Last June, surrounded by thousands of fellow New Yorkers angered by the latest brutal display of pervasive racism in America, Jon Laster took to the streets to protest the police killing of George Floyd. He marched along Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, where he lives, moved by the outpouring of emotion from not only Black compatriots, but a cornucopia of people who populate the famously diverse borough.
The protest shined a spotlight on the social ills of Black Americans, Laster says. As vital and spirited as the gathering was, however, he believed his contribution to the cause could extend well beyond it.
“The energy that was created from those marches was the people out there saying, ‘We get it,’” Laster says. “But at the end of the march, all those people went home to do what?”
He thought to himself, “This time, you have to do something that can create lasting change.”
A veteran stand-up comedy performer and once a high school basketball star, Laster has no problem with public-facing responsibilities; in fact, he thrives in such conditions. So after marching, Laster texted a childhood friend who works in tech, asking her if she knew of anyone in the app-development trade. “Designing an app is complicated,” she responded. “Let’s talk this weekend and I can help you figure it out and connect you with people?” Laster, ignoring the light caution, responded to the question with a “thank youuuuuuuuuuuuu” — that’s 13 u’s, emphasis his.
A little more than a year later, Laster, no longer a tech-game novice, has armed himself and anyone else eager to enact the lasting change he envisions with BLAPP, the Black shopping app, a piece of technology that maps out locations of Black-owned businesses across the United States, from bars and restaurants to clothing outlets and haircare providers. Laster says BLAPP makes it easy to do something he had difficulty with himself, particularly while on the road performing stand-up in unfamiliar areas: supporting Black-owned businesses. Such action, he believes, is a first but sizable step on the path toward true social equity for Black Americans.
“We’re talking about tangible, cha-ching, here’s-your-check change,” Laster says.
In spite of more widespread wokeness — inspiring “wars” against it — that type of change is needed now more than ever. According to an August 2020 report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, within just the first few months of America’s COVID-19 crisis, 41 percent of Black small businesses folded, the largest such figure for any ethnic group. Even after a surge of support for Black-owned businesses last spring and summer as social justice protests flourished, a February 2021 H&R Block survey of small businesses found that, since the beginning of the pandemic, 53 percent of Black business owners saw their revenue drop by half. That same statistic for white owners? Thirty-seven percent.
All these COVID headwinds for Black entrepreneurs have only exacerbated the challenges they’d already faced for generations. Even before the pandemic, according to CNBC, eight of 10 Black-owned businesses folded within the first 18 months of operations.
A tool like BLAPP can help reverse such trends.
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