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Best way to give this holiday season? Put your money where your mouth is, says Amplify POC founder

Amplify POC Cape Cod founder Tara Vargas Wallace
Amplify POC Cape Cod founder Tara Vargas Wallace

Shopping local helps Cape Cod businesses stay open and thrive during the pandemic. But business owners of color are also working to surmount systemic challenges as they approach the holidays, says Tara Vargas Wallace, who founded Amplify POC Cape Cod last year.

Vargas Wallace and her team of volunteers are advocating for racial equality through their website, which collects a business directory of the Cape's minority-owned restaurants, shops, and services like childcare.

The Hyannis-based organization is working toward establishing itself as a nonprofit as it operates under the fiscal sponsorship of Love Live Local.

Amplify POC will host its first holiday market on Dec. 10 at the Cape Codder Resort & Spa.

Vargas Wallace spoke with Morning Edition's Patrick Flanary about the challenges ahead.

Patrick Flanary: What inspired you to create a website that collects the names of businesses owned by people of color?

Tara Vargas Wallace: When the murder of George Floyd happened, a lot of people had reached out to me looking for ways to be proactive and ways to right some systemic wrongs. They wanted to put their money where their mouth was. And so I did a quick Google search to see if we had one designated area where these businesses could be located, and there wasn't anything specific to the Cape. I realized we needed to do more than just create a list. We needed to host educational workshops and we needed to help raise capital for aspiring entrepreneurs.

PF: And you launched this in the middle of a pandemic, when businesses are already squeezed as it is. I imagine there were other challenges with getting this off the ground.

TVW: Absolutely. I mean, if you're talking about one-third of white businesses failing through this pandemic, you can definitely triple that for BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and People of Color] businesses. We're already dealing with the fact that we're not playing on the same level playing field by not having the same resources, clout, power. And so you add a pandemic, it's just ridiculous. It's a lot to overcome.

PF: What are some of the other systemic obstacles and barriers that business owners of color face day-to-day that white entrepreneurs aren't facing?

TVW: I think it's the fact that we just aren't invited to a lot of tables. Businesses of color weren't really brought to the forefront at meetings. When legislators come down, I found that businesses of color weren't represented until recently.

PF: What are the challenges with this, in an area of Massachusetts that is 92% white? How do you steer white shoppers to try a new business when so many people are creatures of habit about where they shop and eat?

TVW: I really talk a lot about intention, and putting your money where your mouth is and being intentional with your dollars. It's the same idea as shopping local, except we have the added barrier of systemic racism and harmful policies that have created this huge gap that white business owners don't have to face. If one part of our community is thriving and another isn't, then we all suffer.

PF: It looks like you'll put that to the test next month with your first holiday market?

TVW: Yes. We know that ownership is the No. 1 way to reduce the racial wealth gap, but also commerce and patronizing these businesses. So my plan is to have this vendor event where people can come and support Black-owned businesses, Indigenous-owned businesses, Latino-owned businesses, Asian-owned businesses -- all people of color who are working hard to provide the best product they can.

PF: What does success look like for Amplify POC?

TVW: Success will look like our businesses having an equal platform as other businesses on the Cape.

PF: I would love to know more about your backstory.

TVW: My parents were born in Puerto Rico. I was born in the Bronx, New York. And I moved here about 25 years ago as a homeless teenage mom. Me and my two-year-old daughter at the time had moved here to live with my grandmother who passed away shortly after we arrived. So we became homeless. Housing Assistance Corporation was the organization that really was instrumental in helping us find not only a home but a place in the community. I started working with marginalized groups of people with severe socioeconomic challenges like myself. And I did that for 20 years in various organizations across the Cape. And so my background is in helping people like me.

Patrick Flanary is a dad, journalist, and host of Morning Edition.