Remember last summer when millions marched peacefully to protest the outrageous police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others and to promote racial and social justice for Black Americans everywhere?
Well, the folks who supported the Black Lives Matter movement didn’t just open their minds to the unique set of problems faced by Black Americans—they opened their wallets, too.
Lots of local Black-owned businesses say they saw a boost in business from people who realize that supporting the Black community in a meaningful way means putting their money where their hearts are.
“Absolutely I saw an increase in business. There were a lot of people who came in just to support us,” said Queneesha Meyers of Q’s Cakes and Sweets Boutique at 2720 Central SE Suite D. “And we noticed they would tip very well.”
The new customers included non-Black allies who were very open about why they sought out her shop, Meyers said. The fact that they chose to convert their concern about social justice to dollars spent at Black-owned businesses is all right with her. “It’s easy to sit on social media and retweet stuff, but to actually do the work and show up for us is hard,” said Meyers. “Money is power, and we used that money to promote ourselves and stay alive and stay in business.”
Theresa A. Carson is president of the African American Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, which provides education, advocacy, membership and networking to its 110 members. She said many of her members saw a boost in business because of Black Lives Matter.
“The Black Lives Matter movement highlighted the fact that we have many very viable Black businesses here and across the state,” Carson said. “They range from restaurants to consulting businesses to arts and crafts stores. Of course we also have our salons and barbershops and beauty supply stores that brought in new customers.”
What specifically helped attract customers this summer were the lists of local Black-owned businesses that people compiled and shared widely across social media, Carson said. “We had lists that were sent out by the Black sororities and fraternities,” she said. “Yelp did one, and there were also national lists sent out by groups like WeBuyBlack.com and the National Black Chamber of Commerce.”
One such comprehensive local list is maintained by the Black History Organizing Committee. A quick glance shows a wide range of Black-owned businesses, including website builders and coders, contractors, medical professionals, a car wash, car detailer, financial advisors and a distillery. Restaurants and food providers range from Southern-style soul food to delis and vegan.
Patrick Jenkins, founder of the barber college A Better U at 5400 Phoenix Ave. NE, said his business story is a bit different. Because of COVID-19 and a relocation of his barber academy, his businesses has dropped considerably, Black Lives Matter notwithstanding. But people in barbershops talk a lot, and Black Lives Matter pops up as a frequent topic, he said. “What I get out of Black Lives Matter is that black folks just want to be treated fair. They want to have a word,” said Jenkins. “I do like to say All Lives Matter. But all you have to do is look at our history and then you’ll see why we have to say Black Lives Matter.”
While the BLM protests and marches are no longer front and center, all of the inequities affecting the Black community are still here, community members say. And they hope this summer’s heightened focus on Black-owned businesses doesn’t let up. “The thing I would love to happen is that people would continue to organize and focus and make a concerted effort to continue to support black businesses,” said Carson. “Small businesses, specifically, are the engine of our economy, and those businesses provide jobs. We live in a capitalistic system, and by supporting other businesses outside the mainstream, we are helping to create opportunities for all.”
Black History Organizing Committee/New Mexico Black Leadership Council founder Cathryn McGill says she’s hoping to keep the support of Black-owned businesses going by reviving “A Taste of Soul” restaurant week during the 10th Annual New Mexico Black History Festival.
Called DECADES: Past, Present & Future 2021 Black History Festival & Events, it will mark the 10th anniversary of the New Mexico Black History Festival with a slate of virtual events taking place from February through July 2021. In past years food-forward festival events would be held at Black-owned venues or would feature catering from Black-owned food outlets, McGill said. In addition, the festival would sponsor the “A Taste of Soul” restaurant week, where participating restaurants such as Mr. Powdrell’s Barbecue and Nexus Brewery & Restaurant would offer specials plates and deals. This year, with COVID restrictions, Black-owned restaurants won’t be able to serve in person but will be given visibility at two virtual events—The Asante Awards: Barrier Breakers on Feb. 21 and the Kumbuka Celebration: DECADES Deep on Feb. 26, McGill said.