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‘Black business unite’ — entrepreneurs vow to support each other through pandemic, civil unrest

“The last few months have been exceptionally hard for us, but we’re still here and we’re still standing,” Annah Mitchell, owner of Gobble Doggs, said.

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Dozens of African American business owners already struggling due to the coronavirus pandemic are trying to chart a path forward after last weekend’s violence and looting.

The owners gathered Friday in front of the Soul Shack, 1368 E. 53rd St., to chant “black business unite” and said they needed to support each other and their communities in order to make it through these trying times.

“The last few months have been exceptionally hard for us, but we’re still here and we’re still standing,” said Annah Mitchell, owner of Gobble Doggs, which sells turkey hot dogs through its food truck and catering business. “Black businesses matter. We are the backbone of our community, and it’s essential that we continue to grow and protect our businesses and the entrepreneurship among us.”

Widespread theft and vandalism amid protests last weekend over the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police, paired with the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, has made the future of some of their businesses uncertain, the owners said.

The path forward will require investing even more in their communities, according to Carl West, the owner of Midwest Gap Publishing.

“We need to buy up the block,” West said. “While we look around at the carnage that’s been happening in our communities through the protesting and rioting, it’s now time for us to build partnerships.”

Jimalita Tillman, executive director of the Harold Washington Cultural Center, echoed West’s sentiment. Business owners and community members need to put pressure on lawmakers in order to be included in conversations about how city resources are distributed, she said.

“We need to make sure that any development that is happening in our communities [is] representative of the people that are constituents in our community,” Tillman said.

The business owners and entrepreneurs at the conference said they were also looking forward to Black Culture Week, which kicks off June 19.

The weeklong series of events, including panel discussions, live performances, digital art galleries and fashion shows, invites people from all walks of life to collaborate, commemorate and celebrate African American culture.

This year, the events will be held largely online to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“We have to lift ourselves up and celebrate who we are, knowing that we have the ability to achieve, knowing that we have done it in the past and that those of us standing here are doing it now,” TJ Crawford, Chicago native and founder of Black Culture Week, said. “We need everyone to come together to do it as a collective.”