“Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.”
Black History Month. It’s about more than the history of our past. It’s about the black men and women who strive to reach a brighter future amidst the discrimination and oppression of today. It’s about their fight for basic respect and dignity, and asking for nothing apart from their inalienable human rights.
Among these undefeated are the people running black owned businesses. In fact, black women control about 1.3 million businesses within the US, exemplifying growth of over 300% since 1997. Despite this powerful news, African Americans who make up about 13% of the US population, only own about 7% of the United States’ businesses. Moreover, most of these black owned businesses fail within the first year and a half of opening due to lack of exposure, capital, and business acumen. It’s an uphill battle. Even so, these business owners have started a journey to create a name for themselves and leave a legacy of success and determination, rather than wallow in pity against insurmountable odds. Their history is our history, and our history will guide us into the future.
In 2019, we faced the longest government shutdown in history. Over 800,000 people were affected. People could not find work, government contracts were put on hold, and many struggled to pay their monthly obligations. It would have been easy to give up. Yet, some chose another way. Two African American sisters, Jaqi Wright and Nikki Howard, banded together to come up with a new way to make ends meet for their families. More commonly known as the Furlough Cheesecake Sisters, these ladies started their own business selling cheesecake to the public. They quickly found success and support, with publicity from Ellen Degeneres and local Washington DC radio stations like WKYS 93.9. These women stood as hope not only for the minority community, but also for every single government worker or government contractor.
Another African American run business, Gourmonade, serves freshly squeezed love and lemonade to those passing through the Bay Area of California. Vicktor Stevenson owns and runs the stand, evolving the business from pop up appearances and event catering. Stevenson remembers one incident where he was checking the security system of his newly opened business, when four police officers approached him asking for identification. They stated they were responding to a reported break in. Stevenson felt the weight of racist motives behind a call to the cops while he was minding his own business. However, he refused to let the incident deter him from progress, and continues to operate with success.
Success can be hard to come by. However, as we take time this month to remember those who have paved the way for all people, especially minorities, we can find ways to support each other’s success. We can do so by supporting black owned businesses. By reading African American literature. By visiting African American museums and donating to them to keep our rich history alive. Supporting black owned businesses helps ensure that we give them a chance to make the present more successful than the past. It’s one way to take a stand for what is right as a human being. We must continue to do the same daily; go make the world a better place. It doesn’t just stop with one month. It’s a lifestyle of remembrance.