A Magazine about the Hudson Valley’s local economy, published by Hudson Valley Current.

Black Women Entrepreneurs: The Untapped Engine of Our Economy and Community and the Beginning of Structural Change

We know that women entrepreneurs create jobs, opportunities for generational wealth, and reinvest in their communities. And where big businesses and federal policies fail, women’s businesses—a part of the 44% of the American economy created by small businesses, help keep local economies afloat.

In the middle of a global pandemic, national recession, reopening economy, and higher rates of black death at the hands of COVID-19, police, and systemic racism, black women are continuing to do the things for local communities that others have not yet seen fit to do. Leslie Woodward, Tamika Dunkley, and Kalema Boateng have all built their businesses with giving back in mind. 

With over 20 years of experience as a chef, Woodward started Edenesque six years ago to support the “institutionally underserved in our community” by producing clean food that would “strengthen and support our bodies.”

Based at Cornell Creative in Kingston, Woodward employs individuals with diverse abilities, sources foods locally, and provides benefit opportunities that account for the “whole person,” including scholarships, paid community service, gym memberships, and—during the pandemic—stipends. Her nut milks—which are 40 percent nuts—are sold at the Kingston Farmers’ Market, Adams (Kingston), Mother Earth’s Storehouse (Saugerties and Kingston), Health and Nutrition (New Paltz), Otto’s (Germantown), Red Hood Natural Foods, and Doorstep Market

Edenesque Almond Milk

Tamika Dunkley is co-owner of two Caribbean cuisine companies—Seasoned Delicious Foods, a spice, seasoning, and condiments manufacturer, and Seasoned Caters—both based in Saugerties. And while “the food is our bread and butter,” the non-profit work is her heart. 

And that’s apparent in her business model. A portion of all online sales go directly to  Seasoned Gives, her company’s non-profit arm, which supports youth minority entrepreneurship. She extends her mission “to create a better environment for all of our children” as the president of Harambee, a local cultural and educational organization, and a member of the Ulster County youth board and other initiatives. 

Over the past few months, Kalema Boateng has used Boateng Creative Consulting, her boutique project and business management firm, to help other organizations transition from in-office to remote work, and create collaborative and networking opportunities for black entrepreneurs. 

With the sourcing, shipping, and manufacturing challenges she’s navigated with My Basics, her plant-based body care company, she has more clarity about what it would take to realize her dream to help bring manufacturing back to Newburgh, which—like her childhood home the Bronx—has been economically disadvantaged for years. For Boateng, growing a fully-operational staff, budget, and capital for her businesses is an act of both resistance against systemic racism’s effect on her family and uplifting her community.

While the list of ways these women reinvest in their communities is long, in the end, their success as Woodward says, “always comes down to money, resources, and support.”  

In her own experience, Woodward has seen “certain businesses” featured more in newsletters and organizations that she participates in. Requests to feature her have increased since the issue of systemic racism has come to the forefront of public conversation. 

A lack of general support is one reason why Boateng hosts opportunities for black entrepreneurs to network and promote their businesses. A second may be to work out the ways that support and networks can help mitigate the lack of capital for black entrepreneurs. 

While loans and grants are peddled as great capital for entrepreneurs, Boateng says that often neither are real options, especially for early-stage businesses. Grants have high business age and minimum profit thresholds that make many black women business owners ineligible to apply; loans are “hard to get” and have to be paid back. 

Woodward and Dunkley’s experience seem to agree. While Woodward received the COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) advance, she was denied the loan. And neither she nor Dunkley applied for the Paycheck Protection Plan. 

When asked why Dunkley shared that she doesn’t “trust the loans and everything that goes with it.” Her lack of trust for the standard lending system is no surprise given that black entrepreneurs are twice as likely to be denied loans as whites, regardless of credit score

In some ways, networks have helped where big bank lending and many grant-making organizations have not. While Woodward sited support from a private chef client as a major contributor to her making it through the pandemic and Boateng described a network of black women speaking up to get the minimum profit threshold for a women’s grant lowered by half, Dunkley listed the ways that her local community has stood up for her. Even as she spoke out unapologetically for the value of black lives and against systemic racism, she’s seen a continuation of catering through Project Resilience and an increase in product sales to people who want to support her work and her causes.

Looking at these three women, if the fight for a strong, stable economy is anything like the one for the planet, then “race, economic vulnerability, and geography are just as important as gender.

As environmental politics professor Sherilyn MacGregor said, “involving women of color and sexual minorities does more than just including more white, privileged women from rich [backgrounds]. Including the voices of people…whose lives have been most severely affected [matters more] because these groups are more likely to be not only concerned about the issue, but make voting, purchasing, and career decisions around them.”

In a system where firms with $100,000 in startup capital are 23 percent less likely to fail than those with $5,000 or less and only one percent of those are black-owned, it’s easy to see how black women could be the most severely affected populations who can simultaneously do the most to boost our economy and communities. According to Forbes, “if women of color matched the number of employees and revenues of businesses owned by white women, four million new jobs and $981 billion in revenue would be added to the economy.” 

To build a stronger economy and communities in the Hudson Valley, we can start by supporting these—and other—black woman-owned businesses. And, given the intersectional and systemic ways in which their businesses are disadvantaged, we must finish the task by enacting structural change.