In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, Felicia Perry and Sarah Clyne found themselves standing on West Broadway Avenue, clearing rubble with brooms and latex gloves in the summer heat. Perry and Clyne were willing to do whatever they could to help businesses impacted by the destruction, but they never expected to raise millions of dollars for their community in a matter of weeks.
Perry, the executive director of West Broadway Business and Area Coalition, and Clyne, the former executive director of Northside Funders Group, have been strong advocates for their North Minneapolis neighborhood for a long time.
The West Broadway Business & Area Coalition (WBC) was formed in the spring of 2007, as a result of the joining of the West Broadway Business Association (WBBA) and the West Broadway Area Coalition (WBAC). The West Broadway Business Association (WBBA) was established in 1942 and served as a non-profit organization drawing membership from local businesses along the West Broadway Corridor. Its primary focus was to serve as a “chamber of commerce,” to support local business growth.
NFG has organized funders and supporters to invest in efforts to advance social, educational and economic opportunities in North Minneapolis. The two organizations were uniquely equipped to support the Northside after the unrest of late May and early June, which took a heavy toll on that part of the city.
“The last year stretched us in some different ways,” Clyne said, regarding the economic development work she and Perry were focused on building. The challenges of 2020 brought the two together, she added.
Perry and Clyne had already worked together on COVID relief for small businesses in their community. While clearing damaged streets following Floyd’s death, they saw an opportunity to make a bigger impact by working together.
The two created a fund to bring financial relief to the small businesses of North Minneapolis; information about the fund circulated widely across social media. In a matter of days, their initiative received overwhelming support, both from individual donors and corporate sponsors. One sponsor, UnitedHealth Group, donated $1 million, as well as pro bono support for both organizations. Soon, Perry and Clyne had raised $4.5 million.
“For a couple hours we just kept texting each other screenshots,” Perry said. “I would refresh it, and two seconds later another $24,000 was in.”
However, such a large influx of money did not come without challenges for Perry and Clyne, who managed their organizations mostly on their own.
“We [were] both the only employees at our organizations, doing the work we were already doing and now taking this on. We have Lizzo retweeting this, and it’s just, like, me and my marketing background,” Perry said, referring to an unexpected celebrity shoutout.
Another concern was whether donors, especially corporations, were making a lasting investment into the community, and not just these organizations. For Perry, a commitment to cooperation would mean much more than a one-time performative contribution.
“What I had asked of them was, what is your real commitment to this? Are you funding this moment or are you really interested in this work that we’re doing?” she said.
Throughout the process, Perry and Clyne created a valuable partnership. Part of what helped them work together so well was their shared focus on helping North Minneapolis thrive.
“We always came through for each other,” Clyne said. “We didn’t stray from our commitment to the community.”