Black business owners who met with Democratic U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger and Prince William County officials on Friday made clear they want a more prominent seat at the table to address the unique challenges they face.
“We need invites,” Jinnae Monroe, a veteran and founder of the nonprofit HireGround, which provides students with workforce development opportunities, said of the need to place more Black people in positions of power to advocate for their community. She received an ovation from the other business leaders in attendance.
Monroe said she’s served on local, state and federal-level organizations, but indicated she often felt singled out because of her skin color. “It would be nice to not be the one,” she said.
Many expressed concerns about affordable housing that make it difficult for both Black entrepreneurs and other people of color to live and work in Prince William County.
Business leaders were also alarmed by attacks on affirmative action at the federal level in light of the Supreme Court ruling it illegal in a recent landmark decision.
“Recognizing and supporting and celebrating Black business owners across Virginia is something I am always keen to do,” Spanberger said.
She continued, “There are particular challenges that Black business owners face, and so hearing directly from community members in this roundtable, being able to answer their questions, talk to some of the federal business legislation that I have voted for and helped pass and the impact that it has had and should have had on business owners like those remains a priority.”
The roundtable discussion, held in honor of National Black Business Month in August at epiQ Food Hall in Woodbridge, included Black business and nonprofit leaders in Prince William County, including representatives from the Virginia Black Business Directory and Northern Virginia Black Chamber of Commerce.
Potomac and Neabsco District supervisors Andrea Bailey and Victory Angry, both of whom are Black, were also in attendance and spoke alongside Spanberger in addressing business leaders’ concerns.
(Spanberger said Woodbridge Supervisor Margaret Franklin made a brief appearance before the event began but left to avoid violating open meeting laws since the two other supervisors were in attendance.)
Addressing Monroe’s comments about lack of Black representation in business, Bailey said Prince William is in the midst of a “paradigm shift” in its attitude toward diversity, backed by support from Spanberger’s office.
“Your point is very well taken,” Bailey said. “Having your voice at the table, but also at the funding table — that has not happened.”
Spanberger and those in attendance voiced concerns about Black residents’ ability to access federal money to help get businesses off the ground, as Black people are disproportionately turned down for business loans.
Spanberger said she is committed to providing federal funding for Black businesses.
Bailey touted the growing partnership between Prince William County officials and Spanberger, who is relatively new to representing the county following redistricting. Spanberger recently invited local officials to an training event on how to apply for business grants so they could impart that knowledge on constituents.
“We want to make sure we have hit the ground running since I was sworn into the 118th Congress just this past January so that the communities that are newly represented by me know how to access the resources we provide,” Spanberger said.