“We will fight for you!”

That was the motto if you went to school in the 1600 block of Dodge Avenue – Wildkit Nation – in the early 2000s. It’s where we came together, fought together and worked out our issues together. As young people in Evanston, we didn’t always get it right, but this City prepared me for a great life.

 As an Evanston Police Officer, I have a unique perspective on the city…from its bustling downtown to its pervasive wealth gap. I’ve seen the best and worst of Evanston and, at the end of the day, I have a lot of pride in this City. I want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to build – and build up – our community, especially our Black entrepreneurs and small businesses, including my own.

My business concept – The Laundry Café – is a café laundromat similar to those in Europe, where people can gather and enjoy a sense of community while getting their work done. I want this space to look like Evanston’s “H” Hall on a Friday afternoon: bustling, overflowing with faces from every background filled with enthusiasm and pride.

But this goal, like most, comes with its own set of challenges.  

In 2019, my business partner and I put the pieces in place to launch The Laundry Café and headed to the bank for a business loan. Despite a solid business plan, excellent credit scores and spotless 20-year employment record with the city, we were denied. The reason: insufficient business ownership experience.

That’s when it hit me: This is how things have been for generations for Black and Brown entrepreneurs. The opportunity gap is so consistent that we did not even notice it until it was brought to our attention. We waited days to hear back from the bank and, when we did, it was only to confirm our home phone number. The experience was heartbreaking.

We did not have a plan for what came next, but I knew I wanted to do something for others in this situation. So, this summer, I launched a Facebook Group called Boosting Black Business. The Group helped me connect with people who shared my desire to do something concrete to help aspiring business owners.

The Facebook Group exists solely to raise money for growing Black-owned small businesses in the Chicagoland area and across the country, infusing capital to help them innovate, expand, market their businesses more effectively, or give the boost they need to get over the “beginners hump.”

Members of the Facebook Group are encouraged to donate $20 per month to the featured business, which range from food startups to bookstores in underserved or inaccessible areas.

Thanks to this incredible group of people, we’ve raised nearly $50,000 for Black-owned entrepreneurs in just two months including ChiFresh Kitchen in Chicago and, thanks to the encouragement of friends and family, The Laundry Café , which I still have plans to open one day – right here in Evanston.

There’s no doubt that platforms like Facebook and Instagram play a critical role in helping small businesses thrive and important causes gain traction. We’ve seen that firsthand with recent social justice movements and the role social media plays in building support for businesses and communities of color. That said, there is still too little representation from the Black community within the Evanston business community. Evanston’s Black history is too deep for our footprint to be so shallow.

I’d ask Evanston’s elected officials and civic leaders – who have proven to be forward thinking and progressive in the past – to help us address the barriers to entry for aspiring Black business owners in the City.

We need institutional change that creates pathways to long-term opportunities. We need policies that ensure Black entrepreneurs have a seat at the table and eliminate chances for discrimination in lending or resource allocation. We need more public/private partnerships to help develop our next generation of Black business owners.

This is a pivotal time in our history, and if we don’t act now it will escape us. I know we have it in us. Let’s be a community that rises to the challenge and fights for our minority entrepreneurs.

Tosha Wilson is a native Evanstonian and local law enforcement officer whose Facebook Group, Boosting Black Business, helps Black entrepreneurs realize their dreams of business ownership.

 

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