A quick search of any mainstream literary canon highlights the absence of Black authors. While there are lists of recommended readings and even a recognized canon of Black literature it is often viewed as a subset rather than an equal contender to the mainstream literary variety. If you are lucky you may have had a high school English teacher who assigned Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings or Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God but exposure to other novels by Black authors was likely to take place outside of the traditional K-12 educational setting.
Trailblazers and entrepreneurs Evita Colon and Solise White found themselves spending much of their free time reading and discussing books. Sometimes they read to reinforce cultural self-worth for their collective family unit. Other times it was to increase their capacity related to entrepreneurial leadership and goal attainment. Almost every time it included drinking wine. One day while brainstorming Evita and Solise birthed something amazing – their vision for A Concrete Rose Book Bar based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
The women immediately began to research and assess the feasibility of this venture. They connected with ASSETS and SCORE for general business guidance. Booksellers, Hakim Hopkins from Black and Nobel, Jeannine Cook from Harriet’s Bookshop, and Marc Lamont Hill from Uncle Bobbie’s provided information directly related to the Black book market. Wine industry professionals near and far chimed in with insider tips, direction, and invitations to support the pair on their journey. In the wine industry, Sip and Share Wines owner, Nicole Kearney, encouraged them by stating that there is more than enough room for all of us. She offered the pair a wealth of information and encouraged them to move forward. Through lots of research and conversations, the women found that there are no documented Black-owned wineries in Pennsylvania. Additionally, the only Black-owned bookstores in the state of Pennsylvania are all located in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas.
While there are all sorts of reasons why women are tossing their hat into the entrepreneurial ring the bottom line is they are doing it and doing it well. According to the State of Women-owned Businesses Report, the number of women business owners increased by nearly 3,000% over the last 50 years. Presently, women in the United States start nearly 2,000 businesses a day with African American and Latina women, in particular, blazing the trail.
…numbers for Latinas and African Americans grew faster than the average rate for businesses owned by women of color: 172% and 164% respectively, equaling 2.1 million Latina-owned and 2.4 million African American women-owned businesses in 2018.
Nevertheless, these successes do not occur without significant challenges. Women of color are more likely to list access to capital as a roadblock when starting their business. According to The Small Business Association Advocacy office even when controlling for variables such as credit women and minorities are denied funding from traditional outlets in greater numbers than their white counterparts. This disparaging trend hits Black women especially hard as less than 1% of Black women receive money from financial institutions for their startups.
In a CNBC article about the underfunding of female entrepreneur expert, Dell Gines states:
“We are missing the boat by not supporting already motivated entrepreneurs,” said Gines. “Black and Latina women are producing tons of firms and showing motivation — probably a whole lot more than would be willing and able to start high-growth firms with direct economic value” — but aren’t getting funding, he said.
Evita and Solise face similar challenges when attempting to educate mainstream audiences about their business venture. Their early meetings with business development professionals were informational and challenged them to think deeply about their endeavors. However, they also moved the women away from their original vision.
“In every conversation, there was almost an erasure of the Black cultural element. We are a part of the LGBTQ community but we are privileging Blackness despite how hard it may make the journey. It’s important to us to privilege blackness over sexual orientation because you see our blackness first. It cannot be hidden. We can choose to disclose sexual orientation. Sometimes we feel discrimination and racism from other minority communities we are a part of, because of our blackness. Thus, it’s important to create safe spaces that prioritize Blackness first,” said the partners.
According to the partners, Black folks come in all shapes, sizes, belief systems, and orientations yet are likely to experience similar challenges such as systemic racism, implicit bias, and recklessness toward Black bodies. A Concrete Rose Book Bar will welcome them all.
Evita and Solise are following the leadership of people like venture capitalist Shelly Bell founder of Black Girl Ventures, Abyah Wynn co-founder of Twenty65, January Ventures, and Base10 Partners to develop creative ways to raise funds. The entrepreneurs also gleaned wisdom from HR Consultant Charasay Powell who provided guidance on messaging and best business practices when pitching their venture to potential stakeholders.
Through research, the women found that many people in the wine industry were also novices at one point. Unless a winery is passed down through the generations everyone has to start somewhere. The pair enrolled in winemaking courses, reviewed drink pairings, and began mapping out their plan. The design of A Concrete Rose Book Bar includes a window in the fermentation room allowing patrons to have a clear view of the process. Patrons can participate in everything from winemaking classes, book discussions, to advocacy art.
No matter what the partners are committed to staying the course and seeing their vision become a reality. According to Solise, “I want people to walk in and feel great energy just seeing everyone communicating and laughing. Whether there is a performance going on or we are reviewing a book we intend to create a space where everyone feels safe and empowered to be there. Everyone is having a good time, dancing, grooving, enjoying art, and embracing our culture.”
Check out a previous article about the pairs Advocacy through Art work!