There are many feelings about what is ahead for the African American community in Minnesota during this time of uncertainty. We’re worried about the high rates of infection and death, like what our brothers and sisters have experienced in Chicago and Detroit. We are concerned there will be long-term impacts due to the economic fallout of following a “Stay at Home” orders, even after these orders expire.
We are worried about our children at home and how they will be affected by being out of school for such a long time. There are a lot of unknowns that are creating stress for an already vulnerable community.
Relief efforts have missed our community, as legislation and funds have been created and benefited those that are first in line and ready to apply. Companies like Ruth Chris and the Los Angeles Lakers scooped up (and later gave back) millions of dollars that were needed by our local small and micro-businesses. We lacked the infrastructure and trust in systems to be prepared even to apply before the money dried up.
What’s keeping me and many in our community up at night is: what will be different after the shock is absorbed? We can’t go back to normal; it’s not possible for many reasons. First, we have all been inundated with a new vocabulary, such as “Social Distancing” and “Curbside Commerce” and reacquainted with the idea of hand hygiene and covering our coughs. What will this all mean for the health of our labor force and small business owners? We must begin to focus less on what we aren’t getting and shift to what we can do now to get ahead of the curve of this massive wave of change.
When the fog of Stay at Home orders lifts, we need to be prepared to create a new normal. Our businesses should be planning how they will protect their workers and customers and push to ensure they aren’t held liable in lawsuits because of potential exposure to this invisible force of nature. Businesses should also begin to focus on preparation to weather the next crisis that will require them to shut down or adapt.
As a business owner, how do you prepare? First, take the necessary first steps of outlining how your business operates and what changes need to be made because of new safety requirements that will exist to reopen. Items will be required, such as Personal Protective Equipment: gloves, face masks, disinfectant, etc., for yourself and any staff. You will need to develop cleaning and sanitation processes for front line workers and guest-facing environments. If you are a barber or salon, you need to formalize procedures for taking in clients, so you limit the number of people in your shop at any given time. You may also consider requiring masks of your clients as well, to reduce the possible spreading of germs.
Next, businesses should evaluate how prepared they were going into this crisis and what they will need to change.
- Administrative processes such as your ability to take online/virtual orders of your product and services, get supplies on-demand, or even being registered as a legal entity (LLC, S Corp, C Corp).
- Financial processes such as accounting systems, payroll systems, and relationship with a bank are key.
- Communication and marketing systems so that you can communicate in real-time with your clients and keep them up-to-date on how and when they can engage with your business.
These are all critical steps every business should take to be able to be “first in line” to take advantage of and pivot during a time of crisis.
I do want to be clear though in that all this pain we feel in our community is not solely on us. The systems that we have failed to access during this pandemic is a result of an inequitable structure that continues to benefit those that have (knowledge, structure, resources) and leaves behind those that are continually trying to stay afloat. We do not have a responsive system that assumes the majority of people are truthful and aren’t trying to “game” the system, and so many unnecessary and resource-wasting steps are put into place that prevents many people from accessing needed resources.
What we want to have are systems that are responsive and trusting of the people they want to impact. If philanthropy wants to get resources into our communities, then build a relationship and trust the leaders of that community to receive those resources. We don’t need handlers or surrogates to divvy out minimal resources. Also, we don’t want to be lumped in an aggregate cluster when other communities are receiving funds meant for their specific community.
The government can learn this same lesson: we get it; you are responsible to the taxpayers on how resources are spent. But you can’t set up a one-size-fits-all program with too many hoops and potholes to jump through and in. Have a firm intent on who you want to impact, and work with the community to deliver on that intent.
Ultimately, we want to believe that we have a fighting chance to deal with any crisis that is not of our own doing. We want to be able to “social distance” and “stay home, stay safe” without the compounded stress of whether I’ll have a job, business, home, etc. and how will I access the resources that are available and intended to support us. We want our systems to do what is best for the collective and keep the most “left out” top of mind. We want a system in which our problems are not exacerbated by inequalities and inequities that ultimately take our livelihoods and our lives because of neglect. I believe we can get there and this is that moment that has granted us the clarity to take action.
Marcus Owens is the Executive Director of the African American Leadership Forum (AALF). He is a social entrepreneur, systems shifter and community developer. A native of north Minneapolis, Owens received a bachelor’s degree from Metropolitan State University and an M.B.A. from the University of St. Thomas.