- Shaquille O'Neal spoke to Business Insider in an interview tied to the announcement of a new American Express grant program for Black-owned small businesses.
- In partnership with a coalition of business groups and collectives, American Express is dedicating $10 million in grants over the next four years to support Black small business owners in the US.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal partnered with American Express this week to announce a new grant program benefiting Black-owned small businesses in the US.
In partnership with the US Black Chambers, Inc., National Business League, National Black Chamber of Commerce, and Walker's Legacy, American Express will dedicate $10 million in grants over the next four years to Black small business owners through an initiative called the "Coalition to Back Black Businesses."
280 Black business owners who employ between three to 20 people will each receive a $5,000 grant through the program this year. The application for the grant program has a submission deadline of September 21, and those who apply have to meet a list of eligibility criteria outlined on the program's website.
O'Neal spoke to Business Insider in a phone interview this week to discuss the grant program and his history of partnering with American Express for various entrepreneurial and philanthropic efforts. He also reflected on his relationships with small businesses at large and the recent NBA players' strike, which called for action on social justice issues in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
How did your partnership with this program come together?
I've been with American Express almost seven, eight years now. Small businesses need our support more than ever now, and Black business owners have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. American Express asked me to do this, and of course I'm proud to partner with American Express as they're launching a first-ever "Coalition to Back Black Businesses" grant program. They're giving $10 million over four years to small businesses, and I think it's a great program.
How can the program assist on the ground level for small businesses, in the economic fallout of the pandemic?
It helps owners with funding, and we also got a mentorship program to help them grow their businesses and recover from the effects. We're not only giving money but also guiding them and helping them with what they need to get to the next level.
How does your history of entrepreneurism inform the work you're doing with Amex here?
I mean, Amex has helped me out a lot. Just recently, a couple of schools in my hometown needed laptops. American Express pitched in, and I pitched in, and we were able to get, I think, two or three schools outfitted with laptops so they could do the online schooling. But listen, American Express, we've been partnering for a long time, and they've supported me in all my stuff. "Shaq's Fun House." "Shaq's Mama Said Knock You Out"; you know, my mom does this charity dinner of the year for a scholarship program to help nurses go to school for three or four years. American Express has put in for that, so I love American Express. When they asked me to be a part of the "Coalition to Back Black Businesses" grant program, I said, "Of course, I'm in."
And I've always been supportive of small businesses, Black businesses. I live in a small town called McDonough, Georgia, and that's all there is out here, small businesses. And the businesses are so good to me and so beautiful out here, the only time I go to Atlanta is when I have to go to work. Everything you need is out here. They have a place called The Farm Store. 'Cause I live on a farm. So, you know, they have everything I need: Hay, seeds, fertilizer, stuff for the desk, you know, knives, pens, ice cream scoopers, stuff that's sunny, stuff for the dogs, stuff for the tree house. But they were struggling for a while. I probably kept them open personally, but you know, these places are struggling. Because, you think about it, they tell you to stay in the house three, four months. Don't go anywhere. 40 million people lose their jobs. People are losing their houses. Of course small businesses are going to be impacted.
Are there other instances, in the course of your life, that informed you of the plight of small businesses?
Well, there's this guy on Instagram, Instagram name @sia_collective. He makes shoes. I've bought like 200 pairs of shoes from them. Black business. A guy who was in the military. Now he's in the shoe business. I checked in and liked what he was doing, and I bought a lot of shoes. @sia_collective.
What do you make of NBA players in the bubble using their voice to shine light on some of these issues we're discussing here?
I mean, I like the guys that are using their platform and using their voice. They're bringing awareness to the situation. But at some point, we need to hand off to the next in line, whoever that may be. Whether it's the mayors, the senators, you know. Voting's coming up. We need to vote. We need to get people in place that can definitely and actually make change.
When the strike happened, did you think back at all to the various lockouts you went through, or how did you view that in relation to your experience?
They made a stand. To each his own, you know. They made a stand for what they view as important. I'm not going to say that it was good or bad, but they did what they had to do. I will say that my favorite picture is the one with Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Jim Brown all sitting down in seats, talking about certain issues.