By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Several weeks ago, on Labor Day, local entrepreneurs and leaders met with Sen. Kamala Harris. The purpose of the roundtable conversation was to discuss Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan.
The Build Back Better Plan is Biden’s plan for a “stronger, resilient and inclusive economy.” According to Biden’s campaign website, the goal behind this plan is to rebuild the economy and make it better than it was prior to the pandemic – a place where everyone has a chance to get ahead.
Since launching his plan, Biden has stressed the importance of including Black, Latinx, Asian American and Pacific Islander and Native Americans workers, entrepreneurs, business owners and leaders in the discussions. Historically, minority businesses and entrepreneurs have often been overlooked.
JoAnne Sabir, who is the owner of Shindig Coffee, Sauce & Spice, the Sherman Phoenix LLC and Freedom Endeavors and an advisor at American Family Insurance, said the roundtable experience was humbling. She noted that the people present represented the roots of entrepreneurship in Milwaukee.
These people know what it means to build a pathway for their community, she said, and the discussion allowed for a powerful conversation among the entrepreneurs especially given the current state of the economy. There was a value in having Harris there listening and taking notes, but it was even better to connect with the other entrepreneurs, Sabir said.
Sabir, like many entrepreneurs, went through a period of trying to survive during the pandemic. One of her businesses, Shindig Coffee, shifted from a physical store to an e-commerce one.
“Now we’re in a place where we can thrive again, but initially it was devastating,” she said.
She said the Build Back Better plan has a great deal of potential and aims to realign the economy with the compassion and needs of the American people.
“The main takeaway is that it gives us a moment to course correct,” she said.
Sabir expressed her hope that the plan reflects entrepreneurs and their needs including access and opportunity.
Nadiyah Johnson, the founder of Jet Constellations, also participated in the roundtable discussion. She said it was past time that people had a conversation on economic inclusion. The individuals present were able to voice their concerns for their communities, which was extremely important, Johnson explained.
The pandemic affected a lot of Black and brown business and they’re going to need extra help to survive a post-COVID era, Johnson said.
“They [small businesses] are the backbone of America’s economy,” Johnson said. “They help lift and sustain Black culture and are integral to Black and brown Milwaukee.”
During the pandemic, Johnson’s business worked with local Black and brown owned business to help them create virtual spaces. The group also created the STEAM and Dream program. With help from its partners, American Family Insurance, the group provided laptops to students and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) focused curriculum.
Johnson expressed her excitement that Biden’s plan is committed to Black and brown companies and that it intends to give $50 billion in venture capital to support Black and brown entrepreneurs. When the government intentionally allocates fund to Black lead firms, then true change and equity can be achieved, she said.
Johnson said the roundtable discussion clarified things for her and showed her that Biden and Harris are committed to making this plan come to fruition. It was an effective meeting, she said, adding that Harris took down copious notes.
Sabir said the discussion was a strong step in the right direction and she hopes that the group stays in the loop. Entrepreneurs are a part of the roots in a community and being able to share information with community members about potential change and what it would look like is critical, she said.
“I feel like it was an effective start,” Sabir said. “My hope is that this is just the beginning.”
To view the “Build Back Better” plan go to joebiden.com/racial-economic-equity.