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Delaware Black Chamber is ready to help businesses succeed | State

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WILMINGTON, De. (AP) — During the height of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Ayanna Khan saw a problem: Minority-owned businesses were having to close their doors at a much higher rate than other companies. So, she decided to do something to help.

She decided to form the Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce.

Prior to 2020, Ms. Khan, a resident of the Middletown area and mother of two, owned and operated her own business — Khan Consulting. Her company worked with small businesses and nonprofit groups to organize and find funding through research, fundraising and grant writing.

Her work and affiliation with other chambers of commerce gave her special insight into the challenges all businesses — but especially minority-owned businesses — were facing because of COVID-19.

“The pandemic hit in 2020, and we had businesses that were closing, all kinds of businesses were closing their doors because they couldn’t survive. We were in lockdown,” she said.

Feeling the need to help, she started doing some research.

“I found that minority businesses, black businesses specifically, were closing at a higher rate; 41% of black businesses in the early start of the pandemic that were closing permanently versus 17% of white businesses.”

She saw evidence of the same thing happening in Delaware.

Having been a part of four different chambers of commerce and a board member of one of them, she felt that they could be doing more to help.

“For me, a chamber of commerce must be more than a ribbon cutting, we have to help these businesses outside of opening their doors, with continuous support, and the pandemic was really our opportunity to do that,” Ms. Khan said.

Then she found the National Black Chamber of Commerce. She reached out and shared what she was seeing in the First State and they offered their support in the form of a chapter of her own.

“There are 160 chapters throughout the country and Delaware had never had one. They said, ‘We’ll support you.’ So, they partnered me with the New Jersey chapter and the Illinois chapter as mentors and a support system. And they said this was the perfect time, we will support you.”

She went for it.

In July of 2020, Ms. Khan began the process to register the Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce as an entity in the state and launched the organization on Sept. 17, 2020.

“We hit the ground running.”

She formed a board of directors that includes business leaders like Jason Rodriguez, of Prominent Insurance Services; Realtor/Realtist Yvette Biggs; Brenne Shepperson, of SCORE; Vanessa Wright, of M&T Bank; and Andre Dixon, of Dixon Development Enterprises; along with community leaders like United Way of Delaware President Michelle Taylor and Kim Rice of Humanitarian Helping Hand H3.

“Our main objective was to help these businesses that were misinformed or not educated on the systems that they needed in place to qualify for the bailouts. Their doors were closing because they were not qualifying for the PPP. They were not qualified for the IDEA American Rescue Plan Funds, loans that the government had put into place to help small businesses through the pandemic,” Ms. Khan said.

While, like other organizations, the Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce held webinars and provided educational materials to businesses in need, Ms. Khan wanted her chamber of commerce to go a step further, so she actually helped her member businesses fill out forms and guided them through the process needed to acquire bailout assistance.

“We had 86 of our members qualify for more than $400,000 in (Paycheck Protection Program) funds. These were all folks that were denied earlier because of misinformation or not knowing they qualified,” Ms. Khan said.

More than a year later, Ms. Khan has grown her statewide chamber to more than 300 members. While the Delaware Black Chamber is starting to hold networking events and ribbon cuttings, the chamber is still rolling up its sleeves and helping their members succeed.

On Friday, Shawn and Brenda Gregory celebrated the opening of their first brick and mortar store in Newark — 2Gs Beauty Supply. The Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce was there to provide the business with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Mr. Gregory said one of the reasons he and his business joined the chamber was their willingness to help.

“They actually helped structure our small business. They helped with funding, they helped with giving general knowledge. I didn’t have to go to classes. They gave us what we were looking for. That’s why we went with them versus another chamber,” Mr. Gregory said.

What sets the Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce apart from other chambers in the state is that it doesn’t do political lobbying. That decision allows the organization to qualify as a nonprofit 501c(3).

Ms. Khan’s organization has seen a meteoric rise — its membership ranks have grown, its fundraising efforts are paying off, it just opened a new office in downtown Wilmington, and most of all, it’s helping businesses succeed.

Despite those accomplishments, the Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce has had to deal with a slew of hate since it began its work.

While the chamber has Black in its name, and is primarily focused on minority-owned business, membership and its services are open to everyone.

“One of our key roles in serving Delaware’s business community is to level the playing field for minority-owned businesses, ensure equity, and ultimately advance Delaware’s collective economic footprint. In doing so, the DEBCC endeavors to serve as a support eco-system for all area businesses,” Ms. Khan said.

But since opening its doors, Ms. Khan has received a host of hate mail and threats. Though upsetting, Ms. Khan is not deterred.

“While, unfortunately, personal attacks and slander too often come with the territory of being a business leader, especially as a person of color, I remain steadfast on serving our members and the business community and remain focused on moving forward.”

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