RALEIGH – Back in 2016, Kevin and Patrice Bethea started up a Facebook group for Black-owned businesses in the Triangle.

Fast-forward to today: In the wake of global protests against police brutality and the coronavirus pandemic, its membership has climbed to more than 13,000 — and counting.

The site has become an online hub for local Black business owners to generate leads, share ideas for COVID-safe innovations and be there as a support network.

Kevin and Patrice Bethea

Both founders are well known in the community: Kevin is a client services professional, and Patrice is deputy communications director at the North Carolina Department of Commerce.

It’s no secret that Black-owned businesses have been hit substantially harder by the coronavirus pandemic than companies overall, according to a recent report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The report estimates that 41 percent of Black-owned businesses across the country shut down between February and April, echoing the findings of a similar University of California, Santa Cruz study released in June. Only about 17 percent of white businesses shut down during the same period, the study authors found.

WRAL TechWire’s Chantal Allam recently had the chance to get an update from the couple. Here’s what they had to say:

  • When and why did you start this online group?

We started the Facebook group in 2016 in the wake of the tragic shooting of Philando Castile. After the loss of countless Black lives to police brutality, we had become weary with the state of racial injustice across the country and were looking to take some sort of action that would have a positive impact in our own community. We then decided to create the Facebook group, initially just as a place for our family and friends to share information about supporting Black-owned businesses. We were in awe when after just a single week, the group already had more than 1,000 members. With our joint backgrounds in sales and communications, plus the help of our co-administrators, we’ve continued to nurture the group as it has grown. Four years later, we’re thrilled to serve as a resource hub for our nearly 14,000 members looking to find or share their own Black-owned business in the Triangle.

  • What do you hope to achieve?

We want to empower Black-owned businesses across the Triangle, both connecting business owners to one another and helping business owners generate leads. We want to encourage folks to use their economic power to visit Black-owned businesses and show that the Black community—and our money—matter. We make sure that everyone we admit to the group lives in North Carolina because we understand the difference we can make together when we patronize local Black-owned, especially small, businesses. We also want to help local Black entrepreneurs find where the business needs are by following along with the various services and types of businesses being requested in the group. Finally, simply raising awareness for many of these businesses is essential. There are a lot of local Black-owned businesses out there that people simply don’t know about, and the group has provided businesses an opportunity to spread the word about their offerings.

  • What are some of the connections that have been made?

It has been an incredible experience getting to know business owners from across the region through this group. It’s inspiring to see innovative ways these entrepreneurs are bringing much-needed services to the area and the impact our online community can have on them. One great example is Grocers on Wheels, a mobile market providing fresh produce to the areas considered food deserts in Wake and Durham Counties. A lifelong gardener who sold his produce off and on in Raleigh throughout his career, Mr. Zelb Hunter began running his mobile produce service full-time in 1980 alongside his wife, Penny. Today, their son, Demetrius, proudly carries on the family tradition. Providing a platform for these businesses to share their incredible stories and attract more customers is what the group is all about.

Source: BLK Book

  • Since the racial protests in May, have you seen an uptick in black-owned businesses?

Absolutely. We’ve always had a diverse membership base in the group, but in recent months, we’ve seen increased interest in folks from all backgrounds wanting to know what they can do to support racial equity at the local level, and patronizing Black-owned businesses is a key element of that effort. We’re happy to see this trend, especially as small, Black-owned businesses have struggled immensely amid the pandemic, and encourage North Carolinians to continue this support throughout 2020 and beyond.

  • Where to from here?

At the center of this rapidly growing and evolving online community, we want to make sure that we’re providing as helpful a resource as possible for both consumers and business owners. That’s why we’ve recently launched BLK BOOK, a directory of Black-owned businesses across North Carolina. The directory is still in its early stages and will continue to evolve, but we hope it will help folks easily find local Black-owned businesses for whatever service they may need. We’re looking forward to continuing to develop this directory and, as always, building community and connections through the Facebook group.

Calls for ‘prioritized’ funds to help underserved, black-owned businesses

Black-owned companies are shutting down twice as fast as other businesses