Chattanooga giving group launches grant program to help black-owned small businesses survive COVID-19 pandemic

Deputy executive director Lakweshia Ewing of UnifiEd speak about public education during a meeting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press editorial board on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, in Chattanooga.

In an effort to help Chattanooga's black-owned businesses survive the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impacts, the Sankofa Fund for Civic Engagement launched a grant program for small businesses this week.

The $1,000 grants will go to 20 businesses in Hamilton County with 10 or fewer employees. Small business owners put their life savings into their work and often cannot recover from major setbacks as larger businesses can, said Gabe Francheschi, a founding member of the Sankofa Fund.

"For those that took that sacrifice, that had to close down or chose to close down to keep the health and safety of their employees, they should be rewarded for that," Francheschi said.

The grants can be used however the business owner wants to help ensure they can continue during and after the economic downturn caused by the virus, said Lakweshia Ewing, a founding member of the Sankofa Fund.

"Chattanooga's black businesses have been hit pretty hard during this pandemic and we want to do everything we can to help them," Ewing said.

The Sankofa Fund is a local giving circle with around a dozen members focused on supporting projects or organizations that improve Chattanooga's communities of color.

Just a day after the grant program was announced, the group already had 18 applications, Ewing said. The applications are also working as a way to gather data about how local small businesses are dealing with the virus, such as whether they applied or received assistance from the U.S. Small Business Administration, she said. The data will help the group better advocate for continued help as the effects of the virus are likely to be felt for months ahead.

Applications for the grants are open until June 1. The Sankofa Fund is looking for local groups to match funds so the grant program can be ongoing.

Contact Wyatt Massey at or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.