Archive for June, 2017

Look back and see the future. (Part One) — June 2017

Articles | Posted by Jim Clingman June 24th, 2017

I often use the phrase, “Our history is our future,” to express the fact that everything we need to do today, vis-à-vis economic empowerment, has been done before by African Americans in this country. Just look back at what Black people built in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, Durham, North Carolina and Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Greenwood District. Take a closer look at what Booker T. Washington was doing with his National Negro Business League; read about Black entrepreneurs in Cincinnati and Philadelphia during the early 1800’s, and you will see the economic future of African Americans is, indeed, grounded in our history.

I wonder why it takes us so long to do what we know is right. In the context of the economic well-being of African Americans, most of us know what “we need” to do. Yet we seem content to discuss, “intellectualize,” meet, and complain about how unfair the system is. For those “we need to…” folks out there, if you see the need, do the work.

One thing most of us know is that economic empowerment and business development—vertical business development—are vital to our economic prosperity. Naturally following the development of businesses is the support of those businesses by consumers. To illustrate that point, I am reminded of what a friend once told me: “Production minus sales equals scrap.”

In the 1800’s there were many flourishing Black owned businesses. In spite of the worst brand of slavery ever perpetrated on a people, Black businesses survived and grew. Economic growth was a reality, even in the face of the racial prejudice that existed, because we were determined, and we stuck together.

In 1853, a convention was held in Rochester, New York, to discuss “Afro-American Economics.” Slogans like “Buy Black” and “Double Duty Dollars” began at conventions like this one, all over the country. What happened to us since that time? Have we drifted so far from our heritage and from the things that benefit us as a whole? Have we become so selfish and so self-centered that we have completely lost sight of our values toward one another?

Businesses are the foundation of a true community. Our current 2.4 million Black owned businesses, compared to the 45 million of us, are but a drop of water in the ocean, especially when you factor in the relatively meager annual revenues those businesses take in. We must change that.

Our time should be devoted to starting and supporting business ventures, rather than complaining about how difficult things are out there and how the “Arabs” and Asians dominate our neighborhoods when it comes to business ownership. We must find common ground to move beyond the stagnation and complacency in which we have been mired for so long. Organization, unity, and mutual support are the keys to our economic freedom.

Cooperative economics among African Americans is an idea that has been around for hundreds of years. It could not be resisted during the early years of American history, and it cannot be resisted today. It is up to us to take advantage of that fact as we move forward. It is time to make individual commitments to “do” something rather than sit back and “let someone else do it.” It is time to stop complaining and blaming someone else for our plight. It is time for us to give up that lame excuse, “There is no use trying to change things, because we are never going to get together anyway.” I don’t buy those tired words, and I hope you don’t buy them either. All we have to do, instead, is buy from one another, for the benefit of us all. The precedent exists; look at it and learn from it.

My primary example of seeing a need and doing the work (although there are several during my lifetime that I could share) is my current work for our people: THE One Million Conscious and Conscientious Black Contributors and Voters (OMCCBCV). Our historical grounding is found in the words of Marcus Garvey: “The greatest weapon used against [Black people] is disorganization.” Thus, we are organized, united, and unapologetically determined to contribute to the economic elevation of our people. We saw the need and set out to do the work; and we will continue that work as we learn from our past and strive for a better future for our children. If you would like to join us, go to www.iamoneofthemillion.com Next week, part two of this article will give a deeper look at why and how the system in which we live has caused some of us to be complacent. It will also offer a way to change our situation.

 

 

Another opportunity to support a Black business — June 2017

Articles | Posted by Jim Clingman June 17th, 2017

This week’s article is a follow up to my Food Desert article. One week after writing it I learned about a young sister in the Los Angeles area, Compton to be exact, who had bought a supermarket. Kia Patterson, the first Black in L.A. to do so, now is the independent owner-operator of a Grocery Outlet store that, in essence, presents yet another opportunity for us to support a Black owned supermarket. Question is: Will we do it?

I called Ms. Patterson immediately after watching a video interview of her inside her store; I was thoroughly impressed. After speaking to her I contacted her marketing/PR rep and suggested ways I could help get the word out about Ms. Patterson’s venture. This article is part of that effort, in addition to my asking radio talk show personalities to feature her as a guest. Even those of us who do not live in L.A. or its surrounding cities should be willing to cheer Ms. Patterson on and share her information with others across this nation. Hers is one of the examples I wrote about in my previous article; maybe similar ventures by Black people will come from this latest foray into the food industry, and this time it will be sustained; I truly hope so.

Kia Patterson was born in Gardena and raised in Lynwood, both located in California. She has been in the grocery industry since the age of 17, starting as the “service clerk” for a well-known supermarket. Her career moved very fast and was later promoted to store manager. After that, she had the opportunity to join the corporate office for a special project, which resulted in a promotion to a Store Systems Specialist. Kia’s dedication and professionalism did not go unnoticed and, after having spent seventeen years in her first grocery job, Grocery Outlet approached with the opportunity to become an independent owner-operator.

Kia joined the Grocery Outlet family in June 2016. She trained at their Long Beach location and was very grateful to have received training by two very experienced operators. On April 1, 2017, Kia made her dream of becoming an entrepreneur a reality when she became the independent owner-operator of the Compton location.

I know the demographics have changed for Compton over recent years, but that should not be used as an excuse not to support Kia’s store. Maggie and John Anderson drove 36 miles round trip, from Oak Park to Southside Chicago to support a Black owned grocery store. I drove a similar distance to support a Black owned dry cleaners in Cincinnati, Ohio. Call us crazy, but we believe as W.E.B. Dubois said, “We must cooperate or we are lost. Ten million people who join in intelligent self-help can never be long ignored or mistreated. The mass of the Negroes must learn to patronize business enterprises conducted by their own race, even at some disadvantage.”

Kia immediately connected with the community of Compton because it is the neighboring city to Lynwood (where Kia grew up) and started donating food items on a weekly basis to some of the local churches. Kia has also partnered with El Camino Compton Center to launch their food pantry to help less fortunate students with food items. Most recently, Kia began to help the community learn how to incorporate healthy and affordable eating habits, by hosting “smart shopping” store tours where a registered nutritionist guided shoppers to identify nutritious food choices.

In addition to these initiatives and to further contribute to the advancement of her community, during the month of May and June, Kia has partnered with the Magic Johnson Foundation to conduct a fundraising competition to benefit four elementary schools in the Compton Unified School District. As a result, the schools will receive cash prizes that will be used in different educational activities. And for those looking for healthier food choices, Grocery Outlet stores like Kia’s offer more than 500 Natural, Organic, Specialty, and Healthy items.

Now here is an appropriate response to Kia’s business venture and her efforts to “give back” to the community: Dr. Rosie Milligan, nationally acclaimed author, local entrepreneur, community activist, and self-proclaimed “Mayor of South Central L.A.,” will revise her “Get on the bus” campaign, which she implemented in past years to take groups of customers to Black businesses to shop. Dr. Rosie will now organize groups to visit Patterson’s store and do their weekly shopping.

I am very excited about this news, and I want to see this business grow from the support of Black consumers as well as all consumers—the same way Black people support everyone else’s stores. Let’s flip the script on the mantra, the song, and the movie, “Straight outta Compton,” by making our refrain, “Straight into Compton” to support a Black business.

 

 

Food Deserts — June 2017

Articles | Posted by Jim Clingman June 3rd, 2017

Why do we have Food Deserts? One reason is that we have deserted our own stores. Instead of taking care of ourselves, we complain about stores owned by someone else. We petition our politicians for a grocery store or seek private companies to open stores where we live, but seldom do we open stores ourselves. Even when Blacks do open new supermarkets we do not support them, and they eventually are forced to close. Think I’m wrong? Keep reading.

At the turn of the last century (1900) Black people began to form food co-ops and other collective purchasing programs to feed themselves and to leverage lower prices for Black consumers. Two of the first grocery co-ops were started in St. Louis and Chicago by B. G. Shaw and Robert Jackson, respectively, in 1919.

The most notable co-op was the Colored Merchants’ Association (CMA), founded by A.C. Brown in Montgomery, Alabama in 1923. With assistance from the National Negro Business League, under the leadership of Albon Holsey, the CMA became a national organization that encouraged Black grocers to unite. In 1936, Holsey stated, “…the CMA began to lose the confidence of the Black consumer.” Black Economist, Abram Harris, said, “Members always found it difficult to sell CMA brands. The Negro, like the White consumer, is habituated to the popular brands carried by the chains.” Source: Dr. Juliet E.K. Walker.

Desertion of Black stores by Black consumers led to market opportunities for outsiders to take full advantage of the Black food dollar. We became dependent upon others, and now we even request their presence in our neighborhoods. No better picture of that reality than Singletary’s Supermarket in Columbus, Ohio in the mid-1980’s. I wrote many articles about Singletary’s and even spent time there doing a product sampling program. Singletary’s was a brand new business at that time, clean, well-stocked, and more convenient to Blacks in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood than other grocery stores.

Author of “Tribes,” Joel Kotkin, wrote: “In Columbus, Ohio…Singletary Plaza Mart, the nation’s largest Black-owned ‘superstore,’ went out of business…due to a lack of community patronage. Although Blacks in Columbus spend $2.5 million each week on food, they couldn’t be convinced to spend less than a tenth of it, or $200,000, to keep Singletary afloat.” The Reluctant Entrepreneurs, INC Magazine, 1986. Desertion.

In 1995, in Lakeland, Florida, an interdenominational group of Black ministers took their church members shopping. A two month-old Black-owned grocery store was not doing very well in the community, so the ministers got together to help. The ministers took 150 people to the store, called Fresh Supermarket Foods. After two hours, the shoppers had spent $4,000.00, according to the owner, Mr. Frank Jackson. Paul Sanders, pastor of Greater St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, said, “At stake is getting more Blacks to support [one another]. We talk about power. But if we don’t have some businesses or some money, we can talk about power all we want and it won’t come.” Sanders continued, “If the store does not succeed, it will be because of a lack of community support.” Desertion.

Three other recent examples include Fresh Market supermarket in nearly 100% Black, Southside Chicago. Owner, Karriem Beyah, whose store was included in Maggie and John Anderson’s “Empowerment Experiment,” agreed that the awareness and enthusiasm the Anderson’s created was important, but Beyah added that his business may have suffered from being highlighted as an enterprise owned by an African-American. (He closed the store in August 2009) “If you’re under the radar, then maybe you won’t get that belief from customers that the other guy’s ice is colder than yours,” he said. But, “I’m not giving up.” (Beyah plans to open a new store this year, 2017.

Second is the 2014 closing on the last Calhoun’s Supermarket in Montgomery, AL., after losing money for “three or four years,” according to owner, Greg Calhoun, who made history as the first African American in the South to own a supermarket. At one point, Calhoun had seven stores in Montgomery alone, a majority Black city. ShaKenya Calhoun cried as she closed the doors one final time. “The market has just been oversaturated with grocery stores…With the lack of sales, there’s not an economic impact for us to be in business.”

Third, there’s the much ballyhooed Sterling Farms’ grocery store in New Orleans, co-owned by actor, Wendell Pierce, who wanted to bring healthy food to underserved communities. That store closed one year after opening. It drew national media attention when it opened, including a visit from Michelle Obama who was touting her Fresh Food Initiative to bring healthy grocery options to so-called “food deserts.”

What will it take for us to feed ourselves? We have the money; we just lack the mindset. History will not treat us kindly if we fail to act appropriately.