Every August, the United States celebrates National Black Business Month. Being an organization founded by five black women, We the People of Detroit recognizes the tremendous impact black-owned businesses have on our national and local economies. Our founders know, from firsthand experience, the importance of operating a business, and all of the trials and triumphs that go along with it.
National Black Business Month's history goes back to 2004. Frederick E. Jordan and John William Templeton created the month-long celebration to garner support towards black entrepreneurs across the country. Although the celebration was nationally recognized nearly two decades ago, African American entrepreneurship has been present in this country for centuries. Black-owned businesses have always been essential contributors to our economy and society. To date, there are approximately 2.6 million black-owned businesses in the U.S., with around 44,000 operating in Michigan, according to the Detroit Regional Chamber.
To commemorate the occasion, we sat down for an interview with Debra Taylor, WPD Co-Founder and CFO. We discussed the importance of supporting black-owned businesses and her experience operating We the People of Detroit.
Q1: Why is it so important to support black-owned businesses?
A1: I believe that it's critical that we as Black people are wise consumers with our resources; and that we must do a better job at recirculating hard-earned dollars with other Black business owners and entrepreneurs. Other racial and cultural groups do this instinctively, it seems! We must strengthen our impulses to intentionally support Black owned businesses. If we don't support one another who will!? At the same time, we must hold ourselves to a high standard of services and products. And if we experience less than the standard that we expect, we should provide constructive feedback and give one another a second chance!
Q2: What challenges have you faced in starting/operating WPD?
A2: When you start something from the ground up, the lift is heavy! There's so much to do, and you must do the tasks - multiple tasks - since, in the beginning, there were no funds to pay others to help with the work that needed to be done! When you must build the infrastructure from the ground up, it's a serious challenge and commitment. You have very little personal time, and you don't control your time because there are always multiple demands on your time and energy! You're forced to "multi-task," and personally, I think multi-tasking is overrated! Also, in the very beginning, you're doing things that aren't your strength. Still, it's necessary to accomplish your goals, and persisting is what makes the difference! And of course, since I'm a woman of faith it's a faith walk!
Q3: What are some of your triumphs as black business (nonprofit) owners?
A3: We've endured many trials and tribulations! Building a competent team of individuals who believe in our mission and hold true to the values of the organization is important! One of our mottos is "People First"! We try to live and walk that out! Sustaining and growing the organization from five founders and a cadre of volunteers is a triumphant experience. I believe that staying in our lane and holding true to the principles that Water is Life and that all human beings deserve safe, clean, and affordable water is very important. Backing up that belief with research and door-to-door service, asking the people what their needs are, and then codifying that into research to advocate for the right to safe, clean and affordable water is a triumphant experience. Lastly, igniting the excitement of young people to carry the torch of advocacy and civic engagement will be a legacy that will outlive us all! The possibilities and promise of the Great Lakes POC H20 Policy Center is exciting for us in this moment!