Issa Rae has always been about supporting Black advancement and calling truth to power. That extends through everything she does, from her acting roles, business endeavors, and particularly partnerships.
One company she’s been working with for years is American Express, a brand that has long demonstrated their commitment to championing small businesses, especially those led by underrepresented entrepreneurs. Since 2021, she’s held a ambassadorship with the company to spread the word about ByBlack, an initiative aimed at providing Black-owned businesses the substantiative support they so often don’t receive.
“We’ve been working together in this partnership for several years now, and it’s always felt organic and they’ve always been aligned with my personal mission,” Rae tells ESSENCE. “So, it never feels like work or brand sponsorship or any of those things because they’re actually affecting real people’s lives in a substantive way.”
This includes a contract pipeline for suppliers (small and mid-sized enterprises) and buyers (government agencies and large corporations) to connect for one-on-one meetings to discuss business opportunities.
Although ByBlack was launched in 2021, Rae’s relationship reaches back further than that and according to the star, they’ve walked their talk of DEI way before it was en vogue following the social justice uprising of 2020. In recent years, the zest for inclusion work has significantly waned among companies, but not at AmEx, Rae points out.
“Because we’ve been working together since before companies, some of them fakely so, decided to support DEI initiatives,”Rae said. “And this is something that ultimately a lot of small businesses, Black small businesses, ended up needing post-pandemic. And to have the platform to do that, they were kind of just ahead of the curve and on time.”
The DEI programs and initiatives launched in 2020 through 2022 have started to be phased out, with many companies completely wiping out their inclusion departments. AmEx, conversely, has doubled down and Rae plans to walk with them every step of the way.
“In the future, I do hope to continue to do this work,” Rae said. “I think on the business side is great, but I would love to focus on just the community side and just see what else can be done for helping actual individuals and whether that is business or nonprofit related. I don’t know if those two can work together, but I just want to hit the ground on a more community level, and continue this because the work isn’t done.”