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.
For Brad Keiller, co-founder and co-owner of San Diego's Nomad Donuts, the chaos of the past few days is somewhat familiar. While he grew up in Canada, his family is from South Africa, so there were regular conversations about race and apartheid. Still, Keiller says, having that background didn't make it any easier to bear witness to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery and to process the violent protests they inspired. --As told to Lindsay Blakely
These are unique and difficult times. Let's start with the "easy" one--the pandemic.
We're a doughnut shop, so we've always been to-go largely--the pandemic has meant just a different take on what we're doing. I'm not opening our dining room anytime soon. I don't feel the demand is there from customers. My best estimate is that sales are probably 70 percent off of where we would be normally. We're open only four days a week now. We did receive a PPP loan in the second round.
In regards to the violence and the protests, this is the hard part. I'm very emotional about it, and it's extremely personal for me. My family is from South Africa, so in an odd way this is pretty familiar. I grew up in Canada and I've lived the past 20 years in the U.S. At one point, I wanted to live in South Africa--but I made a decision around whether or not I wanted race to be a prominent factor in my life every day. I chose to come to San Diego--and now I find myself in a situation where race is a prominent issue in my daily life.
From a business perspective and from a neighborhood perspective, we didn't notice anything different until Sunday. We were, embarrassingly enough, heads down. I wasn't aware of any protests or marches until after the day's service. There had been protests in La Mesa. I just saw it today; there are broken windows, and a couple of banks were burned to the ground.
There was this watershed moment in South Africa during the riots in the '70s. A photo on the cover of Time magazine showed the body of a 13-year-old boy being carried by an 18-year-old kid, with his sister beside him. That changed things in South Africa. I thought Rodney King would have been that moment for the U.S., but it's one thing after another after another. It's deep in this society. It doesn't matter what presidential administration is in power.
Honestly, I don't know what getting involved looks like from a business perspective. We've always been involved in our community, mostly focusing on homelessness and at-risk youth and bettering the community. Race never factored into that decision for me in terms of what we support. But I can't sit on the sidelines. I can't not comment. I need time to get my emotions in check. To be constructive, it takes a minute to figure out where you want to go and what message you want to send. But it's part of my responsibility as a business owner and community leader.
I don't tend to think about systemic racism in my own experience. I had the weird privilege of growing up in Canada with an education that gave me a leg up on a lot of people. Coming here, I realized that to be true. Also, on paper, I don't look like a minority in the U.S., even down to my name. It was hard to get capital for this business--I couldn't get a loan, even with a good credit score and $100,000 in the bank. But I think it had more to do with small business lending and my ZIP code in an up-and-coming area.
At end of day, if something were to happen to my shop, it might be hardest on my employees. We're all minorities. We have insurance, and it would be unfortunate--but this has gone on way too long. It's time for change. This is all just stuff, it's just money. I'll make money again: It's not as important as people's lives.
I really am hoping this one is the moment--that Time magazine cover moment--when people decide to get together, and it crosses skin color and economics. And people start to realize we are a very, very divided nation--we have been for quite a while--and that things haven't changed the way people like to think they have. I hope that is the result of all this.
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- 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.
- Zawadi Bryant, founder of NightLight Pediatric, a group of urgent care clinics in the Houston metro area, on what keeps her awake at night.