News 5 Cleveland: Local non-profit helps people of color overcome financial roadblocks

Posted at 5:34 PM, Oct 20, 2020
and last updated 6:28 PM, Oct 20, 2020

CLEVELAND — A local non-profit is looking to break down the barriers that keep people of color from accessing capital.

When Angela Sharpley set out to secure the funding she needed to expand her business, she initially found some resistance.

“I was told that there was no help for me out here,” said Angela Sharpley, small business owner.

It was the message she heard from a lender right out of the gate.

“They never got to my credit, so that’s the only thing they had to go off of was who I was,” said Sharpley.

When intentionally placed roadblocks prevent people of color like Sharpley from accessing the cash they need, HFLA of Northeast Ohio steps in to help bridge that divide.

“Our mission is to help people that don’t have access to fair financial tools,” said Michal Marcus with HFLA of Northeast Ohio.

For more than a century, the non-profit has been providing interest-free loans to those who might otherwise go without just because of who they are.

“How race and racism play out with regards to access to capital and investment absolutely needs to be at the forefront,” said Mark Joseph, CWRU professor of community development.

Along with intentional decisions based on appearance, Joseph said there is implicit bias at play.

“We have something in our perception or mindset that would lead us to believe that someone who is African-American, a person of color, is less creditworthy,” said Joseph.

Along with racism, not knowing where​ to find resources often keeps access to funding out of reach. Joseph said that includes “understanding where you can go for loans, for investment, or capital.”

It’s a similar issue Sharpley said she faced when starting out.

“You don’t have a road map to know where to go,” said Sharpley.

When people do finally find that direction, Sharpley hopes they have an equal chance to get the cash they need to invest in their community.

“I would like for the playing field to be made fair,” said Sharpley.

On Wednesday night, HFLA will tackle these and other topics during a virtual event called “Fostering Economic Equity: Fixing the Racial Imbalance in Consumer Finance.

“More corporations, banks, and larger financial institutions need to step up with fair financial tools,” said Marcus.

The online conversation begins at 5:30 p.m.

It is free and open to anyone in the community.

You can register at

Watch the full event and panel discussion, Fostering Economic Equity: Fixing the Racial Imbalance in Consumer Finance, on our website here:

What can HFLA of Northeast Ohio do to foster financial equity?

Dear Supporters,

It feels like such a long time ago that the stay at home order was declared, schools were closed, businesses shuttered, and we saw our own normal operations swiftly shift to high-demand, touch-free, and remote procedures. Our state has moved forward since these mandates and Ohioans are trying to create some sense of normalcy within this chaotic period in our American history. Despite the national pandemic, protests continue to fight for change and equitable practices within our country and government systems, leaving HFLA of Northeast Ohio to confront a very important question:

What do we do to fight for change and equitable practices within the region we serve?

As staff and board members, we have an idea where to start, but we want to hear the input of our supporters, our clients, and our entire Northeastern Ohio community.

HFLA’s interest-free financing options are available to those who are unable to access conventional forms of financing. This inability to access bank or credit union loans is often due to systemic barriers that prevent those circling poverty from achieving financial security. Some of the most underserved populations in our country in terms of access to finance and capital are African Americans and Latinx communities.

Within our Northeast Ohio region, HFLA’s loan disbursement includes 52% to Black/African Americans individuals and 9% to Latinx borrowers. HFLA has smaller percentages of loans going to other demographic groups, including 3% to borrowers of Middle Eastern descent, 2% to Asian/Pacific Islander, and 2% to two or more races. Our business loan portfolio is made up of 62% business owners/entrepreneurs of color and 42% of all business loans are made to BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color) women (data retrieved August 2020).

HFLA has always served those who were left without equitable financial resources. Whether that means serving European immigrants in the early 1900s, or serving communities struggling to overcome economic barriers today.

This fall, on October 21st, 2020, we will take a step towards confronting the systemic inequities in the financial system with an online panel discussion with area leaders titled:

Fostering Economic Equity: Fixing the Racial Imbalance in Consumer Finance

Please stay connected with us as we provide more information and updates. This will be an honest and enlightening discussion on what the current situation is and what changes can be made to make a better future for all Northeast Ohioans.

Together we can replant Northeast Ohio.

Learn More