Stories of Resilience and Growth

The COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented challenges for small businesses across the country, with Black-owned businesses hit especially hard. But as the pandemic has receded into the past, many Black entrepreneurs in Chicago have emerged stronger and more resilient. Their stories of adaptation, perseverance, innovation, and community support stand as inspirations for business owners everywhere.

According to 2023 data from the Chicago Urban League’s Annual Economic Benchmarking Report, the number of Black-owned businesses in Chicago has rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, indicating their resilience. The report highlights entrepreneurs like James Henderson, owner of Brown Sugar Bakery on the South Side. During the pandemic, Henderson leveraged digital platforms and collaborations with other Black restaurateurs to keep his business afloat. Now, with the pandemic in the rearview mirror, Brown Sugar Bakery has expanded into a larger production facility to meet growing demand.

Stories like Henderson’s are common in 2024’s Black business community according to William Alston, Director of Entrepreneurship Programs at the Chicago Urban League. “The pandemic forced many Black business owners to rapidly innovate their business  

models and lean on technology,” said Alston. “Now, they’re reaping the rewards of those adaptations with post-pandemic growth.” The League’s benchmarking report supports Alston’s claims with data on the increased profitability, expansion plans, and e-commerce capabilities of Black-owned businesses.

As Chicago continues its economic recovery, Black entrepreneurs’ resilience and expansions fill their communities with jobs and vital goods and services. “Their perseverance and innovations demonstrate the strength of the city’s minority business community,” Alston noted. Their forward progress signals hope for an equitable post-pandemic economy.