The Tacoma Urban League (TUL) has provided critical support and services to the community since its founding in 1968. With a mission to empower African Americans and other disenfranchised groups to enter the economic and social mainstream, the TUL is focused on five key areas—housing, health care, education, employment and justice. The organization actively partners with government, private and public agencies to serve as a catalyst for change.
The events of last year—the COVID-19 pandemic and the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Manuel Ellis in Tacoma—have made the role of the organization more important than ever. And for many of the community’s Black-owned businesses, the TUL has been a lifeline.
Critical help for small businesses
“When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, we saw the impact on small Black-owned businesses,” said T’wina Nobles, Tacoma Urban League President and CEO. “We had to respond.”
In March, TUL and business management consultants at Colemon and Associates hit the ground running. But Nobles recognized this work to support small businesses was a full-time job. In September, Maamideede Hudson joined the TUL team as its Small Business Support Navigator. Hudson provides a wide range of free technical assistance, from helping businesses decode CARES Act funding and procure personal protection equipment (PPE), to offering guidance on health department rules and helping companies shift the way they do business.
To date, she’s assisted dozens of minority-owned small businesses apply for COVID-19 relief grants and loans. She also helped develop nearly 30 new business plans and worked with owners to find creative ways to adapt to the changing business environment, from pop-up shops to shifting restaurant operations to catering services.
But getting the word out about these services hasn’t been easy. Even after a lot of outreach and publicity, business owners weren’t easily convinced the TUL could help.
“There is still a stigma that the government doesn’t want to help,” Hudson said. “A big part of my role is to create and build trust, and let people know the Tacoma Urban League is here to make things easier for them.”
“Maami knows these products inside and out,” Nobles said. “She’s an expert, and as a result, we’re seeing more and more successful applications.”
Connecting businesses with community
In addition to their in-house efforts to help Black-owned businesses, the TUL has also collaborated with the City of Tacoma, the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce, The Pioneer Collective, United Way of Pierce County and other local and national organizations to ensure full-service support for BIPOC-owned businesses. The organization has also upped its efforts to promote Black-owned businesses across the community. The TUL’s directory of Black-owned businesses not only connects the public with these businesses, but brings awareness among schools, cities or other organizations that may be interested in contracting with services provided by minority-owned businesses. The database includes nearly 70 TUL members representing multiple industries, including law, IT, real estate, insurance, finance, marketing and more.
“We’re working to help all small businesses and help keep dollars in our community,” Nobles said. “Black-owned businesses have really stepped up to the plate and reinvented themselves. That speaks to our community.”
A myriad of services
Helping businesses is one slice of the Tacoma Urban League pie, which has a small but mighty staff of six. The organization offers a plethora of services, including housing resources, rental assistance, mentorship programs, childhood development, childbirth programs and doulas. The Black Parents Alliance has been a critical resource for families navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. For institutions, nonprofits and private businesses looking for help with their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, the TUL is a link to trusted DEI/equity consultants.
Some changes are ahead for the organization. Nobles, who was recently elected senator for Washington State’s 28th Legislative District, is stepping down from her TUL role. A new CEO is expected to be announced within the next couple months. Nobles plans to stay on to ensure a smooth transition.