Mississippi: Local Groups offer Financial Aid To Black Businesses Shunned by Federal Stimulus

Higher Purpose Co. staff members pose for a photo. Credit: Higher Purpose Co.
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Higher Purpose Co staff poses for a picture. Credit: Higher Purpose Co

 

Over the past decade, Hattiesburg native Marcus “DJ Kujho” Carr has been djing in venues across the country, whether in clubs, at weddings, bar mitzvahs, and quinceaneras. 

The career path was launched when one of his close friends asked him to emcee at a club. He suddenly found his passion for djing.

“I started talking on the mic and the club owner came and gave me money. I was like, ‘Oh, I can get paid for this,’" he recalled. "...from there I pretty much learned how to mix and blend.” 

Operating under Sounds By Kuhjo LLC., Carr's primary job consists of djing, but he also provides wedding consultations and multimedia services, creating multiple streams of income. But, once the coronavirus pandemic hit, Carr found himself with nearly 30 cancelled events costing him thousands of dollars in lost revenue. Even though his multimedia business kept him above water, he has been scraping to make ends meet.

Carr is one of thousands of  small business owners of color in the nation impacted financially by COVID-19. Federal, state, and local governments provided financial resources. But, as Congress doles out about $660 billion under the Paycheck Protection Program, loans given to small businesses to assist with payroll and other expenses, Black businesses have struggled to get the relief

To address the needs of businesses left out by the federal programs here, a Black-led, Mississippi Delta-based nonprofit secured $400,000 in May to give grants to entrepreneurs in the state.

Rural Black Mississippians are often left out of the many initiatives created by the federal government. With the stipulations that come with the PPP and stimulus funds, it felt no different, nonprofit leaders said. So, to ensure they were able to receive funds, Higher Purpose Co, an economic justice nonprofit based in Clarksdale, reached out to their funders. 

The organization received over 2,500 applicants for their Black Business Relief Intiative and Fund. Businesses must be Mississippi-based, be self-employed or have 20 employees or less. Businesses without physical locations are awarded $2,500 and $5,000 for businesses with physical locations.

“We really felt like on a federal level, the money may not fall into the hands of African Americans in a way that we felt it should have,” Leonette Henderson, director of development and partnerships said. “We’re going to focus on the people not thought of or not given that equal playing field.”

Carr was one of the “overlooked” businesses who received aid from Higher Purpose Co, to pay for advertising, credit card bills, and marketing supplies. After hearing “horror stories” of his DJ friends who applied for the PPP and were shut out, he decided not to apply, he said.

Jackson native Arthur Jones III, owner of FIIT Academy, a Black-owned tennis training center in the area, also received grant funds from Higher Purpose Co. As the confirmed cases of COVID-19 increased and stay-in-place orders were in effect here, Jones cancelled tennis clinics, camps, tournaments, and matches, costing the company over $100,000. 

“The United States Tennis Association cancelled the entire fall league,” Jones said. “What Higher Purpose did for us in providing us with a grant, it gave us some breathing room to rebuild without it hurting the profits that we were making when we got to open (back) up.”

Recently, the Mississippi Legislature launched its Back to Business Mississippi grant program, specifically for small businesses with 50 or less employees to apply for grants up to $25,000. These funds can be used for coronavirus pandemic related expenses including operating expenses and salaries. Last month, the state gave out almost 11,000 checks totaling nearly $22 million for coronavirus relief to small businesses as a part of the CARES Act funding the state receives.

Efforts made by organizations like Higher Purpose Co, specifically target business owners of color, as the state ironed out details for their own plan.

“With what’s going on as it pertains to getting capital to Black entrepreneurs in the state of Mississippi, fighting against economic inequality is one of the core principles Higher Purpose Co was founded on,” Ryne Gipson, co-founder said. “It was the only right for us to be the first or one of the first to do something for Black people in the state ‘cause we all know when it comes to government aid, we’re either strategically left out or it’s some type of loophole from getting the funds."

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