Last updated on June 12th, 2020 at 01:00 pm
The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce has launched a grant program to provide monetary relief to local businesses that were damaged when recent protests against racism and police brutality in some cases escalated into looting and vandalism.
Through what’s known as the “Rebuild and Revitalize” program, affected businesses already distressed by the COVID-19 pandemic can apply for immediate short-term grants to fund physical repairs, replace inventory and meet other pressing needs, according to a news release Wednesday.
Tuesday marked the 12th consecutive day of demonstrations across Milwaukee. Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, thousands have taken to the streets, including some high-profile figures, decrying racism and police brutality with demands for change.
Generally speaking, protests have remained peaceful, even as they grow in size, but during the first few nights dozens of business and buildings were looted or vandalized in areas such as Martin Luther King Drive, Harambee, Sherman Park and the Near South Side neighborhoods. The Milwaukee Police Department did not immediately provide an update the total number of businesses that have been damaged since protests began.
Launched through MMAC’s Community Support Foundation, the Rebuild and Revitalize initiative has already secured $500,000 in seed funding from T&M Partners, the holding company of local philanthropist Ted Kellner, and the Kelben Foundation, a family foundation established by Kellner and his wife Mary that funds education and health programs.
“The peaceful demonstrators called out to many citizens as they passed by, ‘walk with us.’ We hear them,” said Jonas Prising, MMAC chair, chairman and CEO of ManpowerGroup. “We also want to help rebuild the businesses that were damaged and help improve the prospects for African American business prosperity.”
Prising said the hope is the program’s initial funding will spur additional contributions.
MMAC noted in the release that it supports “passionate and peaceful protests here in Milwaukee,” and that the death of George Floyd from an altercation with a Minneapolis police officer “was emblematic of the racial inequities that exist in our community.”
MMAC has partnered with the City of Milwaukee on this initiative. Businesses interested in applying are instructed to first apply for the city’s COVID-19 Restart Grant Program. The deadline to apply for the city’s program is Friday, June 12 at 5 p.m. via the city’s website.
Milwaukee’s Department of City Development will help vet applicants and administer the grants.
“These recent protests have been almost uniformly peaceful, and have had a galvanizing impact on our community to unite us to create change,” said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in a statement. “To address instances where businesses were damaged, we are very pleased to have MMAC and the business community help get these businesses back on their feet. This is a coordinated effort with city resources, to align these efforts and maximize the impact.”
The Martin Luther King Economic Development Corp. and King Drive Business Improvement District are also involved.
“Whether it’s assistance to repair damage, increased access to funding or drawing in a broader base of customers, Milwaukee’s minority-owned businesses will thrive when they’re supported by our entire community,” said Nicole Robbins, executive director of The Martin Luther King Economic Development Corp. “This is a positive sign that we’re seeing that support.”
To apply for the MMAC’s Rebuild and Revitalize grant, businesses should email Marjorie Yoshida, administrative services manager for the Milwaukee 7 Economic Development Partnership at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Applications should include name, telephone and email address, as well as the name and address of the business and description of the damage.
This isn’t the first time MMAC’s has taken action against Milwaukee’s long-standing history of racial inequality. In 2019, MMAC launched its “Region of Choice” initiative, which calls for a 25% in diverse management among chamber member organizations and a 15% increase total employment of African American and Hispanic workers by 2025.
Ninety-six area companies signed MMAC’s pledge, vowing to invest in diversity and inclusion practices.
“Racial disparities are one of the most significant factors preventing the Milwaukee Region from reaching its full potential,” said Tim Sheehy, president of MMAC. “The business community has a civic responsibility to help change this.”
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