DOUGLASVILLE, Ga. — On a quiet cul-de-sac in Douglasville, Georgia, cars laze by every few minutes. Clouds drift across a passive sky. Activity is minimal.
But inside a house on that cul-de-sac, a new business owner is hard at work in a cluttered room.
“I’m adding labels to my packaging,” said Michelle Youngblood. “Then, I’ll update my Instagram for the day.”
Youngblood’s home office is dotted with affirmations. A printed-out Instagram post tells her, “The MONEY is coming!” A Post-It note offers the words, “I refuse to give in to the feeling of defeat!”
The messages, Youngblood said, “Remind me: ‘Take a deep breath. It’s OK to breathe.’”
She runs a boutique clothing line called brooklynn & blake. It’s named after her twins, now teenagers, who help with various aspects of the business.
Youngblood started the business last year, among the largest percentage of new Black entrepreneurs in decades.
Black Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population, but barely 2% of U.S. business owners. Last year, for the first time, the percentage of new Black business owners hit 13%, according to a study from the Kauffman Foundation.
This is significant for many reasons, all of which come back to one word: power.
“I do think the conversation has shifted,” said David Clunie, executive director of the Black Economic Alliance (BEA).
The BEA’s foundation has partnered with two Atlanta HBCUs, Spelman College and Morehouse College, and Bank of America to develop the Center for Black Entrepreneurship on the two campuses. Bank of America has committed $10 million over two years.
“This is innovation at its best,” said Ebony Thomas, an executive at Bank of America, “because this is a segment of the population that has been blocked out of businesses for centuries.”
These kinds of commitments have popped up more and more since the spring of 2020. The death of George Floyd set off nationwide protests and amplified nationwide the need for racial equity. Big businesses pledged money. “Buy Black” became an intention. Roads opened that hadn’t existed.
“It’s the size and scope and even the substance of these commitments,” Clunie said. “And it’s not only the dollar amounts but that they’re really going toward building new infrastructure for Black folks to build wealth to maintain and pass on.”
But 2020 brought another reckoning: a pandemic that impacted the globe and put millions out of work.
This includes Youngblood.
“I was in PR, working for a health care company,” she recalled. “I had got an email that morning, and it was a meeting with the director and the head of HR. And I think everybody knows what that means when you have a meeting with HR.”
Her suspicions were correct. Youngblood was being laid off.
“I started to get emotional,” she said. “I almost cried … I think I did cry a little bit. And then I was like, ‘You know what, God? I trust you.’”
Youngblood had sketched clothing designs for years. The pandemic gave her a window to pursue a dream.
Nine months in, she has sold enough product and made enough headway to afford a new showroom in the northern Atlanta suburbs.
“I feel like the world kind of puts you in a box,” she said, getting ready to continue a morning of activity on a placid suburban street. “This takes the limits off.”