When Hakim Hopkins was sent to juvenile detention in New Jersey at age 14, his mother sent him the book Native Son by Richard Wright.
“I became an avid reader,” Hopkins said. “That was the first book I read in my teens. I was like ‘This is better than TV.’”
His mother named him after her mentor Dawud Hakim, a black scholar who founded Hakim’s Bookstore in West Philadelphia, the first black-owned bookstore in the United States.
In 2003, Hopkins opened Black and Nobel, an Afrocentric bookstore that grew from a small street stand by a bus stop to its own storefront on Broad Street and Erie Avenue, and eventually relocated to The Vision Venue: Pop Up Store, a multi-vendor space on the 400 block of South Street.
In 2011, he began shipping books to prisons nationwide. Most of his clientele are mothers of incarcerated people, a relationship he values greatly.
Black and Nobel is is one of over 400 African-American, Caribbean, and African-owned businesses listed in the 2019 Philadelphia Black Biz Directory, a free digital listing put together by marketing consultant Marilyn Kai Jewett, CEO of Progressive Images Marketing Communications, and published by Beech Community Services, a community development organization in North Philadelphia.
Jewett was inspired to create the directory in 2017 after being fed up with hearing there weren’t any black-owned businesses in the city.
She initially wanted to create a city-wide listing, but when she brought the idea to Beech Interplex CEO Dr. Ken Scott, he suggested she focus on North Philadelphia, where Beech does most of its development.
For both the 2017 and 2019 editions, Jewett spent months doing research, networking with entrepreneurs, and talking to shop owners along the city’s various business corridors about their products and services. She gave people submission forms to have their businesses included, but got dismal responses each time. So she did most of the legwork herself, asking around and calling to see if places were still open and that they hadn’t relocated.
“We did this as a public service so that black people would have information that they can act on so that they no longer say that ‘There’s no black businesses,’ or ‘There are few black businesses,’ or ‘We can’t find the black businesses,’” Jewett said. “Here are 450, right here. Start there.”
According to a Pew Charitable Trusts report released in April, only 2.5 percent of Philadelphia businesses are black-owned.
“There’s definitely now more ‘wokeness’ around the black dollar and how it circulates in the community,” Ray said. “For people that are looking for that specifically and want to put their hard earned dollars into black businesses, directories like this are essential.”
She said despite the financial challenges of being an entrepreneur, thinking about how much the store means to her customers keeps her going.
“[One new customer] has told me several times that she feels like her discovering this shop has allowed her to just embrace herself and her body in ways that she never had before, or even thought she had the permission to do before,” Ray said. “I consider this shop to be a community space for larger folks who have been not seen, not heard.”
Many of the businesses included in the directory serve as hubs that have historically fostered a community for black people, barbershops and hair salons are principal among them.
“In our hoods, a child grows up without the proper nourishment,” Mujib said, citing broken homes with mothers as the sole parental figure as an impediment to proper development.
He said the bonds formed in barbershops and the lessons learned from older men can empower youth and strengthen their sense of self.
“That’s what the barbershop is for,” he said. “We teach them to stand up and be men, to talk like a man and walk like a man. We teach them how to shake hands, to face a man and greet people like human beings.”
He hasn’t made much of a profit since the shop’s opening 10 years ago, but he prioritizes making sure his staff is paid and keeping prices affordable for his clientele.
“I just want this business to be successful,” he said. “I want other people to earn and be happy and go home and feed their kids.”
The directory also lists other businesses that offer services that support black life at all stages, including therapy, physical wellness, and maternal care.
Ymani Efunyale, a birth and postpartum doula with Love Thyself Way, Inc., a group of birth and womb workers in the Greater Philadelphia area, said doulas everywhere are responding to the black maternal health crisis.
“I know that if a mother is healthy and she has a doula, the likelihood of her having any complications from childbirth goes down significantly, the likelihood of her having an epidural or C-section goes down significantly, just from having a doula present,” Efunyale said.
According to the CDC’s Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System, black mothers in the U.S. suffer disproportionately high rates of maternal mortality compared to their white counterparts. Many experience near fatal experiences due to complications of pregnancy and childbirth.
“If we are in here dying and we’re dying because of the bias that the hospital staff has towards black women and failure to listen to black women and failure to come follow up and check up on them,” Efunyale said. “We just need to pull out and maybe that will hurt the [hospital’s] bottom line enough to make them pay attention to this crisis.”
Howard explained that for black entrepreneurs, there are a bevy of unique obstacles such as difficulty with financing and overcoming stereotypes.
“Nobody’s out there willing to give us loans or anything like that,” Howard said. “When we applied for loans, we got denied left and right. Being a black-owned business you’re always looked at like, ‘Are they quality? Are they those types of black people?’ There’s always that stereotype that you’ve gotta deal with first.”
Beech Companies and their subsidiaries aim to alleviate this problem in economically distressed areas throughout Philadelphia by providing these entrepreneurs with small business loans that they could not get elsewhere.
Beech Interplex CEO Dr. Kenneth Scott, who helped Marilyn Jewett launch the directory, said supporting the city’s black-owned businesses is crucial in the movement to financially strengthen black communities.
“Supporting black-owned businesses supports black families, raises the income level of the community at-large and is the first step towards self-sufficiency and real group empowerment,” Beech wrote in the introduction of the directory.
“The directory is founded on the Kwanzaa principle of Ujaama – cooperative economics – that should be practiced on a daily basis,” he said.
Blue Sole Shoes, a high-fashion men’s footwear and accessories, sits near the bustling shopping corner of Chestnut Street and 18th streets.
Owner Steve Jamison wanted to open a shoe store ever since he was 6 or 7 years old, when his mom gifted him his first pair of fashion shoes: a brown and cream pair of Pierre Cardin’s.
He said he wore them to a Boys and Girls Club event in Nicetown and the reaction he received from when people saw him in them solidified his appreciation for great fashion.
“Understanding at a young age how you look impacts how people perceive you, receive you and how it makes you feel,” Jamison said. “It just elevates you in a particular way that I think you can’t get from other things that you have in life.”
In February 2007, he saved enough to open the boutique and now offers local clientele unique quality pieces sourced from Italy, Portugal, Spain, England, China, Brazil, the Netherlands and Turkey, to name a few.
Some of the struggles black business owners experience today are attributed to being underexposed to entrepreneurship and underrepresented in the scene.
“We’re not taught how to be business owners,” Jamison said.
He encourages younger generations to find ways to include entrepreneurship as part of their future career and life plans.
“Whenever I talk to young people, I try to instill that message,” he said, “that when you think about your life, education, school, and field you want to study, think about what business you’d like to own.”
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