As nationwide protests against the killing of black Americans by police continue, Inc. has asked black business leaders in or near hot zones to tell us what they are experiencing.
The founders of Atlanta-based Lyfe Marketing were on a high-flying growth trajectory, overseeing digital marketing for more than 400 small businesses and landing the No. 299 spot on the 2019 Inc. 5000 list of America's fastest-growing companies. But in the past week, Keran Smith and brothers Sean Standberry and Sherman Standberry watched many of their clients suffer from looting sprees. Below, they describe living and working in that atmosphere--and how they will help their community move forward. --As told to Cameron Albert-Deitch
Sherman Standberry: It's definitely tense. We all live in midtown Atlanta, and this week, I literally saw protests crowding the street that I live on. Businesses by our office building are being vandalized and destroyed. Emotions are definitely high in the city.
It's tense over the racial issues, and then marrying that with the pandemic: Atlanta had a spike in cases a few weeks ago, so it's really weird seeing these huge crowds of people gathering despite the health concerns.
Smith: While I'm jogging down the street, I actively see military vehicles, military personnel blocking off highways. That's something I've never seen before.
Sean Standberry: When I step outside my doors, I have this internal fear that I, as a black man, may be judged for the actions of others.
Internally, at our company, I feel really encouraged. We do stand for diversity, and we stand for equality, and our team is really just one unit. When we see stuff in the outside world fragment and pull apart, our team pulls together even stronger--communicating more, smiling more, uplifting each other more, putting inspirational quotes in chats, and stuff like that.
But it does worry me when I step outside of that environment and face the real world, so to speak.
Smith: I think we've done a good job at doing our work when it's time to do work. And then keeping any emotions we have outside of that, during that time. It's a luxury to be able to do that. There are a lot of people who are protesting at 1 p.m. because that's what they are called to do in that time.
Sean Standberry: The business has been an escape route. It's something that I love. Just being able to escape in the world of business, work hard for a better future, is really the only thing that's keeping me sane right now.
We stand for peaceful protests. We don't stand for the opposite--the rioting and the looting. It's truly something that's destroying our community before our eyes. It's hurting small businesses, and that's the part that directly affects us, because our mission as an agency is to help small businesses grow.
We've had several clients who've been abused by rioters. I got a call this week from a client with many offices downtown in Atlanta. They've all been broken into, looted. We're trying to be as flexible as possible, as understanding as possible, with clients like that. We're likely going to have to pause advertising campaigns, stop marketing, and just try to give our clients solutions in terms of how to get back on their feet.
Sherman Standberry: I don't think our roles as leaders have changed. If anything, it reemphasized what I care about. For me personally, as a black business owner, I've always known the risk and the challenges that we face. I use my voice to encourage people--and in some cases, explain to people how to best deal with it in a peaceful way.
Smith: Now more than ever, equality is important. Diversity is important. Loving everyone equally is important. Diversity of a company's infrastructure is important, because it promotes loving everyone equally. If your company, your board, your team doesn't have a diverse nature, what does that say to the world around you? Your actions in this time promote what you believe.
Sean Standberry: We move forward with more hope, more optimism that the entrepreneurs and small businesses we work with aren't pushover types of people. These are fighters. They're going to keep going to work, keep repairing. They're going to figure out how to operate even when it doesn't look possible. We'll support them in any way we can.
- Joah Spearman, founder of Austin-based travel guide Localeur, on the role of virtue signaling.
- Kim Prince, owner of Hotville Chicken, a restaurant in South Central L.A., on why, despite widespread protests, she chose to not board up but to stay open.
- Brad Keiller, owner of San Diego's Nomad Donuts, with family from South Africa, on hopes that the U.S. is in a watershed moment.
- Tanya Holland, owner of Brown Sugar Kitchen, on offering a seat at the table to everyone.
- Dionte' Johnson's Store Was Looted, yet He Turned It Into Something Positive