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Charlotte's Black Chamber of Commerce is raising money for business micro-loans

Rob Bennett, a chef at the family-owned The Belle Grille in Matthews, serves up a grilled airline chicken breast for Charlotte's Black Restaurant week in 2018.
Nick De La Canal
Rob Bennett, a chef at the family-owned The Belle Grille in Matthews, serves up a grilled airline chicken breast for Charlotte's Black Restaurant week in 2018.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Black Chamber of Commerce has announced plans to raise $1 million that could be dispersed as micro-loans to local Black-owned businesses around the region.

The chamber's president, Shanté Williams, said the organization hopes to raise the money over the next year or so. The money would then be loaned out to local Black-owned businesses at low-interest rates.

Williams said she wants the money to help local Black-owned businesses that struggled during the pandemic and may have had difficulty getting relief money elsewhere.

Multiple studies have found businesses in Black communities had to wait longer than white-owned companies to receive Paycheck Protection Program loans during the pandemic. Many never received any loans because they lacked connections to access the aid or they were rejected because of program rules.

Williams said some of the funds might also be used to help pay for staffing. The chamber saw a drop in members paying dues during the pandemic, she said, and the money raised could be a source of alternative funding.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg chamber is also in talks with other Black chambers of commerce in the state, including in Winston-Salem, Durham and Greensboro, about partnering up in the fundraising effort. Williams said they're looking into creating an umbrella organization that could raise money statewide.

The new fundraising effort comes after the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Black Chamber of Commerce dispersed about $250,000 in relief money to local Black-owned businesses during the pandemic.

Williams said $200,000 came from the city of Charlotte, and $50,000 came from a private donor. She said the chamber dispersed the money to 22 Black-owned businesses around Charlotte, all of which have been able to stay in businesses in part because of the funds they received.

Some business owners used the money to "COVID-proof" their businesses by purchasing plastic barriers and personal protective gear for their employees, Williams said. Others used the money to help cover operating costs or enhance their online presence as many customers shifted to online shopping.

Editor's note: Shanté Williams is a member of WFAE's Community Advisory Board.

WFAE's Nick de la Canal can be heard on public radio airwaves across the Charlotte region, bringing listeners the latest in local and regional news updates. He's been a part of the WFAE newsroom since 2013, when he began as an intern. His reporting helped the station earn an Edward R. Murrow award for breaking news coverage following the Keith Scott shooting and protests in September 2016. More recently, he's been reporting on food, culture, transportation, immigration, and even the paranormal on the FAQ City podcast. He grew up in Charlotte, graduated from Myers Park High, and received his degree in journalism from Emerson College in Boston. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal
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