A local law firm has announced that it is offering $250,000 worth of free legal services to new and Black-owned businesses.
Adeolu A. Bakare is a member with McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC, located at 100 Pine St. in Harrisburg, and one of the coordinators of what’s being called the Legal Equity Advancement Program, or LEAP. He said Monday that while the firm “has engaged in a variety of different programs in the region with the goal of improving diversity, both within our organization and the community at large,” this is the first time it has done anything of this magnitude.
It’s a response to all that has happened this year, Bakare said, from the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis to COVID-19′s “disparate impact” on the African-American community. “We saw that the whole country had been galvanized into a new awareness or consciousness of racial inequity,” he said, “and we wanted to sit down among our diversity committee and the firm’s management and think about what we could do, any small thing we could do, to make a difference, especially in our local community.”
Applicants must be located within the eight-county region of southcentral Pennsylvania – Dauphin, Cumberland, Perry, Franklin, Adams, York, Lancaster and Lebanon counties – and be at least 51% Black-owned or controlled. It should be an early stage or growth business with limited amounts of capital funding. The initial application is due Dec. 11, and Bakare said that the entire process will carry over into 2021. You can read a full description of the program at the bottom of this story.
The initial brainstorming, Bakare said, led to identifying the Rosenberg Martin Greenberg LLP law firm in Baltimore, which developed a program similar to what McNees was thinking about. Upon further conversation between the two firms, LEAP was born. Five winners will be selected, with each receiving $50,000 worth of pro bono services.
But that won’t be all. Bakare, who’s working on this program with colleague Jeffrey Esch McCombie, said the goal is to not only offer the legal services but “introduce them to some of our other financial partners, provide different avenues to promote their business through our network, and really work to bridge the gap between the corporate community and the African American entrepreneurial community in this area.”
it’s a project that PennLive can identify with, having spent two weeks in July focusing on Black-owned businesses and documenting the experiences of Black proprietors and entrepreneurs across the region and the state. It not only examined the problems but provided advice from experts in their respective fields, and included a map that showed the location of Black-owned businesses in central Pennsylvania.
That project produced these statistics:
- More than 40 percent of Black business owners said they weren’t working in April, compared to 17 percent of white-owned businesses, according to a study by University of California, Santa Cruz
- COVID-19 was proving to be more than twice as deadly for people of color under the age of 65, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 30 percent of people with color who contracted the virus died, compared to 13 percent of white Americans, the CDC found.
- The Paycheck Protection Program, designed to throw a lifeline to small businesses in the pandemic, made it harder for Black-owned businesses to get help, the Center for Responsible Lending found.
- Over the past five years, only 31 percent of Black-owned businesses obtained loans from banks or credit unions, the center said.
You can access that entire project here.
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