I began National Black Business Month Saturday, Aug. 1 online purchasing some shares of Citizens Bankshares in Atlanta, Carver Bank in New York and Broadway Federal Savings Bank in Los Angeles. Our suggested activity for the first day is to put more capital into black-owned banks by acquiring stock or making deposits. I also transfered money into my account with OneUnited Bank.
As an equal opportunity, grassroots observance, there are ways to participate if you personally don’t have money to deposit. Write your city treasurer, state legislators, school district, pension fund or member of Congress and encourage them to deposit public funds in some of the African-American banks listed at blackmoney.com and also at the National Bankers Association web site http://www.nationalbankers.org.
Kept enough money to begin my first meal of the month at a black-owned restaurant, Farmer Brown at 25 Mason Street in San Francisco. It is a good place to start because its origins relate to the earliest National Black Business Month. In 2005, I had lunch with John Marks, then president of the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau to encourage more promotion of the black businesses in the city. Because it was National Black Business Month, I insisted that we eat at a black-owned restaurant. We just couldn’t find one in downtown, the world’s top tourist destination.
By next year, I’d encouraged a fabulous chef and promoter Jay Foster to locate in a space below the Hotel Metropolis, a block from the Convention and Visitors Bureau Visitor Information Center at Powell and Market Streets. He devoted several months to personally by hand transforming a perfectly servicable restaurant space into his tribute to African-American agriculture, complete with rusted alumninum fixtures and a number of rural touches that you have to see to believe.
That turned into a fantastic multiplier of economic activity. There has been no recession at Farmer Brown, which became listed as one of Food and Wine’s top 10 new restaurants in its first year. After a long day in Sacramento yesterday and a couple of weeks of professional development classes in Los Angeles, I didn’t realize how ready I was for their breakfast buffet. I piled on chicken, bacon, three flapjacks, home fries, biscuits and gravy, grabbed a carafe of cucumber-flavored water and a slice of bread pudding and wolfed it all down.
While looking around, I realized all the folks Jay was touching. In addition to the couple dozen folks moving around at a high-rate of speed including bartenders, wait staff, cooks, concierges and the DJ, he had created an art venue for the work of the dynamic Keba Konte, whose large scale tributes to black farmers dominate the walls. True to form, there were new pieces including a sculpture in the shape of the African continent with the face of President Obama. Keba Konte also opened his own restaurant, Guerilla Cafe in Berkeley.
Jay also is personally underwriting the continuance of black agriculture in the Bay Area by buying produce from the seven remaining black farmers in the Bay Area, often through the Mo’Betta Farmers Market run by David Roach in Oakland. As I left, Jay had pulled up in his car with a load of vegetables which he was sending down the freight elevator. He also offers the wines of some of the eight African-American vintners in the Bay Area.
Next I went to the Yerba Buena Gardens adjacent to the Moscone Convention Center for the opening free concert of Thomas Robert Simpson’s AfroSolo festival. During a six-week period, Simpson gives a venue to dozens of poets, playwrights and musicians and includes a health screening event at the Ella Hill Hutch Community Center.
On my way back, I ran into Soul of America publisher Thomas Dorsey, in San Francisco from Los Angeles on a family vacation. Although he was on his way to the airport, we had a few minutes to chat. Soul of America is the longest-running African-American tourist site, providing city by city detailed information on how to engage the black communities within. Dorsey had been in town for four days, during which he’d taken the family to 1300 restaurant at Fillmore and Eddy.
Foster, Simpson and Dorsey all exhibit what I call the “reciprocity virus” in which they employ their enterprises to open doors for others. Each of us has it within us to trigger a one-person stimulus program by making an effort to seek out an African-American business each day during August. Without dramatically altering my schedule, I tapped seven different black businesses today. If you work for a large institution, that offers an opportunity to really boost employment by seeking out black vendors who can supply services and/or goods for your employer.