Elementary Lessons: Hiking Lake Stank

Here is an analogy… Imagine you are walking your favorite trail and you notice that the lake is contaminated, what is your first inclination? This test will be graded:

  • A) “That lake is stank! Instead of continuing our walk, let’s clean it up.”
  • B) “That lake is stank! We need to get the park ranger, local government, and responsible agencies to make changes, now!”
  • C) “That lake is stank! Why is it so dirty? What’s upstream? It must be that factory. We’ve got to nip this in the bud!”

Choose wisely…

Over the last three years I have read, listened to, watched, studied, discussed, and thought deeply about the purpose of what we are doing at Denkyem. Of course, we are providing access to affordable loans to Black-owned businesses, but often, our solution (one of many) is eclipsed by the problems that create its need.

The data that supports the work that we are doing is deflating, and exhausting. For example:

  • More than half of Black commercial loan applicants are denied
  • Over 40% of Black-owned business have closed since the start of the pandemic
  • The value of white-owned businesses in Seattle is about 12x the value of Black-owned companies in Washington State

My hope is that we can all start to focus on and fine-tune our solutions. Denkyem is determined to spend more time on the immediate solution, as opposed to continuing to rehash the truths & facts.

Going back to your test, if you chose A, good job! Same with B and C. We agree that this lake is, indeed, stank.  All these options are critical for solving multi-level problems. The tricky thing is to figure out where you stand, and how to collaborate.

Denkyem, in its current iteration, is primarily choice A. We are providing one solution to the centuries-long discrimination of Black communities. B and C are woven into our fabric. However, we must do our part, and do it well. At the same time, we need to be in partnership with the other players. One is no more important than the other!

At Denkyem, we know our purpose. We will keep showing up to the lake to clean what we can. To do this, we need more of the right kind of resources. This means access to low-cost funds, so that we can continue to provide our community-based loans to our clients. In the wider ecosystem, we need activists that can make the strategic changes to policies, and systems thinkers that can identify & eradicate the root problems, too! We are going to keep cleaning the lake every day, until we can eventually just enjoy our walk.