KANSAS CITY, Mo. — G.I.F.T., Generating Income For Tomorrow, works to revitalize Kansas City's east side and build up Black-owned businesses by giving out grants, all of which are community funded.
"Were we a city that actually had a system that gave realistic early-stage access to capital to these Black business owners, we would be able to see many more Black businesses thriving and turning into empires," Brandon Calloway, executive director and co-founder of G.I.F.T., said.
Over the fall, 56 Black-owned businesses, mostly in the east side, applied for more than $1.3 million worth of grants that are not currently all funded.
Calloway and his team created a report to get a snapshot of their successes and challenges.
Since their report, another 24 businesses have applied for grants.
Calloway said the report showed a positive takeaway: Black-owned businesses are diverse, representing 10 industries and employing 200 people. Sixty percent of them are women-owned.
He said G.I.F.T.'s work shows that when you invest in your community, you get results.
"The report showed that were we able to increase our funding to a million dollars, we would have been able to hit all 56 of those businesses," Calloway said. "Specifically, we would have been able to create another 216 jobs here in the urban core."
The businesses brought in just over $3 million in revenue in 2019, with the top seven performing businesses bringing in $2.2 million of that.
Out of the 56 businesses, 24 have no paid employees beyond the business owner, 21 have one to four paid employees, and 11 have five or more paid employees.
Most of the grant applicants said they intended to use the money for rent and utilities or to get a physical location, while others needed the money for payroll or to hire on more employees.
The findings in the report show most of these businesses are less than two years old and did not have enough current cash flow to satisfy the lender, so accessing startup loans was difficult.
This was true for Esra England, who wants to open the physical location of his business, KC Cajun, at 27th & Bales. He's been running a food truck for about three years.
"We're focused on trying to invest here in the east side of Kansas City, so some issues we ran into is just bringing in different investors to look at things we're trying to do," England said.
The effects of redlining still create barriers, especially in zip codes with vacant buildings and many families living below the poverty line.
Calloway's goal of revitalizing businesses has a direct link to housing, which is what Ajia Morris focuses on with her organization, The Greenline Initiative.
"It ties in directly with our initiatives to create more affordable housing for people who are currently renting or occupying the east side, because you increase the retail, you also need to increase the rooftops," Morris said.
The Greenline Initiative rehabs homes in and around one of the most vacant ZIP codes in the country: 64128. They help turn current residents from renters to homeowners.
"There are so many things we can neutralize simply by owning a home and being able to create generational wealth," Morris said.
Calloway said business owners he works with have the talent and the drive, but G.I.F.T. needs more community funding to help jump-start them.
"It fuels us to just do more," Calloway said.
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