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Black History Month is a moment to celebrate the contributions of Black Americans to the country and our communities. It is a time for us to reflect on the challenges and systemic racism that Black people still face and commit to listening and learning from their experiences.
In that spirit, we reached out to three Black business owners and leaders and asked them to share some reflections with us:
- Chloe McKenzie is a researcher, activist, and founder of BlackFem, an organization working to close the racial and gender wealth gap. She’s also one of the winners of PayPal’s Maggie Lena Walker "Emerging Leader" award.
- Matt Mullens, founder of Empasta, makes and sells his vegan cheese sauce in stores across Greensboro, North Carolina, and nationally online.
- D’Shawn Russell began making candles herself in 2015 and since then, has grown Southern Elegance Candle Company into a million-dollar business.
We asked these talented and bold thinkers and entrepreneurs to share with us their thoughts on the significance of Black History Month, what accomplishment they’re most proud of, and to offer some advice for other aspiring founders.
Tell us about the significance of Black History Month and what it means to you
Matt: Black History Month serves as a time to highlight our gratitude to our ancestors, elders and others who have helped pave the way for us. For me, it is a good reminder that our actions are bigger than us. For the country, it can serve as a time of reflection, introspection, and understanding of the trials and tribulations that shape the Black experience.
D’Shawn: Black History Month really is just another month for me. I don’t need a month to remind me of how incredible African American people are. All I have to do is look at my family tree to find motivation and see excellence. For me, Black History Month is a way for everybody else to acknowledge the greatness that is African American culture, African American people, and all of the things we have accomplished.
Chloe: Black History Month is every month for me, but in February I reflect on the strength and power of my ancestors. It continues to blow my mind just how resilient we as Black people are and it makes me proud. As it pertains to my wealth justice work, Black History is a strong reminder to continue to learn about all the unsung heroes like Maggie Lena Walker.
What accomplishments are you most proud of when it comes to your career?
D’Shawn: Interestingly enough, our financial success doesn’t move me. I take our position in the community very seriously and that’s what makes me proud. Providing benefits, providing a living wage, making sure that my employees are well taken care of, being a contributor to the community and a supporter and mentor to other up-and-coming African American home fragrance companies.
Matt: I am most proud of the fact that for over three years Empasta has been able to constantly serve a quality product that helps make people’s dietary life tasty and simpler. By starting at our local farmers market, to selling at co-op retailers, and then now selling nationwide, our visibility has inspired others and helped show that vegan food can be delicious.
Chloe: I am most proud that my research on financial trauma is beginning to influence more state and local policies, as well as business models. But more importantly, I’m proud of how the lexicon of wealth justice that I created can now be leveraged by ignored populations to demand more from the financial system.
What advice would you give other Black business owners and entrepreneurs?
Matt: Start, show up, have purpose, and deliver. Remember we stand on the shoulders of giants. Don't hesitate to seek mentorship and stay teachable along the way. Genuineness and gratitude is a currency no bank or investor can give you.
Chloe: At first, many institutions were afraid to partner with me because of my explicit intentions to prioritize Black women and destabilize the financial structures that abuse and traumatize us. I questioned whether I should soften but didn’t. Success for me is not about monetization or other material things, it’s about intangible impactful contributions.
D’Shawn: People need to see that it is possible. I woefully underestimated how impactful me being the CEO of this business was going to be to other women and, in particular, other African American women. Just seeing people succeed that look like you? I think it gives people hope.
How PayPal is Taking Action for Racial Equity
In 2020 PayPal made a commitment to invest in Black-owned businesses and underserved communities as part of the fight for racial equity and social justice. PayPal made a $535 million commitment to support Black- and minority-owned businesses to help close the racial wealth gap and tackle economic inequality. This included funds for Empowerment Grants for Black-owned small businesses, for Black- and Latinx-led venture capital funds, and deposits in community banks, credit unions and funds focused on underserved communities.
In 2021, PayPal announced the inaugural winners and finalists of the Maggie Lena Walker award, named after the first Black woman – and first woman – to charter and lead a U.S. bank. The work of the recipients reflects the late banking executive and civil right activist's mission and legacy.
PayPal also recently published the results of research conducted alongside the Congressional Black Caucus Institute and two historically Black colleges and universities, Dillard University and Wiley College, looking at how the financial services industry can empower the Black community.
Inclusion and equity are at the heart of PayPal's values. More information on our efforts across the company and our communities to advance social justice can be found here.
How You Can Act
- Donate to support charities dedicated to tackling racial inequities and amplifying Black voices on PayPal Giving Fund.
- Read and watch stories and profiles of other innovative Black entrepreneurs, artists and founders and learn about their experiences running successful businesses and nonprofits: