“There is a whole host of small business services for those looking to survive, to keep the lights on, to provide employment for people in their community,” said attorney Kenneth Ebie.
New and established Black businesses in New York felt that they had something of a new lifeline when NYC Department of Small Business Services Commissioner Jonnel Doris announced the appointment of Ebie as the inaugural executive director and chief development officer of Black Entrepreneurs NYC (BE NYC).
Ebie’s mission is “advance Black entrepreneurship by increasing the number of Black-owned businesses in New York City and supporting their growth through development, management and fundraising of key BE NYC programs and partnerships.”
On current topic, Ebie’s role will also help Black businesses navigate the impacts of the COVID-19 era.
His focus is to melt away some of those structural barriers, and really create wealth going from a too common consumer-based model to an owner-based reality.
“It is about the work.There is such a tremendous need and we absolutely have to deliver. BE NYC is here to listen, support, deliver, and provide resources…We are listening, we understand, we are here to help, to do everything in our power to deliver support.”
This year 2020 has shown the Black/white economic disparity is increasingly apparent. Ebie said that the reality of structural racism has “resulted in a tremendous blow to wealth in Black economics and physical wealth. We see that playing out in certain industries coming to a halt like hospitality and events where there is a considerable presence of Black businesses.”
Those entrepreneurs are in need of “operating expenses, equitable access to capital, networks to help launch a business and avoid mistakes, and help thrive and to scale.”
The pivot is real. Walk along any high street and amongst the boarded stores and for rent signs, are the shiny hopeful new Black eateries, bars and beauty shops; when asked if many folks are opening new businesses in the last few months, a happy Ebie said, “We are seeing it. That is a lesser told story of this pandemic. Since we got to this country, if nothing else Black people have had to be extremely resourceful to survive and thrive.The culture is such that we are orientated to being able to pivot, to adjust and adapt to where resources are and how best to get there, and how to make a way where there is no way. Our culture has been one of resilience, our ability to survive is contingent in our ability to adapt.”
The founder of the Foundation for Education, Culture and Health, a non-profit that supports education initiatives in underserved communities, Ebie said, “We are all in a tough spot fiscally, including the city. Part of my call is to shepherd, to make a very aggressive assessment of the entire landscape, and to deploy all of the resources we have to all those in need at this time. Black businesses are struggling the most, because we know when America gets a cold, Black folks get pneumonia.”
Ebie’s is a classic, yet new African-in-America story. His parents came from Cameroon and raised their family in Chicago.
After graduating from Harvard and Yale Law School, Ebie has had a 15-year career in public service, starting as the successful campaign manager for Brooklyn’s first Black District Attorney Ken Thompson’s 2013 campaign.
“I stepped out on faith. Ken gave me that shot. So many people came together, but it was his vision, his drive. That man was on fire. He was a tough guy…but he was committed to bending that arc of justice that was so skewed against Black and Brown people in particular. It was transformative, to not shrug your showers in the face of injustice.”
He was then the special counsel at New York City’s Department of Worker and Consumer Protection.
An entrepreneur himself, Ebie knows business. He is the founder and principal of Ebie Strategies LLC, a boutique social impact and public affairs firm that advises corporate, non-profit and individual clients on human capital, social impact and public-private partnerships.
Ebie stresses that being in those positions taught him the importance of resourcefulness and learning quickly while on the job. As a fellow entrepreneur he has lived experience of starting and maintaining his own venture.
“I learned how to adapt to the resources I had in front of me,” Ebie said. “I was able to build a network and find the best ways to collaborate with public-private partnerships. All of these experiences blessed me with the opportunity to work with the Black community.”
Ebie himself spent a year in his parents’ home country on a Fulbright scholarship. “It was such a tremendous experience to go back as a young man, speaking French with a Cameroonian twang.”
Ebie speaks warmly of Chicago, which he calls “a significant point of shining bright light in the story of Black America, from the Great Migration to the tremendous cultural and political developments; Barack and Michelle Obama, Rev. Jesse Jackson and socio-economics development, Emmet Till, Quincy Jones, Fred Hampton.”
Thinking about grassroots activists, Ebie said, “Some of these movements, truths spoken by Black mouths in many ways, for many years have been discounted in many ways…we are now seeing a mainstream acceptance and validation. I wish we had been able to give them flowers while they were here…like Fred Hampton.”
Continuing to join dots of Black activists fighting institutionalized racism and economic impediments, Ebie reflected on original organizers such as the “Panthers in their heyday being maligned by a very aggressive campaign to discredit them for making America live up to their stated values in terms of providing freedom, liberty and justice for everyone.”
A family man on a mission to empower his community, “Blessed, by two for the price of two,” a father of four-year-old twin boys, Solomon, Luke, like many parents, Ebie and his wife Racquel find themselves also juggling coronavirus era schooling.
As a second New York City lockdown looms, “The boys are in kindergarten,” he said. “They were doing remote learning. We were going to do the hybrid, but literally we are figuring out at this moment about how that is going to play itself out.”
As COVID times seem to be here well into the new year, as he starts his new job Ebie tells the Amsterdam News, “It’s been challenging. At the beginning of the year we prayed that 2020 would be a transformative year…before COVID. We thought we were not in any shape or form prepared to be full time school administrators, teachers and playmates within these four walls every day. Circumstances taught us that we were.”
Based in beautiful Brooklyn, far away from their Chicago-based parents, Ebie said that they relied on each other, and a “supportive network of dear friends here in New York.”
Asked if his children understood what was happening, Ebie said, “They know that they can’t have their friends over like before because of the virus, they know what it is. We tell them that we don’t want to get our friends sick or us. We tell them that we can’t be close or touch them like we used to. But, this is for now, and when the virus is over then we will be able go back to holding, hugging and touching our friends like we supposed to when the virus is over.”
The boys are, “seeing, feeling and appreciating it all,” Ebie said pensively. “As a caretaker one of the challenges is being able to tap into and trying to translate certain behavior or things said that indicate levels of anxiety, or fear or concern; and doing our best to get in front of it and to explain, and try to provide some sense of comfort, stability and normalcy in these uncomfortable, unstable and abnormal times.”
That is exactly what his job description at BE NYC seems to be too, the Amsterdam News observed. Black entrepreneurs with businesses facing closure or operating with a level of fear and anxiety are looking for the same reassurance and resources.
“My Commissioner Jonnel Doris has been an absolute champion for small businesses in NYC,” Ebie replied. “With this initiative he has a particular understanding, appreciation and concern for the plight of Black businesses because of the historic and systemic challenges which have been exacerbated by the COVID pandemic.”
“Black and minority-owned businesses are the backbone of NYC’s economy and are the future of this nation’s economic landscape,” said Commissioner Jonnel Doris. “Ensuring that these business owners have a constant support mechanism is my highest priority. Having Ken join our team will not only give NYC’s Black-owned businesses the resources they need, but it will also allow us to think more creatively and uniquely to address their concerns.”
BE NYC was created in September 2019 with the intention to provide more opportunities for both current and aspiring Black business owners. This goal drastically shifted with the coronavirus pandemic, where Black businesses are disproportionately impacted.
As the executive director of BE NYC, Ebie reiterates the importance of maintaining Black businesses during this tumultuous time.
“The history of Black people in the U.S. is one that’s rooted in resilience, resourcefulness and creativity,” Ebie said. “Black-owned businesses are not only vital to the economic success of the Black community, but they are vital to the economic success of this great city.”
NYC’s Small Business Services created grant and loan programs for owners to file during the pandemic. For example, there is a storefront loan which Black businesses can use if they are located in low income and middle-income neighborhoods. This grants up to $100,000 and owners do not have to pay interest back on the loan.
Black business owners also need to employ between 2 and 100 employees and have started their business within the last two years.
Additionally, there is a COVID-19 Community District Grant given to neighborhoods across the five boroughs. This will help community development organizations distribute relief to communities of color who need it.
In the long term, Ebie wants to provide concrete resources to launch and support existing businesses. BE NYC will partner with financial companies to address key challenges. Based on the report BE NYC published in August, they found that business owners lacked access to capital and necessary information needed to start a business.
“We are fortunate to have a partnership with Goldman Sachs 10,000 Businesses, where owners receive consulting services from those who have the experience,” Ebie said.
BE NYC is also developing partnerships with Mastercard to help owners set up virtual storefronts. Ernst and Young will provide webinars and 2,000 hours of one-on-one meetings from experts in entrepreneurship. The Brooklyn Navy Yard will help create meeting spaces and technical skills for these businesses.
Ebie said that he is also working with the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce and the National Urban League “to help us amplify what we are doing…it is our full intention to be in NYC long into the future.”
When asked about the response Ebie gets from Black business owners, he finds that they welcome the solutions needed to get back on track.
“They are looking to city government to be responsive to their needs,” Ebie said. “The challenge for us is the importance of communicating and providing that information.”
“I would like to first congratulate Kenneth Ebie as the inaugural executive director of the BE NYC. When I think of small businesses and specifically Black-owned small businesses, the greatest hurdle for entrepreneurs is access. Access to capital, access to information, access to the movers and shakers who create and influence policy is paramount for the success of any entrepreneur,” said Melba Wilson, owner of Harlem’s Melba’s restaurant and Small Business Sector Advisory Council member. “Oftentimes, that access is limited or not available to Black entrepreneurs. I am optimistic that Kenneth Ebie and the BE NYC will create pathways and open doors for current and future Black small business owners.”
For more information log onto: https://www1.nyc.gov/site/sbs/businesses/black-entrepreneurs-nyc.page