Ed. Note: This post is part of the Celebrating Black History Month series, which highlights African Americans from across the Administration whose work contributes to the President's vision for winning the future.
I come from a family of small business owners and have seen firsthand how important they are to strengthening our communities and our economy. My grandfather owned a landscaping company in my hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana. As one of the first African-American owned business in Indiana to win a statewide contract, his company maintained the land around state highways. After my uncle earned his degree in pharmaceutical science at Howard University, my grandfather helped him start his own pharmacy, which served the city’s African-American community. Their spirit of entrepreneurship has always inspired me. Following a 21 year career in the telecommunications industry, I founded my own small business: an organizational effectiveness and public policy consulting practice.
A proud graduate of Indiana University, I worked my way up from a first level manager position at Verizon Washington, and as an African-American, became the first woman to lead the company. Whether serving as president of a major telecom provider or chairing the DC Chamber of Commerce, I have been committed to Main Street and underserved communities throughout my professional life. I created Students Educated for Economic Development Success (SEEDS), a mentoring program that prepared over 200 high school dropouts for entry-level jobs in the telecommunications industry. I also served as the founding chair of the Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science.
Now, as Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), I have the privilege of supporting the small businesses that are innovating, growing the economy, and creating jobs every day. I am especially focused on helping the SBA reach businesses in underserved markets, such as African-American communities. These businesses often have a harder time getting the tools and financing they need in order to compete and thrive. Our loan programs help banks lend more to small businesses everywhere, and our counselors reach millions of entrepreneurs and small business owners each year.
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit with several minority-owned businesses in Columbia, South Carolina. Like small companies throughout the country, these businesses have struggled, but they are poised for growth. Their message was abundantly clear: give us the tools we need to innovate and grow, and not only will we survive these tough economic times, but we will prosper for years to come.
I am honored to serve a President who truly understands how important small businesses are to our nation and who is dedicated to ensuring that they have access to the resources they need to flourish.
Marie Johns is the Deputy Administrator of the Small Business Administration