The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on communities worldwide, and Seattle’s communities of color faced unique challenges during these difficult times.

South King County especially stands out as one of the most diverse areas in Washington state, characterized by a rich tapestry of cultures and backgrounds. In the wake of the pandemic, the Federal Way Black Collective and other organizations have emerged as important voices for underrepresented communities, advocating for their unique needs and fostering a welcoming environment.

But even with the help of community organizations and nonprofits, individuals and businesses, particularly those in the Black community, have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and remain in need of support. And a lack of access to resources, financial literacy and outreach in these communities highlights the importance of centering equity and cultural understanding in funding opportunities and supporting recovery from the economic and social harms exacerbated by COVID-19.

Felicia Hudson, a community advocate and former consultant to the Federal Way Black Collective, described the crucial need to uplift and support impacted businesses and individuals by restoring funding and providing them with the resources needed to recover and thrive.

“Most Black people, Black-owned businesses, minority-owned businesses do not have access to financial advisors. They don't have access to accountants to keep on payroll or anything like that. They don't have it and or they don't know how to access [it] and they don’t know where to go,” said Hudson.

Along with difficulty in locating and accessing opportunities, Hudson said communities of color face a lack of relatable government representation, exclusionary grant-writing requirements, the unsustainable nature of reimbursement grants, and the historically-embedded tendency to be overlooked.

“[Since the pandemic] small minority-owned and small Black-owned businesses have been severely impacted,” continued Hudson. “A lot of people were evicted during that time as well. So, we’ve seen a rise in homelessness and also, in some people, hopelessness. And we have to uplift one another.”

Despite the obstacles, local organizations and leaders have come together to find innovative ways to access business loans and grant funding, providing vital support to minority-owned businesses and helping them navigate the crisis.

Collaboration has been instrumental to this effort — and the survival and resilience of South King County. During the pandemic, entrepreneurs came together to support one another and find creative solutions to common challenges.

“If [there was] anything good that came out of the pandemic… it was the collaborative nature that existed between small businesses and organizations to survive and make it through,” said Efrem Fesaha, a community leader and founder and CEO of Boon Boona Coffee.

This type of organizational collaboration, and the work of community organizations in South King County, have been documented by the Renton Regional Community Foundation in a community-led storytelling initiative called Together: Stories of South King County. The second episode of the series features Hudson and Fesaha as they break down the necessary resources for South King County’s most vulnerable community members and business owners.

“Access to capital is definitely difficult for many Black and Brown community members… whether to purchase a home or to start a business... I commend organizations that are working so hard to get their funding, to get that support, to get the awareness and to put the pressure on our politicians [and] on our leaders,” said Fesaha.

Felicia Hudson: Former Program Coordinator at Federal Way Black Collective and Efrem Fesaha: Boon Boona Coffee

Efrem Fesaha of Boon Boona Coffee and Felicia Hudson, former Program Coordinator at Federal Way Black Collective.

Bridging communities

Community organizations serve as bridges, connecting community members with critical information, mentorship, opportunities, and support. But according to Hudson and Fesaha, this work is limited by a lack of outside support that leads to disparities in critical funding, particularly for communities of color.

“We do great work within our own community, and we need help to continue to do that. But how do we do that if nobody is looking at us?” said Hudson.

“The people who are the funders, how do you have access to these people?” continued Hudson. “Where do you even meet them? They don’t live in my neighborhood [...]. They’re not going to the same church. They’re not going to the same community events that we all go to within our community. They’re not there. And they’re not reaching out to us. Please come out to our events. We want you there. We want you to see us.”

Cultivating cultural understanding

When it comes to building thriving communities, cultural understanding is critical, assert Hudson and Fesaha. So is acknowledging the unique contributions and needs of different cultural groups, which fosters inclusivity and enriches society.

While community organizations can work to connect businesses with banks and financial institutions that understand and appreciate the cultural aspects of entrepreneurship, Hudson insists that larger institutions must also reach out and attempt to establish relationships with communities that create a supportive and nurturing environment for growth.

Pointing to the work of organizations like the Urban League and Africatown, which actively engage with policymakers and leaders to demand representation and appropriate funding for communities, Hudson and Fesaha hope more conversations and advocacy will help direct financial resources where they’re most needed:  addressing pressing needs and supporting small businesses.

“We need a movement,” says Hudson. “Every single change that has ever happened… there’s been a movement behind it. And so, we need to raise our voices. We deserve and demand equal access to funding. I feel like this is what these interviews, these conversations that we’re having right now is, is part of that movement. And it is our cry. For equality. It is our cry for help. It is our plea for support.”