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.
Zawadi Bryant co-founded pediatric urgent care clinic NightLight Pediatric in the Houston metro area in 2007. The business became one of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S., earning a spot on the Inc. 5000 ranking for six years in a row, most recently in 2019 at No. 4,419 with $9.9 million in 2018 revenue. NightLight's eight locations have seen a slowdown in business since the pandemic hit, mostly because, with kids at home and not in schools, fewer are getting sick, she says. Below, Bryant shares what's been keeping her awake at night as she watches the unrest in Houston and throughout the country. --As told to Lindsay Blakely
I live in the neighborhood where George Floyd grew up. There are still a lot of people he knew who live here and people he went to school with. There was a rally at his high school, and it was very peaceful. We have had violent protests downtown, but thanks to the chief of police, who's a man of the community, and the mayor, things have not been as bad as they could have been. It's not like Minneapolis.
How am I dealing with it? My husband grew up in Brooklyn, and I grew up in Texas. We have our own stories. But we have young children--ages 8 and 12--and they're still so innocent. So I'm trying to shield them from everything that's going own. I need to engage with them on it to a certain degree, but how much of this do they need to know about? They can't live in a bubble. It gives me anxiety.
As business owner, we have to have our game face on while also hurting. I still have to run a 130-employee organization. I have to be positive, strategic, and forward-thinking while also hurting inside. I've been taking my blood pressure a lot because I'm stressed. I keep coming back to that James Baldwin quote: to be black in America and to be somewhat conscious is to be angry. How do you handle that while shepherding an organization, parenting young children? You have to be engaged. I'm not out protesting. Somebody has to help with the funding of all of this--that's how I'm participating in the movement.
I love Martin Luther King Jr. and I loved how he pivoted, toward the end, to economic justice. We can march and we can riot--rioting is language, it's the voice of the unheard--but you have to have an economic base to have a seat at the table. So I donate to organizations, such as Color of Change, to advance the cause. When someone's hearing you, what are you saying? What are your demands? What do you want from police and local officials? We hear you out there rioting and protesting. I stand with you, but now that we have people's attention, what are we saying? How do we get more money into black people's hands? If we can't get involved in politics or lend to folks to get homes and have their own businesses and go to school, then protests are unproductive
In my experience, the racism is so systemic, you almost don't see it. It's layers upon layers, generation upon generation. I was invited to a luncheon hosted by a bank once. I was the only black prospect there. You have to be in the room to see this stuff happening. I was listening to a 25-year-old guy saying, 'I just want to thank my banker for helping me get my $6 million commercial property and giving me my first opportunity to prove myself.' I'm looking at him like, I just spent a year getting a $250,000 loan for which the bank combed through every document about me and my business. This guy is barely out of college and he gets a $6 million loan for his first business opportunity? My loan is for my fifth office. Are you kidding me? People say that's not racism. But what do you call it? It's privilege.
- 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.
- Tomme Beevas, operator of the Minneapolis Pimento Jamaican Kitchen restaurants, on putting values before profits.
- Dionte' Johnson's Store Was Looted, yet He Turned It Into Something Positive.