Alfonso Wright can trace his love of tea back to his childhood in Brooklyn, when he would bring his mother a cup every morning from the age of 3. He became fascinated with the distinctive aromas and tastes, and has travelled the world exploring the importance tea holds in different cultures. When he met his wife, Jamila McGill, in 2014, their dates often involved “tea-hopping” between tea shops across New York City, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta. Three years later they started a business together—the Brooklyn Tea Company—and opened a shop near where Alfonso grew up and where Jamila had worked as a teacher.
The business grew as New Yorkers developed a taste for Alfonso and Jamila’s exotic flavors—until the pandemic hit. COVID-19 turned their bustling storefront into an empty lot. Between March and May, their revenue fell dramatically and they feared for the tea company’s future. Unable to serve customers in person, they focused their efforts online instead, creating a virtual store and using Facebook and Instagram to reach potential customers. They sold specially created gift boxes filled with teas known for their health benefits, while using their spare time to bring drinks to healthcare workers at a local hospital.
Thanks to their hard work and creativity, Alfonso and Jamila have been able to keep their business going in these difficult times—but others haven’t. Black-owned businesses have been hit harder by the pandemic than any others. According to a report by the New York Federal Reserve in August, Black-owned businesses closed at twice the rate of others this year—the most acute decline among those run by minorities. They are more likely to be based in areas with higher numbers of COVID-19 cases and less likely to have the strong balance sheets, banking relationships, or access to federal relief needed to weather the storm.
The disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on Black communities and Black businesses is one of the many reminders of the systemic racial inequalities that exist in America today. Lots of people have been asking themselves what they can do in their own lives to make a difference—even just a small difference—and shopping with Black businesses is one way many have chosen to do that. Since March, more than 3.5 million people on Facebook in the U.S. have joined new groups created to support Black businesses.
This holiday season could be a make-or-break time for local businesses across the country. Even in good times many rely on holiday sales to see them through, but for those struggling to keep their heads above water this year, a strong holiday season is critical. That’s why Facebook and the U.S. Black Chambers, an influential network of Black entrepreneurs, have teamed up to launch #BuyBlack Friday—a campaign to harness the energy of the year’s biggest retail day to celebrate and support Black-owned businesses and their communities.
Together, we have created The Facebook #BuyBlack Friday Gift Guide, which features products from Black-owned businesses from across the United States – including holiday gift boxes from the Brooklyn Tea Company filled with specialty teas and thoughtfully curated products from other local businesses, including candles, lotions, and fragrances. The guide is available at about.fb.com/giftguide and you can also find it in the Lift Black Voices Hub in the Facebook app, which has links to more resources to help you #BuyBlack for the holidays. You can also tune in to the #BuyBlack Friday Show, every Friday at 11am PT, culminating on November 27. Jamila and Alfonso will join the show on November 20, where you’ll have an opportunity to shop their teas live directly from the episode.
Even if you choose not to shop online this year, you can still spend your dollars with businesses in your local area. Facebook’s Businesses Nearby tool helps you find local businesses, including those that have chosen to self-designate as Black-owned. Alfonso and Jamila created a lifeline to better days for their business. Others aren’t so lucky, and they need your business. Step up. Help out. #BuyBlack.
Sheryl Sandberg is the chief operating officer of Facebook and founder of LeanIn.org.
Ron Busby is president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Black Chambers, Inc.