By Brooklyn Fields-Meaux
Through the conservation of what analysts call the “black dollar,” black business owners said they believe there can be an economic growth that directly affects the prosperity of black communities.
According to the online article by Nielsen, “BLACK IMPACT: CONSUMER CATEGORIES WHERE AFRICAN AMERICANS MOVE MARKETS,” black Americans, as a whole, have an annual spending amount of $1.2 trillion. With this large market impact, analysts like Angel Rich say the economic power held by black communities must be taken advantage of.
With 2.5 million black businesses surfacing from the years 2007-2012, the black dollar has a large platform to circulate through.
According to Karnina King, informing the black communities about the resources at their disposable is the main action that must take place in order to jump-start the circulation of the black dollar.
King, lawyer and CEO of Shop Blacklisted, was a student at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette when she discovered the need for a revised and convenient black business directory.
Social media, black business directories and black American cultural awareness may supply enough momentum to spark an increase in economic development in black communities.
King said for the black dollar to support black businesses, the community must know what is available.
Shop Blacklisted is a website fully devoted to promoting black-owned businesses in Lafayette.
“People don’t know where the black businesses are to support [them]. There was not a level of connectivity between black businesses and the community,” King said.
In 2010, while in law school, King said she recalls recruiting individuals to join her in creating the directory. In 2016, she gathered a diverse group of women to accomplish this task. King said through Shop Blacklisted, she plans to fund up and coming black businesses through scholarships and Pell Grants.
Shannon Ozene, another member of the Shop Blacklisted crew takes her initiative a step further through community service and fashion.
Ozene steps out of one world and enters another. In the morning, she works at an answering service from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. In the evening from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., she opens the doors of The Black Element apparel shop.
She opened her physical location in September 2018. Like many others, Ozene is a part of a growing community of black-owned businesses in America. She shops black, she promotes black —she is black.
“I have pretty nice variety in my shop. It’s small, but it’s mine,” Ozene said as she puts out her “We are open” stand on the front porch of The Black Element.
She sells T-shirts promoting positive black imagery. She held up one shirt that said, “Black History Every day.” Her knowledge on crystals, sage and African gods and goddesses could be heard through her interactions with customers. On a monthly basis, Ozene said she has 90 customers with 95% of her clientele being black.
However, Ozene’s business does much more than serve as a source of fashionable conscious wear. She uses The Black Element as a lighthouse within her Lafayette neighborhood by hosting events centered around social issues.
Ozene created an event called “Front Porch Talk” where she invites speakers to inform communities about anything they feel is important. Her goal is to promote informational rhetoric in predominantly black communities.
Rick Swanson, Ph.D., Radio host and Finance Chairman of Lafayette Consolidated Government, Kenneth Boudreaux and writer, Seanathan “Sean” Polidore, have been some of the speakers who have done presentations at The Black Element. Swanson, a political science professor at UL Lafayette, presented a discussion on the history of civil rights in Lafayette Parish, Boudreaux presented a discussion on engaging in local government, and Polidore hosts a biweekly book analysis.
“[Ozene] is the truth. I’m so grateful to have someone willing to pour into the black community—into my community,” said Polidore.
Though Ozene said she feels the need for black monetary investments, she said she also believes that the importance of black businesses extends far beyond a dollar.
“We have to uplift our communities buy funding our people,” Ozene said. “Livelihoods are at stake, but I’d rather know that I’m a part of a breed that understands the importance of where our money goes.”
Walter Louis, owner of Alex Louis & Sons Movers in Lafayette, finds himself at a crossroads when it comes to conserving the black dollar. Though Walter Louis advocates the support of black businesses, he said he believes that black Americans are a difficult demographic to reach in his line of work.
“We move furniture and transport valuable items —antiques, china. Black people are very self-reliant. If [black people] need furniture moved, they will move it themselves,” Walter Louis said.
Out of 300 annual customers, Walter stated that 0.5% (10 to 15 customers) are black. Walter Louis said the number of black customers has been the same since his grandfather opened their moving business in 1945.
“If I had to rely on just black customers, I’d probably starve,” Walter Louis said.
Walter Louis said he does desire to see economic growth in the black communities. However, he said he feels there must be a law of equivalent exchange in place.
“Let a company flourish by giving them your business. Doing it yourself is not helping a community in the long run,” Walter said.
Fourteen percent of America is black. Yet, 17 categories of goods, black spending percentage outweigh the black population percentage in America.
Of the $63.5 million spent on hair care, 85% of that amount is attributed by black Americans.
Being that black spending supports the hair care industry, hair stylists are in high demand in any black community. Joan Louis, owner of Mo Hair Salon in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, said the hair care industry is a fundamental component in circulating the black dollar.
With Joan being a certified hair stylist for over 35 years, she said she estimated that she receives 1,200 to 1,800 clients annually and 80% of her clients are black. Like many other black business owners, she said she believes an involved community is directly affected by the businesses surrounding it.
“We are planted inside the community and whenever there is a need in the community, they come to us first,” Joan Louis said.
Through Mo Hair Salon, Joan Louis and her staff have conducted communal Christmas presents drives and school supplies fundraisers.
At the age of 17, Joan Louis said she was inspired to become a hairdresser through mentorships at her local hair salon. Now at 63 years old, Joan Louis mentors young people in her establishment.
“I encourage black communities to take full advantage of their black businesses. We’re not here just to take your money,” Joan Louis said. “I know I want a connection.”
Through that same desire to connect with the black community, Claude Louis, Joan’s son, developed his IT assistance company called Dot Calm.
Claude Louis opened Dot Calm in February of 2005 and estimated that he annually serves 1,200 customers and 70% of his clientele are black or people of color. Claude said his business was a hobby turned profession. He takes pride in the relationships he has with his customers.
“It comes down to the ability to like and trust who you do business with. People are clients not customers. While credentials are important, this is a measure of professionalism, courtesy and genuine customer service,” Claude Louis said.
He said he believes that the black community has the toughest time understanding the support and growth of black culture and how a unified economy works.
Claude said he believes that the longevity of a black business depends on the need for the service it provides. He described the quick decline of black businesses that try to recreate the wheel.
Overall, black business owners like Claude and Walter Louis, Joan, Ozene and King have a direct relationship with the community that surrounds them.
Each of these black business owners believe that circulation of the black dollar has more to do with the increased relationship and networking amongst African-Americans rather than the monetary influence.
“We have to be willing to put the work in and address things at the root level rather than a fruit level,” Claude Louis said.