What Freedom Looks Like

Black women are the fastest-growing-but-still-least-funded segment of the entrepreneur universe. That’s why this Juneteenth, I’ve invited Makisha Boothe, Founder and Head Business Coach of Sistahbiz Global Network, a business accelerator for Black women entrepreneurs, to write this guest post, which I invite you to help amplify. Makisha shares her thoughts on the unique challenges facing Black female entrepreneurs–and the work that still needs to be done to give Black women full access to the freedom that entrepreneurship can open up. – David

As we approach Juneteenth this year, I reflect on the past two years of civil unrest that have happened in service of racial justice in the U.S. In particular, I am led to pause and honor the word freedom

As I do, I think about what freedom is supposed to mean in America versus how it actually looks and operates. I think about the efforts of so many in the economic opportunity and justice space and acknowledge that much of our “why” is about fighting for a dream of freedom that our country’s forefathers claimed to birth, and that my ancestors fought to realize but that we have yet to truly see. 

I’ve led political coalitions, run for office, written policy, and managed both grassroots and grasstops work in healthcare, education, and criminal justice reform. So how did I land here in the later years of my career with a laser-like focus on economic equality, closing the wealth gap, and creating more access to capital for Black women entrepreneurs at Sistahbiz Global Network? 

Freedom. After working “in the system” for so long, I realized that I was killing myself insidiously, which is what systems change activism does for many Black people. I wanted freedom. I also wanted to take a more “Harriet Tubman” approach to my equity work. Harriet didn’t scale a thing. She took a dozen people across the line every trip. She was selective, courageous, collaborative, strategic, and focused – and that’s why by the end of her life, she had freed 100,000 slaves and made unprecedented gains in antislavery work as the leader of the Underground Railroad. She could see each person she traveled with, looked them in the eyes, and walked them right through the doors of freedom.

This is how I am inspired when Sistahbiz helps a Black woman cross the 7-figure line, access her first business loan, or hire her first team of employees as she steps out of the day to day hustle in her business. I see her moving toward economic freedom, and I know that economic freedom means so much more than just the joy of achieving an 8-figure year or the ability to work for yourself. For the Black woman, it means:

Quality Education Options for Your Children

She can now afford a home in a zip code with quality schools. She can now hire and access supplemental resources for her child’s learning journey. She has a new level of flexibility and availability to her children. She experiences new freedoms in parenting. When you scale this idea, such freedoms will also impact the opportunity gap in education directly. 

Access to Quality Healthcare

A client of mine didn’t just call me excited when she met her revenue goals; no, she called me afterward, from the doctor’s office where she had just paid her child’s dental bill. This was significant because when we started her coaching journey, her biggest goal was to make sure that she could afford healthcare as an entrepreneur. “I did it, Coach!” her text to me reads. (It’s my favorite kind of text to receive.)

A Seat at the Innovation Table

She can innovate, following her own knowledge, passions, and interests. So often  in organizations innovation is valued only when understood to some degree, but understanding is often reduced by cultural differences too. A Black woman’s perspective is sometimes new and unpopular in the workplace, which can be dangerous to her self-sufficiency. At the same time too, her ability to be a visionary, a creative, and an innovator is stifled by bureaucracy and mainstream organizational cultures that maintain the status quo. I’m basically saying that organizations are often oppressing and eliminating a whole population of innovators because they don’t understand or value them. The Black woman loses when this happens, but so does the company and the whole country. When she opens her own business, though, she can change that. She can lead innovation.

An Escape from Racial Battle Fatigue

She can truly bring her “whole” self to work – which is a phrase often used in corporate, but not operationalized on behalf of people of color, where hair discrimination is reality and cultural differences are often penalized. As an entrepreneur, though, she gets to create a decolonized and diverse work culture where she isn’t managing tough decisions about when to code-switch or how to manage microaggressions without losing a promotion or getting fired. She has the authority to hire and place other people of color in leadership roles that then create for them the same freedoms that she has found for herself.

These are the types of freedom that entrepreneurship can open up to the Black woman. It’s why the Kansas City Report showed that Black women left corporate in droves seeking this freedom. Here’s the issue, though. We’re the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the country, but among the lowest earning and least funded. So the freedom we’re seeking often ends up as a dream deferred because we don’t have access to any of the stages of capital required to grow and scale, and we don’t have a seat at mainstream tables where deals flow. 

I am encouraged by the efforts nation-wide to close equity gaps in the Black community, but it didn’t take two years to get us here, so the last two years won’t get us out either. Programs like Techstars Rising Stars, a new pre-seed accelerator fund investing in underrepresented founders of color, and Goldman Sachs One Million Black Women, which is committing $10 billion in investment capital and $100 million in philanthropic support to advance racial equity and economic opportunity, are part of the solution, but we have to sustain these kinds of programs. This is our country’s core work for some time to come if we are serious about freedom for all. I’m here for it because this is my life’s work, and those who are serious about this work will embrace it as a lifelong commitment as well.

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