Read in English Leer en Español

Expanding Entrepreneurship Opportunities for Black San Diegans – Featuring Donna DeBerry

Established in September 2020, The San Diego Foundation Black Community Investment Fund prioritizes and invests in community-led, innovative efforts that increase racial equity and generational wealth for Black San Diegans. Co-founded with the Central San Diego Black Chamber of Commerce, the fund will focus grantmaking on four key pillars impacting economic prosperity among Black San Diegans: Education, Employment, Entrepreneurship and Housing.

This four-part blog series will examine each pillar with the fund’s advisory council experts.

Donna DeBerry serves as the chairperson of the Entrepreneurship Pillar of the Black Community Investment Fund.


Segregation was still very much a part of San Diego’s culture in the early 1940s. Despite that barrier, some Black San Diegans were not deterred from venturing out to start their own businesses.

Howard “Skippy” Smith, a Black stunt pilot and entrepreneur, opened the Pacific Parachute Company in 1942 – one of the first businesses in the nation managed by a Black American. The company sewed and packaged parachutes that were used widely by the military during World War II. The success of Smith’s business earned him the title “Top Black-Owned Business in the United States” in 1943 from Time Magazine.

Howard “Skippy” Smith and his integrated workforce in 1943 (Credit: San Diego History Center)

Although the white and Black soldiers present for Smith’s business opening were in racially segregated units, Smith’s employees represented one of the first and few integrated workforces in San Diego at the time. Filipinos, Asians, whites, Latinos and Blacks all had a seat at the Pacific Parachute Company table.

“The precepts of social and economic justice dictate that disadvantaged and underrepresented communities deserve to be included in the American dream,” shared Donna DeBerry, President & CEO of the Central San Diego Black Chamber of Commerce (CSDBCC), at the launch of the Black Community Investment Fund. The fund prioritizes and invests in community-led, innovative efforts that increase racial equity and generational wealth for Black San Diegans and is co-founded by CSDBCC and The San Diego Foundation.

Aligned through the CSDBCC mission to create generational wealth through business enterprise, education, employment and investing, DeBerry is the ideal chairperson for the Entrepreneurship pillar of the Black Community Investment Fund. She has been described as a trailblazer and pioneer – the “Go-To-Person” in diversity branding.

CSDBCC aims to support the business, career and financial success of Black businesses and Chamber members, resulting in the economic empowerment of San Diego communities, a goal that parallels those of the Black Community Investment Fund Entrepreneurship pillar.

Disparities in Entrepreneurship Opportunities and Access  

Black people have a long and rich history of entrepreneurship.

Jackson Ward in Richard, Virginia was a center for black enterprise and entertainment from the early 1920’s to the late 1940’s. (Credit: Jackson Ward Association)

Within two decades of the abolition of slavery, African Americans in the United States had established several thousand successful businesses that thrived in exclusively Black communities, including “Black Wall Street” of Tulsa, Oklahoma; Jackson Ward, known as “The Harlem of the South” in Richmond, Virginia; and Parrish Street in Durham, North Carolina.

Unfortunately, racial tension, discrimination and systemic bias in financial institutions made it virtually impossible for Black entrepreneurs to receive the financial support needed to launch, sustain or scale their businesses. These barriers continue to impact the representation of Black business owners today.

“We are in a crisis when we talk about generational wealth and the lack of it for the Black community,” DeBerry shared in a recent Enabling Community Solutions webinar, “Building Generational Wealth for Black San Diegans”, hosted by The Foundation.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Black-owned businesses were already facing challenges and barriers, specifically surrounding support from financial institutions. The pandemic was the “icing on the cake” to those pre-existing inequities, DeBerry said, highlighting that federal and state mandates, restrictions and documentation requirements disproportionately left out Black businesses in the distribution of small business relief funds.   

According to NBC 7 San Diego, in July 2020 only $1.5 million of Small Business Administration (SBA) loans were allocated to Black-owned businesses in San Diego out of $77 million.

“It is impossible to create generational wealth if Blacks are systemically discriminated against and competing for economic parity,” DeBerry emphasized.

Paving the Way for Economic Equity

The Entrepreneurship pillar of the Black Community Investment Fund aims to build opportunities for Black entrepreneurial growth in San Diego by conducting a needs assessment of over 100 Black-owned businesses and partnering with organizations that support financial literacy and capital opportunities.

The pillar will focus on identifying organizations that work toward economic development and pursue funding opportunities and sources that directly serve Black communities.

“Many Black businesses in San Diego — especially small Black businesses — were denied Paycheck Protection Program [loans] and grants through the federal government, state and even city,” said DeBerry in a San Diego Union-Tribune article amplifying the CSDBCC’s Black Business Grant Relief Fund.

“We are now in a reopening stage, and many of our Black business are not going to be able to reopen,” she added.

In June 2020, CSDBCC began raising money for the Black Business Grant Relief Fund to meet the needs of Black business owners facing barriers to financial support.

“Our businesses reached out to the chamber for help,” DeBerry shared. “For whatever reason, they did not get financially supported in this pandemic. So we said, ‘Hey, we need to create a fund for Black-owned businesses so they can reopen, recover and rebuild.’”

That regional leadership is one of several reasons why CSDBCC will also lead the Black Community Investment Fund’s efforts to support new entrepreneurs and provide the mentorship and financial support needed to launch entrepreneurial endeavors and build generational wealth within San Diego’s Black communities.

DeBerry underscored that this is not just about Black businesses in the grand scheme of the crisis. “This is about, how do we create an economic ecosystem for San Diego County as a region,” she shared, adding that Black businesses are most certainly a part of that ecosystem.

“If we are going to recover as a region, as an economy and an ecosystem, we have to make sure that all businesses have equitable opportunity to recover from COVID,” DeBerry emphasized.


About Donna DeBerry

Donna DeBerry, known as an expert, brings a wealth of skills and experience in global diversity and inclusion. She is currently the Vice President of Global Inclusion at Seismic Software and CEO at the Central San Diego Black Chamber of Commerce.

DeBerry’s success has been featured in Fortune, Time, Money, Newsweek, Essence (Top 50 Women Shaping the World issue), Black Enterprise, Diversity Inc. and a wide range of other media venues.

She has worked with the Oprah Winfrey Show, NBA, NFL, Jerry Colangelo and on many other high-profile projects. DeBerry has been instrumental in strategic planning for events such as Harvard University Women & Power Conference, the Tri-Congressional Caucus Retreat, Vibe Magazine Music Festival, Jazz in the Gardens as well as creating diversity strategies for the states of Louisiana and Texas.

DeBerry is an award-winning marketing strategist and author, as well as a sought-after renowned speaker that focuses on global diversity, branding and marketing to optimally position the business and the brand.

Related Content