When Black Leaders Detroit launched back in October of last year, we were interested in being a funding vehicle for black-led for-profit and nonprofit organizations in Detroit. Since then, we have grown so much — despite the pandemic — that I have reduced my hours at my other job so I have a lot more time to build out the organization and give it energy and focus.
Before the pandemic, we would give for-profit or nonprofit groups access to capital. We would give for-profits an opportunity to apply for a no-interest loan, and nonprofits were able to apply for grants.
When we saw what the devastation of the pandemic was causing among the small business community and the business community in general, we decided to pivot.
We launched what we call the Restore the Village Fund, and we strive to award small micro-grants to some for-profit businesses on a weekly basis. We originally started granting awards of $700, and have since increased to $1000, which we have awarded to 18 different organizations, three nonprofits, and 15 for-profits.
We started doing this because we had a sense of what this community was experiencing and saw their need. We figured that some of these businesses might look to apply for loans in the future, but would need the support to serve as an emergency fund until they apply for some of the other bigger grants that are out there. Some of them might not have even survived unless they had support.
Because everything happened so fast, some organizations didn’t know if they were going to shut down in March. We want to make sure that these businesses are still around, so we started to supply other funding. That’s the main reason that we pivoted — we saw how everybody’s wondering what to do, and what can be done. We said, “Let’s do exactly what we can do and what we have to do right now.”
The need was great. Everybody was impacted, even some of the more stable businesses that were doing really well. If they were client-based, they were hit really hard, especially before any funding became available. It was devastating, and nobody knew when things would open back up, or if funding was going to become available or not.
The need was much bigger than our reach could accommodate, but we did what we could. We were inspired by the business owners and their resilience. That was encouraging, and it definitely helped us to realize that we would make it through this. We don't know what it's gonna look like on the other side, but we definitely have some very resilient entrepreneurs in this city.
As much as the pandemic has challenged us as a whole, for us at Black Leaders Detroit, it’s really helped us see the impact that you can have on an organization by giving a grant of several hundred dollars or a thousand dollars.
The financial support was one thing, but for some of the business owners, seeing that there was a grant for them that they wouldn't be denied for based on systemic issues or because of their race — that really gave a sense of hope.
Dwan Dandridge is the Executive Director of Black Leaders Detroit. Stay tuned for his next entry in our Nonprofit Journal Project, an initiative inviting nonprofit leaders across Metro Detroit to contribute their thoughts via journal entries on how COVID-19 is impacting the nonprofit sector--and how they are innovating. This series is made possible with the generous support of our partners, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Co.ACT.