As Americans across the country protest the killing of George Floyd and other people of color at the hands of police, Utah based companies are speaking out.
“Horn of Africa Restaurant stands in solidarity with the black community and extends our support to the family and loved ones of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and the countless number of black men and women who have lost their lives due to systemic racism in our country,” owner Halimo Omar said in a statement.
“We also send our deepest sympathies and mourn with the family of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal,” she added. “As a black-owned business these issues affect us every day, and we know firsthand the struggle that the black community faces."
Omar came to Utah 26 years ago with her four children as refugees from Somalia. She said Horn of Africa tries to create an inclusive and safe environment for everyone.
In February the restaurant hosted an event to start a conversation between the Salt Lake City Police Department and the community.
“It is imperative for businesses, specifically local businesses, like ourselves, to speak out on social issues,” she told The Tribune. "Because not only do we directly benefit from communities but we are a part of the community.”
The deaths and protests have spurred a discussion about institutional racism and inequality and some African American business owners are seeing the words starting to translate to action.
Omar’s daughter Amal Khalif said Horn of Africa has been “completely overwhelmed” by the amount of support they’ve received lately — which is helping the small restaurant recover from COVID-19 losses.
Sherrita Magalde, owner of Sheer Ambrosia Bakery, said support for her baklava business last weekend was better than her Christmas sales.
At first she was worried that it was charity — not wanting people to support her business just because she is African American — but then she had a change of heart.
“There are people that finally see what we have been living with our whole lives,” Magalde wrote in an email. “They see the injustices, racism, and inequalities and they want to do whatever they can to help.”
“Twenty-four years I have lived here among mostly white people and for one of the first times in 24 years I feel loved, I feel like I count,” she told The Tribune.
She said supporting black-owned businesses isn’t charity, it’s inclusion. “It’s recognizing that we are people too and we want the same things that you do. We want to be successful … we want for our kids to be well educated.” Magalde wrote in an email. “We want a seat at the table too.”
Jasmine Gordon, co-owner of clothing company A La Mode, said now is the time to have difficult conversations to help the people closest to you better understand the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Talking to our parents, talking to our grandparents, talking to our cousins that maybe don’t understand, talking to our kids — that’s where I think we should really go from here.”
Owner of Independent Beauty Supply, Leslie Allen, said the focus on racial inequality has brought her community together.
“It’s really incredible to see how the community … has responded to us and to just the slaying and killing of black people. The community around Riverdale and Ogden has been amazing, we’ve actually branched together and become … more American.”
Shayne Scruggs, owner of Fit factory in Draper, said supporting black-owned businesses can help close the racial wealth gap.
“We can trace the origins of today’s racial wealth gap to Jim Crow-era practices like redlining and job discrimination which segregated African Americans from higher paying jobs and [homeownership] opportunities that ultimately prevented wealth building,” Scruggs said in an email.
“Small businesses and entrepreneurs have been longtime wealth builders in our society,” he added. “By supporting more black-owned businesses, we can create more opportunities for meaningful savings, property ownership, credit building and generational wealth.”
Large companies headquartered in Utah have also released statements condemning racism and the death of George Floyd after a white Minneapolis officer knelt on his neck for almost 9 minutes. Fired policeman Derek Chauvin now faces murder charges.
Sorenson Communications, Zions Bank, Autoliv, Nu Skin Enterprises, Inc., Alsco Inc., Intermountain Healthcare, Associated Foods, and Kroger (the parent company of Smith’s) have all shared statements with their employees or the public. Some have taken steps to make their workplace more inclusive.
Intermountain Healthcare created an Office of Equity and Inclusion in 2017 that focuses on “visible awareness-raising programs, such as events, diversity trainings, caregiver resource groups, and multimedia marketing," spokesperson Brad Gillman said. With these steps Intermountain aims to “hire, nurture, and develop a diverse and culturally competent workforce.”
Neelam Chand, senior vice president diversity and inclusion officer for Zions Bank, told The Tribune that in conversations around inclusion, people of color are often left out. “So, it’s especially important that we ensure people of color feel welcomed," she said. "Not just welcomed, but to be a voice at the decision-making table.”
Chand recently conducted a training on microaggressions in the workplace. She talked about virtual microaggressions and the subtle ways discrimination shows up online during video calls, emails and chats. “The training opened a dialogue for those who had no idea that microaggressions even existed – it also validated those who were experiencing them,” she wrote in an email.
James Jackson III, founder and executive director for Utah Black Chamber of Commerce, thinks it’s great that some businesses have said they stand against racism, “but the statements that are really meaningful, [are] the ones that … show what action steps they’re going to take within their workplace.”
He said black-owned businesses have historically struggled in Utah, and when the pandemic hit many were forced to close.
Many black business owners didn’t have access to or weren’t aware of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans so the Black Chamber of Commerce recently recorded a webinar on its Facebook page that tells Utahns how to access PPP loans and grants.
“The blessing in the storm from this George Floyd incident" he told The Tribune, "is that we’ve been asked almost every day this last week about how people can … support black-owned businesses.”
Sauce Boss Southern Kitchen in Draper sold out of food last weekend. Another company, Brownies! Brownies! Brownies! in Sugarhouse organized an event for black-owned food trucks and a few thousand people attended. Some of the funds the dessert company raised went to the nonprofit Curly Me, which focuses on personal development for young girls of color.
“There’s been a lot of support for the black community … and all of it is well-intended and a lot of people are looking to identify the black community here in Utah and show their support," Jackson said. "Which we love and wish that we’d have had this a long time ago.”
Lex Scott, founder of Black Lives Matter Utah said if businesses want to support the movement they need to push legislators for a comprehensive police reform bill.
She also encouraged Utahns to support black-owned businesses, programs like Project Success, and the Black Chamber of Commerce.
“We noticed that the movement has become ‘trendy’ and this is not a trend,” Scott wrote in an email. “We have been fighting for our lives for hundreds of years. Simply carrying a sign or attending a protest will not end police brutality.”
“We need people to sign our petition that is on our website,” she added. “We need people to call their senators and congresspeople. We need real and lasting police reform.”