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Economy / Business

Lasting Power Of Protests Gives Black Business Owners Hope For Real Change

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Daylina Miller/WUSF Public Media
The Black Business Bus Tour recently sponsored an event for black business owners and supporters at Ybor City's 7th + Grove restaurant.

It’s been more than two weeks since the death of George Floyd and protesters are still taking to the streets in the fight against racial injustice and police brutality.

Black business owners are also saying they’re seeing a surge in community support.

On Tuesday night, the Black Business Bus Tour sponsored an event at 7th + Grove in Ybor City.

Dozens of black business owners and supporters enjoyed tacos and drinks – big smiles under their face masks - as many of them interacted with more people in one place than they had since the coronavirus pandemic shutdowns started in mid-March.

A woman wearing a gray shirt that says black business bus tour speaks to a group of people.
Credit Daylina Miller/WUSF Public Media
Candy Lowe, founder of the Black Business Bus Tour, speaks to a group of black business owners and supporters at 7th Grove in Ybor City.

Candy Lowe, founder of the Black Business Bus Tour described the 14-year-old tour as a literal vehicle to bring economic empowerment to black businesses.

"We visit shoe shops. We visit chocolate shops. Over the past, we’ve visited boutiques, we've visited record shops. The list goes on and on."

At this mixer – part social event, part peer support – they’re celebrating 7th + Grove, a black-owned southern-style restaurant in a predominately white business district.

But they're also discussing current events, like the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police; the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor in her own apartment; the systemic racism that set the stage for those deaths, and many more.

"We are traumatized. I'm traumatized,” said Sabrina Colas, a hairstylist and owner of Zemi Locs in Tampa.

She said too many hard conversations have to be had time and time again every time a cop kills a black person.

And every time, she said, protests happen. People storm to social media to show their support. Then life goes back to normal for everyone else while people of color continue to suffer.

This time, she said, it feels different. She said she's not seeing a movement, she's seeing a life change. And suggests it's in large part because of the coronavirus shutdowns.

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed unemployment to its highest level since the Great Depression. More people are working from home.

“People have time. They have the energy, and they have the will right now to be out there,” Colas said. “And it's not going to be just for a short period of time."

Divina Ward, the owner of the Ward’s Robe Boutique, as well as an event planning company, agrees.

"All the things that's happening now with the protests and the marches is because everybody was locked in the house and their attention was on the TV. It was on social media,” Ward said. “So now people who were too busy to notice have a chance to be able to actually live in the moment."

Lowe said she's never seen anything like it.

"I'm 56 years old, and I've never seen it the way that it is now. When you get white people on the front line, saying that things are wrong. We want justice. We want justice for all the people that have been dying, have been killed by the hands of officers across this country,” Lowe said.

“I don't think it's gonna die down at all.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9V_-3LQCwtk

Documentary - A Soulful Taste: Exploring Tampa Bay's Black-Owned Food Scene

Alexandria Jones, a freelance journalist and blogger at the Frugalista Life,  published a documentary on YouTube in February that draws attention to black-owned restaurants in the Tampa Bay area.

It resurfaced in the past two weeks as people look for ways to support the black community beyond protesting. But she said she wants to see that momentum continue.

“Don't let this be the only time that you support black-owned restaurants because of what's going on currently,” Jones said. “Support them even after all this is over because they don't have as many resources as other restaurants. Don't be performative and just support it one time to say you did.”

One way people can find black businesses to support is through a directory called the Green Book of Tampa Bay. It's filled with African American cultural sites, black artists and black-owned businesses in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. 

It was started 15 months ago by local educators Joshua Bean and Hillary van Dyke.

"It's just kind of like go-to a website that almost serves as like a Yelp, but specifically for black-owned businesses,” Bean said.

He said the number of listings have doubled this month, and urges that to continue.

“We just wanted to improve the circulation of black dollars in the black community and also try to get white people to circulate their dollars in the black community and really invest,” Bean said.

“And we’re very aware that the only reason we're getting the publicity is because of George Floyd, but we don't want this to be just a trend. We want this to be long term. We're in this for the long haul. We want supporting black lives to be a lifestyle and not just a hashtag.”

The directory is based on the Negro Motorist Green Book, a travel guide by a black New York City mail carrier first printed in 1936 during segregation. 

It listed restaurants, hotels, gas stations and more that were safe places for African Americans to visit.

It stopped publication in 1967 following the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

But Bean said the need to support black-owned businesses hasn't stopped, and it's just one small way to contribute to systematic change.

“You look at the data, whether it's access to health care, whether it's unemployment, whether it's incarceration - and black people tend to always be at the bottom of those lists.”

“We want people to be genuine as to why they're doing it. We want people to be intentional. And we want people to be consistent for this to really work and for this to really take root,” Bean said.

“We need to do all those three things. Spending our hard-earned dollars and investing in the black community, is not going to solve all the problems. But if we can help increase that support, then mission accomplished.”

And Tampa is putting itself on the map for both black-owned businesses and support of them, Candy Lowe said. She said she’s getting bombarded with calls and emails from all over the country from organizations that want to model the Black Owned Business Bus Tour for their own communities.

“I say it all the time,” Lowe said. “Tampa may be leading the country in supporting black-owned businesses."