Saturday, February 28, 2009

I forgot it was Black History Month!

I didn't receive much feedback for my last post. Was I too brute? Too honest? I pray I did not offend anyone. That was not the intent. Besides hoping I would encourage folks out there (with means) to contribute to the Foundation, I wrote all that to show that EE is not just love and dreamy days and power-pushing all the time! It's a beautiful thang though.

So I guess I should say something special and deep because today is the last day of Black History Month. Hmmmm...

I'm kinda sad because I had hoped our national campaign could have started by now. And then I remembered that there is no special, designated, pre-ordained, scheduled point in time and life for change to come and for movements to begin. It hit me that for all my planning and pitching and so called movement-making... the revolution, the empowerment, the increased ownership of and respect for Black businesses, Black entrepreneurs being able to claim a halfway decent share of the Black consumer and investor dollar, the growing sense of love and pride for ourselves... all that is going to happen when we make it happen. That's why we have the 'What if?' motto on the website.

What if Karriem Beyah, the corporate executive turned grocer, the owner of the store where I get almost everything I need for my family, Farmers Best (, whose store actually feels fresh... suffocating with gorgeous produce, best quality, unblemished and beautifully displayed... brimming with quality meats and fish, that don't smell or look funny, with perfect prices... employing at-risk youth, ex-offenders, young mothers from the struggling community the store is situated in and mentoring them, caring for them, helping them turn their lives and encouraging them to pursue a higher education... symbolizing a new way of doing business in da hood because he actually spends time in the store getting to know his customers and showing them the respect... What if Karriem owned a chain of stores? What if, after being here for 400 years, we finally had that choice in America? What if there came a time when we couldn't name all of the Black success stories or count them with our fingers? What if we were that much closer to proving that our inalienable right to "the pursuit of happiness" is more than our country's catchy mission statement?

We have to start claiming that vision of America where the thought of being able to buy an air-conditioner from a department store owned by a Black family is not insane. We need to start envisioning, believing, asserting and proving another reality.

Almost every person, young or old, who walks into Karriems's wonderful store (Farmers Best, 1424 West 47th Street, looking for a job or career opportunity, who sees him emerge from the back office in a tailored blazer and button down shirt, walks up to him and says, "Do you know where the owner is?"

I AM THE OWNER! I OWN THIS STORE! I employ and care about these people. I respect, serve and offer this community the best there is and the best I can give, and at a fair price.


Can you see it?

Do you see?

I am the O-W-N-E-R. I am the ow-to-da-ner! Yeah. I am the Black Future. And that's why I am the new Black History Month.

Yes you are, Karriem. I won't let them forget you either. We're gonna remember you all year.

So yeah, the all-powerful, all-exciting all-educating (and oftentimes, all-erasing) Black History Month came and went and we aint all come together yet to infuse millions into our own community by just trying a little harder to find and support the millions of quality Black businesses and professionals out there. Boo-hoo.

C'mon now. Y'all should know me better than that!

It's February 28th and I'm soooo hopeful and empowered. You know why? Because we made our own history. Karriem, my grocer, is making history at Farmers Best ( And that's a fact, even if you didn't see it on the TV! That store has changed my life and is changing lives everyday by giving people jobs and providing healthy, quality foods to a community where the concept of fresh, clean produce is the essence of whimsy.

All of us made history because this thing is still alive, still real and still meaningful.

March is coming. Happy Black Future Month to all of you.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Assumptions to Angels...

Hello family,

I apologize for being out of touch. I know that you all know I have been busy living The Ebony Experiment. It has really been challenging. I bet you are thinking the challenge involves finding and dealing with Black businesses to meet my family's needs. Some of you believe the sacrifices include not being able to go to those restaurants, stores, and websites I've been going to all my life. Others are just wondering how tough it must be having to plan my life around the few Black businesses in my community or the others I can find via word of mouth or online research. You might be saying... What a crazy way to live!

I've never been so happy. My life is full of joy. Everyday is a victory. I love meeting new Black business owners and professionals. I love telling them what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. I love the love I receive from all kinds of people who see this project for what it is - a learning experience, a creative way to promote entrepreneurship, and a self-help economics exercise.

You know where my pain comes from? You wanna know why I really cry about this every night? OK. Sometimes I feel like I have to beg my own people to get engaged and understand the vision of EE. The larger community's perspective and opinions have been easiest to comprehend and manage. But I gotta be honest, when it comes to really just "getting it"(regardless of whether or not they support it), other folks seem to have us beat.

We went into this assuming that since our community was so engaged and alive with pride and hope, we were prime for making some special achievements happen for ourselves. We make this journey public because we want you to do it too! We want you to feel it too! We assumed you would love the idea, be excited and anxious to do your part, be obsessed with maximizing its potential, and be united about the possibility of enhancing our quality of life and showing the world how fantastic we are when we come together.

Assumptions. BIG assumptions.

I've spent most of the past two weeks traveling to promote EE. I've been fortunate enough to encounter dozens of wonderful entrepreneurs, activists, students, educators, and everyday folk. I introduce them to EE. I tell them about our vision and plan to have that Ticker on the website, growing minute by minute, showcasing all the money and love we are pouring back into Black households and businesses, empowering the entire Black business community so that they create more jobs, scholarships, and role models in underserved Black neighborhoods... I showed them all that. Some people cried. Some people hugged me.

So then I asked them to work... to connect me to the people who can really make this happen... to contribute to the Foundation so we can raise the money we need to build the database, hire the staff, plan the events, and buy the technology we need to start this national campaign. We have the media attention. The time is right. We are right there...but we need a lot of help!

That's when the hugs turned to shrugs. That's when the passion waned. Those tears dried up real quick!

I cannot do this alone. I am a mother and a wife. I am daughter, sister and auntie. I am a proud Black American woman, ready to give all I have to improve my community and thereby make my country better for everyone. And that's all I am.

I have been spending too much time beggin' Black, when I'm supposed to be out there buying Black!!

Of course, there's a happy ending. Hold on...

I woke up today sad. I woke up thinking I should give up - not on buying Black - but on using our journey to inspire millions of others to try to find and support Black businesses, professionals, and products too. I was gonna give up on the Ticker. I prayed for understanding and wisdom. I've been spending all our money trying to make this happen (printing, traveling, taking folks out to lunch and dinner, paying attorneys and other vendors...), and maybe it's time to call it quits. I prayed to make the right decision for EE.

Then a woman I met in Atlanta sent me a note. She told me she loves me. She told me, "Stay determined and focused - it is all going to work out right!...We will work hard to make this happen because it is right and it is the time! God's hand is definitely in it! " She then told me that she is going to write a check.

She's not one of the multi-millionaires I met. She isn't a bigtime politician. She doesn't own a business that will be served by EE. She is a hard-working woman who has family problems of her own, whose family has been hit hard by this economy and recent job loss. She's just another strong, proud Black American woman, trying to do what she can to help her community.

I barely know this person. I have never seen her. I talked to her yesterday for the first time, on the phone. I wanted to treat her to breakfast yesterday to present EE to her. I was going to ask her to help me meet some wealthy people who could help us raise the money the Foundation needs to start the campaign. I couldn't take her to breakfast because I needed to be with my mother (she's sick with pancreatic cancer). I called her instead, just as a courtesy. We had a nice conversation. She promised she would connect me to some people. My husband is meeting with one of them in two hours.

She is an angel. She is an angel God sent my way because He knew I needed some encouragement. She isn't going to give us much, but that she is giving is enough to keep me focused on The Ebony Experiment vision, that Ticker.

I guess my assumptions were not that far off. They were just misplaced. I now assume that God is with me, with us, and that we are doing His work through the EE Foundation.

Thank you, Angel. Thanks to all my EE angels.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Windows and Corridors.

Last time we talked I was pretty upset because I couldn't find one Black-owned general merchandise store or discount outlet, even though there were so many of them in Black America, and these stores were so ridiculously successful. I also told you I would keep looking and hoping. I told you I could not accept that although we've been here for 400 years and we have significant buying power in this $30 billion industry, we have not been able to acquire and organize the resources and capabilities to open and sustain a general merchandise store chain, or at least heavily represent the franchisees in the industry.

Well, I am delighted to report I found my new general merchandise outlet. It's wonderful too. Quaint, clean, and chock full of cool stuff that I need for my family. It is owned by a friendly, hard-working couple who live in an underserved Black community, and whose personal and business expenditures as well as their business revenues contribute to the local economy there. I bought some household goods, cleaning supplies, toiletries, treats for the girls, plastic cups and plates for the girls, dry and canned goods, batteries, diapers, and some extra virgin olive oil (you all know how expensive good olive oil is... well not for me!)

Great. Another Ebony Experiment milestone. I felt good about that. But then I completely broke down. I was simply overcome by joy and sadness, pride and humility, triumph and helplessness... (you know how sometimes you can get all those emotions going at the same time?) Would you want to know why, after a routine shopping trip, I flooded my sweater with tears? Good. Because that's the subject of today's post.


As I was being helped with my bags and joking with the merchant over how I bought more sweets for myself than my daughters, the tears welled because I saw that Michelle and David, the owners of God First, God Last, God Always Dollar and Up General Store ( had posted pictures of my family on the windows and doors of their business. They had also printed copies of our website to distribute as flyers they were placing in every bag. I did not ask them to do that. They did not know whether I was ever coming back after my first brief visit the week before. So I asked her why she did this. She said, "I want the community to know we are behind you. You came out here for us. You are here because of us. And we are here because of you." Hence, the puffy eyes.

So we started chatting about our families. Turns out both our husbands were members of 100 Black Men of Chicago, and we knew a lot of the same people. She said she could introduce me to other merchants in the area. She mentioned a couple of restaurants, a health and wellness store, art galleries, etc. I was so amazed. All the entrepreneurs knew and supported one another. They all existed along the same half-mile corridor.

Jackpot! I had no idea this Black business haven existed! But apparently, they all knew about me because Michelle and David had told them about The Ebony Experiment. More tears.

When was the last time you cried after shopping at Family Dollar or Kmart? When was the last time the owners of those stores took the time to get to know your family and talk to you about the issues that matter to you and your community? When was the last time they hugged you after you made your purchase, and threw in a bag of Vitamin C drops because you mentioned you needed some Vitamin C for your husband but they did not have any?

Before I close, let me talk a little bit about the pride. I don't want anyone assuming the proud sentiment came from my being proud of myself because I did the right thing and I contributed to an underserved community's economic development. The pride came from my observing how fantastic the store is. It is the same pride I feel with my new grocer (Farmers Best, everytime I go in there and see the miles and miles of fresh produce, breads, meats and fish... and at such competitive prices!

I'm sorry. I digressed. This is just such a thrill, such a revolutionary period in my life... It's tough to contain the joy and stay coherent!

I feel pride because these entrepreneurs stepped out on faith... utterly undaunted by the failure rates for Black businesses and the ongoing, insurmountable threat of the big discount chains... completely unphased by the fact that the people who can support them the most, simply won't... absolutely undeterred by the virtual certainty that they'll never get rich doing this, even though other folk with half their drive and smarts, who work half as hard will be able to pass millions on to their great-grandchildren... driven solely by the simple truth that if they don't try, nothing will change and our communities will never reflect the pride, power and perserverence of the people who live there. That's where the pride came from. Not the pictures of me in the window.

They have a wonderful general merchandise store - my new store. But it's only one store. And it's a marvellous corridor of small businesses - my new business corridor. But it's a tiny business corridor.

We will change that. We WILL change that.