Solidarity, not charity: empowering Baltimore’s black businesses and organizations
3 June 2020 - Irene Bantigue

CLLCTIVLY seeks to create an ecosystem which fosters collaboration among black-led social change organizations in Baltimore. We recently caught up with Jamye Wooten, CLLCTIVLY’s Founder, to discuss the barriers to support that black businesses and organizations are faced with during COVID-19, as well as the power of collective care and community ownership.

It’s about solidarity, not charity.

Growing up in Baltimore, Jamye Wooten watched his family bootstrap their way to success. His father–who Jamye describes as an amazing entrepreneur–operated five dry cleaners and several night clubs across the city. His mother, an evangelist by practice, ran a florist, and his older sister also eventually went on to open two pizza delivery stores. To launch her businesses, his sister bought housing to use as collateral and finance both locations. 

His family were ultimately able to achieve success on their own terms. Nonetheless, Jamye still wonders what it might have looked like had they had greater access to capital and support in the first place.

Jamye’s drive to shift narratives and realities for black entrepreneurs and changemakers centers the work that he does today. He is the Founder of CLLCTIVLY, an organization that seeks to create an ecosystem which fosters collaboration among black-led social change groups in Baltimore. As the global pandemic heightened, it served as a catalyst for the advancement of CLLCTIVLY’s mission. “[We went] full steam ahead with work we were already doing and how we wanted to serve the community,” Jamye shares. 

In January 2019, CLLCTIVLY launched the first phase of their asset directory which maps 100+ black-led organizations across the Greater Baltimore area. They also rolled out their Fund for Black Futures video contest at the same time. This monthly microgrant opportunity invites black-led organizations to submit a short video to share how their work intersects with principles from the Nguzo Saba, the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa. Community members can then vote on the recipient of the $1K no-strings-attached microgrant, which is intended to honor their work in the community. 

Reimagining the Fund for Black Futures as the Black-Led Solidarity Fund during the COVID-19 era was a natural and easy transition. Although CLLCTIVLY typically focuses on social change organizations, they saw a critical need to also reach and empower the city’s abundance of black-owned businesses. 

“We recognize that black-owned businesses–from barbers, beauty salons, and restaurants–are more than just where goods and services are exchanged. They really are community anchors too,” Jamye emphasizes. As black businesses continue to face multiple barriers to federal support, owners like Baltimore’s own Terence Dickson of Terra Cafe are left feeling rightly frustrated. 

When speaking of the Black-Led Solidarity Fund, Jamye emphasizes that “it’s about solidarity, not charity.” It is an opportunity to boost morale and remind small business owners, community leaders, and organizations alike–many of which have a long track record in the community–that their impact does not go unnoticed. 

To date, CLLCTIVLY has awarded over 40 microgrants ranging from $500 to $1K to black-led businesses and organizations across the city. They are well on the way to reaching their goal of making fifty $500 grants, and are currently working toward scaling to 100 awards by mid-June.

Each time a grant is awarded, CLLCTIVLY fosters new relationships across the city as their fund is introduced to more networks and communities. It creates a positive feedback loop where the more black businesses and organizations are honored, the larger the pool of prospective awardees that CLLCTIVLY can empower and collaborate with during and beyond present challenges.

Yet Jamye recognizes that these efforts alone will not close racial wealth disparities. “There’s still a lot of work to be done on how we qualify people for support,” Jamye notes. He points to credit score requirements as an ongoing barrier for many black businesses. “If you’re an entrepreneur who maxed out on credit cards because you couldn’t get loans in the first place, your credit is probably shot which doesn’t put you in position to qualify for most loans.”

In a place like Baltimore with 63 percent Black or African American residents, such inequities curb the economic potential of the entire city. 

When asked what is currently working, Jamye praises the power of mutual aid. “We’re connecting in ways that communities are moving faster than institutions,” he says. And this sentiment is echoed in how Jamye sees the way forward: less focus on creating vast but low-paid jobs, and more on worker cooperatives and community ownership. “It’s something very near and dear to the model we’re looking at.” 

How can you help?

  • Support CLLCTIVLY reach its goal of making (50)$500 grants and donate to the Black-Led Solidarity Fund here.
  • Pledge and participate in CLLCTIVLY’s Black Futures Giving Circle here.

  • Save the date! On Fri Aug 7, 2020 CLLCTIVLY will honor black philanthropy month by hosting a local day of giving for black-led organizations serving in Baltimore. Register and learn more at cllctivgive.com.