Elisse Douglass thinks a lot about the relationship between opportunity and place. As the VP of development for Signature Development Group, she manages large-scale commercial and retail developments in downtown Oakland with the aim of enlivening the community via economic activity.
When vandals disrupted Black Lives Matter protests and destroyed small businesses in downtown Oakland, she knew the Black-owned businesses would have a hard time recovering. So Douglass, who has little fundraising experience, mobilized. She launched the Oakland Black Business Damage Fund on GoFundMe, initially seeking $5,000. She raised more than 10 times that amount in a few days, eventually topping $115,000.
One of her favorite parts of the experience was the positive public reaction. “I love that because it shows that we didn’t have to explain why Black businesses matter,” Douglass says.
Inspired, she co-founded the Oakland Black Business Fund. The investment platform aims to raise $10 million to keep Black Oakland businesses open and $1 billion in investment funds for Black entrepreneurs nationally.
“If we really want to invest in this idea that Black businesses are the infrastructure for our community, economic activity, and empowerment, then we need to talk about their access to venture capital and their relationship to real estate as well,” says Douglass. “Give people opportunities [while] letting their business models adapt and compete for the future.”
Some things are fixable Douglass says. “The harder work is racism and racist systems. I think Black businesses play a really important role in the infrastructure for breaking those systems down. So we need to invest in them.”