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How you can support Black start-ups without red tape

Tosha Wilson wants less talk and more action. She despises red tape, especially when it comes to establishing Black businesses. And she believes that a simple action, especially a collective one, can lead to great change.

So on June 25, Tosha, who was born and raised and works in Evanston, started a Facebook group called Boosting Black Business. In just a week, the group has to more than 1,000 enthusiastic members, who clearly support Tosha's vision.

The premise is simple but powerful:

  • A committed group of individuals (Tosha's dream is 10,000) agree to contribute $20 or more each month for the next 12 months to support a Black start-up business that has an established crowdfunding site.

  • People who are interested in supporting Black start-ups join the Boosting Black Business Facebook group, and each month, Tosha announces that month's start-up, the reasons she's selected it, and the link to its crowdfunding website.

  • If 1,000 people each contribute a minimum of $20 to that start-up, collectively they'll have supported it with $20,000. If 10,000 people contribute, that's $200,000 toward making the start-up team's dream a reality.

  • The group will focus on local Chicago-area start-ups first, then broaden its scope nationally.

  • Tosha will announce the first start-up--which she has researched and vetted--on July 2o. And she's brimming with excitement and anticipation for that day to arrive.

  • To participate in this project and get the links to each start-up's fundraiser, go to the Boosting Black Business Facebook group. If you're not on Facebook, we'll keep you informed on Dear Evanston too.

Tosha, who along with her cousin Jacqui White, is working on her own Evanston-based start-up, has learned a lot from the experience, and she and Jackie both recently graduated from Sunshine Enterprise, an academy for budding entrepreneurs.

Tosha's Evanston roots go back five generations. Her great-uncle William Logan was Evanston's first Black police chief. Her father is well-known activist Lonnie Wilson.

I spoke to Tosha via Zoom yesterday afternoon to hear all about this small BIG idea. I've excerpted some of our conversation below. You can learn more by watching the video (unfortunately the sound and picture aren't quite synced--sorry Tosha!).

DE: Tell me why you started the Boosting Black Business Facebook group:

TW: As you know, I have a low tolerance for talk. This was the most practical way to get people together to support start-up businesses. I don't believe the small business association, or the large bank, or local bank should be in charge of the success of any business, let alone Black businesses.

We always have to wait around for the establishment to say it's okay and I'm just trying to figure out: why can't the people say it's okay: Why can't the people say, hey, for $20 and a collective effort, if we do that once a month for one business, why can't we push forward these businesses?

Why do we have to wait? Let's say, hey as a group, let's support it.

It's like a trunk party for the business. The business may not succeed, or it may be the biggest thing that ever happened to the world. So we put everything in the trunk, and we send that kid to college, and we hope they make it, but we don't judge them if they don't. We don't--if they come back--demand our money back and say, hey, you flunked out of college.

It's just support on a basic level to get things done without having to fish through all the red tape.

DE: Is there a reason you started it now with all the extra attention to racial injustice, enslavement, Jim Crow, all these things coming to the fore? Why now?

TW: Why not now is pretty much my answer. Every discussion that's been had in the last two weeks, two years, 20 years, my father and our family have discussed this for decades.

I'm actually tired of the discussion. So because people are talking about it now is not why I started it, but in real terms, it's annoying to constantly hear it. We can talk about buying Black, we can talk about supporting Black, but my experience is it's always talk. Always this level of emotional energy, and then once it comes down, we settle back in and then boom, it happens again.

I remember 1992, sitting with my mom while my sister was at Camp Timber-lee and Rodney King is getting beaten in the streets, and we watched it again a couple of months ago, and we will watch it again.

In the meantime we can do something about it.

DE: Explain how it will work?

TW: Everyone will put $20 (or more) into a crowdfunding source that already exists. Entrepreneurs have to show their EIN, IDs, their social security number when they start a business crowdfund, so they've been vetted already. There's a process. They just need the attention and the support.

I've found some super-great businesses that are sitting there and being ignored. so why not highlight them, have people each give a minimum of $20, so even if it's just 1,000 of us, it's $20,000 minimum.

I'll highlight why they're being featured, what their expertise is, what their story is. My friend Jennifer Friedrich of Bon Creative will help write up their profiles and missions.

DE: What kinds of business start-ups have you found in your research?

TW: Farming businesses, tea companies, syntax companies, a brewing company, These people, you can tell the passion behind what they want to do, and we have to wait on systems to get them to where they want to go in order to build some financial wealth with their families. I think that's crazy.

DE: You yourself have dreams of establishing your own business, The Laundry Cafe, with your cousin Jacqui, in Evanston's 5th ward. You have an active GoFundMe. Why didn't you start with your own business idea?

TW: The Laundry Cafe will be on the list but not yet. I think as women, we want to push everyone else forward and you feel bad to self-promote. But my friend Tiffini Holmes pushed me to self-promote, so we will. Just not yet.

DE: What criteria will you base your monthly choice on?

TW: Whether they're registered with their state, for example. They need to be serious. I know there are people who want to start a business, but they don't take the serious steps to get there. They just want the money and the dream.

I've learned that there's a lot of work to do. You can tell who's put in the work and who's just dreaming. It's okay to be a dreamer, but not okay for me to put myself in the position of telling people to support someone's dream. That would be failure on my part. I'm checking to see if they've gone to small business academy. Do you understand your books? How are you marketing yourself? Did you write a business plan? Do you know what you need to get started on?

DE: You're looking at people in the Black and broader community to get involved. Do you think it's more on white people to put their money where their mouth is?

TW: If you say you're an ally, supporter, co-conspirator -- what I know about home is that when it came to me going to college I had people right there giving me checks to make sure my books were paid for, and these were white friends, they were there for me. I know this is not something new for the folks I know, but it is kind of new to the rest of the world,

So if those people who haven't been co-conspirators for the last 100 years the way my folks have been, it's time to get on board. We need to support each other, and that fact is Black America has supported white businesses forever. We were the original white "business."

I do believe we have to collectively think about how we push forward and do right for one another. And if you don't understand the history of America, and if you don't understand the just straight brutality of it in many forms, it's time to get on board and work with it in the simplest way possible. And this was just my idea for its simplicity.

DE: If you're talking to white community about supporting Black business, it's a way of paying some type of individual reparation. We talk about the Evanston Reparations Initiative that's going to focus first on housing. That's municipal reparations, which individuals can also put money towards. But this is also a way of saying, 'I owe something,' and this is an easy way to support.

TW: When it comes to reparations in Evanston, I know that it's a great idea, and I know that there's some debate about well, why housing--this is not reparations, this is a housing program, or whatever the debate is. This is the chance to say, I'll contribute to that, but I also want to control how I repair a community, so if we choose a business and we highlight it, you have now contributed to that particular repair of that particular block in that particular city in America.

DE: What I often say to white people when we're talking about reparations and they say, 'Well, I want to know exactly where my money's going,' my answer is that it's not up to us where the money's going. It's up to us to give the money and give the support. But it's up to the people who have been harmed to make a decision about where the money is going to go.

TW: It comes down to, say someone's homeless and living on the street. I can't give you $20, $10, $5, of my money and then say, 'what are you going to do with it?' Do I know some people will go out and buy drugs? As my father says, that part is not your problem. Because if it's in you to give, that's it. The rest is not going to sit on your soul. What they do with the money is part of their soul searching, not yours.

You know, when I was growing up right there (Church and Dodge) was like a mecca. Whatever we needed was right there there in the community. And now I have to go ... where?

DE: Before desegregation, as important as it was to integrate the community, the way it was done was very damaging to the Black community because the desegregating went one way. It messed up the whole of the 5th ward, which was a village, as your dad and others say.

TW: The best village ever. And now it's a village I ride through every day and sometimes I don't recognize it. But if I can do my part to just keep a piece of the village alive, then that will be my part. And if I can help someone else keep part of their village alive, then that is my goal.

So if only 12 businesses are funded, one a month for the next year, then that's all I want to do. I'm not trying to make heaven for everyone, but I am trying to put a dent in a system that is wrapped up in nonsense.

DE: What is your ask of Dear Evanston readers?

TW: Join the group, support Black start-ups. I'm diligently looking into them, and they need a boost. Whatever you can do in the simplest form. The first business I think people will be delighted with. I'm so excited about it. The women who are involved in it-- I so want this to happen for them.

So let's do it. Let's get it done. Stop talking.


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