Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at Howard University's Cramton Auditorium in Washington, D.C., on March 30 about supporting small businesses. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)
**FILE** Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at Howard University's Cramton Auditorium in Washington, D.C., on March 30 about supporting small businesses. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)

Vice President Kamala Harris and members of President Biden’s Cabinet and leaders of the Greater Washington Partnership announced at Howard University’s Cramton Auditorium on Wednesday a five-year, $4.7 billion initiative to support disadvantaged communities and minority businesses.

Harris, a 1986 graduate of Howard, expressed joy for being on the campus and for the initiative that she supports.

“This is an institution that, since its founding, has worked to advance, as we are doing today, inclusion, growth, and equity in our country,” the vice president said. “I believe America as a nation is driven by the ambition and aspirations of her people. Our economy is therefore driven by ambition and aspiration of our small businesses.”

Harris said Black entrepreneurs are three times more likely to report they didn’t apply for credit for fear of being turned away by a bank.

“Community lenders can often see the potential that others might overlook,” she said. “Since I took office, I have consulted with some of the most active community lenders in our nation, and I see a tremendous difference that these institutions are making. Our administration is working to expand the reach of community lenders.”

Harris said the administration wants to update rules to allow borrowers to restructure their debt if they fall behind on payments.

“The bottom line of this: When small businesses owners have the support they need, they create jobs,” she said.

Joining the vice president were Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and Small Business Administration Administrator Isabella Guzman.

Specifically, the $4.7 billion will be directed in three ways. Supplier diversity is designed to help Black and Latino businesses become suppliers, and that effort is $2.6 billion.

Racial equity with the goal of creating wealth-building opportunities in underrepresented communities such as direct corporate investments in affordable housing and in community organizations that specialize in equity initiatives at $1.5 billion.

The third way is helping Minority Business Enterprises with access to capital at $619 million. The funds will be for local Community Development Financial Institutions and Minority Depository Institutions to provide financing to small businesses owned by Blacks and Latinos.

“The scope of this investment in this region is unparalleled and shows the deep commitment of our business community to create a more fair and inclusive economy,” said Peter L. Scher, vice chairman at JPMorgan Chase & Co. and chairman of the Greater Washington Partnership board.

“This is a moment when leaders from all sectors have to step up and take action,” Scher said. “We are thrilled that so many organizations are making the kind of investments that will lead to tangible and lasting change. This is a testament to the power of collective action.”

Howard University is part of the Greater Washington Partnership as well as such businesses as Amazon, Bank of America, Capital One, Clark Construction, Exelon, Georgetown University, McKinsey & Company, Thompson Hospitality, and the Washington Commanders.

Washington Commanders President Jason Wright, co-chair of the Greater Washington Partnership’s Inclusive Growth Council with Sheila Johnson, the founder and CEO of Middleburg, Va.-based Salamander Hotels & Resorts, also attended the ceremony.

Wright, who previously worked for McKinsey & Company, advising businesses in the area of workplace diversity and organizational culture, and co-founded the Black Economic Institute, which researches the racial wealth gap, called the $4.7 billion program a step in the right direction.

“We have to make sure that capital flows to Black and brown businesses,” he said. “The inequitable flow of capital prevents businesses from hiring, offering new products, and providing better benefits for their employees. This program will help businesses in this area grow our economy, too. I am happy the Commanders have signed on with this.”

James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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