PORTLAND, Ore. — Kaiser Permanente Northwest is granting $250,000 to Black-owned businesses and nonprofits spanning Oregon and Washington.
It is part of Kaiser's national effort to take on systemic racism, by providing rapid response grants, business loans and professional development opportunities. These local actions build on $100 million in national grants and financing equity to support Black businesses.
"Systemic racism is built into our culture and society, and it can only be defeated through long-term commitment and sustained action," said Jeff Collins, president of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals of the Northwest. "We can't fully address the health of our members and our communities without addressing racism and economic opportunity."
Kaiser Permanente Northwest will give a total of $250,000 to ten local nonprofits on the frontlines in the fight against systemic racism:
1. African American Alliance for Homeownership
2. Albina Headstart
3. Black Parent Initiative
4. Black United Fund of Oregon
5. Kairos PDX
6. Portland African American Leadership Forum
7. NAACP Vancouver
8. NAACP Eugene/Springfield
9. Self Enhancement Inc.
10. Urban League of Portland
Each $25,000 grant will go toward general operating expenses, with the intent that services will improve overall health within communities of color, which are disproportionally impacted by economic instability and have less access to healthcare.
"[Kaiser Permanente] is allowing us to make the tangible differences necessary to ensure equity and justice across all social systems and institutions," said Dr. LM Alaiyo Foster, CEO of the Black United Fund of Oregon.
Kaiser also has a loan program to help business owners of color cope with economic hardship during COVID-19.
Kaiser Permanente and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) launched a $60 million investment partnership. The national Rapid Relief & Resiliency Fund will provide loans to small businesses of color to support recovery, stabilization, and growth. Business owners can apply online.
Another $15 million in grants will expand people of color's access to professional training and business networks. Kaiser and Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC) launched a partnership in July 2019, providing business owners with executive leadership training through the Inner City Capital Connection (ICCC) program.
Sharon Maxwell is one of the Portland business owners who benefitted from that training last year.
"I am one of less than a handful of African American women in the Northwest who has a general contracting firm and specialty firm," Maxwell said, describing her company, Bratton Construction. "[ICCC] gave me the courage to go after national projects; go back to school and complete two Bachelor's and a Master's degree; and even retool my operations to adapt to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis."
Maxwell said as a woman of color operating her own construction firm, some people don't take her seriously.
"So many people believe that we don't even belong within the industry, that it's not for us," she said.
Camille Applin-Jones with Kaiser Permanente echoed those concerns, describing the systemic barriers to entry for many businesses of color.
"Any group that is excluded in the case of systemic racism doesn't have the same opportunities for economic growth, economic stability," Applin-Jones said. "But ultimately they don't have those same opportunities for total health."
She said supporting minority-owned businesses can help shrink the wealth gap and boost access to quality healthcare for people of color.
"Create an environment where the playing field is leveled," Applin-Jones added.
For Maxwell, the assistance means more opportunity to do the work she loves, and be a role model to her children and grandchildren.
"[It's] building the community by building the people first," Maxwell said.