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How the Business Alliance for People of Color Seeks to Strengthen NH’s Economy and Culture

Published Tuesday Mar 12, 2024

Author By Rosemary Ford and Caitlin Agnew, Granite state News Collaborative

Melanie Plenda of the Granite State News Collaborative, left, interviews Latonya Wallace, director of community relations for the NH Community Loan Fund, and Lionel Loveless, owner of Officially Knotted Bowties and co-owner of antique shops, about the Business Alliance for People of Color, on an episode of “The State We’re In.” (Courtesy of NH PBS and The Marlin Fitzwater Center for Communications)

The Business Alliance for People of Color, or BAPOC, began during the pandemic to ensure federal, state and local resources were available to everyone who needed them. But what started out for financial reasons has morphed into an organization about so much more than money. The Business Alliance for People of Color focuses on diversity, equity and inclusion.

The following is an interview between Melanie Plenda, director of the Granite State News Collaborative and host of “The State We’re In,” and BAPOC Vice Chair Latonya Wallace, director of community relations for the NH Community Loan Fund, and board member Lionel Loveless, owner of Officially Knotted Bowties and co-owner of antique shops in Stratham and Hampton Falls, about the group and what it’s accomplishing in NH. (To view the interview, visit

Melanie Plenda: “Tell us about the alliance and how it got started.”

Lionel Loveless: “During the pandemic there were federal funds that were going to folks that necessarily didn’t look like us. New Hampshire has a nice amount of Brown- and Black-owned businesses within our state, but those people were not getting the funds the federal government was actually sending out. They were being told to go to banks and try to get loans that way and get grants. That was a problem. That was an issue.

A group of us got together and said, ‘How can we make this better?’ And so BAPOC in New Hampshire was formed. We tried to come up with a solution to maybe get people in contact with the SBA [Small Business Administration] and other organizations that can help these businesses survive during the pandemic.”

Melanie Plenda: “Did you ever find out why the Black- and Brown-owned businesses were being told that they couldn’t get access to these funds?”

Lionel Loveless: “That’s a question that probably will never be answered because the truth hurts, and people aren’t going to want to speak the truth. But just in my opinion, that’s an issue that people don’t want to pay attention to. I think some people in New Hampshire, because we’re such a small community, don’t think we exist. Does that make sense?”

Melanie Plenda: “Latonya, what impact has the group had over the last three years and how have you measured that impact?”

Latonya Wallace: “Right away, with us coming to meet each other, building relationships together—that was something right from the top that we thought was just so impactful. I always say, for me, I didn’t realize I needed to see my reflection in other folks as much as I did until I was connected with this group.

Some of the impacts, when we’re looking at the different levels of that, there’s economic empowerment that we’ve been able to provide—resources, mentorship, and all while really contributing to the ultimate growth and sustainability of our BIPOC-owned businesses. And helping facilitate success and collaborations with business owners. So, overall, contributing to the vibrancy of our state and our economies.

We’ve created jobs, provided networking opportunities with our BAPOC pop-ups. We have events and host events across the state and bring people together. And we also have partnerships where we want to make sure that we’re highlighting and providing that skill development for our business owners — so being able to provide the access to training and educational programs through partnerships, like the ones that we have with the Small Business Development Center, the Center for Women and Enterprise and the Portsmouth Chamber.

One big thing is that a lot of people don’t realize how many people of color are here in the state. So we want to make sure that we share the representation and create visibility, so that we can elevate our BIPOC business owners as they move and shift through the ups and downs of owning their business. At the end of the day, what we’re really building with BAPOC is an ecosystem. We’re becoming kind of this backbone organization that mobilizes, coordinates and facilitates the process of collective impact, like how we can really build and be stronger together as organizations across the state.”

Melanie Plenda: “What would you say are the goals of the group?”

Latonya Wallace: “Our goals are really to support BIPOC businesses, and we do that by convening, advocating for, promoting and providing access to the resources, the network, the financial capital at times—those are really the goals of the group. Making sure that we can provide access and come together to build and to grow and to be strong BIPOC business owners, but also state leaders and community leaders.”

Melanie Plenda: “To summarize, why is there such a need for a group like this here in New Hampshire?”

Latonya Wallace: “The need comes in so many different forms, and that can be cross-cultural collaboration, having opportunities and access on a potential board meeting or board members. It’s important for us to also address stereotypes, so having this group of really established and amazing folks in the state to share their work and to share and create that visibility for it—it’s very important for our community. And also to amplify our collective voices—a group like this is so important for us. I kind of go back to living in other states where I just felt alone, so having this group puts me in a space where I feel comfortable, and I want
to stay.”

Lionel Loveless: “It’s extremely important to show community. So, if there are prospective business owners, employers or whoever comes into New Hampshire—they want to see that there’s a vibrant community that they identify with. I mean, no one wants to go somewhere and be lonely. By showing that we are here and that there’s a large community of us—that allows those people who were thinking of moving to New Hampshire to say, ‘You know what, I think I can do that.’ New Hampshire is changing, the landscape of New Hampshire is changing, there’s no doubt about that. Diversity is the best thing for a state like New Hampshire — bringing cultural differences when it comes to food, politics, thinking, whatever you can think of, diversity makes us a stronger community.”

Melanie Plenda: “Tell us more about how diversity can be an asset to the community as a whole.”

Lionel Loveless: “I mean, for instance, my antique shop, I have a diversity of items, I have 80-plus different dealers, and every single dealer has something totally different, which allows for me to reach across all areas of demographics—young, old, Black, White, whatever you can think of. They come into my shop, and I cater to every single one of those people. So, it’s the same thing with diversity within a community. When our demographics are different, it allows for the community to be stronger and better at understanding. That allows for happiness. I’m a foodie; I love food. I don’t want to eat mashed potatoes every single day. I want to have something different. So that diversity in culture brings different food to my palate, and it makes me happy. It puts a smile on my face. Everybody should be fortunate and happy enough. I’m happy to say, ‘I love diversity.’ I want a big plate of happy food.

Melanie Plenda: “What are the group’s plans for the future? How do you see things evolving?”

Latonya Wallace: “We want to continue our work, our impacts across the state. We want to continue to grow our membership, and one thing I’m very, very excited about is that we are hosting our very first conference on April 17. So, we’re really looking forward to that and bringing together BIPOC business owners and allies and organizations from all across the state. I’m very excited about the work and the continued impact that will make it through that conference.” 

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative as part of our Race and Equity Initiative. For more information, visit  “The State We’re in” is a weekly digital public affairs show produced by NH PBS and The Marlin Fitzwater Center for Communications. It is shared with partners in the Granite State News Collaborative, of which both organizations are members.

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