Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., listens to Michigan Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II at Headliners Barbershop in Detroit, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., listens to Michigan Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II at Headliners Barbershop in Detroit, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The VP nominee spent time with business owners during her latest campaign tour, including four sisters who own a juice business in Michigan’s second-largest county.

DETROIT, MI—California senator and Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris stopped in Michigan today on her campaign trail—this time focused on in-person visits with the entrepreneurs of Flint and metro Detroit.

Harris’ visit centered on Black-owned businesses. Reports from the University of Michigan show that only one Black-owned restaurant was among the 785 total Michigan restaurants to receive Paycheck Protection Program loans of at least $150,000. 

For many Black entrepreneurs and business owners, the onset of the coronavirus pandemic required pivoting towards e-commerce operations and accessing capital and relief loans—tasks made more difficult due to systemic barriers that have barred Black people from economic opportunity. 

‘DROUGHT’ Quenches Thirst for Knowledge

While in the Detroit area, Harris stopped at DROUGHT Juice, a woman-owned cold pressed juice company in Royal Oak, a western suburb is in Oakland County—Michigan’s second-largest county. 

An annual economic report released Monday found that Oakland County has lost 25% of its small businesses and 156,000 jobs to pandemic in the second quarter of this year, “which was nearly the same amount as the county’s job losses over the entire decade of the 2000s.”

DROUGHT is owned by the James sisters who started their business in 2010 after moving back in with their parents. The four sisters poured all their time, energy, and resources into building their own business. The company has grown into a million dollar entity, with over 32 employees who work in their production facility in Berkley and in the retail shops. 

Stella, the daughter of one of DROUGHT’s owners, wore an old hat with the multi-color KAMALA logo of Harris’s presidential campaign. The vice-presidential candidate greeted Stella with an elbow bump and bent down to talk to her. 

“I read you guys do no water,” Harris said, chatting about the juice business. 

Harris briefly discussed the election with the women in the store, too. 

“Everything’s at stake,” one of the women said. 

“Everything’s at stake,” Harris repeated. 

Harris also bonded with members of the LGBTQ communities at the visit, talking about how she performed the first marriages when Proposition 8 was struck down in California. 

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Setting a Standard Since 2018

Women will play a critical role in the outcome of the 2020 election. 

Since 2018, Democrats earned huge gains including electing Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Sen. Debbie Stabenow. They flipped two congressional seats, five State Senate, and six State House seats from red to blue.

That year, women in Michigan turned out in record numbers and elected Democrats up and down the ticket. In a statewide poll released Sept. 9 by the Detroit News and WDIV-TV, likely female voters in Michigan support Biden 54%-36%. 

Michigan leadership understands the needs of business owners like the James sisters, and the importance of Black voters who will be pivotal in deciding who will win the battleground state in November. 

The nation’s largest Black-majority city has been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic and its ensuing economic fallout. More than 14,200 COVID-19 cases and 1,500 deaths have been confirmed in the city.

That motivated residents like 29-year-old mother of two Wendy Caldwell-Liddell to vote to defeat President Donald Trump. 

“Trump won Michigan by less than 11,000 votes,” noted Caldwell-Liddell, the co-founder of Mobilize Detroit, a newly formed grassroots organization. “And so, our thought process is, if we can just get an additional 15,000 or 20,000 to show up, that could change Michigan’s trajectory for the presidential election.”

Black voters across Michigan will be pivotal in deciding who will win the battleground state in November. But engaging them at a time of immense uncertainty across the nation because of the pandemic and unrest over the effects of systemic racism has been especially challenging.

“A lot of Black folks are having that experience of getting punched in the gut several times in 2020,” said Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, the first African American in his position. “But I also know that Black folks, Black women in particular, are going to take care of business … Donald Trump is such an existential threat to Black life and Black futures and I think we’re going to show up and make sure that he’s no longer president.”

Biden visited Detroit ahead of Harris earlier this month.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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