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Monterey’s first Black Business Summit focuses on resources available to minority business owners.

book collection featuring Black authors

One local small business owner celebrated Black History Month by sharing an image of some of her book collection featuring Black authors. Karen Anne Murray, owner of Eddison & Melrose (and author of Tea Table, bottom right) shared this photo and the caption: “This small collection of books tell stories of utter pain, strife, joy and life. Why not put the kettle on and explore these titles, discover more as you do so and realize this is not something to do only during the month of February but for any day you have the freedom to read.”

Sara Rubin here, thinking about the many choices I have when it comes to spending money and how complicated it can get, and quickly, when trying to be an ethical, conscientious shopper. There are all sorts of criteria to take into account: I prioritize locally owned businesses for instance, and brick-and-mortar establishments over e-commerce. With certain products there are also factors like organic to consider, not to mention price range and personal preference. Factor in supporting not just a local economy but also a diverse economy, and it gets even more complicated. But, of course, that is a vision worth striving for. 

And that is part of the vision that Building Business Back is working to advance. BBB is an initiative funded with some of Monterey County’s federal Covid-19 relief money. Working in partnership with the Monterey County Business Council, the effort started last March and is now entering its second of three years. The group’s vision is to support businesses located in unincorporated parts of Monterey County, as well as businesses owned by people who are women, minorities or LGBTQ+. 

“Since starting last year, [the BBB] is really coming to fruition and taking advantage of opportunities to do outreach to these communities,” says Program Analyst José Luis Barajas.

Tomorrow, in honor of Black History Month, the BBB hosts a Black Business Summit. The event, from 11am-noon on Thursday, Feb. 23, happens virtually (it will be recorded) and in person at the Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, and it’s free to attend.

While it’s open to anyone, the focus of tomorrow’s summit will be on resources—including grants and loans from both private agencies and government, as well as professional development resources—available to minority business owners, specifically Black business owners. A similar event oriented toward resources for women business owners will take place in March, which is Women’s History Month. 

Of course, these efforts to help local businesses thrive after the pandemic shutdown are driven not by consumers, but by the back-end infrastructure that exists to aid businesses along. As consumers, “support” generally comes in the form of spending our money. We occasionally receive questions here at the Weekly from readers looking for a list of minority-owned businesses. Such lists are not kept even by the BBB, in part because some business owners don’t want to appear on that list—because they fear they might be targeted negatively. I think it’s our duty to counteract that negativity and make sure business owners know we support them. 

Of course, there’s a more nuanced side to these calculations as well when it comes to supporting minority-owned businessesA successful business will be successful not because its customers show up out of solidarity one month a year, but because they sell a product or service that customers want, and keep coming back for. 

I asked Karen Anne Murray, a successful entrepreneur and small business owner of the tea company Eddison & Melroseabout this dynamic. She hopes that her returning customers return because they love the tea and the service, not just because they want to support a Black-owned business. Besides, Murray muses: When the history of racism is so profound and violent, are we really going to be able to repair it through shopping? “A lot of this stems from awful things that have happened. The damage is huge and painful,” she says. “How does one buying tea from me help that?” 

She envisions the better, more equal world that comes next—the world in which consumers don’t support women-owned businesses, or Black-owned businesses, or LGBTQ-owned businesses simply because of the ownership behind them, and instead can just support businesses in general. 

Until we get there, I think focused initiatives like BBB can help level the playing field, making up for centuries of inequity. And I think consumers can help us get there by doing seemingly simple things—maybe it starts with buying a cup of tea from someone whose race or sexual orientation is different than yours. By doing it intentionally, I hope we can arrive at a time when we can do it unintentionally.

Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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