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American Express honors Black History Month with stories of Black small business owners and their community connections

February 1, 2023

 American Express recognizes Black History Month

Photo: Courtesy of American Express

As we recognize Black History Month in the U.S. and Canada, we want to highlight Black small businesses that have received American Express-backed grants through our Backing Small programs. Here are their stories of how these grants have helped them grow and enhance their businesses.


Inside Hope Pharmacy

Photo: HOPE Pharmacy inside The Market at 25th, Courtesy of American Express

HOPE (Helping Others Physically Prosper Everyday) Pharmacy, is a full-service, independent pharmacy in the Church Hill community of Richmond, Virginia. Dr. Brown says she is the only Black woman pharmacy owner in the area. She used her Backing Small grant to grow the staff at HOPE Pharmacy as they continue offering and expanding services in a neighborhood that didn’t have a pharmacy before this one.

The pharmacy was getting its start during the beginning of the pandemic. How did you adjust to sustain?

Once COVID-19 hit, we had to re-strategize and think about where we were going. We started with pet medicine which is huge in the area. My husband and I would canvass the neighborhood, give out information about the pharmacy, about myself and the services that we provided. That really kept us going during that time; because, keep in mind, there weren't a lot of prescriptions because the doctor’s offices were closed unless it was an emergency.

How did you use the grant money?

Originally, our goal for those funds was to expand the pharmacy in 2020, but then there was COVID-19, supply chain issues and inflation. We still were able to do things that I think benefited this community and all the patients and business owners who were in this area. It all came at a great time, and I was just very thankful.



Photo: Tony Colley, Courtesy of B12Give

It was Tony Colley’s experience with food insecurity that led to the launch of Be One to Give, a Toronto-based on-demand delivery app for retailers with a surplus of food, serving those facing food insecurity.

“After a 23-year career, I lost everything,” admits Colley. Three months after losing his job, Colley says he had less than $300 in savings, was on social assistance, and food insecure, but he knew there was a solution. “We take surplus prepared food from business operators and redistribute it to community partners. It’s exactly like other meal delivery services. The only difference is we’re not dealing with consumers, we’re dealing with retailers. We move food from a business to those in need.”

Colley received a Backing Small grant in 2022 and used the funds to grow his brand. Since its launch, the service has distributed more than 25,000 pounds of food and fed more than 19,000 people.

How does this service work? And why food delivery?

The COVID-19 lockdown amplified food insecurity on a global scale, including here in Canada. It also amplified our solution. While working at a catering event, I noticed we had over a hundred box lunches left over. Being food insecure, I took a few for myself and redistributed the surplus to a nearby shelter. I did that for about a year and a half until one day I couldn't rescue all the food and decided to purchase a food delivery bag to make the process easier, and immediately saw an opportunity to build a more circular solution to surplus food recovery.

How did you use the grant money?

I used the money to bring on a junior developer to help us take the app to the next level. I just put it directly towards human resources. We are building out the next stage, which will add a little bit more interactivity and e-commerce capabilities and so forth.


Intended more as an experience than a spa, Felecia Stokes says Luxurious Wellniss (LW) has become a community of its own.

Photo: Felicia Stokes at Luxurious Wellniss, Courtesy of Felicia Stokes

“We needed people to see us,” says Felicia Stokes, the owner of the spa located in Orange, New Jersey, that opened in January 2022 and was the recipient of a Backing Small grant in 2022.

Stokes jumped at the opportunity to tell her story: “I wanted to formulate beauty products and skincare and all of that good stuff, but when I was in college, there was no internet; there was no Google; there was no LinkedIn; none of the stuff to connect you with the people to help you do that.”

She only had herself, her best friend, a dream – and a chemistry degree in her back pocket. Since receiving the grant, Stokes has been able to retain four consistent contractors and build a team of young creatives to help spread the word about her business.

How did you use the grant money?

We used the grant money to grow our team by bringing on young creatives, and with their support we continue to grow. We are financially on track to hire one of them as our first employee this year. We’re super excited about that. It's like we're helping them as they're helping us grow.

With the American Express name behind us, it shows that we’re a valid business. It gives us credibility.

Why does community matter so much to you and how are you investing in your LW community?

It’s really been word-of-mouth in the community for us. To any entrepreneurs who are my clients, they're always welcome to use this space if they want to have a pop-up, if they want to do an event, if they want to do something. That's my contribution to them. I could be charging way more. We could be doing way more. But I want my community to be able to afford it.


Photo: Mandi Masden, Courtesy of Apostrophe Puzzles

Apostrophe Puzzles, a 2021 Backing Small grant recipient, focuses on expanding and diversifying both the puzzle and art worlds. Located in Brooklyn, New York, this small business was founded in December 2019 after Mandi Masden was gifted a custom puzzle by her friend. Now, she runs a full-scale operation that once operated out of a storage unit.

“When I was given a custom puzzle of a painting that I wanted to buy, it blew my mind. It was gorgeous! I realized if puzzles looked more like this, I would do puzzles all the time,” says Masden.

How did you come up with the name?

One of my majors in college was English, so I love language. I had a ridiculously long list of potential names and came across apostrophe. When I looked it up, I saw it is used to indicate an omission and it's also used to indicate ownership, and I thought that was the perfect blend of the ethos of our brand. We are creating a space in the puzzle industry and owning our pride in the work of artists of color and bringing it into people’s homes in a fun, unique, and accessible way.

How did you use the grant money?

Everything is expensive in Brooklyn! I used to rent a very large storage unit that held 4,000 puzzles. I would walk to the storage unit, pack the orders in huge bags, and walk them to the post office. With the grant, I was able to move to a bi-coastal fulfillment warehouse, which changed everything for me. For an institution like American Express to deliberately focus on giving money to businesses of color, it's extremely helpful.


Through its Backing Small initiative, American Express has pledged $17 million to support thousands of small businesses around the world through programs like, Coalition to Back Black Businesses and Blueprint: Backing BIPOC Businesses in Canada. Most grantees receive $5,000.

Read more about the Backing Small initiative and American Express’ Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) strategy and mission by visiting here.

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