Brooklyn Sees a Revival of Black-Owned Businesses

Cynthia Gordy Giwa and Glenn Alan, through their blog Black-Owned Brooklyn, have chronicled a revival of black business ownership in the borough. (Credit: Stephanie Keith for The New York Times)
Cynthia Gordy Giwa and Glenn Alan, through their blog Black-Owned Brooklyn, have chronicled a revival of black business ownership in the borough. (Credit: Stephanie Keith for The New York Times)

A black man has been president of the United States. So why, then, do so many find it hard to believe that a black woman owns a yarn shop in brownstone Brooklyn?

That is a question that Felicia Eve, the owner of the yarn shop, String Thing Studio in Park Slope, has confronted regularly. “It’s along the same lines of, ‘Oh, you live in Park Slope?’” Ms. Eve said. “Or, ‘Oh, you own a brownstone in Park Slope?’ Or, ‘Oh, you have three kids in private school?’”

On hand to hear Ms. Eve’s story were Cynthia Gordy Giwa and Glenn Alan, who run the website Black-Owned Brooklyn. They brought The New York Times along on a recent Saturday morning as they visited a handful of shops in Brooklyn.

Ms. Giwa, 36, of Bedford-Stuyvesant, had a career as a White House correspondent and political reporter for black-focused publications including Essence and The Root; she is now the marketing director for ProPublica. Mr. Alan, 30, of Crown Heights, is a regional operations manager for a popular fast-fashion chain. They run the blog in their free time, traveling through the borough on weekends to interview shop owners. Since its February debut, the site has risen quickly in popularity. A year-end goal of 1,000 Instagram followers was achieved in 22 days, and include the filmmaker Ava DuVernay and the comedian Wyatt Cenac.

The blog has become an unexpected barometer of a black renaissance in Brooklyn, rewriting a narrative of blackness in the borough that has been largely untouched since the heyday of Spike Lee films in the 1990s. But it is just part of a broader revival of black pride and economic self-awareness citywide, including Brooklyn’s Afropunk and Juneteenth festivals; Harlem Capital Partners, which invests in minority-owned start-ups; and All-Star Code, which trains black boys in computer programming.

“We’re in a sociopolitical moment where there’s greater acceptance of black people having pride in themselves. It sounds silly — or sad, really. It should be normal. But we live in a world where saying ‘black lives matter’ is controversial,” said Jacob William Faber, a sociologist at New York University who studies racial economic disparity. “It’s a rebuttal to the idea — the false choice — that if you want investment you have to accept displacement.”

Ms. Giwa said the blog offers a way to present a more complete story. “It’s so often a story of displacement or loss when you’re talking about black Brooklyn,” she said. “I don’t want to downplay that, because it does happen and it is a serious concern, but it’s also not the whole picture.”

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SOURCE: Richard Morgan
The New York Times