Black History Month is celebrated every February. It is a federally recognized, nationwide celebration that calls on all Americans to reflect on the significant roles that African Americans have played in shaping U.S. history. I am honored to highlight the significant role that African Americans have made in shaping our economy through entrepreneurship and community investment.
The Small Business Administration has helped to power the American dream for many African American entrepreneurs across the nation and in the Southeastern Region. The SBA backed $210 million in loans to African American owned small businesses across the eight southeastern states last fiscal year. $2.3 billion in federal contracts were awarded to the SBA’s 8(a) certified firms, small businesses that have proven to be economically disadvantaged. Over 100,000 start-up and existing entrepreneurs last year were counseled and trained through the extensive resource partners we work with such as SCORE, the Small Business Development Centers, Women’s Business Centers and Veterans Business Outreach Centers. The SBA has driven entrepreneurs successfully to the website LenderMatch to help connect a lender to the specific loan needs of a small business owner. We are reaching more entrepreneurs today more than ever before, and this is just the beginning.
Last year, I was humbled to receive the Drum Major for Justice Award from the president of the Perry County Civic League, Albert Turner, at the historic Marion Baptist Academy located in Marion, Alabama. During the ceremony I said: “I accept this honor on behalf of our lost loved ones whose deaths have paved our path. I know without any uncertainty that I would not be here today without the sacrifices of those like brother Jimmie Lee Jackson who was killed organizing for voter rights here in Marion. And for the life and legacy of Marion’s favorite daughter Coretta Scott King.” I mention this award and this occurrence because it helps to show just how important history is, and it ties right into this year’s theme for ‘Black History Month: African Americans and the Vote,’ recognizing the struggle for voting rights among both Black men and women throughout American history.
We have come so far over time, and yet we have a lot more work to do. My job won’t be finished until each and every African American owned small business has knowledge of what opportunities exist for them towards their success from the programs and services of the SBA to the multiple growth options made available through Opportunity Zones, through supply chain demand, through public and private contracting opportunities, access to capital, and the list goes on. I look forward to continuing to deliver services and opportunities to Black-owned businesses across the nation through my role as Regional Administrator for the SBA and as a Policy Advisor on Entrepreneurship & Innovation for the White House office of American Innovation.
Ashley D. Bell is Regional administrator for U.S. Small Business Administration and White House policy advisor for Entrepreneurship & Innovation.