the pandemic, minorities disproportionately lost jobs, and those who kept their jobs often experienced more exposure to COVID-19 because of work that couldn’t be performed remotely.

Recovery from unemployment has also been slower, with 7.9% of Black workers and 5.9% of Latino workers unemployed in October 2021, compared with 4% of white workers, according to Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calculations of Bureau of Labor of Statistics data.

These and other factors like inconsistent access to child care have motivated many people of color to take charge of their own careers by starting a business. Research from Robert Fairlie, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, found that the number of African Americans operating businesses skyrocketed by 38% from February 2020 to September 2021; for Hispanic business owners, the increase was 15%. Fueled by more than simply an entrepreneurial spirit, people of color entering the business scene are joining at an exciting time.

Blair Durham is the co-founder and president of Black BRAND (Courtesy photo)

In a world of business ownership where obstacles have always existed for people of color, there are now myriad options to boost funding and secure access to capital. Grant and relief fund opportunities abound, stemming from government, corporate and philanthropic supporters. Like never before, people are committed to helping close the racial wealth gap, and this starts with building, growing, and supporting businesses owned by people of color.

Indeed, there has never been a better time for minorities to start a business. The difference between success and failure, however, is being connected to a professional network. Because minority-based businesses are expanding, opportunities to learn and share knowledge and resources are also flourishing.

Here are five examples of networks and/or initiatives geared to supporting minority-owned businesses and helping them not only to survive but to thrive in our region and beyond.

Black BRAND (Business Research Analytics Networking and Development) is geared to promoting group economics through professional development and community empowerment. Our initiatives range from community forums and events to economic empowerment programs and advocacy efforts. We’re a trusted resource for helping our members build scalable businesses and building valuable connections. We also want to increase the reach and impact of minority businesses in Hampton Roads. Earlier this year, we landed $750,000 in support from The Rockefeller Foundation to help expand Black and Latinx businesses in Norfolk.

Main Street Alliance organizes small businesses around issues that matter most for businesses, their employees, and the community they serve. Its aim is to build a powerful, self-funded, multiracial, small business membership organization to shift our economic narrative, wield political power and win policy reform for small-business owners, employees, and communities. Its advocacy efforts are geared toward mobilizing small-business owners to use their voices on the issues that matter most: policies to support equitable access to credit and capital, public investment in child care, access to affordable health care for business owners, and leveling the playing field in our skewed tax system, just to name a few.

Norfolk Small Business Technical Assistance Clinic is an exciting opportunity for small-business owners to be paid while working with professionals in vital categories such as branding/marketing, accounting, website development, e-commerce, and business consulting. It’s part of Norfolk’s Small Business Initiative, which aims to provide an end-to-end business development solution to equip business owners with a step-by-step tool kit spanning from ideation to revenue generation.

NAACP is the home of grassroots activism for civil rights and social justice. Its vision is to ensure a society in which all individuals have equal rights and there is no racial hatred or racial discrimination. With a strong belief in the power of Black entrepreneurship, the NAACP partners with external organizations to provide grants, plus a growing resource of money, networks, and opportunities for Black-owned businesses.

Hampton Roads Workforce Council provides strategic workforce development solutions to assist businesses in accessing qualified workers. It’s geared to aligning employees with local businesses and working with business owners to help them retain talent. Some of the services it provides to employers include recruitment and placement, occupational skills training, labor market information, posted job openings, and industrial and organizational needs assessment.

The bottom line is this: Don’t go it alone. With the unprecedented amount of collaborative and financial resources geared to helping minority businesses succeed, the potential rewards far outweigh the risk. Now is the time to put your vision into action.

Blair Durham is co-founder and president of Black BRAND. Learn more at