On June 3, Kingston’s Walk 4 Black Lives drew hundreds to learn, commune, and stand in solidarity against police brutality and systemic racism. Seeing the event’s impact, Marine Nimblette and Maggie Noe—Kingston High School graduates and rising sophomores at Northeastern University and Washington University in St. Louis, respectively—wanted to take action themselves.
They were familiar with the data that showed how the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affected minority-owned businesses. And, they kept up with reports like the one published by the Center for Responsible Lending, that shows how recovery efforts failed minority businesses because of “the structural limitations built into the PPP”.
On July 14, Ulster County announced the NY Forward “Ulster Equity” Loan Program serving women and minority-owned businesses, along with businesses in low- and moderate-income census tracts before opening it up to other businesses. While the program was specifically created “to address needs unmet by federal loan programs such as PPP,” it cannot fill the gap. With loans capped at 100K, the 2 million in funding will likely help about 20-40 businesses.
As lifelong Ulster residents, Nimblette and Noe wanted to start an initiative that would be ongoing, and not as the former said—“just a temporary band-aid.” Understanding the context before them, what they had initially envisioned as a food truck festival to raise donations for Black Lives Matter organizations helping minority-owned businesses, became much more intentional.
Yes, they would raise funds for those non-profit organizations like Citizen Action and Rise Up Kingston that support those businesses, but do so through an event that directly benefits individual businesses.
Three weeks later, Nimblette and Noe had their first meeting with 15 volunteers to join them in making Businesses United in Diversity, an event for minority “businesses to showcase their services and be exposed to a higher volume of consumers while practicing social distancing” and building the groundwork to continue that work for years to come.
Starting with a physical market that brings together those who want to fight systemic racism and financial inequity with businesses most directly affected to build relationships and invest, Nimblette and Noe have plans to expand their work beyond this summer, with the hopes of building a non-profit organization that can continue to the cause.
To date, the pair has collected supporters from throughout the community. The first and most constant being Nimblette’s father.
The elder Nimblette immigrated to the US and built his business from the ground up and has been active throughout the Hudson Valley community. From the very beginning, he provided office space and mentorship for the initiative and encouraged his daughter and Noe to take their idea to Ulster County—which donated outdoor space and waived event fees. After accepting his financial sponsorship, the younger Nimblette and Noe signed O’Connor & Partners and Herzog’s as sponsors, and gathered donations and in-kind gifts from throughout the region.
While the support for their cause continues, so does COVID. And while the region has done a good job at keeping the numbers on both New York Forward’s results and the Early Warning dashboard low, Nimblette and Noe are dedicated to being a part of keeping it that way. When concerns over social distancing threatened to limit the event’s size, the pair dug deep into the state guidelines, to design an event that meets and in some cases exceeds New York’s requirements for outdoor events.
They refused to be dissuaded by the challenge. Whereas farmers’ markets (not known to be very diverse) happen regularly as a part of essential business. They could not accept canceling a similarly-styled event held for minority vendors—many of which sell food products. To Nimblette and Noe, this event was just as essential. They intended to put the gallons of hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, and social distancing signs they had already purchased, to use.
Less than two months into their first attempt at such a project, Nimblette and Noe have had to stretch themselves personally and they gained a lot in return. They learned that a non-profit event costs a lot of money. From garbage disposal and toilet rentals, to placards, signs, supplies, fees, and much more, large-scale giving for two people can be quite expensive.
Learning to manage people, marketing, and operations; non-profit event planning tax requirements and obligations; and the detailed fallout of institutional racism on small business and the economy—all while working 40 hours per week (Nimblette at Wiltwyck Golf Club and Noe at Rail Explorers) has been its own challenge. But they’ve buckled down and—together with their team of now 25 volunteers—handled it all along with grace and enthusiasm.
While this work has given Noe a chance to apply her double majors in area studies and business to the real world, it’s inspired Nimblette, a pre-med major, to add a minor in entrepreneurship to her studies.
And “on a sentimental note” Noe pointed out “we’ve definitely gotten closer.” Nimblette agreed, adding that “with everything that is going on, it’s really important to see people coming together.”
During this pandemic as in the Great Recession of 2008, data shows that inequality is increasing. And those who were hit the hardest in the last economic downturn didn’t have a chance to recover. Where the national government fails, it will take local communities to come together to press for change on each level of government.
As we community members take a look at our landscape here in the Hudson Valley, let’s make an effort to directly support those who suffer the greatest economic loss and the least institutional support, in addition to amplifying their concerns.
In supporting Nimblette and Noe’s August 8 event, Businesses United in Diversity, we have the opportunity to do just that. Attend, spread the word, donate, and refer minority-owned businesses—there are so many ways to take action. Each act of support for this female-led initiative—and the 17 participating vendors—is a step toward stabilizing and strengthening our local economy and community.
For more information: businessesunitedindiversity.org.