Allentown, Pa., September 1, 2021—The Lehigh Valley Community Foundation and eight partner organizations are participating in the Philadelphia Federal Reserves’ Reinventing Our Communities (ROC) 2021 Cohort Program to strengthen the local economy by helping Allentown address structural racism and barriers to opportunity in the small business sector.
The ROC Cohort Program is a ten-month in-depth racial equity capacity building program for cross-sector community cohorts. The Allentown cohort will engage in equity training, community and economic development webinars, technical assistance, and a community of practice, leading to the development of an equity plan for addressing the challenge through the development of local solutions.
The Allentown cohort is a group of cross-sector community leaders who participate in workshops and peer learning that allow them to gain skills and create a tailored racial equity plan to address local challenges. The Community Foundation’s Megan Briggs, Director or Community Investments serves as the cohort lead. “What is unique about our group is it’s cross-sector involvement,” she noted. “Our group includes not only sector professionals, but also the voices of small business owners who understand the need and can help us move forward with a plan that can make a real difference in the community.”
Lehigh Valley Community Foundation is partnering with the City of Allentown, Community Action Development Corp. of Allentown, Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, The Rising Tide Fund, Martindale Center for the Study of Private Enterprise at Lehigh University and two Allentown small businesses – Visit Vans and Straight A Uniforms.
Allentown is one of four areas in Pennsylvania participating in the program. The others include Chester County, Lancaster, and York. Nationally, nine community cohorts from the Philadelphia, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Richmond, and San Francisco Federal Reserve Districts are participating in the 2021 ROC Cohort Program.
The Federal Reserve will provide equity training for the Allentown cohort to help them understand the unique systematic barriers faced by small businesses owned by people of color, so the group can envision long-term solutions. The group will receive economic development training on best practices, followed by providing technical assistance specially tailored for Allentown and surrounding region. Afterwards, Federal Reserve experts will assist the group as they devise a plan to help small, person-of-color-owned businesses overcome the barriers, including many that have been intensified by the Covid-19 Pandemic.
“Our work centers on supporting those who have been historically overlooked, underfunded, and economically impacted by the pandemic and systemic racism so that all residents can benefit from an inclusive, equitable plan for recovery,” Briggs explained.
Cohort member Shalanda Riddick owns Visit Vans LLC, a company that provides transportation to people who want to visit loved ones incarcerated in state prisons. She is eager to help other business owners who are experiencing similar challenges. “As an entrepreneur, as a small business owner and as a Black woman, I appreciate having a seat at the table,” Riddick said. “It’s a little early to know exactly where we are headed, but I know I’ll have a lot to offer.”
Megan Colon is the owner of Straight A Uniforms and an entrepreneur consultant specializing in helping people of color in business. She is pleased to be included in the Allentown cohort, a city which has a population where two-thirds identify as people of color, but only own roughly ten percent of the businesses. “I could tell from the start that this isn’t something that’s just being done for show,” said Colon, “This is going to have a real impact in our community. I’m excited to see where we can take this.”
Each plan will be formulated to the needs of the businesses in that region, with the goals of securing support for Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC)–owned businesses, such as access to loans; centering the best interests of BIPOC- owned businesses; cultivating relationships with key decision makers; increasing social capital; and increasing representation in key decision-making roles.