How a team of volunteers is working to restore wealth to Black communities

Deborah Tennen
Deborah Tennen / Published August 17, 2020

When Justin Samuels saw the incredible community reaction to the civil injustices going on across the U.S., he was inspired. But when he tried to take action, he felt like something was missing.

"There was a whole lot of Twitter posting about Black-owned businesses to support," he recalls. "That was cool, but we didn't have a centralized place where we could all gather, where we could all go to support these businesses."

And that's how—over the course of eight days—RebuildBlackBusiness.com was built.

How Rebuild Black Business supports Black communities

RebuildBlackBusiness.com marketing poster

Rebuild Black Business's mission is to restore wealth to Black communities through economic empowerment and resource allocation. Justin, who's also a Senior Software Engineer at Mailchimp, explains:

This year, it's been heartbreaking to watch what's happening to our community of business owners. Between COVID shutdowns, rioting, and social unease, businesses are struggling. Many don't know where or how to find the information and resources they need to keep afloat. This is where Rebuild Black Business (RBB) comes in. RBB will be a shepherd and aggregator of community resources. It will connect allies to Black-owned businesses.

The site offers a directory of over 14,000 Black-owned businesses across the U.S. "It started as a place where you could find businesses in desperate need," Justin tells us, "and it's since grown to a place where you can find Black-owned businesses in general." It allows you to filter by business type and even look specifically for businesses in need, with links to learn more or donate. It also has a directory of Allies, volunteers who are offering their skills to Black-owned businesses that need help rebuilding or staying afloat.

The site supports all kinds of businesses, from restaurants to agritourism to IT and beyond. And the site isn't only helping the businesses—it's also helping consumers. "We have a huge directory of health professionals," Justin told us. "I talked to one woman who said that we were able to help her find an OBGYN she felt comfortable with during her pregnancy."

How Rebuild Black Business automates their database and marketing

RBB is a team of volunteers—over 500 developers, designers, marketers, project managers, policymakers, and web professionals with the collective goal of driving change and playing a part in restoring wealth to Black communities.

And volunteers don't have time to waste. Especially when they're building something that's helping people who need it right now.

In order to scale the website, they need to focus their time on marketing and website development. That's why they turned to Zapier to automate the more tedious processes. RBB uses lots of apps to communicate, project manage, and store information—and they connect them all using Zapier.

Karima Williams, the Business Team Lead, explains one of their favorite workflows: "We needed to connect our Airtable database to our Mailchimp email subscriber list. At first, someone suggested we use a webhook, but with our developers focused on other higher priority tasks, using Zapier was a no brainer." So they set up a Zap that automatically sends information to Mailchimp whenever there's a new record in Airtable.

"Right now, connecting our Airtable to Mailchimp is crucial for us to be able to make sure that the Black-owned businesses that list themselves on our site are sent to Mailchimp to receive email updates," Karima added.

They ended up using Zapier for all sorts of tasks. For example, because they were launching quickly, they didn't have time to set up a social media management tool. Instead, they automated some of the posting between Facebook and Twitter with Zapier.

They even use Zapier to set the city and state based on a ZIP code, helping them populate more information about the business and allies who register on their site.

"Zapier saves the RBB team at least 5-6 hours a week," Karima told us, "as it helps us manage data and new email subscribers."

Looking ahead

Right now, RebuildBlackBusiness.com is the place to go to find Black-owned businesses in your local area, or, for Black-owned businesses, what kind of resources you can get. To continue making progress, Rebuild Black Business is hosting events like a demo day to showcase the skills and projects of its volunteers. Justin is also traveling to various cities, creating a documentary series on Black-owned businesses.

And Justin assures us that the site isn't going anywhere. "Right now, Black-owned businesses are at a point of surviving," he says. "We need to be at a point of thriving."

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