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For Black business owners, access to the American Dream usually comes without access to financial capital

Posted at 12:20 PM, Jul 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-31 12:20:56-04

Bankers and lenders are the gatekeepers for wealth and a shot at the American dream, but some Black business owners are having trouble gaining access.

"People questioned our sanity when we said we were going to open up a business in this area," Elihu Brayboy said.

Life is a numbers game for Elihu and Carolyn Brayboy. They've been married for 41 years, business partners for a little more than 7 and born and bred in the Deuces. They have one successful restaurant in Chief's Creole Cafe and received zero loans to get it off the ground.

"We applied for a $5,000 credit line with Bank of America in 2014 and they denied the application on the basis that we were a new business," he said. "They gave several other great reasons why not."

But even without the help, Chief's Creole Cafe became a success, but like other restaurants, it was hit hard by the pandemic.

"We find obtaining financing is very difficult," Carolyn said.

But they decided to try again in June. The couple spent hours filling out the application for the Federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan.

"Less than 10 minutes later, we received a response," she said. "Ineligible. You had to be both a depositor and have a loan. And we did not have a loan."

A recent study shows federal small business loans to Black businesses were on the rise between 2006 and 2008. But then during the great recession, loans dropped from 8% to 3%.

"We know that lending discrimination still exists, we know that access to credit is not equal," Ashley Harrington with the Center For Responsible Lending (CRL) said.

The CRL is a nonprofit aimed at leveling the financial playing field.

There were stories of major companies like Shake Shack and Kanye West's Yeezy line getting millions in PPP loans. Harrington believes the money banks get to facilitate those big loans makes lending to small businesses less favorable.

"That limited the incentives of banks to work with the really small businesses owned by people of color because they’re making a lot less money to do the same amount of work," Harrington said.

After calls for transparency, the U.S. Small Business Administration recently put out the list showing who was receiving PPP loans. ABC Action News looked at the breakdown of race and found hundreds of thousands of Florida businesses receiving these loans categorized as "unanswered."

"It was not a goal of theirs to actually collect, track and release this data," Harrington said.

Harrington says the biggest obstacle Black businesses face is going through a lender.

A recent Federal Reserve report found 27% of Black-owned businesses did not even apply for loans because they feared getting turned down.

"It’s kind of like when you’re trying to date someone who rejects you, do you go back again when you know what they said the first time is what they meant," Elihu said.

The Brayboys say race has definitely been a factor for their business as of late, but in a good way. When word spread about them getting denied for a PPP loan, Elihu said the Black Lives Matter movement and the heightened awareness to support Black businesses got an ally to step up.

"A restaurateur in Tampa called us up and asked us what could he do to help," Elihu said.

"He really connected us with a smaller bank, we did the same three-hour application, the prep work for it, we applied for it and was approved," Carolyn said.

"The difference was the attitude of the bank," Elihu said.

In the end, it worked out and Chief's Creole Cafe was given a fighting chance, but Elihu says the financial marketplace needs to be more accessible to everyone.

"There’s no way you can do the growth of equality and equity without access to capital," he said.