Surviving Racial Injustice as a Black Womyn Entrepreneur

Surviving Racial Injustice as a Black Womyn Entrepreneur

I’m sitting here this afternoon looking out my window. I’m looking at the trees blowing in the wind. There’s a part of me wishing I can feel as free as the tree branches and leaves. That I could say and feel that I am able to “go with the flow”, move with the winds of time and find roots deep down and thrive. Thrive, even in a concrete jungle
where people walk by…some who admire my beauty and capacity to withstand whatever comes my way…some who pass by without seeing me…and some who throw trash at my feet in disrespect.

I realize that I’ll never be like that tree. I’m an elder Black womyn (she/they) exploring my gender identity, with cultural roots in West Africa and the Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Since childhood, I am someone who deeply loves people. I have always found ways to express that love for people through my actions like…

  • volunteering as a child to spend time with other children with mental and other disabilities
  • listening to a lonely elder as long as they wanted to talk
  • advocating for children and adults living with sickle cell disease to get the care they deserve and were denied when presenting at the emergency room in excruciating pain…

Ever since crying in my mother’s lap after watching a movie about the life and assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., I have been confused. My entire life I have felt the weight of what it means to be Black in America. And, I do mean America, given the way I have been treated when traveling throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and Central America. Why don’t people care and love Black people? I mean care enough to protect me, to protect us?

I am a person who has never felt safe enough to put my roots down somewhere and claim that place as “home”. I am a wandering soul seeking a safe place to put my roots down and let them grow deep.

At this moment in our lives, in our world, those of us who have spent our lives fighting for justice, who care about creating a world that’s actually life-affirming for every “body”, what do we do? How do we “be” in this moment? Like many, I am trying to find my way through “no way”; I don’t have a roadmap.

I’ve been an entrepreneur most of my life. From the time I was little, I found ways to make money to help others; whether raising money in church for the youth program that I co-led, organizing other youngsters in my crime and poverty-ridden neighborhood in North Richmond to raise money for muscular dystrophy (we didn’t even know what that was; I just got inspired by a Jerry Lewis telethon and inspired my friends to join with me); or, over the years mobilizing over $3M to support organizations who fight for and serve the most vulnerable in low-income communities of color.

I have always known I had to do my own thing, even when I struggled to be entrepreneurial within the confines of a 9 to 5 job that over the years became a 9 am to 9 pm workaholic effort that was not sustainable.

When I sought to become a B Corp when launching Sweet Livity, I was inspired by this idea of “business as a force of good”, a mantra that many B Corp leaders extol with pride. I wanted to be an entrepreneur who operates their business as a vehicle towards social justice and leadership. Sweet Livity became a B Corp in 2012. I was seeking a place to plant my entrepreneurial roots, a watering place to help me flourish.

Since then, despite the various efforts of the B Corp business community to dig down into what it means to create a truly inclusive economy that works for everyone, despite the efforts of me and my team at Sweet Livity, we are failing miserably. Our company is still standing but like most small BIPOC-owned (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) and led businesses, we are struggling not thriving. This feels like a moment to claim that our companies deserve all the support the B Corp community can muster to make sure we survive.

There are a lot of business leaders making statements or wanting to make statements about the deplorable treatment of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black folx who have been killed in the wake of police brutality that takes place every minute within the safe confines of white supremacy and social neglect. Here is a list recently posted by NPR of the Black souls whose lives were cut off way too soon. Many who can name George Floyd today can’t picture all of the people whose names appear below. There are so many who deserve to be named every day, who we forget in our day to day. I forget sometimes and when I remember that I too forget, I feel a deep sadness in my soul. 

There are so many BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and other POC (People of Color) business leaders who walked away from the B Corp community tired, disillusioned, disappointed and defeated. Being neglected by the very community we invested our money and time into.

So, what do I need and want now, in this moment?

I’m honestly tired of statements, particularly coming from any business leader who has not been doing the real work of dismantling white supremacy. And this includes business leaders who identify as BIPOC and/or POC.

I only want to hear from business leaders who have actually been doing the hard work of dismantling white supremacy in all its forms inside their organizations or companies as well as in their communities to shift the racist practices of institutions and systems including education, the media, the judicial system, the health “care” system, agriculture, government and for sure business. All of these institutions work together to prop up white supremacy.

If you haven’t been doing that work, I don’t need a statement from you. I need you to simply listen.

If you’ve been doing that work inside your organization or company, I don’t want to read or hear a statement coming from the top leadership, especially if that leadership is white-bodied. Because if you still have a top leadership structure that’s all or mostly white, that’s part of the problem.

If I don’t see a statement for your company coming from your workers, your frontline workers, and if those workers making statements are only white-bodied folx, I don’t want to hear a statement from you.

If you are a business leader who is fighting the efforts of your workers to collectively organize and ask for more fair working conditions, I don’t want to hear a statement from you.

What I’d rather see is that each of us honestly look in the mirror as a B Corp leader. Look around at who makes the decisions in your workspace. And, I don’t care whether you’re a B Corp of one or 5000. Being small or really big is not an excuse for not dismantling white supremacy.

In today’s amazingly vibrant, diverse world, even if you are white-bodied solopreneur or a white-bodied leader managing a team of any size, there is no excuse in 2020 for lacking racial and ethnic diversity in your supply chain, in your partnerships, on your board if you have one, in your network of advisors, amongst the people you contract and do work with. There’s no excuse. So, I don’t want to hear from you.

Today, and maybe for a while, I only want to hear from business leaders who identify as BIPOC and/or POC across identities of intersectionality (e.g., gender, sexuality, age, disability, immigrant/undocumented)….any business leader who has been struggling in a white supremacy reality to make their enterprise a more liberating and equitable space for their most marginalized or underrepresented workers. 

If you are a white-bodied business leader and you claim that you have been doing work to eliminate white supremacy and injustice of all forms in your organization and company, then I want to hear from the workers who you manage. If you have honestly been doing the hard work, your workers can attest to that themselves. Lift up their voices, not your own. Create and resource opportunities for them to talk about the impact of your equity work.

To the B Corp community, this is a time to listen deeply —  for as long as we need you to listen — to what those of us who identify as BIPOC need and want. We need and want not only to survive this moment with our lives, our families and our enterprises intact;   we also want and need to succeed as business leaders so that our work has a deeper impact. 

We don’t need every B Corp leader to center dismantling white supremacy as a core function of your business. We do need you to stand up and share resources, mentorship, access to information and networks that you have to help your BIPOC comrades flourish.

I am at a point in my entrepreneurship journey where I am discerning whether to remain as an active B Corp member or create an alternative structure that values, appreciates and respects me and my work.

For my white-bodied comrades in the B Corp movement, I need you to do whatever you are able to do, even if it means acting in ways beyond your comfort zone. Don’t seek praise or pat yourself on the back. Rather, ask me, ask us what we need and want.  And, be that amazing invisible comrade who supports me and my BIPOC and POC comrades from the back, from the sides, from underneath our feet.  

If this were to happen, maybe I could breathe easier. Like that tree outside my window. Take up space. Stand tall. Bend with the changing winds of time and not break. Feel safe enough to put my roots down someplace and endure for the long haul.

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