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Helping Black-owned Businesses 15% at a Time

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Talk and hashtags are not the answer in helping Black-owned businesses. After the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, the hashtag #shopBlack began appearing on social media as the country started a discussion about systematic racism. 

But LaToya Williams-Belfort wanted Black businesses to show more tangible results as a result of the #shopBlack movement and developed a program that became much more effective than a hashtag.  Williams-Belfort created the Fifteen Percent Pledge to help support Black-owned businesses. 

The idea of the Fifteen Percent Pledge then evolved into an entire organization created by Aurora James. She called on major retailers and corporations to commit a minimum of 15 percent of their annual spending to Black-owned businesses and support Black people in the workplace.  The message for companies was to evaluate hiring practices or gain more visibility, such as increasing the representation of Black individuals in marketing and ad campaigns, as an example. 

The 15 percent number was built on the fact that Black people make up that percentage of the U.S. population.  

There are two main branches of the Fifteen Percent Pledge: the retailer commitment where companies dedicate shelf space to Black-owned brands and the consumer commitment where consumers buy those products. 

The retailer commitment involves companies signing a contract with the Fifteen Percent Pledge, committing to dedicating 15 percent of their annual spending to Black-owned businesses within a set number of years. Williams-Belfort said that when many corporate partners took the pledge, less than 3 percent of their shelf space was dedicated to Black-owned brands. The Fifteen Percent Pledge was developed to change that percentage over time with companies signing contracts as long as 10-years. 

The consumer commitment involves shoppers “using their economic power to make conscious and intentional decisions to support Black businesses owners,” Williams-Belfort told NBC News. When it comes to systemic racism, people often want to be part of the societal change but are overwhelmed by how daunting the challenges before them are, she added. The Fifteen Percent Pledge’s consumer commitment is an entry point for people to make personal changes in their lives that contribute to the more significant movement.

“Black products are not just for Black people. Black products are for everyone,” Williams-Belfort added. “It’s really important to be intentional about spending money with big retailers that are implementing strategies to be as diverse and inclusive as possible.”

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