Employees at 5 Top Agencies Issue a 'Black-Owned Business Challenge'

Grassroots effort to bridge racial wealth divide

As the twin pandemics of Covid-19 and racism continue to rage, employees across five leading agencies have joined together for a grassroots effort to combat the Black-white wealth gap, which stands at $300 billion and rising.

During February, which is Black History Month, hundreds of staffers at Huge, Mother, R/GA, 72andSunny and Wieden + Kennedy have pledged to "buy Black" for their personal needs whenever possible.

"We see the effect of a lack of equity in our communities, our families, and every other aspect of our lives," Mother strategist Aneka Myles tells Muse. The "Black Owned Businesses Challenge" represents "a way for us to not only contribute to the growth of that equity, but also a way for us to challenge our coworkers to take the conversation and action beyond our walls," she says.

In 2019, Huge's Black affinity group, RBG—named for red, black and green, the colors of the Pan-African flag—launched an agency-wide competition that resulted in more than $35,000 spent with Black-owned establishments. Last year, Huge's inclusion execs connected with their counterparts at W+K about expanding the project, and the idea for a broader "Black-Owned Business Challenge" among various shops was born.

"Our goal is simple: get folks, especially non-Black folks, to see if there was a Black-owned business that could service their needs," explains Apryl Gordy, senior quality assurance analyst at Huge. "The challenge was to get folks thinking about everything from food and apparel to contractors, swimming instructors, lodging, dry cleaning, wedding planning and more."

Visual elements leverage the Pan-African colors. Red stands for passion, culture, love and family; black represents education, knowledge, power and discovery; and green signifies money and generational wealth.

"The reality is that Black communities are disproportionately affected by competing pandemics in this country: anti-Black racism and Covid," says Huge director of diversity, equity and inclusion Darien LaBeach. "Everyone should be making it their personal mission to help. And what's more personal than our money? When you throw money at a problem that is exacerbated because of a lack of money, that is in fact one way to push the needle of progress forward."

In a broader sense, "highlighting Black-owned businesses makes way for us to tell little Black children that entrepreneurship is an option," Gordy says. "Ownership is something to be proud of and deserves support. It allows Black children to make mistakes without feeling like they let their entire race and community down. It allows Black children to learn in a space where they are valued as brilliant, instead of a diversity number. The very presence of Black-owned businesses is encouragement to Black youth."

The challenge ranks as "a direct byproduct of Black employees having their own space," adds W+K producer Brenton Roberson. "Without feelings of empowerment and relevance, I doubt an idea of this scale would've come to life. We now know that Black producers, strategists, project managers, etc., are on the same team, regardless of work address. Now, we must continue to push the envelope."

Notable efforts in a similar vein, all consumer-facing, include this stirring Square film series spotlighting Black entrepreneurs; the #BlackOwnedFriday campaign with Wyclef Jean from Google and the U.S. Black Chambers; and Hennessy's program to help minority businesses pummeled by Covid-19.

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