Twenty years ago, when I was living in Oakland, I started playing capoeira, the Afro-Brazilian martial art. And that's where I met someone who eventually became a good friend: Jessica de Lima-Moran. We spent a lot of time training together. I eventually stopped, but Jessica dedicated her life to capoeira—and even met her husband, Sean Moran, through the martial art.
Now, they live in Los Angeles, and have worked with a nonprofit for the past 15 years spreading the art of capoeira. They teach youth of color at different community centers around Southern California, college students at universities, and adults at a gym not far from where they live.
On March 1, they took over that gym and signed an expensive five-year lease. But just two weeks later, they had to close their doors. California had just issued its stay-at-home order, requiring nonessential businesses to close. Jessica and Sean knew the measure was important for keeping their community safe — but they also knew it was likely to put their life's work in jeopardy.
There are many reasons that small business owners of color—like Jessica de Lima-Moran, who's Brazilian, and her husband Sean Moran, who's black—will have to fight especially hard to survive the economic effects of COVID-19. So at the beginning of April, I asked them to start recording dispatches from their cell phones to document some of what they've been going through — including applying for loans, unemployment and relief money.
Here are snippets from those diaries that they sent me, mostly told from Jessica's point of view. And to hear their full story, subscribe to the Code Switch podcast.
These diaries have been edited and condensed for clarity.
We have been on constant phone calls with our accountant. We are worried. I mean, what can we say? It's a little complicated, because you are told about options like the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, but then nobody responds. So it's just a waiting game. We are just completely in limbo.
We're still waiting on anything. Any stimulus money, any assistance, any help. Today, finally, we got an email from the SBA. Now, I'm on hold on the phone with them.
Their email was completely unhelpful. Basically, it's a recap of what the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) loan does and the PPP does. I'm super frustrated.
Yesterday, the sun came out, a break from the dreary rain that was happening. The beautiful sunshine is bookended by the news that every day, there's a change in whatever is happening. Yesterday, it was that the stimulus bill was going to run out of money for PPP and for the small business emergency loans. So now I'm assuming we have to wait for another stimulus bill. We're still waiting for our relief check.
The gym is the last thing that's going to open up. We were the first ones to close, and we're gonna be the last ones to open up. We're gonna still be wearing face masks until 2021. I can't believe that. For gyms and large gatherings of people sweating, I don't know when they're going to let us reconnect again.
We're doing online classes with our students, but they're dropping off. With the money that we have coming in, we're not going to be able to pay two months of rent and utility and insurance when we reopen. That's over $13,000 of just rent. Commercial rent in Los Angeles is no joke, right?
I'm not going to give up on the dream, though. That's our space. That's our gym. This has been 15 years in the making, and it's not going to get taken away from us. I don't know what we're gonna do, but it is not gonna get taken away from us. I feel very strongly about that.
I'm currently emailing the Small Business Administration. I guess they're making some corrections, because large corporations somehow went through some loophole and got millions and millions of dollars of funding. I just heard on the radio about how this time, they are going to try to allocate some money for some different special groups, like minority businesses. So maybe we can push to some kind of front of the line. So I'm emailing the SBA, because we still haven't heard anything. I also don't see a stimulus check in my bank account.
Nothing yet. No money, honey. We can't apply for unemployment either, because we are still finishing up a teaching gig at Cal Arts. That's only a partial supplementary income, but we don't want to lie. But still, it's just so complicated to fill out unemployment applications. Both Sean and I tried, and we don't want to lie. So no unemployment, no stimulus money, no PPP, no SBA, no microloan from the city of Los Angeles.
Now we're just even more panicked. We're supporters of public safety; public health is fundamental.That goes without saying. But Gov. Gavin Newsom is saying that gyms are in Phase Three of reopening, and that's months away. I mean, are you serious? Months? There's no way we're gonna be able to stay open.
To hear the rest of Jessica and Sean's story, listen to this week's episode of the podcast.
To hear more about how exactly these coronavirus loan programs work, and why small businesses of color are struggling hard during the pandemic, make sure to listen to our episode wherever you get your podcasts: NPR One, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Stitcher, Google Podcasts and RSS.