Last week, Harlem Business Alliance was featured in a News One article entitled “Harlem Incubators Nurturing Vibrant Start-Up Scene.” The article outlined our contribution to Harlem’s Entrepreneur Boom via our workshops, one-on-one counseling, and more specifically, our Lillian Project – a 12-week business incubator program for African-American women. The article is an excellent read, and begs the question: Does Harlem Business Alliance nurture more than an economic boom?
The answer, in a nutshell? Yes.
Yes, we nurture Harlem’s Vibrant Start-Up Scene, but we also nurture opportunity and potential. We nurture possibility. We nurture self-sufficiency. We nurture the notion of Cooperative Economics.
Cooperative Economics is defined as an autonomous association of consumers, businesses, and entrepreneurs united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled economic system.
Put simply, Cooperative Economics is what you’ll commonly find in Jewish communities or in small American immigrant communities like Chinatown and Little Italy. In the recent past, Black Wall Street served as another excellent example of a cooperative society.
The common thread between these and several other instances of cooperative societies is that they typically arose out of necessity. This practice is consistently utilized by groups of people who have been marginalized from greater society, and relied on this collaborative system as a means for survival.
Is the Minority Community marginalized? Allow the evening news to answer that question for you. We are living in an an age where police shootings of unarmed men of color are occurring on an almost weekly basis. Protests have been occurring on an almost monthly basis since 2013. Donald Trump is president-elect and the passing of policy that would contribute to the de-stabilization of already poor and under-served communities seems imminent.
The African-American community fears another Reagan era-esque implosion. A re-visiting of an era where mass, for-profit incarceration grew sharply. A time where redlining ensured the racial and socio-economic segregation and destitution of economically depressed people and neighborhoods. A time where Blacks not only lost faith in the efficacy of marching and peaceful chanting, but also lost faith in the capability of major government institutions to defend human rights.
Due to the severity of current events, many African-Americans have come to realize the value of pooling resources together and strengthening themselves economically. Spurred on by the tragedy and racial undertones of the murder of Philando Castile, African Americans nationwide pulled their money out of mainstream banks and placed them into black-owned financial institutions. In addition, recent statistics show that the rate of Black entrepreneurship is exploding, evidently in response to the starkly high black unemployment rate and discriminatory hiring practices.
As a politically conscious consumer, if you wanted to withdraw your money from institutions who support policy that go against your best interests, where would you go instead? Where would you shop? How could you discover businesses that are more in line with your beliefs?
Where would a budding minority entrepreneur go? Where is a safe place for a Black, Muslim, or Hispanic business owner to go to become more business-savvy and financially literate? For the plethora of clients that walk through our doors on a daily basis, the answer is obvious.
When you enter our location you will see a number of things. You’ll see a Soul Train Scramble, a number of inspirational signs. One thing you won’t be able to miss is a large, chalkboard sized poster board overflowing with yellow and orange sticky notes. Together, these notes represent our collective dreams for Harlem and for the community, at large.
“A thriving community of black owned businesses that support each other and helps to preserve the community and maintain wealth.”
“More collaborations with Black owned businesses and youth within the public education system! Show them they can be great too!”
“Collaborate more within our community and create opportunities for our people to give back.”
What are your dreams for Harlem? What are your dreams for your community? How can we reach these together?