Westport native helps start Facebook #BuyBlack campaign

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, which sparked protests across the country this summer, a Westport native helped spearhead a campaign at Facebook to promote Black-owned businesses and to help the Black community.

“During the racial reckoning that took place this summer a lot of us at the company were thinking of ways we could help the Black community,” said Remi Ray, small business marketing lead on the Global Customer Marketing Small Business Group at Facebook.

Ray, a Staples graduate, said 41 percent of Black-owned small businesses have already closed this year due to the coronavirus — twice the rate of white-owned businesses.

“It was a very difficult time for the Black business community,” he said.

Ray said he and his colleague Rachael Hawk formed a team, brainstormed with other colleagues, and came up with the idea of a virtual event to support Black-owned businesses. The idea grew into a Facebook Live #BuyBlack Friday show every Friday in November at 11 a.m. pacific time on the site’s Lift Black Voices page.

Each episode has featured a different theme, ranging from Black girl magic to the Black diaspora. The two-hour finale on Friday will feature actress Gabrielle Union and comedian Phoebe Robinson as co-hosts.

Ray said a holiday gift guide was also created to spotlight Black businesses.

“The gift guide is where we’re featuring over 70 products from Black-owned businesses,” Ray said.

Facebook partnered with the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce and other voices in the Black community to curate the list, he said.

Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook, said people across the country were trying to figure out how to better help following George Floyd’s death.

“We went out to our employees and said ‘we want to do something, what can we do?’” Sandberg recalled.

She said the campaign came as a two-pronged approach: caring about the Black community, and continuing to help small businesses. Sandberg said 200 million small businesses around the world use the company’s free products and services.

“Serving those small businesses is super important to us always, but in the time of coronavirus even more important,” she said. “So many small businesses are struggling, they need to be able to reach customers online in a world where everything’s not open.”

Sandberg said there are so many great Black-owned small businesses across the country, and they are excited to put the power of Facebook behind these businesses to connect them with customers.

“Once customers find these businesses and find them online then they can keep buying from them,” she said.

This effort can also answer the question of how others can help, Sandberg said. Black-owned small businesses closing at a faster rate during the pandemic served as another example of challenges faced by Black people, she said.

“But so many people want to help and they are buying products, and are going to buy things on Black Friday for the holidays,” Sandberg said. “And this gives you an answer: I can support a Black-owned business.”

The campaign also kicked off Facebook’s "Season of Support" initiative for small businesses, which helps provide resources for small businesses to help them make the most of the holiday season.

“For businesses that are perhaps wondering what they can be doing or how they can make the most of this season, that’s something we’re providing through Facebook,” Ray said.

He said everyone has small businesses they love to support, and people are learning to cherish these businesses even more due to the coronavirus. He added he hopes the buy Black campaign can inspire this type of love for Black-owned small businesses.

“That’s what we’re hoping to accomplish with the Buy Black Friday event,” Ray said. “It’s just to get people to remember that Black small businesses are out there and they need our support.”

dj.simmons@hearstmediact.com