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Oakland

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Black Grocery Coop Celebrates 10 Years and an Expansion

Mandela Grocery is a Black Grocery coop that’s on a mission to nourish their neighborhood of West Oakland with healthy food, wellness resources, and collective ownership. Their full-service grocery store sources from entrepreneurs and farmers in California with a focus on black and brown farmers and food makers.

Prior to 2009, residents of West Oakland had to drive or take public transit to get groceries, or else resort to dollar stores and liquor stores for their grocery needs. Some might call it a food desert.

The Crew

Mandela Grocery calls it a site of “food apartheid” — that is, a place where systemic racism has shaped the neighborhood’s lack of access to fresh food.

Black Grocery Coop

Now, the worker-owned grocery store is celebrating its 10th anniversary. The anniversary comes at a time when the co-op is undergoing a lot of exciting change.

The market was recently renovated and got a brand-new logo. And since long-term subletter Zella’s Soulful Kitchen moved, Mandela Grocery has taken over the space’s commercial kitchen, called The Co-op Kitchen.

Black Grocery Coop

It offers a selection of grab-and-go sandwiches like turkey cheddar and chickpea salad, plus coffee. Plans are in the works to offer green smoothies, espresso drinks, hot foods like rotisserie chicken, and plenty of plant-based options.

“It feels like a new beginning with all the transition that we’re in,” said Adrionna Fike, one of the co-op’s 10 worker-owners.

The 10-year celebration took place on June 5th. and featured around 15 food vendors and live music.

Booths included healing massage, acupuncture, yoga, herbal medicine, cooking demonstrations, blender-bike smoothies, a women’s refuge trailer, free books, free barbers, and more.

Meanwhile, Mandela Grocery is also helping to spread the model of the worker-owned cooperative grocery store. In order to support new cooperatives, Mandela Grocery will offer training programs in its store for the members of a new grocery cooperative currently known as The East Oakland Grocery Co-op.

Black Grocery Coop

The new cooperative is spearheaded by Aya Jeffers-Fabro of Acta Non Verba, an urban youth farming program in Deep East Oakland. The store will carry produce from Acta Non Verba’s urban farms right in East Oakland. While Fike said the cooperative is still searching for a location, the store is expected to open in fall 2020.

 

Source: EastBayExpress

Feature Image Credit: SF Chronicle

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Kendejah is the Bay Area’s First Liberian restaurant

Before you order at Kendejah — before you even ask questions about the dishes on the menu, in fact — Dougie Uso will distribute a laminated card to you and your fellow diners and ask you to read it. “A short history of Liberia & Kendejah,” it is titled: four paragraphs describing how free black Americans emigrated to West Africa starting in 1821 and, in 1847, created a political state.

Kendejah
Photo: Gabrielle Lurie / The Chronicle

After 18 months in business, Uso, a 44-year-old with shoulder-length dreads and the slimmest shadow of West Africa in his speech, has condensed his introduction to Liberian food into a well-rehearsed patter, but it’s a critical one for first-timers to absorb so the dishes they see flipping through the menu make sense.

Owner Dougie Uso (center) chats with a takeout customers at Kendejah, the Bay Area’s only Liberian restaurant in San Leandro, California, on Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018.Photo: Gabrielle Lurie / The Chronicle

Kendejah is a mission-driven business, as the corporate giants like to say. There’s a lot for Uso to fit into his introduction: a slice of history most Americans don’t know, personal pride, a definition of the country’s food, a branding opportunity. The recent MBA grad is growth-minded, too, with a new food truck about to hit the streets. If you can’t make it to downtown San Leandro to take in a little Liberian culture, Kendejah will soon drive to you.

Photo: Gabrielle Lurie / The Chronicle

In 1990, at the age of 15, Uso came to Oakland from Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city, to visit his father, who had already moved to California. He never went back. During his stay, civil war broke out in Liberia — and lasted until he was 30. The conflict ended more than 150 years of relative peace in Liberia, killing as many as 200,000 and eviscerating the country’s finances and educational system.

In the East Bay, where his entire family found refuge, Uso says that he found the dislocation between the two cultures less dramatic than an outsider might expect. Monrovia was so entranced by New York hip-hop in the late 1980s that Uso entered Oakland High School writing his own raps and dancing East Coast moves that hadn’t yet made it to the West Coast. He graduated from high school and UC Berkeley, where he earned his bachelor’s in political science in the 1990s.

After 20 years in the car industry, first as a salesman and then in financing — watch him chat up newcomers, and an ease that comes from years on the sales floor is evident — Uso went back to school for his MBA.

Kendejah
Diane Wade (left) and Jennifer Gibbs dine at Kendejah in San Leandro, the Bay Area’s only Liberian restaurant. Photo: Gabrielle Lurie / The Chronicle

Opening a Liberian restaurant, he says, was one plan of many he nursed during his studies. “I’m a walking idea machine,” he says. But it was the one he pursued first. The mother of his current chef, Miemie Johnson, spotted a vacant storefront in San Leandro’s Pelton Center. It took Uso a year to build a full kitchen and install plumbing and flooring. He hired a Liberian artist to paint portraits of the first eight Liberian presidents on the walls, and mounted a television on the wall that would play West African hip-hop videos.

Kendejah finally opened in March 2017. That first month, Uso says, Liberian immigrants made up 35 percent of his customers. But he knew that wouldn’t last. “Liberians know how to cook their own food,” he said. “You’re not cooking for 100 (out of 100) Liberians. You’re cooking for six Liberians, or on a good day, 10.”

Photo: Gabrielle Lurie / The Chronicle

How should a child of Monrovia and Oakland, fluent in two cultures, teach Californians about Liberian cuisine, especially given how rare West African food is in the Bay Area? How should the food welcome them in and draw them back? What, in short, would Liberian American food look like?

Uso decided to emphasize the familiar, given West Africa’s influence on the cooking of the South and the larger lessons of Liberia’s history — of freedom and self-direction, of men and women who made it out of slavery and founded a country — that Uso wanted Americans to know. “Half of the foods we eat are traditional, as far as the cassava leaf, the palm butter stew, the palaver sauce,” he says. “Then the other half are fusion dishes that most Americans have had, maybe a different variation — for example, collard greens, fried okra, oxtails, eggplant and spinach. We just cook it with a little twist.”

The jollof rice dish, rice cooked with peppers and spices, at Kendejah in San Leandro, the Bay Area’s only Liberian restaurant. Photo: Gabrielle Lurie / The Chronicle

He picked three dishes to build the menu around: braised oxtail, fried red snapper with tomato-pepper gravy, and jollof rice (Uso describes it as a “stir-fried jambalaya”; it’s rice cooked with peppers and spices) with chicken or vegetarian gravy. Then he had the cooks remove the spice — an auntie makes a habanero-and-smoked-herring paste if you want to add it back in — and, in some cases, meat and smoked fish.

It’s fascinating to see Uso’s effort to consciously create a Liberian American cuisine. In the Bay Area, where we make the decision to eat “Vietnamese” for lunch and “German” for dinner, what we so often mean are the totemic foods that these cuisines have been reduced to — tea salad for Burmese cuisine, say, or pupusas for Salvadoran. These dishes have become so familiar to outsiders that every cook and restaurateur has to make their peace with them. You can tell 1,000 tables that meals in Mexico don’t begin with chips and salsa, or you can put a basket of chips on the menu and charge them for their own ignorance.

By taking control of that abstraction process, Uso sees it as a business opportunity. “People say the food business is too hard,” he says. “Yes it is, if you’ve got a Vietnamese restaurant and there are 20 others. You’ve got a one-of-a-kind cuisine (like Liberian), it has to work out if the food is great.”

Dr. Frankie Moore (left) and the Rev. Barbara Galloway-Lee laugh as they dine at at Kendejah in San Leandro, the Bay Area’s only Liberian restaurant. Photo: Gabrielle Lurie / The Chronicle

In a few weeks, the 26-foot food truck he just refitted — complete with fryers, ovens and an external TV screen to play music — will undergo its final health inspections. Uso is looking for a spot in Berkeley to park it and is telling all his customers to follow Kendejah on Instagram. Given his background in finance, he’s done the math, and figures the best way to get his Liberian cuisine out there is to set up a fleet of trucks. Kendejah in Berkeley. Kendejah in San Francisco. Kendejah in San Jose.

He recounts a story he heard from an Ethiopian restaurant owner in the store where he picks up his supplies. “She told me there was a guy who came here 40 years ago, and he was the first guy to open an Ethiopian restaurant. Now every American knows what Ethiopian food tastes like because of that one guy. That’s who I want to be.”

Where and when: 197 Pelton Center Way, San Leandro, 510-756-6049, kendejahrestaurant.com. Open 11:30 a.m.-10:00 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday.

Source : San Francisco Chronicle

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Black Owned Beauty Startup Raises $23 Million

Diishan Imira looked at the $6 billion U.S. hair extension and wig market in the U.S. and felt something was amiss. The vast majority of hair extensions used in salons – about 95%, he says — are purchased by customers online or at retail stores, who then bring those products to stylists who use them to service the customer. Salons themselves are not the point of sale, often because of the high cost of human hair.

Black Owned  Beauty Startup
Diishan Imira
Founder and CEO of Mayvenn

Simplifying that dynamic offered an opportunity that Imira, 37, seized with the launch of Mayvenn, an Oakland-based provider of real human hair from India he founded in 2012 with COO Taylor Wang. In the past four years, the company has racked up a cumulative $80 million in sales of hair extensions by partnering with hair stylists whose businesses relies on styling with such products, and who direct their customers to purchase hair from the company—essentially recruiting stylists as salespeople by building them websites, offering online support and a 15% cut of each sale, as well as sales incentives like store credit. About 70% of revenue, Imira says, comes through Mayvenn’s network of about 40,000 stylists, the rest from direct-to-consumer.

Imira and Wang’s strategy has attracted some serious growth money. This week the company announced a $23 million investment, which will go towards marketing to customers and stylists, and developing new package deals that combine hair sales with styling services from stylists within the network, at lower cost.

The influx of capital, which constitutes Mayvenn’s series B, brings the company’s overall growth capital tally to $36 million, adding to about $3 million in seed funding raised in 2013 and a $10 million series A in 2015 led by Silicon Valley powerhouse Andreessen Horowitz.

Investors who have laid bets on the firm since its founding include Serena Williams, Cross Culture Ventures and Jimmy Iovine, co-founder of Interscope Records and Beats Electronics. Imira remains the largest shareholder.

This latest cash injection is led by Essence Ventures, a firm founded last year by Richelieu Dennis, owner of Essence Communications and co-founder of the Sundial Brands family of personal care products, which he sold last year to Unilever for an estimated $1.6 billion. With the investment, Dennis bought himself a seat on the Mayvenn board.

Richelieu Dennis’s Essence Ventures led Mayvenn’s $23 million series B

“They’re taking a lot of friction out of the process and creating data economics for the professionals and the stylists, and greater value for the consumers,” Dennis told Forbes. The concept caters to an underserved market in both cases which is scalable, he added, which is a winning strategy.

Recruiting stylists to the Mayvenn platform to act as de fact brand ambassadors and points of sale shows a level of innovation the hair extension business has not seen, says Dennis. “We think that this gives Mayvenn the opportunity to be a leader in this space both on the service side and on the community side.”

Partnering with stylists is the main difference between Mayvenn and other players in the space, which includes sources like The Hair Shop, My Hair Closet, Indique, and Remy New York. There are also many brick and mortar options for buyers.

“I never thought I was going to do anything in hair,” says Imira, who moved to China in 2003 after college to teach English. While there he would purchase goods like sneakers, art and furniture for import and sale back in the U.S. on Craigslist.

In 2010, to hone his business chops and make connections, he earned an MBA from Georgia State University in affiliation with the Sorbonne, studying in Brazil, Paris and China. “I had fantastic instincts around business and the fundamentals of how to buy things and sell them,” he explained. “What I lacked was a higher level corporate and finance-based understanding of how to build something large. Nor did I have any connections to people in business.”

The human hair extension market beckoned when Imira’s sister, a stylist in Los Angeles, lamented the cost and difficulty in acquiring hair. Imira became a hair hocker, sourcing supply and selling to salons from the trunk of his car. That’s when Taylor Wang, Mayvenn’s cofounder and COO, entered the picture. Wang had been a client of Imira’s back in 2004, buying sleek Asian tennis shoes from the burgeoning entrepreneur, which he would sell online. Wang founded an e-commerce business, Group Swoop, which he sold to BuyWithMe, Inc. in 2011.

As the two discussed the hair market the concept that became Mayvenn emerged, funded with about $50,000 Imira raised through friends and family. As it operates today, stylists sign up with Mayvenn for free, receive a company-created, cookie-cutter website which acted as a gateway to the company’s online hair extension store, offering various types and styles. Stylists could direct their clients to buy from the site and receive a 15% commission for each purchase, plus $100 of free hair for every $600 worth sold.

“I saw these stylists who, for the most part, are independent contractors—they rent their chairs in a salon; they’re entrepreneurs,” says Imira. “I’ve always been an entrepreneur and I saw a way to empower them and, in my view, bring more equity to the marketplace where you’ve got African American women who are purchasing billions of dollars of products but are not really sharing in the economics of it at all.”

Imira ran the concept through 500 Startups in 2013, primarily to make connections to other entrepreneurs and investors he felt could be of help. “I took VCs on field trips to hair salons and beauty supply stores,” he remembers. The effect, he says, was astonishment. “That was what closed the deal.”

That year the company raised $3 million in seed money to get the network up and running and secure hair products from Asia. A series A two years later brought in another $10 million and spurred growth.

Imira first met Dennis several years ago through an introduction by the Sundial chief’s cousin, Emmett Dennis, and Imira identified Dennis as someone from whom he could learn. Ironically, the hair care giant saw elements of Mayvenn’s strategy that could inform its own growth process. “They saw what I was doing in helping to build distribution through these hair salons and through stylists as a component to what they had been trying to do for a long time,” says Imira.

The companies stayed in touch and once Dennis sold Sundial Brands, flush with cash, investment talks began in earnest. “The biggest synergy is that we believe that in all of our businesses, the common theme is community,” says Dennis. “Especially serving under-served communities – that’s our sweet spot – and that’s exactly where Mayvenn fits.”

 

Source: FORBES

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Startup loans to Black Entrepreneurs to ‘interject some balance in capitalism’

GW “Chef” Chew loves to cook and is an ardent vegan. He combines the two passions through a new company, Something Better Foods, that has created a line of plant-based meats, from Philly cheesesteaks to fried chicken, as well as with a nonprofit Oakland restaurant, the Veg Hub.

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GW “Chef” Chew, who received a $20,000 loan from the Runway Project, creates sandwiches behind the counter of the Veg Hub in Oakland.
Photo: Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

Chew needed financial backing to get Something Better off the ground. That’s where Oakland’s Runway Project stepped in and lent him $20,000.

“That money was a blessing,” he said. It helped him land a manufacturing site in Vallejo. Runway also helped with advice, coaching him on his business and marketing plans. He’s now raising more money to prepare for a distribution deal he landed with Whole Foods for next year.

Runway offers loans and other support to help black entrepreneurs start businesses. Many startups tap friends and family for early money, but minorities often don’t have well-heeled personal or professional networks. While the median net worth of white households is $171,000, that of black households is $17,200, according to the Federal Reserve.

The racial wealth disparity “is a big gap,” said Claudia Viek, founder of the Invest in Women Entrepreneurs Initiative, a nonprofit that is not affiliated with Runway. “Providing that early-stage, more-patient capital meets an acute need. It’s a way to interject some balance in capitalism.”

Runway founder Jessica Norwood calls the loans “believe-in-you money” but hastens to add: “It’s more than the money part. This is a story about what it means to be friends and family to one another, to be in deep community with each other. This is saying to folks who have been chugging away that we believe in them.”

The enterprises funded aren’t pitching the next big tech thing. Instead they’re Main Street stalwarts with products such as floral arrangements, fashion accessories, apparel, artisan juice, handmade pies and skin care creams.

Runway’s approach sounds terrific, said Ben Mangan, executive director of the Center for Social Sector Leadership at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, who has no ties to Runway.

“There’s a huge need for this kind of capital, and it’s almost impossible to find it,” he said. “We have a massive problem to solve when it comes to creating wealth for people who have a disproportionately small share. We need every smart, viable experiment we get.”

GW “Chef” Chew prepares a plant-based Philly cheesesteak sandwich at the Veg Hub in Oakland. Minorities often don’t have well-heeled personal or professional networks.Photo: Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

Runway is small. It’s made 13 loans over the past year — and so far has a 100 percent repayment rate. But it has big ambitions to spread nationwide, and is currently raising money and developing a model for that.

Runway’s five-year, no-collateral loans carry a 4 percent interest rate, and repayments are interest-only the first two years.

The Self-Help Federal Credit Union administers the loans. Community members can support loans by taking out certificates of deposit at Self-Help. As with all CDs, their money is federally insured. In lieu of collateral from the entrepreneurs, Runway raised philanthropic money to act as a guarantee — for every $1 it lends, it has $1 sitting in an account at Self-Help as a backstop.

San Francisco’s RSF Social Finance provided some of that backstop capital.

GW “Chef” Chew explains the benefits of a plant-based diet to a customer at the Veg Hub in Oakland. The Runway Project provided advice to Chew, coaching him on his business and marketing plan. Photo: Photos by Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

“It was a real moment of joy for me and for Jessica to do that,” said Lynne Hoey, RSF’s senior director of credit, adding that there’s “a multibillion-dollar market opportunity to fund entrepreneurs” who otherwise are shut out.

Along with the Runway loans comes help in the form of retreats, peer support groups and weekly coaching from Oakland’s Uptima Business Bootcamp.

Uptima co-founder Rani Langer-Croager chairs Runway’s credit committee, helping to identify and screen loan applicants.

“These loans have provided immediate impact for each of these entrepreneurs we work with,” she said. “People who might previously have had to put inventory on a credit card were able to have more-favorable terms to open brick-and-mortar stores, to buy vehicles.”

One entrepreneur bought a truck for her mobile florist business; another bought a vehicle for business-to-business deliveries; another opened a mall kiosk for her beauty products, and another opened a lemonade stand in a kiosk on Valencia Street.

Moreover, the initial funding helped Runway’s early cohort raise at least $100,000 more in backing. “It takes money to raise money,” Langer-Croager said.

Stevonne Ratliff got a $20,000 Runway loan last year for Beija Flor Naturals,an eco-friendly line of beauty products.

“You need capital to expand, but it’s pretty difficult to find,” she said. She was making all her products by hand, so she couldn’t make enough to supply large retailers. The Runway money allowed her to outsource production of her two top sellers — hair care products Creme Brulee for Kinks, Curls and Coils and Maracuja Beauty Milk.

GW “Chef” Chew hands a drink to a customer at the Veg Hub in Oakland. The Runway Project helped Chew land a manufacturing site in Vallejo.
Photo: Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

Besides offloading the “soul-draining” manufacturing, she appreciated the mentorship. “You have a group of advisers working together for your success,” she said. “They’re saying, ‘Go for this, we’re here to support you.’

“It gave me confidence to go for things I wouldn’t otherwise have gone for because I was so cash-strapped,” she said. She participated in Essence magazine’s annual festival in New Orleans, a high-end beauty show in New York and a pitch competition in Florida — which she won, landing a $25,000 grant. “When you have money in the bank and support, you feel a lot more confident,” she said.

Norwood summed Runway up like this: “We’re at the intersection of love, finance and culture. We don’t just look at products; we understand people at their core.”

Source: San Fransisco Chronicle

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Nenna Joiner explains why Feelmore Adult Gallery is More Than Just a Sex Store

We are bombarded with images of sex everyday in magazines, on television and the internet. However, the topic of sex is still considered taboo and is seldom discussed in many circles.

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One reason might be because of the stigmas attached to sex and the fear people feel of being judged because of their preferences. Businesses that operate in the sex industry also have stigmas attached to them. When some think of sex they imagine dark, creepy places that cater to perverts.

One business owner who is doing her part to remove these stigmas and educate people is Nenna Joiner, owner of Feelmore Adult Gallery in Oakland, CA.

We recently had a chat with her. This is what she had to say:

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SB: We’ve all heard the phrase, “Sex sells.” Apart from the potential profitability, what sparked your decision to open a sex store?

NJ: Sex does sell, but it is really sex and not products that sell more than not. Thought I‘d put that notion into perspective. Yes, the adult novelty business is profitable as is any industry that has a high barrier to entry. Understanding profit and gross margins along with what products sell will contribute to the bottom line.

Feelmore

I honestly woke from a dream and decided this is what I wanted to do. I purchased novelty products and DVD’s to sell around town. I then, loaded up two boxes with product, popped it in the trunk of my Toyota Camry, and stood in parking lots and front of bars doing my best to sell what I could.

Sometimes I got grins from women more out of “How cute!” vs. “I need a product.” It was really a lesson for me to become okay with being uncomfortable and not knowing. I’ve come a long way, yet I’m still not as comfortable. I’ve learned to stay with the road of uncertainty.

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SB: What challenges did you run into when trying to open the store?

NJ: Anytime you have a high barrier to entry business it takes money to begin. I started with a solid 401k, IRA, and stocks I began purchasing while working for ‘The Clorox Company’ in Oakland. The permits were very expensive. Changing the hours of operation to much later also came with a price.

Given that I did not have a preexisting business reputation; it was difficult for the majority of the community to rally behind me. Many assumed I would pimp kids and be a bad influence on the community. Many dissenters, after seeing how I ran my business, came by to apologize months later. I understood that they were protecting their youth base from at risk clients. I’m just happy NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard Thinking) did not win.

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SB: Would you say that Feelmore is much more than a sex store?

NJ: Feelmore is absolutely more than a sex store! Anytime anyone opens a business we always want to say we are different, yet we all carry the same products. I did my very best to make certain that many products that clients wanted were carried yet I wanted to make certain that we carried items that you just couldn’t get elsewhere.

This is where your product and business differentiation comes in. You have to give people more than they expect otherwise new businesses will lose out to businesses that have been there for years if not decades. There is enough [money] to be made.

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SB: How would you describe the typical Feelmore customer?

NJ: Well, first of all, Feelmore doesn’t have a customer. Feelmore has clients. We treat people with the utmost care and respect for their information. Respecting privacy is instilled in our Team.

Clients will share some very detailed and graphic information and you want them to know that ‘Your secret is safe with Feelmore.’

Our clients are all over the place: They include Hipsters, Millennials, Gen X, Gen Y, church goers and politicians. New businesses always want to say “Our target market is…”, but from my own experience, you just have to take everything and allow the client base to sift through the process.

Most adult products can cost upwards of $200-$300, or more, bringing in products that can be had for as low as $10-$20 is important. It doesn’t change what the client looks like but it distributes the purchasing power across the board to demographics.

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SB: Where do you see your company five years from now?

NJ: I honestly see Feelmore as a lifestyle business. Not that we will not continue to sell traditional adult products but the industry is changing. The access to products is changing and as the consumer is able to buy, at times, what stores procure; it makes it hard to stay ingrained in an industry that has less control over purchasing sources.

Overseas manufacturing is helping to lead the way but also leads to inferior product on the market.
As I’m looking now to open Feelmore in other locations/states, I feel there is an opportunity to buy out businesses that are all out of ideas. I’m just getting started and I can see more than a light at the end of the tunnel. I can see a whole new galaxy that I will create!

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SB: What is the most gratifying part of being a business owner?

NJ: The best part of being a business owner is the repetition of solving problems…sometimes the same problems with different solutions. Personally, I enjoy being in a challenging industry. I did not know what to expect in the beginning. You should never do too much research when opening a business especially asking questions such as, “How hard was it?”

I did not have a partner nor a lover to go into business with. I depended only on GOD to get me through the difficult times…and trust there were plenty. If ‘it’ were easy, everyone would do it. I’m able to see what I am really made of and if I really want what I say I want.

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SB: What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

NJ: Go for it! You have nothing to lose. When you look back after giving it your all, you can sleep well and be at peace knowing that you got your dreams out of your head and into reality. It will not be easy yet it is satisfying. It will let you know who your real friends are quickly.

It will teach you how to manage yourself and others. It will teach you to keep your word. It will teach you how to get back up again. It will teach you how to get out of your comfort zone if you are truly to be successful.

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Success attracts people (the good and the bad). Be mindful when people just want to be around you. Do not use your business as a hangout spot, pit spot, or take it as a joke, especially if you have a physical location.

With all the gentrification going on in the world, people of color having ownership to commercial space sometimes keeps us in neighborhoods that are quickly transitioning. You are the last bastion of hope for many communities – treat it as a coveted position.

-Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson (IG @thebusyafrican)

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Oakland’s New Marijuana Law Aims to offer Economic Reparations

When I first heard that Colorado was legalizing marijuana, one of my first thoughts was “Man, everyone who is or has ever been locked up for weed is gonna be pissed.” But for people who use marijuana for medical purposes, that is a whole other story. You have to get a medical card before you are able to obtain this product, as it has to be issued by a doctor. I know a few people who use marijuana as a way of dealing with any pains they are going through. Once, a friend of mine showed me what the product looked like. When I saw it, I wasn’t shocked with the product itself, but more so for what it came it. It looked a little dodgy and a quite suspicious. I’m no designer, but these businesses need to really update their marijuana packaging, just so it doesn’t look so obvious that someone is carrying marijuana. The smell is bad enough so the packing needs to outweigh this somehow.

I would imagine one of those people is DeMarcus Sanders from Waterloo, Iowa. A few years ago, he was pulled over for playing his music too loud. The police officer ran his license and then insisted on searching the car because he smelled marijuana. During the search, he found a small amount and charged DeMarcus with possession. The tide is turning on marijuana laws across the United States and Canada. Legitimate businesses like my green solution are now flourishing, whilst also serving a real demand. Unfortunately, this didn’t come soon enough for DeMarcus.

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DeMarcus Sanders and his son

DeMarcus plead guilty and served 30 days in jail. During that time he lost his job, his drivers license and credit for college classes he had been taking. Even though it has been a few years since he was arrested, Mr. Sanders still owes the state over $2000 for room and board at the jail, fines, court costs, and other fees.

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Getting arrested for marijuana possession in Iowa automatically triggers a six-month license suspension. Before it can be reinstated, one has to pay off a percentage of court fees and fines. As you can imagine, it’s hard to pay off fines and court costs when you are unemployed. It’s also hard to find or keep a job when you don’t have a driver’s license.
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Another case that is even more tragic is that of Bernard Noble. The 49-year-old father of seven is serving more than 13 years behind bars for being caught with the equivalent of two joints’ worth of marijuana in 2010. He was arrested after two police officers ordered him off his bicycle and searched him without probable cause.
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They found 2.8 grams of marijuana. Because he had prior non-violent drug offenses — for small amounts of cocaine and marijuana — an Orleans Parish jury convicted him under a state law that gives harsher punishments for habitual offenders.

These men and countless others are going through all of this for a substance that is now being legalized. Imagine all the other stories that are similar or worse.032014-national-aclu-calculator-on-racial-disparity-marijuana-arrests

Marijuana Law

In an attempt to begin repairing the damage caused by the disproportionate targeting of Black people in the questionable U.S. war on drugs and give us a share of this multi million dollar green pie, Oakland’s City Council recently approved an “Equity Permit Program” that would make the city’s marijuana industry more inclusive of Black and Latino residents. The program was introduced by Councilwoman Desley Brooks.

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Brooks has stated publicly that she wants a form of economic reparations for people and neighborhoods affected by the war on marijuana.

Under the new law, half of new marijuana business permits will be reserved for people who live in East Oakland or were incarcerated for a marijuana-related arrest. The applicants must also have at least a 51 percent ownership stake in the business they are seeking to permit.

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The city plans to issue eight new permits a year, as well as introduce permits for other marijuana businesses, such as cultivation, production, manufacturing and transportation. There are also many marijuana seo businesses that aim to boost marijuana stores up the Google rankings in order to make more sales. Currently, there are eight dispensaries in Oakland, but the businesses that supply the dispensaries are not licensed or permitted by the city.

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The program was opposed by the majority of Oakland’s own Cannabis Regulatory Commission, who worked on the expansion for 18 months. Council member Brooks added the permit program as a last-minute amendment, which passed unanimously at 1 a.m. one week ago.

Supernova Women, a support group for Black women pot entrepreneurs says the policy was too narrow and should be expanded to other areas of Oakland or they would not be eligible. The council said it plans to make amendments to the new law at a later date, which could include expanding the permits to more police beats.

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Amber Senter (L), Nina Parks, and Sunshine Lencho (R) are the co-founders of Supernova Women

Other critics say handing out every other new permit to a tiny group of people will create a “licensing bottleneck” that will drastically slow down Oakland’s vast expansion in licensed medical pot nurseries, farms, kitchens, stores, and testing labs.

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Over the next months, amendments will be offered to expand the eligibility area for equity permits and possibly include the children or spouses of individuals incarcerated for marijuana crimes.

In my opinion, the prison industrial complex is nothing more than modern day slavery. The new slave masters alter laws and policies that funnel an overwhelming majority of Black people back onto the fields, or in this case behind bars. Instead of picking cotton, many of these prisoners are paid near nothing to make products ranging from Victoria Secret lingerie to Starbucks packaging.

I’m all for a program or policy that can provide some type of economic empowerment to those who have suffered directly or indirectly from an unjust set of laws that weren’t really created to protect anyone to begin with.