For all the challenges that the 2020 brought, it can also be said that this remarkable year wrought a new America. Filled with disappointment and hardships as well as political progress and social breakthroughs, the country that went into the pandemic, is no longer, and will never be the same. That’s thanks, in part, to the activists and justice fighters who willed a new land of the free and home of the brave—the ones who proclaimed boldly after the death of George Floyd that time for change is now.

One of those voices was the Canadian-born accessories designer Aurora James—founder of Brother Vellies—who launched The Fifteen Percent Pledge in 2020. As a racial equity and economic justice non-profit advocacy organization, it exists to urge major retailers and corporations to commit 15 percent of their purchasing power to Black-owned businesses. The Pledge also offers large corporations accountability support and thought partnership to advance equal opportunity for Black-owned businesses and Black people in the workforce.

In 2022, the organization held its first benefit gala, and last week it announced that with 2023’s star-studded event, they are launching a $200,000 The F for outstanding Black business ownership. “As a Black entrepreneur who built a successful business from the ground up, I know first-hand how life-changing it can be to receive this type of funding,” says James. “Equitable access to capital is the most crucial lever to closing the racial wealth gap, and at the Pledge, we’re working to build a network of partners to help address this issue at scale.”

Numerous studies have underscored the barriers Black business owners face in accessing capital. McKinsey’s Institute for Black Economic Mobility found that Black founders start their businesses with around $35,000, while white founders start with around $100,000. As a result, Black entrepreneurs are three times as likely as white entrepreneurs to acknowledge that barriers to start-up capital negatively impacts their businesses.

It’s why James is inspired to help a deserving business owner receive the kind of funding that could change the trajectory of their company and scale it to new heights. Those interested can apply by December 9. In addition to the $200,000 grant awardee, The 15 Percent Pledge will award two additional finalists a $35,000 and $15,000 grant, for a total of $250,000 in funding. On James’ Instagram she explains that a grant is what helped launched her own wildly-successful brand in the fashion industry. She asserts, “It changed my business and subsequently changed my life.”