For generations, Atlanta has prided itself on being a haven for minority-owned businesses — Black-owned, in particular — with the city boasting more than 7,600 Black-helmed firms, second only to New York in the U.S. But even Atlanta hasn’t been able to outrun the reality that COVID-19 has brought to the fore: Black-owned businesses are closing down in large numbers because of the pandemic and are doing so at a higher rate than white-owned businesses.
One of those businesses is Atlanta Taekwondo Academy, which had to close its doors this year after more than decades. Photographer Matt Odom visited the school’s owner, Isaac Thomas, as part of a Bloomberg article that spotlights both the hardships faced by Black-owned businesses during the pandemic and the systemic racism that has exacerbated them.
I have worked with Bloomberg before on various other assignments over the last few years and was handed this assignment straight away. The shoot itself lasted about an hour.
Matt himself is a Black small business owner, so he’s no stranger to the racial prejudices that define our nation’s banking system. Here’s some empirical evidence to back that up: in 2018, large banks approved 60 percent of loans sought by white small-business owners but just 29 percent of sought by African Americans. The numbers come from data gathered by the Small Business Credit Survey. When you hear the phrase “underserved communities,” think of statistics like this one.
African Americans have had to deal with redlining for years when it comes to access to funds and real estate loans. This is something that has been systemic for years and was also a big part of the collapse of the economy in 2008, when it manifested itself in subprime mortgages.
More than decade later, racial inequalities within business ownership and the financial backing therein persist. Isaac is just one of about 440,000 Black small business owners who had to cease operations between February and April of this year. Matt recalls meeting an intelligent, engaging person — a man who beat COVID while dealing with all of this.
Isaac was a very astute individual whom his neighboring business owners absolutely love. He was kind and you can tell he is ultra-compassionate about others.
Compassion is something everyone could use a little more of these days. Small businesses are the key to a healthy economy, and many — Black-owned outfits in particular — are in need of assistance.
Black-owned small businesses are affected hugely by this pandemic via a lack of financial relief which, in the grand scale, affects the local economy in the area.
Photo Editor: Marie Monteleone
See more of Matt’s work at mattodomphotography.com.
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