15 Percent Pledge Executive Director LaToya Williams-Belfort
Why Global Citizens Should Care
In the wake of the death of George Floyd, a Black man murdered by a white police officer in May 2020, corporations across the US jumped to show solidarity. But for many, their words were not backed by action to drive sustainable change to end systemic racism and police brutality.
Aurora James, the New York designer behind the sustainable accessories brand Brother Vellies, saw an opportunity to create a framework to hold companies accountable. James had experienced the challenges of starting a business as a Black woman firsthand and wanted to use it to boost up other Black entrepreneurs. She quickly launched an initiative on Instagram asking retailers to commit to supporting Black entrepreneurs.
The model was simple — since Black people in the US make up nearly 15% of the population, companies should make sure 15% of their products are made by Black-owned businesses. In a matter of days, James registered the 15 Percent Pledge as a nonprofit advocacy group to help achieve this mission.
The 15 Percent Pledge has partnered with major companies including fashion and beauty retailers Macy’s, Sephora, and Gap, the food website Yelp, and publishers including Vogue and InStyle. The group also recently launched a job board for employers dedicated to creating diverse and inclusive work environments to post openings.
LaToya Williams-Belfort recently joined the 15 Percent Pledge in December as executive director. Global Citizen spoke with Williams-Belfort about how the company is empowering Black women in business, promoting economic justice, and holding corporations responsible.
Global Citizen: The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted Black-owned businesses and Black people. What is at stake when we don’t work to achieve economic justice alongside racial justice?
LaToya Williams-Belfort: Everything is at stake. The pandemic has shown us who is heavily impacted because of systemic infrastructures that have been in place for so long that when our country experiences a national crisis like a public health crisis, we saw disproportionate effects in communities of color and people of color. From an economic perspective, it’s that same application because of systemic barriers and economic structures that have created barriers to entry and equal access for Back people to build wealth, Black businesses, and of course, Black women.
If we don’t right those wrongs and think about strategies to amplify and propel economic justice, then everything is at stake as it relates to systematically correcting race-based wrongs and going forward in a way that supports all Americans. If we don’t emphasize economic justice, then we’re chasing our tails.
We’ve seen so many statistics on how the pandemic is having the most economic impact on women and women of color. How has the 15 Percent Pledge specifically helped Black women in business?
Through the pandemic, 40% of Black businesses have to close their doors because of a variety of elements and no access and support.
Simultaneously, data have come out to say 140,000 jobs [were] lost just in December, those jobs all belonging to women of color.
Our founder, Aurora James, is a Black woman entrepreneur, and she understands all the nuances…