August 19, 2021

Supporting small businesses owned by people of color

Kaiser Permanente’s partnership with Local Initiatives Support Corporation, a community development organization, is making a difference.

When Tieshae Huntsman, founder of Southern Taco, Inc., saw the widespread unemployment being caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, she felt more driven than ever to keep her food delivery and catering business running — for the sake of her community in the Crenshaw District of South Los Angeles, California, and for her employees.

With help from funds provided by the Los Angeles branch of LISC, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, a national nonprofit that supports community development in cities and rural areas, she was able to keep paying staff members who depended on Southern Taco as their sole source of income, and the business was able to provide over 1,000 meals a week to the elderly and people in transitional homes.

“LISC LA was a fundamental part of me being able to keep my employees employed,” Huntsman said. “A lot of the time, funding goes straight past us to larger corporations — so it really helped us small businesses stay in business.”

Meanwhile, Jeffrey Miles, the owner and vice president of Miles Copy Center, also knows what it’s like to work at the center of the Crenshaw community. His small business has been there for 6 years, but it lost about half its business revenue during the pandemic due to scarce foot traffic. However, with the help of LISC LA funding, Miles was able to keep the copy center open and support his customers.

“LISC LA provided us with a grant to maintain our lease on our property and maintain our employees,” Miles said. “We used the money to keep the payroll going and help buy supplies.”

Steps toward greater equity

In early 2020, Kaiser Permanente partnered with LISC to help increase investments in businesses owned by people of color and expand economic opportunities for people living in lower-income communities in South Los Angeles and in City Heights, San Diego. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, its impact on entrepreneurs made the partnership even more vital.

“Economic security and opportunity are crucial foundations for health. Long-standing underinvestment has contributed to ongoing health and wealth inequities in too many of our communities,” said Stephanie Ledesma, interim senior vice president of community health programs for Kaiser Permanente. “Bringing thoughtful and intentional investments to under-resourced communities and overlooked entrepreneurs is one big step toward greater equity.”

In June 2020, we accelerated our work with LISC to launch a $60 million investment partnership as part of a larger effort to fight racism and promote equity. Systemic racism and a lack of economic opportunities have persisted for far too long, preventing communities of color from achieving total health. 

Bringing thoughtful and intentional investments to under-resourced communities and overlooked entrepreneurs is one big step toward greater equity.

Additionally, Kaiser Permanente is helping to fund LISC’s Project 10X, a $1 billion effort to address racial health, wealth, and opportunity gaps across the nation. The joint effort will expand our collaboration to support communities in the San Francisco Bay Area; Atlanta; Seattle; Oahu; Prince George’s County, Maryland; and Washington, D.C. As we look to help communities recovering from the pandemic, ongoing inclusive economic recovery will be essential.

As of the end of June 2021, Kaiser Permanente’s loans with LISC have supported the retention and creation of nearly 900 jobs.

More signs of hope

In Atlanta, Terri-Nichelle Bradley, founder and CEO of Brown Toy Box, saw direct-to-consumer sales stop overnight. Schools the company was in the process of selling to halted conversations. So the company needed a lifeline to avoid layoffs. Unable to secure help from traditional banks, grant money from LISC and Atlanta Wealth Building Initiative helped the company persevere through 2020. “My company leverages play to normalize Black excellence and create pathways to prosperous careers by expanding Black children’s ideas of the possibilities for their lives,” said Bradley. “The grant helped at the most critical time for us.”

As the country reopens, Huntsman, Miles, and Bradley look toward the future. Huntsman hopes to employ more youth and people recently released from prison. In doing so, she wants to show what a homegrown business from Crenshaw can achieve. Miles expects more foot traffic through the Crenshaw Corridor and looks forward to hiring several more employees over the next year so the store can continue to grow. And Bradley hopes that, years from now, some scientist, artist, or tech executive comes up to her and says, “I believed I could be anything I wanted because of Brown Toy Box.”

LISC’s work to support businesses owned by people of color is helping to create healthier communities. And healthier neighborhoods lead to healthier people, because where we live, learn, work, and play has an enormous impact on our health. In the years to come, Kaiser Permanente will continue to work with LISC to invest in even more cities across the nation.