When Wells Fargo approached Leslie Odom, Jr. to help them raise awareness around their mission to support Black businesses, the Tony and Grammy Award-winning entertainer said he wasn’t sure exactly why they chose him to partner up with. However, he knew exactly why he wanted to team up with them.
The One Night In Miami actor said he has a personal connection to one of the stories that are a part of Well Fargo’s summer short film series, ‘We Made A Way’, and jumped at the chance to spread the word about the initiative’s mission.
“The story about the Gibson School of Music in Philadelphia, where I grew up, really resonated with me,” the twice Academy Award-nominated Odom told Essence. “Hearing that first-hand account that Wells Fargo’s small business grants helped keep them afloat is one of the many reasons I had to support.”
Along with the film series, Wells Fargo’s Open for Business Fund offers small businesses relief from the ravaging economic aftermath of COVID-19. The fund is a roughly $420 million recovery effort that has a strong focus on supporting racially and ethnically diverse entrepreneurs and non-profit leaders hardest hit by the pandemic.
“I’ve seen the impact that small businesses have made on helping local communities this past year,” Odom said. He also shared that while it’s important to highlight the resiliency of Black business owners, it’s imperative to connect them with the resources they need to not only “survive, but thrive.”
The resiliency Odom speaks of underscores the significant hurdles Black small business owners have had to contend with even before the pandemic. The unrelenting racial wealth gap continues to plague the Black community and particularly small business owners.
Between February and April of 2020, Black business ownership declined more than 40%, the largest drop across any ethnic group, according to a report by the House Committee on Small Business Committee.
Although those numbers are sobering, Odom wants weary Black founders to remain hopeful, especially since he can relate to once feeling downtrodden about his professional future and almost quit acting altogether.
“I was approaching 30 and my career still wasn’t where I wanted it to be,” he said. “When I shared this with my mentor, he listened and said ‘you can quit, but I’d love to see you try before you do that.’”
After assuring his mentor that he’d been trying, he shared that he was told to ‘exhaust all options’ and things will start to fall into place. Clearly, they did.
And fortunately, Wells Fargo is offering options for Black entrepreneurs to continue to make a way.