‘Black-Owned Business’ signs show solidarity in communities hit hard by looting

Keeana Barber wanted to show her support for businesses damaged by violence over the weekend. Days later, her signs can be seen in hundreds of windows across Chicago.

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Trez V. Pugh, III, owner of Sip and Savor coffee house puts up businesswoman Keeana Barber’s “Black Owned Business” sign at his Bronzeville location.

Amber Marie Green/Provided

After large-scale protests in response to the death of George Floyd devolved into violence and looting downtown and in surrounding neighborhoods, many small businesses in Chicago have been hurt by property damage and inventory loss.

Keeana Barber, owner and CEO of WDB Marketing Group, said she was distressed to see businesses damaged, especially knowing that many black-owned businesses were among those affected. After a conversation with a friend about what could be done to help protect local businesses, Barber realized she could use her unique skill set and resources to help.

The Roseland native enlisted her company’s printing services to produce signs that read “Black-Owned Business” and “Don’t Destroy Our Black Business,” and set to work distributing them to stores, particularly on the hard-hit South and West sides.

“I was heartbroken to see so many black-owned businesses get looted,” Barber said. “I don’t know how much [the signs] will protect some people. … I think, more than anything, it gives people pride, unifying them in something they can stand for.”

On Monday, after printing about 500 signs, Barber posted photos of them on Facebook and urged business owners to come pick one up if they wanted to display it. She was flooded with offers from volunteers to help hand them out, and inquiries about donating to help cover her printing costs.

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Businesswoman Keeana Barber, the owner of WDB Marketing Group, printed “Black Owned Business” and “Don’t Destroy Business” signs to be distributed in areas with black-owned businesses.

Provided

As of Tuesday, hundreds of storefronts on the South and West Sides — along with businesses in the south suburbs — were displaying her signs in their windows.

“I didn’t expect it to be that popular,” Barber said Tuesday, adding that she had since printed another 250 signs to keep up with demand.

“What I love about it is that it’s not just us; we’re a vehicle for people who are saying, ‘Hey, I just want to give these out in my community. I want to give [black-owned businesses] something special to have, and to be proud to identify themselves.’”

Vanetta Roy, owner of Surf’s Up South Shore, a restaurant that specializes in seafood, noticed someone had placed a sign in her window when she came in Tuesday morning.

“I saw it and I said, ‘Thank God,’” Roy said. “We had no idea this was happening.”

Barber says her goal isn’t to drive would-be looters to other businesses, but to send a broader message to the community about solidarity.

“I support all small businesses,” she said. “But at the same time, I am going to give my businesses the support to identify themselves. There’s nothing wrong with identifying ourselves to protect ourselves.”

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