The Washington Football Team's Black Engagement Network and United Airlines have selected five locally Black-owned organizations to receive a COVID Relief Grant that will provide funds to expand their operations and outreach.
The finalists, which represent the diverse communities of the DMV, are a mixture of online and in-person businesses. The list includes Northern Virginia Black Chamber of Commerce, Inc., Blush Box Curated Gifting, Blossoms Boutique, NIRAY LLC and H&B Services. All five businesses are members of the B.E.N Shop Black Directory*.*
To share the great news with selected grant recipients, Doug Williams, Super Bowl XXII MVP, a member of the 80 Greatest Washington players and the team's Ring of Fame, and Senior Advisor to Washington Football Team President Jason Wright, and Chanelle Reynolds, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Programs Lead, surprised selected businesses with personal zoom calls. Check out highlights from these calls, as well as details about the selected businesses below.
Northern Virginia Black Chamber of Commerce
Established in 2008, the Northern Virginia Black Chamber of Commerce is a non-profit organization to help educate, advocate, and promote prosperity in the Northern Virginia Community. The hope, according to Executive Director Sheila Dixon, is to position the chamber to be an inclusive and effective "Voice of Black Business" in the Northern Virginia area, bringing opportunities for our members to attain their business goals.
Dixon said the chamber of commerce would use the funds to host education and promotional programs for black-owned businesses in the DMV with a focus on the northern Virginia area. It would also focus on providing aid to businesses in need.
"We have seen growth within the community and are seeking additional funding opportunities to sustain the organization's growth and capabilities," Dixon said.
Blush Box Curated Gifting
Blush Box Curated Gifting provides carefully chosen and thoughtfully organized gifts that have special meaning for recipients, in addition to custom orders based on client preferences. Kathy Oliphant-Wilson started the business as a means to cope with PTSD from her experience in the United States Army.
Oliphant-Wilson's profits plummeted because of COVID, and the funds provided would be focused on inventory items and operating costs. According to Oliphant-Wilson, being a part of the Shop Black Directory has helped the business slowly start to pick back up.
"It's a great way for small businesses to get more visibility in this community," Oliphand-Wilson said, "and it's a platform we can use for free advertising and marketing."
Inga Toye is the owner and operator of Blossoms Boutique, a women's boutique specializing in unique and stylish clothing with a bohemian twist. Featuring dresses, blouses, jumpsuits, and much more, the majority of her business comes from clients working government jobs or in the private sector.
Inga has been worked tirelessly to keep her business going during the COVID-19 pandemic. She made the decision to close her store for several months after the novel coronavirus spread across the country, and has since expanded to manufacturing and selling masks on the Blossoms Boutique website. Being on the B.E.N. Shop Black Directory has helped with exposure, and she plans to use the grant fund for online and television marketing and upgrading her website.
NIRAY LLC, located in Fredericksburg, Virginia, is a website, graphic design and marketing company that was started in 2018. It's mission is to elevate small, minority-owned businesses by designing professional, high-quality marketing products that build brand awareness and reputation to increase their revenue and business longevity.
The company has won several awards, including Business Start-Up of the Year and Mentor of the Year by the Greater Fredericksburg Regional Black Chamber of Commerce. It also won the 2021 Best of the Burg category for Best Graphic Design, Marketing/Ad Agency and is the only LGBTQ+ black-owned company to do so.
The funds would be used to help daily operations needs. While NIRAY LLC does provide service to other areas of the country, most of its business is located in the DMV.
"We service many minority-owned businesses in the DMV area," said Tracey Hall, "and...we sponsor a free website for a business/non-profit in the DMV area to ensure we give back to our local community that has poured into us when the economy was stronger."
H&B Services is a generationally owned small business based in Ward 7 in Washington, D.C. that provides facilities maintenance services to the government and commercial clients. Dwight Deloatch, Sr. started the business in 1965, and his son, Dwight Deloatch, Jr. now oversees the company.
Dwight will use the funds from the grant to resume investments which were postponed due to COVID-19. These include biohazard hygienic safety training, increased equipment capacity, and maintaining payroll.
"Our goal is to continue to elevate our marketing initiative to gain new customers [and] engage with the Washington Football Team to support local charitable foundation initiatives," Dwight said.
Introduced in June 2020, the Washington Football Team's Black Engagement Network has contributed to the advancement of the Washington Football Team's Black employees and members of the community. B.E.N.'s vision is to acquire, develop, and retain African-American talent, while serving the communities in which we live, work, and play. B.E.N. launched the Shop Black Initiative in November 2020 to highlight Black-owned small businesses serving the DMV region and has continued to add businesses to its directory, which spans restaurants, accessories and apparel, and health and wellness offerings.
Businesses that are not already members of the Shop Black Directory are encouraged to apply by visiting WashingtonFootball.com/ben/shop-black-signup. Members of the Shop Black Directory will receive updates on future programs and grant opportunities as they become available.