Melyssa Barrett: Welcome to the Jali Podcast. I’m your host, Melyssa Barrett. This podcast is for those who are interested in the conversation around equity, diversity, and inclusion. Each week I’ll be interviewing a guest who has something special to share or is actively part of building solutions in the space. Let’s get started. Ron Busby Jr. is one of the founders of ByBlack. He leads the product team’s efforts around new features and external partnerships. Ron comes to the US Black Chamber and ByBlack with rich product management and sales experience. Having worked at organizations like Google, Visa and the White House. Currently based in California, his primary role is as a liaison between the engineering and design team, various business owners and ByBlack’s growing list of corporate partners. Ron is an avid rock climber, car restoration geek and record holder on the Columbia University track team.
All right, so I get excited every week because I am talking to people that I am so excited to talk to and I just love celebrating people who are doing the work. So I appreciate you for coming on and talking to me not only about yourself, but about some of the things that you’re doing, which are just fantastic. So I was excited to meet you in Stockton, California and shout out to Ron Busby Sr. who couldn’t make it that day because he was meeting with President Biden, if I recall. But we had the pleasure of hearing from Ron Busby Jr. And so I was just so glad to hear about some of the things that you’re doing. Thank you for being here and joining me on the Jolly Podcast.
Ron Busby: No, I appreciate it and I know that for us, we were super excited about coordinating this and just making this happen. So the fact that we’re here, and I think that I don’t take any of that lightly and I really appreciate the platform and I know the work that you do to just sort of bring stories and bring narratives that people should hear and may not always get an opportunity to. So I appreciate the platform.
Melyssa Barrett: Thank you so much. So I always usually start out with the person because I think the people that I meet, the perspectives that they bring to the table are so enlightening, especially for people who may not understand our perspective. And so I generally start out, so maybe you could talk to us a little bit about who you are, how you got to be here and become the man that you are today.
Ron Busby: Yeah, so I’m Ron Busby Jr. And I’ve really sort of had a pretty specifics that have passed that I think helped me get here. I grew up thinking about black owned business because it is a part of the DNA of my own family and life. My father ran a business, my mother ran a business, my grandmother, my grandfather, all of them had, whether it was construction business or hair salon, entrepreneurship was a part of the fundamental DNA of what I grew up with. And so it was more weird for me to know people who didn’t necessarily know someone who owned a business than not. Someone had a hustle, someone was doing something on the side. And so for me that was really cool to kind of see that. But I think as well, I learned really early that they were different types of people that were buying different types of things.
So my father who had a janitorial company, you couldn’t necessarily go and he doesn’t clean houses, you know what I mean? So he was cleaning stadiums, he was cleaning office buildings, he was cleaning warehouses. And my mother, she was working with consumers, she was working with everyday people who wanted to feel better, feel beautiful, et cetera. And so she was ultimately selling her services to individual consumers. So I really appreciate that. At the end of the day, the idea of commerce, the idea of economic interactions is never just one singular style and that people are at the center of all of that every time, even if it’s coming from a corporation or it’s coming from a local government. It was a really interesting way of just growing up and realizing that you can be in the business of serving people outside of just one type of style of work.
I ended up going to college in New York City at Columbia University, and I ran track there and had a great time. I was in corporate America for a little while. I was in the payment space, so more in the FinTech world and was headed to law school. But me and some friends were working on this specific initiative as volunteers to really help with the US Black Chambers who was really trying to figure out a way to develop out just a way to better find black owned businesses. And so we were working on something on our own that was really specific around how do we help find black owned businesses and ultimately said, hey, how do we do this together at a collective level to be able to think through a more comprehensive way of serving this? Because there has to be a more strategic way of finding black-owned businesses in the spirit of the same thing of how do we put the janitorial firms and the hair salons, the bakeries and the banks in one place because people are looking for all kinds of black-owned businesses. It’s never just one type.
And I think that’s been a really enriching experience to just kind of go from working completely outside the space where I’m working with small business owners and thinking about how they’re actually taking and receiving payments to thinking about how black business owners are really the backbone of our economies and really just not always appreciated or given the tools they need to be served appropriately.
Melyssa Barrett: Yeah, that’s phenomenal. And I think it became more clear as the momentum build around diversity, equity, and inclusion for supplier diversity. And I remember we worked for the same company for a minute, and I would always be looking for black owned businesses, but they didn’t know where to look for them, especially in that technology space, which was very niche. So tell me a little bit about how ByBlack was born and you spell it B-Y black as opposed to B-U-Y black. So maybe you can enlighten us a little bit.
Ron Busby: Yes. People often think it’s a spelling error and I would completely not be mad at them for that. For us, we really think about it and we spell it B-Y-B-L-A-C-K ByBlack because we talk about this world where things are built by black businesses, they’re built and powered by black chambers of commerce. They’re powered and brought to us by black thought and black leadership. All of the tools you see are built by black engineers. All the ad and creative you see is created by black marketers. All the contracts that we work on are brought to us by black legal folks. And for us, we really want to demonstrate that vertical supply chains of black businesses are real. They are possible. They’re not necessarily the easiest thing to do, but they are available. And that actually, it’s important for us to see this as both an invitation and a challenge.
And I don’t think that it’s really about consumption. I think we talk so much about buying, and I think we really need to think about what does it mean to empower people and consumers and business owners. I want you to feel like wherever you sit in whatever position of power you sit, whether you are just a local voter or you sit in corporate America or you have an extra dollar, how do you feel like you can interact with black businesses? So if you are in the C-suite or you are in the procurement space or whatever, you can say, you know what? How do we actually make sure that we are buying black here, but how do we actually build things by black folks macro? And for us, we hope that actually really is the real takeaway, that it’s not about consumptions, it’s about coalition building.
And for us, in terms of the story, for us, we just really thought there is no single place for you to go to find black owned businesses that has the longevity and the staying power of keeping up with the dynamics of the way the business and the economy changes. There is so often a moment when something happens and it continues to come up where we all have this political zeitgeist where people are looking at the TV and they’re watching in horror, something is happening. And the question is, how do we now reactively go and talk about black business? And for us, we said, you have someone like the US Black Chambers who’s got years of experience advocating for black business at a national level, at a local level. You have local chambers that are also thinking about that in a really strategic way and have their own communities of black business owners. How do we tap into that and have a really authentic conversations about community and capital building?
And for us, this felt like an authentic way to go out doing that is let’s center around the communities that already are serving these people and let’s build the tools, as we said by black folks that really hopefully gets people to feel a little bit better about the things they’re doing and the ways they’re doing, and they know that people are obsessed with trying to solve a problem that shouldn’t be this hard. If I can say one thing, as I said, I was thinking about going to law school, I was thinking about picking a completely different path, and the big thing that I really realized is I want to solve problems that shouldn’t exist. And it shouldn’t be this hard to find or support black owned businesses. Black owned businesses shouldn’t have the difficulties getting the contracts or the resources or the business and development engagement that they have.
And it is sad to say that it’s not happenstance. These things are intentional. And so the only way to actually combat intentional displacement of black communities is by having intentional tools that combat the trend and the circumstance. And so I think when we realized that black businesses deserve beautiful things, they deserve stable things, they deserve things that actually work in their favor and without a cost, without trying to put a barrier to entry as price being the thing, hopefully that’s what we could to do is what would you build if you didn’t have to worry about everyone else giving you feedback on it?
Melyssa Barrett: Yeah. Oh, well said. Well said. I think one of the questions I was thinking about was why is it so hard for black businesses to find support for black business? And I know even in my own community, we are trying to be very intentional about who are the black owned businesses that exist within our sphere? And so I love the fact, and I think I know you haven’t said it, but you all have the largest black owned business directory in probably the world, but I’ll definitely say the United States.
Ron Busby: Yeah, yeah. There are probably a lot of black owned businesses in Africa. So I’ll give of that if they can-
Melyssa Barrett: Yes, that’s what I’m saying. I don’t know what they got going on over on the continent, but I know you definitely have it over here in the United States. So I think you’re absolutely right in terms of it is hard and I love what you all have done. So can you talk a little bit about what ByBlack has done to really make it easier for people?
Ron Busby: Yeah, so I think we can talk about it a number of different ways, and that’s just really cool is saying that I think a lot of times there’s this seasonality to black owned business. We talk about, hey, it’s February, Black History Month, it’s time to talk about black business. You weren’t thinking about it at all in January or in March, but in February you start talking about it. Juneteenth comes up and now it’s a national holiday or black business month is in August. So we pick these moments to think about it. But I think what’s really been, so I’ve been really grateful for in this work is to be able to talk about this in October, in September, to be able to be obsessed with an issue when the lights are on or off. And to do that work and to be diligent in the craft of activating and executing has been the biggest blessing in this work is actually it’s not get caught up in the timelines of, oh, it’s time to start working on these work and this stuff.
But to your question of what we’ve been doing and what we’ve been doing, the big thing is we created a directory. So your reference was we have about 30,000 black owned businesses, which it’s really cool to say that, but one in every 100 black owned businesses is on ByBlack. And we take a lot of pride in that. And obviously the reason why I get a chance and I show up to these kinds of spaces where there are such big platforms is I want to get from one in 100, to one in 99, and one in 99 to one in 95, and one in 20, et cetera. Because for us, it’s really important that we actually able to say that we go and we have conversations about coalition building, we have to have that numerical basis. So to have 30,000 businesses is just great. And it’s really cool because there is truly a smattering of business.
We’ve got folks that make mannequins for stores. So when Zara calls me and asks, when Macy’s calls me and asks, I’m looking for mannequins, I can answer that question. But we also, we’ve got bakeries, we’ve got banks, we’ve got construction companies and we got caterers. It truly is that sort of kaleidoscopic view of black business. We talk about the diverse universe of black business. So trying not to make it exclusive to, hey, we only want businesses with five years plus experience. They have to have $600,000 in annualized revenue. No, if you’re in business and you’ve been in business for a year and you have customers and you want to ultimately engage with new kinds of customers, we are genuinely here to try to do that. So they have a directory, tens of thousands of businesses. We’re really proud of that and we really need help to grow that. It’s really important that we don’t take any of that as a static place. It’s always about continuing to build out that. And we would love for more help in that regard.
We also have a certification, and so certifications are really important if you are interested in doing work with governments or corporations. And so what I say that, I mean that a lot of corporations need to be able to count the spend that they put towards diverse enterprises and some of their initiatives. The corporate America made a 50 billion commitment to racial equity in 2020. The only way they’re really going to be able to hit that is by actually saying that we’re going to use our procurement dollars, which are the money they spent on things that could be staplers, that could be on marketing dollars, that could be on transportation, it could be on packaging, anything, leather goods, et cetera. How do they already buy and how do they actually build diverse businesses into that supply chain? So they say, hey, I actually want to be able to count this so I can tell my shareholders and my employees that we’re doing this. So they need to certify. They can’t just say, you say you’re black owned, so that’s enough.
So we actually do the work of certifying and we can talk more about what that actually means and how we do that. But we do that. And then we also have a ton of programming. So we work with US Black Chambers to create programming that’s really authentic to what black owned businesses are needing and having issues with. So during the pandemic, it’s PDP loans, whether it’s about how do we access credit and build relationships, we work with some of the largest corporations on earth to be able to help them engage and reach more businesses. So when we’re doing trainings with the folks at Google or Facebook, they really say, hey, we want to have conversations about how do we help black owned businesses understand how to market on our platforms better? How do we have conversations about how they are safer online? All of those things are things that we try to help build an apparatus of education for black owned business.
And the last thing I’ll say is we actually have a huge grant list of millions of dollars that we keep up with. So we were hearing from black owned businesses that, hey, we want to know about some money that’s out there. And we get inundated with information from across the country where people are saying, hey, I’ve got a grant for $10,000 in these three states for businesses and these max codes or these categories of business. And before we just sent out an email and be like, hey, apply for this thing. And it was so one-off, it was so ad hoc. And so we actually put together an entire list of hundreds of grants based on your category of business, based on the state that you live in and based on what you might be looking for.
And we now offer that to business owners so they can actually go about applying and reaching, I think at any given time, there’s about $10 million worth of grants sitting in these lists that we’re sort of hosting. And for us, that’s a really important way of saying we want business owners to be better off because they know who we are and we want business owners to feel like we are dedicated to serving them based on the needs they have. So that’s what I’d say is we got some different components. Obviously I’d love to talk more about the certification, but just really trying to get a sense of what we touch on at this point in time.
Melyssa Barrett: Yeah, no, I mean there’s so many benefits. I think when you start talking about training and education, and I think I want to say you guys are working with the Black Chambers and financial institutions and all of those things that you just mentioned, which are awesome. But you’re also providing access to credit, capital, I should say. I have credit on my mind, but I know you all do so many things and there are so many benefits to the businesses that sign up. And so I would love for you to talk a little bit about the certification because I know at one point there were a lot of people, random people out there that would say they’re a black owned business, but really they weren’t. And so you all have a whole process around that in order to make sure that the business is getting that certification.
Ron Busby: Yeah. I mean, I’ll give some examples. And this is not to beat up on any company because we recognize this is actually hard, and I’ll say that we work with some of these companies actually to rethink the way that they actually go about identifying businesses black owned. But Amazon had a program where they allowed businesses to identify as black-owned to be able to get certain opportunities or to reach out and tell customers about that. There’s a report of the QAN of black enterprise that so many of the businesses that were identifying as small businesses had thousands of employees that so many businesses that were saying they were black owned actually had no black people even in a 50 mile radius of the office building. And so you realize that a lot of these companies they have good intention, but the execution is always going to be something that they don’t have the capacity always to think through the nuances of.
What happened with Uber, they had a program where for Uber Eats, they were offering black-owned restaurants, zero fees in terms of being able to get delivery to their restaurants, et cetera. And you saw so many businesses that were Italian and Mexican and Asian restaurants and you’re like, there’s no black people that work here. There are no black people that own this business. But because you’re not able to do the actual vetting, you ultimately create just the ability for anything to be taken advantage of. And we often call it like there’s a digital blackface. People know that there is a currency to being black owned. And so they take advantage of that where it’s possible and they will exploit that where possible. And it’s really important that we do the work to both vet but also ensure that certain information and certain statements don’t just go unchecked. And for us, the way that we go about certifying businesses is we really try to take a collage perspective.
So we asked for three tent pole pieces of information and we could talk about any of them in any depth, but we talk about the idea of proof of identity, proof of control and proof of ownership and operation. And so when I say identity, that could be that we’re asking for you to provide some identity documents about you and yourself as a black person, because previously in order to get certified, you could be identified as a minority. And so when I say minority, that means that you could be a woman, Latino, Asian, queer, disabled, veteran. Minority is a really big bucket. And so being black really didn’t have very much cache or clarification. And in order to be identified as a minority within that black bucket, you’d have to go provide the birth certificate or the marriage certificate or a death certificate of a grandparent that said negro or colored on it.
And so you’d say, okay, that grandparent died 40 years ago, 50 years ago. I’ve got to go reach out to wherever they might’ve died to go pull up some information, whatever trauma that might induce to be able to go show somebody else that I’m black. But if I was a woman, I would not have that same requirement. If I was queer, you would not have that same requirement. If you were Latino, you don’t have the same requirement. And so you realize there can be some deeply prejudicial circumstances that make it harder for black businesses to get access the same resources that allow companies to write the check and say, hey, look, I am counting the spend towards black owned businesses. There are these innate and inherent barriers that have existed that we said, okay, what does it mean for us to provide solutions and access for black owned businesses? And so we said, okay, you have a relationship with the Panhellenic organization? Did you graduate from an HBCU? Do you have any referrals? Do you have any other examples that we can use to create a more of a collage of your identity?
We take a photo ID of you and then we match that up with your articles of incorporation that you provided from your Secretary of State’s office. We’re going to try to do whatever we can to remove the redundancy of certain documentation, and then we actually have an interview with you. And so we ask you to talk about your identity as a black person and your relationship to blackness because it is unique. For someone who is from the continent of Africa and is firstborn Nigerian American, their relationship to blackness is not necessarily going to be one of a relationship to… They’re going to have a relationship to colonialism. Their conversation around slavery is going to be different than yours or mine. Being able to actually say, look, let’s actually have a nuanced relationship to blackness and who is a part of this community in a way that is hopefully thoughtful, but that’s that sort of identity piece.
On the control piece, we really don’t understand, do you actually have control of this business? When we look at your tax returns, we ask for those because we’re not just nosy. We are not nosy, but we asked for that because we really want to confirm that you’re actually getting a check from this business, that it’s not just a pass through, that this business actually you are actually collecting revenue and you’re collecting a paycheck from this organization and that you actually have a relationship that is legally structured appropriately. And then the operation, we really understand that you understand how your business works. If you are a construction company and you have never picked up a hammer, I’m going to ask some real questions about whether or not you can own, operate, or run this business. So do you have the expertise to be in the business you’re in for us to be able to vet across those three elements?
So we asked for a few things, but the real point is that we then use that to then help people get access to relationships and contracts with so many different companies across the country. We’ve got some great examples from people’s relationships that we’ve been able to connect and develop between MGM, the hotel brand or with American Express or with the PGA, with Facebook, there are so many different examples of where hey, getting certified, it’s been able to unlock doors and relationships for folks at the Macy’s and the Nordstroms of the world that they take these certifications and they use them as passports into other discussions. And when I think about passport, a passport is not a ticket to a different country. You still got to get on the plane, you’s got to pack your bags, you still got to have an itinerary. That is the business of doing business. You are still going to have to do all that stuff.
But in order to get into a country, sometimes you’re going to need a visa. Sometimes you’re going to need a passport to actually get it stamped to get through. And this is really about being able to hopefully provide business owners entryway into the opportunities and that foot into doors and into rooms that otherwise might’ve been shut out to them. And we really want to think about how do we democratize access for folks and for business owners.
Melyssa Barrett: I love that. That is awesome. You’ve talked a lot about small business and the Black Chamber, but I know there’s also a channel for if I’m a consumer looking for a black owned business or you have an avenue for people to go to for that as well.
Ron Busby: Yeah. So we actually have a directory. It is completely available to folks. You can search for black owned businesses today at B-Y-B-L-A-C-K.U-S, so Byblack.us, but you can find all of our businesses there. And what’s really great is you’ll be able to find and filter based on different categories or different things you’re looking for based on your direct location or a location you’re looking to go to, et cetera. We have even guides, we have these called city guides where based on whether you’re in Oakland or DC or you’re in Las Vegas or Atlanta, we have different guides based on what cities and black chambers have helped us develop, which will have a holistic view of here’s the black history of a city and a location.
Here are some events that happen every year that you got to check out. Here are some of our favorite black owned businesses in the city that you check out, whether it’s in recreation or restaurants or retail. So we kind of give you a couple reasons why you should check out those businesses as well. But the real point is trying to help people understand that there’s this idea of both finding and discovering black owned businesses. When you’re trying to find a black owned business, hey, I’m looking for a shoe store, I’m looking for a tailor that’s a very direct one-to-one thing. You’re not looking to be surprised exactly what you’re looking for. When you want to discover something, you’re like, hey, I’m looking for a great date spot while I’m in Philadelphia.
The hope is that this actually gives you an opportunity like, hey, look, I’m going to go look what Ron and the team and ByBlack team have kind of put together for great places for what is a really cool part of Philadelphia. And what you might learn is that the oldest black church outside of the south is right there in Philadelphia and it’s still in operation. And you’ll be like, oh, wow, that’s an amazing thing of something that’s built by three black folks. You’ll know about that one by reading this, but also by being able to see what we recommend for a city when you’re there. So it’s just some cool things that we do in terms of everyday consumers finding and discovering black owned businesses.
Melyssa Barrett: And I thought that was so awesome though, because you guys also have a guidebook for Greenwood District in Tulsa, which is awesome.
Ron Busby: Yes, we do. We do. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think what’s really cool is, and we get a chance to work with experts in those communities. So it’s really about just trying to help people understand at a high level, here are some great things that you can do in a place. And maybe if you had already lived there, hopefully it feels authentic to the way a place and maybe you might be like, oh, this is a really cool thing that I should check out. But also as well, we really take pride in that this is a communal exercise. You can actually refer businesses on ByBlack. You can actually tell us about a black owned business that you know of.
If you’re a black and business, you can obviously add yourself directly to ByBlack and create an account and get certified, et cetera. But if you are someone who’s like, I know black owned business and I want them to be on here and I want someone to reach out to them, et cetera, you can actually do that and we will do the work on our end to actually start to add them and pull them into some of the resourcing that we’re already doing. So we ask and invite folks to also check a business out, look it up, you don’t see it, let us know. Let’s get them as a part of the movement.
Melyssa Barrett: I love it. And what’s interesting to me is I mean your solution, not only we talked about small business and the partners and we talked about how consumers can interact, but you even have nonprofits and I mean you’re so broad in terms of what you’re bringing in. If there’s a black owned nonprofit, the engineers that are in the database, there’s just so much rich information in here that when people are thinking about who they want to connect with, that there’s this opportunity for matchmaking. And I think you guys are doing some of that corporate matchmaking as well. And you name some of the partners I think as you look at, whether it’s Microsoft and Anheuser-Busch and MGM you mentioned and Meta and all of those. But it’s amazing to me to see how you are also being able to connect black chambers with these national corporations that really want, they say, to interact with black business, but essentially you are allowing them no excuses.
Ron Busby: Yes. That’s the big thing that we talk a lot about is we want to remove excuses from both sides of that funnel. So we really want to be able to say that for black owned businesses, you don’t have an excuse because this is at no cost. I work every day and there is no such thing as a paywall on ByBlack for the resources that we believe you should be able to access when it comes to like, hey, if you want to know about some of the different programming we do, it is at no cost. If you want to join and get a profile at a page on ByBlack as a business owner, it’s no cost. You want to get certified, which is something that is not a thing that exists.
You cannot in any other world, any other place outside of some state and local certifications, you cannot get certified as a black owned business or minority owned business at no cost anywhere else. We said, how do we say for black owned business, you have no excuse, so let’s offer these things at no cost. And then for corporations, we say, you don’t have an excuse because we’ve got tens of thousands of business owners across so many different types of category that that’s also been a really gratifying part of the discussion.
And so I think for us, we really want to sit at the center of that and say, as much as I’m going to go after the biggest corporations on earth and say, hey, look, we really need you to put this logo on your website, put this on your supplier website, et cetera, accept the certification, I got to also have conversations with the business owners and say, “Hey, look, we know this is new. We know that there are going to be some kinks. We know that we need you to grow with us in this process, but this is something for you and it’s something for that costs you nothing but a little bit of the time that we need to know about who you are to then try to serve you in other places and in rooms you may not even know about.” So that’s really important to us.
Melyssa Barrett: Well, and we should probably mention, because I would think after having this conversation with you that if I were to sign up that I probably would have some sort of fee that I have to pay. So I think it’s important for you to talk about what the model is so that people understand.
Yeah. The model is that we work with corporations. And so at this point in time, we say to corporations, you say you believe in supporting black owned businesses and you want to be able to find black owned businesses to hit your goals around supplier diversity, et cetera. Put your money where your mouth is and let’s write a check and make that happen. And that allows us to keep the doors open for black owned businesses to come in and do the work of joining the directory, getting certified, and then getting access to those resources. We deeply need black owned businesses to become members of their local chambers of the national chamber. That stuff will never not be relevant because those community organizations are so literate on the issues of community building and relationship building. And that business though it can be very virtual, is steeply personal.
And so you still need to have someone who can help you connect to a banker or someone who can help you help connect to the right professional and build the dynamics around what it means to grow in your business. But what we do is try to find a digital footprint of black owned businesses, put them into rooms would’ve never been in. I will say this, I was meeting with one of the largest sports leagues in the country this week, and there are only a few, so you can kind of pick. And they were saying, hey, look, we are trying to find companies that can just do the carpeting for our biggest events. We got millions of dollars we spend on carpeting every year for our big temple events. Do you know any black and businesses?
If you are not in our directory, I can’t then put you into a conversation with these folks who have a checkbook open and are willing to actually spend a little bit more premium with black owned businesses. It’s that kind of stuff that we really sort of need to be able to have a conversation around is we are not here to charge you. We’re here to put money in your pockets where we can, but also that we’re not going to make a promise that we can… For us, it’s about saying, hey, look, we are going to do where we can to serve you. And you never have to feel as though I’m nicking and dimming you on the fundamentals of trying to ultimately be an apparatus for that connection.
Melyssa Barrett: Yeah, that’s great. And really, there’s no excuse if you’re a black-owned business not to be on this platform because it’s awesome.
Ron Busby: And I’ll say this as well, if there’s an excuse, we want to hear it so we can actually remove it. And I think for us, we really think about this as a two-way street that we are always learning from the people in our communities. They’re telling us, hey, maybe there’s a bug. This is why I can’t get out to ByBlack. Maybe the language is not clear enough, maybe it’s not fast enough to get through it. Whatever that is, we want to meet black-owned businesses where they are, but for us, the excuses we want to remove as much as possible because it just is really important that we take advantage of the energy and the momentum around this work.
Melyssa Barrett: And I know you’re not speaking on behalf of the Black Chambers, but I know you have lots of experience in working with them. So maybe you can just talk a little bit about why it’s so important to be involved with a black chamber and maybe a little bit about what they do.
Ron Busby: Of course. And so I’ll say, yes, I am more biased than most in my advocacy for Black Chambers. I grew up going to Black Chamber events. My father is the president of the United States Black Chamber. So if that wasn’t clear, apologies for bearing a lead, but in terms of what it means to be a part of a black chamber, I think a lot of times in entrepreneurship that I’ve seen from the place that I sit is that there’s a sense of loneliness that can sometimes be the case, whether it’s because you are the person who’s got to make payroll, you’re the person who’s got to figure out how to ultimately keep the lights on, et cetera, and it doesn’t have to be lonely. And the idea of this one man, one woman, genius entrepreneur, making it through is both a myth and also dangerous.
And I think it’s really important for people to realize that, whether it’s you’re trying to start a podcast and know that there are people like Melyssa who have started successful podcasts, and you can actually go and talk to them about how that works and how to build a following in a relationship. But the reality is, rarely have we walked this path the first time. There is someone who’s ultimately stepped a mile in your shoes, and you might go further than them, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have a path that you can follow to get somewhere. And for us, I really think that ByBlack is about providing that digital footprint.
There is a real physical footprint that expands, that extends that work as well, and that brings the events and the kind of dynamics of black business home in a really personal way. And for us, we think that’s just a really good part of this, is that there is value in knowing who’s in the know. And that’s what we think that a chamber can provide, that ByBlack won’t ever really be able to be. It’ll always be a very cool, slick website, and it will always have a digital footprint that probably provides a lot of different resources, but those resources will always come through and be better for the relationships they have with Black Chambers.
Melyssa Barrett: I love it. I love it. It reminds me of my favorite African proverb, which is, if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. So it is absolutely an opportunity to make connections.
Ron Busby: And if I can say one of the things, there are 160 black chambers in the US across the 50 states from Utah to DC. You got black folks in a lot of places. And knowing from Madison, Wisconsin that there are black businesses and black chambers, and there are folks that are in your community that are obsessed with trying to help close this and that, that is a really important part of this is that it can also be a lot closer than you think. And hopefully that also removes this idea that, oh, I got to be in a big city like LA or New York. No, that there are folks in Buffalo, New York as well that are thinking about these issues, but hopefully really just removes the stigma of needing help that sometimes people feel.
Melyssa Barrett: Yeah. And so you’re covering obviously the entire United States with this directory, but I can imagine that trying to find businesses and sign them up in places that are, I’ll say not downtown metropolitan places could be challenging in terms of just seeking out those black-owned businesses.
Ron Busby: I mean, I think for us, we think what’s really cool is that the world is only getting more digital and that the lines that are blurring are getting fuzzier. And so what we really try to do is also think about this idea of areas of service. So if you are a therapist, you might have a physical location that you do all of your therapy sessions out if you’re in a service-based business like that. But you also could have clients that live on either side of the country in the middle of the country, in the lower 48, whatever that might be. And the idea of your area of service, it’s actually national. And so the real question is not if you can serve, but when you can serve. And so let’s understand what your hours of operation in that regard are. There are businesses that ship to only these five states, or maybe you’re a bakery and you can deliver in these four cities.
Let’s actually be able to have a conversation about the fact that black businesses, and we talked about the diverse universe, it’s dynamic that there isn’t just one box that I can check and be like, I’m a black business and I have a brick and mortar, and if you don’t have those things, I don’t want to talk to you. That’s not how money is made, that’s not how people are serving. The pandemic has taught us a lot about that as well. So we want to be as flexible as the businesses that we try to serve, and that requires us to have a more comprehensive view of what it means to ultimately participate in the economy. For us, I’ll say we have that element of a certification, which is going to check tax returns, it’s going to check certain documentation, but you don’t have to get certified to be on ByBlack.
There are thousands of businesses that are not on ByBlack because they’re not majority black owned. They might be 50/50 black owned between a spouse or something like that. Or they might be not owned business for a year yet, they might’ve just opened and so they just are getting their foot in the door. And so they may not necessarily have all the documents ready, and I’m not here peek into their stuff until they got that together and they could still be on the directory. And so we have thousands of businesses that are owned by black that are across the country, truly, and I think it reflects as well. Yeah, I mean, if you’re in rural Montana, there aren’t that many people, let alone black people. And so we have to also accept that maybe that’s going to mean the case that we may have a black business there, but that doesn’t mean that black businesses don’t ship or serve there. And so we have to be able to think about a comprehensive view of what it means to get your product or service to the end consumer.
Melyssa Barrett: Oh, that’s fabulous. Fabulous. So now when, and I’ll try to make this question probably our last one because I know we’ve been going, but what’s interesting to me is, and I do work in the digital infrastructure space. And we all know that the infrastructure bill has been passed, and there’s money that is beginning to flow to make sure that cities and states have the ability to invest in their own infrastructure. And what I have felt is so exciting to me about ByBlack is I heard you speak about the creation of Black Wall Street, but we need tools like this in order for that next phase when we start talking about municipalities that are shifting over to digital infrastructure, laying the lines and making sure that the other side of the track actually has internet.
And I mean, there’s so many different opportunities that are coming up and will be coming up over the next many years to actually allow black businesses to thrive more than they are today. And so I just think it’s so awesome when you started talking about Black Wall Street, while a lot of people think of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, you were really talking about it on a much broader scale. So can you talk a little bit about that?
Ron Busby: Yeah. I think what’s really important to remember is that there were so many Black Wall Street that the idea that we exceptionalize these things is unfair. One, there were many bombings. There were many places where these kinds of assaults on black economic identity, black economic strategy and community building is both was under assault and is under assault. But I think as well that there is something to be said for the fact that a majority of Americans, not just black, not just white, live within two miles of a black owned business. And so the idea of a Black Wall Street is one in our view that really just recognizes that black businesses are part of Main Street, that black businesses are actually way more in proximity to you than you might have imagined. We talked about how do we have the ability for you to find them and discover them is really important to us.
And for us, we really think there’s something about being able to say, hey, look, there are not black businesses on every corner, but there are black businesses that you might be able to think about how do I develop them as a part of my own either regular day-to-day business as a business owner? How do I buy from black owned businesses as well? Or how do I ultimately think about my company wherever I work, buying from black owned businesses at more than just maybe the catering that we do on Juneteenth or something like that? How do we actually get them to think about that more holistically? Whether you’re a voter and you’re saying, “Hey, look, we pay a lot of taxes in this community, but the city doesn’t buy from black businesses, it just extracts tax dollars from them.” I really do think that a Black Wall Street is one that is really conscious of how the economics of the community are much more embedded in every transaction at every different position. That doesn’t necessarily blame black folks.
I think it’s really unfair when we say we’d be better off if we only spent money with each other. And the reality is that black folks spend a lot of money with one another. I want to say that under the age of 40, black folks 30% of them spend at least once a week with a black owned business. So one in three black folks are spending with a black owned business every week. And I think that that’s a really meaningful indication of the fact that we are absolutely embedding this into a part of our conversation. We want to actually get more white folks and more other folks to be a part of that Wall Street. How do we get the way that we de-stigmatize black business? How do we actually get folks to think about black business as a part of their economic activations? And I think we’ll all be better off for that.
Melyssa Barrett: Absolutely. I love it. I just love it. I have to say, I’m just so excited. I think my word for the day is intention with you. I hope that whoever is listening to this, that at the very least they take away that they need to be intentional not only about buying black, but hopefully if they’re a small business, they need to be intentional about getting on and listed with ByBlack. And so I do want to make sure that people know how to get ahold of you, how to interact with ByBlack. And so please do let us know.
Ron Busby: Yes, yes. We love this part. We love new followers and whatnot. We love people who want to share the content that we put out. We put tons of information and educator resources in our email so you can join our actual mailing list. And we have tons of resources that we send out. So if you go to ByBlack.us and you actually want to join our email listserv, we’ll send you all kinds of great stuff that we’re thinking about the usings of me and other people on our team, but also we have our social media. So if you follow us and you want to follow us on Instagram byblack.us, B-Y-B-L-A-C-K.US. You’ll see videos from me every once in a while. We’ll talk about different stats and statistics and data that we’re collecting and we’re using to have conversations and whatnot. Or maybe we’re going to the White House and we’re talking to elected officials about issues that are going on.
And then beyond that, obviously you can follow the US Black Chambers. They’re on Facebook, Instagram, they’re on YouTube, they’re on Twitter, they’re on LinkedIn. They’re a lot more places than we are. We don’t have the time to manage all that. And then the last thing I’ll say is that you can also, if you’re a black owned business and you want to join ByBlack, you can go to B-Y-B-L-A-C-K.US, you go to sign up, you’ll be able to go through the whole flow, really take advantage of all that. And when you get certified, when you actually join the community, we have a Facebook group where we have our thousands of certified business owners who are having conversations about contracts, having conversations about relationship building, et cetera. And so they’re using that as a space to have some of that dialogue that hopefully grows their own network and their own bottom line.
Melyssa Barrett: Awesome. Awesome. Well, I want to give you the last word. So if you’ve got anything else you want to share, because I think there’s just so much here. And literally, I was telling Ron earlier I felt like a stalker because I wanted to make sure that I got you on to just talk about all the wonderful things you’re doing. So I want to appreciate not only you, but the team that you have working with you, because they are all amazing.
Ron Busby: And I really do think that’s all you. The last thing I want to say is that I believe that it’s really about community. It’s really about knowing that there are people who are in your corner. And I hope that black business owners feel as though we are deeply entrenched in this fight to serve and to be in a place and a position to make sure that they have what they need as long as they show up for where we’re providing it. For us, I’m really grateful to be able to do the work and to be able to think about this. My father, I said he had a janitor company, and he said to me as a kid, as I was thinking about going off to law school and thinking about studying political science, et cetera, he said, whether it’s public restroom service or public service, it’s all about people.
And I really hope that all black business owners think about the fact that what’s really great about buying black and is that it’s a deeply human exercise. You cannot buy black without ultimately connecting to people at that conversation. You are inherently talking about identity. You’re inherently talking about people and the way that you want to actually make a choice about your dollar in a world that can be very faceless. You go to a Target, you go to Walmart, and you may not even know what or who this product is from or how it’s made. And there’s something really nice about just knowing that this thing that you’re participating in has lasted hundreds of years and generations, and it’s something that we choose to do in spite of so much difficulty to bear eventually.
Melyssa Barrett: Thanks for joining me on the Jali Podcast. Please subscribe so you won’t miss an episode. See you next week.