Reflections on Race: 'When it comes to business, for a Black male everything almost has to be perfect'
Christopher Felder, of Hempstead, is the co-founder and executive director of the Barber & Beauty Institute of New York. He also owned a barbershop in Hempstead for 15 years before opening the school. He talked to News 12 Long Island about what it took to build his business and offered advice for other Black men to follow in his footsteps.
Felder is a third-generation barber but went to college to be a teacher. He had a barber's license though and was cutting people's hair through college. He ultimately made his mark by combining his education with his skill.
"I graduated from college to be a teacher, and I realized at that moment that I had the potential to make more money as a barber, as a beginning salary as a teacher at that time. And then I went into my own business ... I just used both my education, educational background and the trade itself to open one of the first minority-owned barber schools in New York state."
But Felder had a tough time getting a business loan, despite meeting all the requirements
"When it comes to business, for a Black male everything almost has to be perfect, from your credit score, to your criminal background, to how much money do you have, capital that you have at that moment, how much savings do you have, all those factors have to be almost 100% or perfect, to get what you really, really need," says Felder. "And that's one of the greatest obstacles, because it's easier for me to get a car loan as opposed to a business loan, and I think that's something we have to change. It's easier for me to get a school loan, than a business loan, it's easier for me to get a mortgage, easier to get a mortgage than a business loan and I think it should be the other way around. It should be easier for me to get a business loan if I can show the credentials, you know have the license, like I said the proper credit to get that business loan, that way I can empower myself, empower my community, support my family, support others. I think it should be easier to get that. That was very difficult, painful. Painful because I would apply, I knew I had a great credit score, I didn't have a criminal background, I had savings, but constantly being turned down, that will really affect you. But again, those are things you have to go around."
Felder offered advice for other Black men on persevering, despite the obstacles in place.
"Generally I think Black men and I think we all feel this way, we all feel that we're, that we're leaders. So with that being said, it's just, it's like an innate spirit says to itself OK, OK, if I can't do it this way and I know I should be doing this, I have to be creative. Even in times such as this now, which is the pandemic. This is not the time to sit back and wait to see what happens, this is now the time to be creative, you know you have to think out of the box now, you have to take advantage of this time here, because if you sit back and wait for someone to give something to you, you'll never get it. It'll never happen. And the next thing you'll know, you're trying to play catchup."