1 March 2022
Isabel Chanslor lists her job title as consultant. But really, she admits, her work involves helping “Black and brown-led” businesses and non-profits find the keys to success — financing, marketing, building relationships with stakeholders.
Since leaving a high-level job with the Neighborhood Development Center in 2019, Chanslor sees her main role as “really helping organizations that I see may be somewhat misunderstood or not lifted up as much, yet they do solid work for the people on the ground.”
That might mean helping a small business obtain a critical loan. Or it could be assisting a new non-profit communicate with philanthropic foundations. For the past two years, through the Neighbors United Funding Collaborative, she has helped steer more than $1 million in donations to Midway area businesses hit hard by the pandemic and the social unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd.
Chanslor said she’s proudest of helping new entrepreneurs get off the ground. “It’s a joy to work with people who have such a fire and a vision,” she said. “It’s something that fuels my own passion.”
In a recent interview with Eye On St. Paul, Chanslor talked about what sparked that passion and why her work continues to be necessary. This interview was edited for length.
Q: As a consultant, who are some of your clients?
A: Well, my longest and most faithful client is the Best Steak House (at University Avenue and Victoria Street in St. Paul). They have gone through a lot. They had a fire last year and they are still out. I’ve known them 12 years, supporting their work.
Q: What kind of support?
A: Helping them arrange [federal] PPP loans. Financing. Marketing.
I am also deeply involved with a group called ACER — African Career, Education and Resource — to help them with their community development work. Raise dollars. Help them get access to funding.
Q: So, your work is helping groups get access to funding?
A: Yes, that’s a big part of what I do. Because I’ve been around for so long — I traveled the country with the Northwest Area Foundation and the Neighborhood Development Center, looking at promising projects all over the country — I learned great organizational efforts and those just stayed in my mind. I share that. Or I can do the dirty work, the marketing plan. It just really depends.
Q: How many clients have you had since you’ve been independent?
A: Probably 40 to 50. There’s no website. I don’t have business cards. I don’t look for work. Work comes to me.
Q: Where are you from?
A: California. And Texas. I served in military 8 years and married someone from here. We had two children together. I said, “If I’m going to move to Minnesota, you’re going to have to find a Latino community.”
He found the West Side of St. Paul and said, “I think you’ll love it.” This was back when El Burrito Mercado was a little bodega. We lived about two blocks away. I live in Roseville now, but I want to come back to St. Paul.
Q: You say you specialize in working with Black and brown businesses. Why is that necessary?
A: My own experience proves it. My parents were born in the United States. They are American citizens. And they were not allowed the ability to go to school because of all the issues around race and segregation. And, so, my father never went to school and my mother went only as far as the third grade. Later, I taught my dad how to write his name. He used to sign with an X. And I taught my mother how to read and write English.
Q: Why were your parents not allowed to get an education?
A: They were in west Texas and there were only certain schools that they could go to. In west Texas, you had to travel really far to get to the school you were allowed to go to if you were a brown or a Black person. There was no [school bus] to get there.
For my mother, it was an issue of one of the nuns being really abusive to her. It was very traumatizing. My grandfather, her father, said, “You don’t have to go back.” The reason I do what I do is because of all my personal history.
In some organizations, there are procedures that are used as tools by people who aren’t comfortable with brown and Black people. Who don’t understand brown and Black people. Are fearful around brown and Black people. Or who actually believe they are superior to them. I see this and have fought against it with every fiber of my being.
Q: Are you still working to help Midway businesses recover?
A: Yes. To date, we have helped raise and distribute $1.1 million. We still have $400,000 to $500,000 and hope for one last push this Spring.
Q: What part of your work makes you proudest?
A: I am proud of helping small businesses obtain the loans they need to not just survive but thrive. For others, I have helped organize crowdsource funding.
There are a lot of good, vital businesses and organizations that just need a lift to survive past their first five to eight years. Businesses that are doing wonderful things for the community. I just love doing this.