CLEVELAND — A local non-profit is looking to break down the barriers that keep people of color from accessing capital.
When Angela Sharpley set out to secure the funding she needed to expand her business, she initially found some resistance.
“I was told that there was no help for me out here,” said Angela Sharpley, small business owner.
It was the message she heard from a lender right out of the gate.
"They never got to my credit, so that’s the only thing they had to go off of was who I was,” said Sharpley.
When intentionally placed roadblocks prevent people of color like Sharpley from accessing the cash they need, HFLA of Northeast Ohio steps in to help bridge that divide.
"Our mission is to help people that don’t have access to fair financial tools,” said Michal Marcus with HFLA of Northeast Ohio.
For more than a century, the non-profit has been providing interest-free loans to those who might otherwise go without just because of who they are.
“How race and racism play out with regards to access to capital and investment absolutely needs to be at the forefront,” said Mark Joseph, CWRU professor of community development.
Along with intentional decisions based on appearance, Joseph said there is implicit bias at play.
“We have something in our perception or mindset that would lead us to believe that someone who is African-American, a person of color, is less creditworthy,” said Joseph.
Along with racism, not knowing where to find resources often keeps access to funding out of reach. Joseph said that includes “understanding where you can go for loans, for investment, or capital."
It’s a similar issue Sharpley said she faced when starting out.
"You don’t have a road map to know where to go,” said Sharpley.
When people do finally find that direction, Sharpley hopes they have an equal chance to get the cash they need to invest in their community.
“I would like for the playing field to be made fair,” said Sharpley.
On Wednesday night, HFLA will tackle these and other topics during a virtual event called "Fostering Economic Equity: Fixing the Racial Imbalance in Consumer Finance.
“More corporations, banks, and larger financial institutions need to step up with fair financial tools,” said Marcus.
The online conversation begins at 5:30 p.m.
It is free and open to anyone in the community.
You can register at Interestfree.org.