The African American Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin’s mission is to champion the growth and sustainability of Black-owned businesses by providing access to capital, education, and advocacy through capacity building and strategic partnerships. IFF sat down with President/CEO Ossie Kendrix to learn more about how the organization is responding to COVID-19 and how the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) may help them through this moment in history.
IFF: How did COVID-19 and the related shutdowns affect your organization?
Kendrix: The African American Chamber has been around for about 28 years. And for those years we were predominantly a face-to-face organization. So, when COVID hit, and everything closed down, I had to figure out how to transition all our staff to working from home, how to transition all our files to the cloud so we could access them, and how to transition all our in-person training programs to virtual training programs. It took us about a month to do all that and to reach out to all existing participants to make sure they had the capability to train online as well.
The African American Chamber has been around for about 28 years. And for those years we were predominantly a face-to-face organization.
So there’s been two pandemics – COVID and police brutality. The Black Lives Matter movement, in many ways, put our organization back in the forefront. There’s been a lot more interest in cultivating small businesses, so we started a recovery fund for Black-owned businesses – both Chamber members and non-members – that need financial support to re-open. We raised $150,000, and we’ve been distributing it in $2,000 grants to businesses, targeting the retail, hospitality, and service industries.
IFF: Why did you decide to pursue a PPP loan, and how do you think it will help your agency?
Kendrix: We were optimistic that through the PPP loan, we could keep all of our staff and continue to operate as we transitioned to virtual. It has helped us sustain our space, pay our rent, assist with transitioning staff to work remotely, and keep things intact during this time so we can continue the work in the future.
There’s been two pandemics – COVID and police brutality.
IFF: What was your experience like in getting the PPP loan?
Kendrix: I did research and had reached out to one of our partners, a community bank. But it took a week and a half to get a response as to what interest they had to assist in us getting the PPP loan. During that time, I saw from one of my colleagues on LinkedIn that IFF was supporting nonprofits applying for PPP. I contacted my colleague – Darian Luckett – and he responded right away and the process took about a week. It was a fairly seamless process and experience, and only went as fast as I could complete the information.
IFF: What’s one thing you’ve learned in this climate?
Kendrix: Prior to pandemic, I would not have considered the opportunity that virtual learning provides. The virtual world has allowed us to cut down costs, and it’s also allowed us to really live up to our name to reach Black-owned businesses throughout the entire state of Wisconsin. We are able to reach more folks from the same location. And while we’ve increased our marketing and social media budgets to invite those folks to our online educational programming, it’s still less than the costs associated with in-person training.