By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium
When you think of a successful Black owned business in the Puget Sound you can’t utter a word without mentioning Ezell’s Famous Chicken.
Ezell’s Famous Chicken Co-Founders Lewis and Darnell Rudd, along with their sister, Faye Stephens in partnership with DoorDash and Debrena Jackson-Gandy’s Mastermind has launched the Rudd’s R.U.B.B. (Raising Up Black Businesses) Initiative, a precedent-setting initiative designed to financially empower Black-owned businesses.
According to organizers, Rudd’s R.U.B.B. will offer no-strings-attached business grants to 20 Black-owned businesses and organizations in the Pacific Northwest to help fund sustainability, operations, growth and success.
“The RUDD’s R.U.B.B. Initiative will have a very positive impact on small Black-Owned businesses that will lead to positive change within the Community,” said Lewis Rudd. “As Co-Founders, we believe that supporting and promoting entrepreneurship will help in closing the wealth gap for African Americans and lead to other benefits such as better medical and education and less violence. The initial response and support has been great and we anticipate it will continue to grow.”
In order to launch the initiative, Rudd approached DoorDash with his idea in the fall of 2020 and by February of 2021 the funds were secured and a partnership was forged that led to the company joining the endeavor as a Charter Partner, donating $40,000 to start the fund. The Rudd Family contributed $10,000 to the Fund.
In addition to DoorDash, Rudd’s R.U.B.B. is reaching out to a select group of corporate entities to join the initiative as Partners in Prosperity, which will create an opportunity to grow the fund and increase the program’s reach with a goal of doubling the number of businesses this project can help. These partners in Prosperity include Sysco, PepsiCo and Bargreen Ellingson.
Applications for the grant are currently being accepted and can be submitted through Sept. 20. The business grant awards will be distributed based on a combination of an application process, direct recommendations, and working through Black business-serving organizations to determine awardees. Each awardee must fulfill pre-established criteria, including being in business for at least one year, have at least 51 percent African American owneship and be registered with the state. Businesses can be non-profit or for profit.
As a Black business owner, Rudd, as he observed the changes in social awareness after the George Floyd murder and the disparities in equity that were exposed by COVID, decided it was time to act and participate even more in the tradition of giving back to the community and helping to strengthen the economic inequities that plague Black businesses.
“George Floyd and the COVID situation brought a lot of awareness to the disadvantages that Black-owned businesses are faced with and covid really amplified it,” says Rudd. “But George Floyd brought attention to it in a way that people who did not want to even have a conversation centered around systemic racism and social inequalities and redlining and things of that nature that have impacted businesses negatively for centuries.”
“Now they are aware,” added Rudd. “To a point where they are interested in having that conversation now.”
Ezell’s is family-owned and operated business founded in Seattle 37 years ago. Today, the founders Lewis Rudd, Darnell Rudd and their sister, Faye Stephens are still active in day-to-day operations and are joined by an extended family of 300 employees. After waiting six years for initial funding, the family opened their first store on February 3, 1984 in Seattle’s Central District. Since opening, Ezell’s has established a strong tradition of giving back to the community, and currently have 17 locations, including 15 Seattle-area restaurants, one in Spokane, Washington and one in Tigard, Oregon.
According to Rudd, the idea for this initiative goes back to his family heritage and traditions. As a child, Rudd remembers the elders, of what he describes as his “village,” used to address pain, hurt or damage by saying “come here and let me “rub” it…” and just that act in itself would begin the healing process.
By using this analogy, Rudd hopes to R.U.B.B. away the pain and damage Black businesses have encountering in these unprecedented times by infusing financial aid to Black-led and operated organizations.
“This is a rare opportunity,” says Debrena Jackson-Gandy, CEO of Mastermind. “Because a Black owned business, Ezell’s, and especially Lewis Rudd and his family has taken the lead on this. So, for the dollars to not be awarded through White organizations but entrusting dollars through a Black-owned business that is respected, established and big on community give back and trusting that here, we as Black people decide who we want to award these monies to, how we want to award monies and what the criteria is, that is epic, precedent setting.”
One of the important aspects of this initiative is empathy. Rudd is well aware of the barriers Black businesses face in order to maintain their business and pay their employees. He is very proud of the fact that he has provided many young Black people with an opportunity to grow, work and learn. And for some, working at Ezell’s may have been their first job.
For organizers of the initiative like Jackson-Gandy, it is important that Black businesses through their enterprise empower enrich the economic vibrancy of the Black community by overcoming racial barriers.
“Enterprise is the cornerstone of a vibrant economy and even a community’s economy,” says Jackson-Gandy. “African Americans in this country have historically experienced obstacles and hurdles put in our way to keep us from succeeding in business.”
“I have always been aware of this [racial barriers],” says Rudd. “Being an owner of a Black business, I’ve faced systemic racism and redlining and flat-out racism. I been denied access to capital and I just understand the importance of having Black-owned businesses.”
“I think there is a larger more positive impact than just being in business and being a Black-owned business,” continued Rudd. “I think this also promotes better education, economic levels as we talk about wealth building, the opportunity for wealth building increases with business owners. So, I also look at the impact it can have on reducing crime in our community.”
Giving back is the crucks of this effort. Strengthening and instilling a healthy and safe mindset and environment is the basis of this collaboration as it relates to building a confident and sustainable business community.
“This is just one of the many ways Ezell’s would like to give back and support the community that has been there for us since day one,” says Rudd. “And we are hopeful that we will be able to add value to small Black-owned businesses that is meaningful and that will help them to reach that next level in their business careers.”
People interested in applying for the grants can apply online at https://bit.ly/3Buugta.