Illustration for article titled Janelle Monae, Verizon Donate $10,000 Grants to Women and Minority-Owned Small Businesses
Photo: Leon Bennett (Getty Images)

Last Thursday, Janelle Monáe took part in a special performance for Verizon’s Pay It Forward Live, which aimed to support small businesses affected by COVID-19. In her Instagram caption promoting the event, she placed an emphasis on wanting to help small businesses owned by women and minorities.

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Verizon announced that through the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), they would be donating an additional $2.5 million to small business support, bringing the total amount of donations from LISC’s Verizon Small Business Recovery Fund to $7.5 million. After Monáe’s set, she announced that 240 female and minority-led small businesses were to receive a $10,000 grant from the LISC.

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Among the recipients of the grant is DeShanta Black of Pennington, Ala., who is the owner of Humble Beginnings Beauty & Boutique. The salon is one of many that has been hit hard by COVID-19. Instead of letting a lack of in-person service get her down, Black decided to use her talents to help others protect themselves.

She is sewing masks and selling them online, and is also distributing them for free to essential workers and elders living and working in her rural community.

“Ms. Black is a unique entrepreneur with a one-of-a-kind business, and at the same time, she is representative of the kinds of business people we focused on for these grants,” Maurice A. Jones, President & CEO of LISC, says of the inspiring salon owner. “We looked for women- and minority-owned enterprises in historically underinvested places, both rural and urban, and who’ve had barriers to accessing capital through mainstream channels. And like so many businesses we chose, Ms. Black is deeply invested in her community, and just needed an opportunity to continue to serve.”

Ms. Black tells The Root that her decision to pivot to mask-making was a “no brainer.” She’s made over 500 masks since the quarantine began.

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“I had the supplies on hand to meet the demands,” she explains. “I’ve had overwhelming responses, from appreciation and gratitude to being called a godsend.” As for her own personal health and safety, Black, who suffers from lupus, is staying at home. If she is in contact with family members living in her home, she says they shower beforehand and also make sure to sanitize any products and packages that they bring home.

Masks sewn by Alabama hairstylist and shop owner, DeShanta Black.
Masks sewn by Alabama hairstylist and shop owner, DeShanta Black.
Photo: DeShanta Black
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The grant will help small businesses and shops like Humble Beginnings pay past rent and utility bills, as well as provide a salary for their employees. Black is planning to use the grant to ultimately buy a storefront in order to put her work on display, as well as to ensure the safety of her employees and clients when they are able to open up again. She also aims to pay it forward and hopes to hire men and women of color who have aspirations of becoming salon owners and stylists when everything begins to go back to some semblance of normalcy.

“The Verizon-LISC grant means so much to me, especially being a minority female,” she continues. “This grant will help me afford the opportunity to expand my business into the vision that I longed for. It saved me the hardship of seeking a business loan and the worries of how I would pay it back.”

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Per USA Today, in order to donate even more during the Pay It Forward Live event, viewers are encouraged to use the hashtag. For each time the #PayItForwardLIVE is used throughout the series, Verizon will donate $10.

Alabama hairstylist and shop owner DeShanta Black in front of her shop, Humble Beginnings Beauty & Boutique.
Alabama hairstylist and shop owner DeShanta Black in front of her shop, Humble Beginnings Beauty & Boutique.
Photo: DeShanta Black

Music and culture journalist. Pronounced "Jay-nuh."

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