Kenrick Ross talks POC-business crisis and his advocacy work at Urban&Out. His advice could save your business from hardships.
His perspective is both honest and informative; no fluff. He’s the Founder of Urban & Out, a non-profit organization that provides professional and leadership development opportunities, spaces, and resources for LGBTQ communities of color.
An estimated 40% of Black-owned businesses have closed, and most will not reopen. I think when the pandemic is over, that number will be much worse.– kenrick ross
I love that you’re an advocate for the empowerment of people. When did this start, and what drives your passion?
I’m a gay immigrant of color, so I know that my entire lived experience has been made possible by other people confronting and enduring horrors I can’t even imagine facing.
For me, the question has always been–what do I do with my talents, skills, expertise, to better the world around me? I think we can all be leaders.
We don’t need to integrate a school or lead a protest or run for office; we can make choices daily that make our community even incrementally better. Too many of us choose not to.
With all that you do helping people in need, at times this requires a lot of you, how do you find balance and time to recenter your energy?
I’ve been privileged to do work and work in areas that I am passionate about, so I never ‘stop’ working. The work invigorates me as much as it exhausts me. That doesn’t mean I am not often frustrated; I am ALOT.
I’m also incredibly lucky and blessed to have two things in my life that keep me balanced. I have the most incredible partner, imaginable. And I have tennis, which has been my self-care and spiritual practice since I was 17.
Why was it vital for you to start Urban&Out?
I started Urban&Out in 2011 to create more spaces that center LGBTQ professionals of color. Generally, at POC events, there was a sprinkling of LGBTQ folks acting ‘respectably.’
At LGBTQ events, there was a POC corner. And of course, the prevalence of LGBTQ professionals of color seemed to be allergic to other folks who look like them. This social conditioning runs deep, and it still does–it usually manifests in the “I wish I could find other people like me, but…”
For most of my life, my close social circles have been almost exclusively other gay men of color, saving my life. With Urban&Out, I wanted to create spaces that were unabashedly for and about LGBTQ folks of color who wanted to be in each other’s company. I wanted to demonstrate the apparent value in that.
For much of the time since it’s been about having events, and now it’s much more focused on career and leadership development. We tend to have small, and fragile networks, and with the pandemic, many ways of expanding networks (in-person events, coffee chats, being on campus or in an office), have vanished.
The damage of this will likely be felt over the entire career for a whole generation. In the coming months, we are focusing on ways of expanding those networks, providing skills, information, and guidance, and, of course, access to jobs.
Small Businesses are closing at alarming rates due to Covid-19 and the misdistribution of funds from the PPP Loan. Thoughts about this crisis?
An estimated 40% of Black-owned businesses have closed, and most will not reopen. I think when the pandemic is over, that number will be much worse. If we are still in some form of lockdown a year from now, I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of POC–owned businesses don’t shut for good. And it’s not just the businesses that will close; it’s how difficult, if not impossible, it will be for potential minority small business owners to have the resources to open businesses in the future.
A lot of businesses reported considerable profits in 2019 qualified for the PPP Loan program, i.e. (Ruth Chris Steak House, Shake Shack, Kanye West, etc.) didn’t need the funds, did you think it was fair for them to apply for these loans?
By the terms of the application, many ‘larger’ businesses did qualify for those loans, so it was fair in that sense. The fiasco that is PPP is emblematic of the incompetence and cruelty of this administration. These companies didn’t need forgivable loans, and the businesses that most need them have been least able to get them.
The design reinforced inequities in access to services that plagued Black and Brown business owners before the pandemic. There are likely to be some fixes like funneling more loans through financial institutions, and people of color are more likely than others to use and a unique loan program for micro-businesses.
What legal services do you offer for Small businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic?
At my day job, running a small business legal services program, we offer free legal representation to lower-income small businesses.
How has this pandemic affected you mentally?
This was supposed to be a huge year beginning with my 40th birthday and ending with my wedding. I play on the LGBTQ tennis tour and slated to play ten tournaments.
I was also in the midst of launching a startup for LGBTQ athletes. Suffice to say all my 2020 plans turned upside down. But I’ve realized how often we miss out on ‘the living’ as we work so hard on ‘the life.’
I think back to simple things that I should’ve just enjoyed more, and then I try to focus on enjoying each day now. Since the pandemic began, my approach has been- if these are the last weeks of my life, how do I want to live them?
LGBTQ organizations are dealing with a lack of funding. How is Urban&Out managing during this crisis?
The good thing is that we are volunteer-based, so we don’t have the costs of other organizations.
For the next stimulus funding, what should small businesses do now to maximize their chances of getting access to funds?
Have a game plan ahead of time, and this includes, as terrible as it sounds, determining whether you can or want to stay in business. If you do, then also game out if you wish to take on new stimulus funding obligations.
Connect with resources like pro bono lawyers or financial advisors who can guide you through the application process. If you’re unbanked, consider creating a relationship with a commercial bank.
Have a clear understanding of your fixed and flexible costs and how they impact your sustainability. And something we don’t often talk about–technical assistance.
If you’re a restaurant, with online ordering and use delivery apps, they are here to stay. Make sure you learn how to maximize these options.