A Vision for New Orleans
“No one has the right to deem me undeserving,” said Hermione Malone, executive director of Good Work Network and a panelist on Economic dignity: A vision for New Orleans. “This zero sum thinking, that opportunity for me means nothing for you … needs to change.”
Malone was joined by other leaders throughout New Orleans to discuss the aspirational pursuit of racial equity across small business support, workforce development and policies. The virtual panel conversation was part of a year-long, community-led conversation series to inspire dialog and action around key issues of racial equity, titled I am New Orleans.
Lamar Gardere, executive director of The Data Center, said entrepreneurship is a pathway to creating living wage jobs not only for business owners of color, but people of color in New Orleans. While the percentage of Black-owned businesses has increased since 1997, they still only earn 2% of the city’s receipts. A lack of access to capital keeps them from expanding, earning more revenue and employing more workers, all of which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Flozell Daniels, executive director of Foundation for Louisiana, said breaking that pattern will take courage: collaborating across sectors (for example, including K-12 educators in the conversion about creating an equitable economy), “testing” one another’s ideas and mitigating unintended consequences. The litmus test, he said, needs to be “if it doesn’t help Black people, it won’t help New Orleans.”
Noted Quentin Messer, president and CEO of the New Orleans Business Alliance: “We need to work with the growing pool of Black, Brown and Indigenous private equity and be willing to have long-term equity investments in entrepreneurship.”
Panelists offered many solutions: more access to capital; solutions and supports for small businesses and businesses of color; raising the minimum wage; addressing issues like housing and transportation; targeting business to the area or growing talent to create those industries; and creating expectations of companies that they will offer good-pay jobs with benefits.
“My hope is that this is the beginning [and it] leads to action,” said Thelma French, president and CEO of Total Community Action. “There is no bigger moment than the moment we have today.”