Buy From A Black Woman VERVE Think Tank - September 2018 Philladelphia USA
You have to ask the universe what your purpose is and then be willing to listen for an answer. Nikki Porcher told me that the first time we spoke. I like to think I do that which is why my professional path sometimes seems incoherent. Unless you heard what the universe told me, it would be hard to understand how I got where I am. But I am exactly where I am supposed to be and I felt that acutely last Saturday during the Verve Think Tank in Philadelphia.
Walking into Amalgam Comic and Coffeehouse on Frankford Avenue in Kensington I got a little nostalgic buzz looking at the comics and figurines. I’m not a huge comic book fan—I like more words than pictures—but I do enjoy the stories of people with superpowers so this venue had me a little wide eyed. I chose it for our Think Tank because it is the only store of its kind owned by a Black Woman on the East Coast. The comics in the store are the popular ones (Marvel, DC) but also include comics by and about women and minorities of all kinds. The comic book scene is grossly dominated by white men so any time we can support a shift away from that I think it’s important to try. They were happy to welcome us for the event and set us up in the back of the shop.
When Nikki arrived, having flown in from Atlanta, she and I hugged each other hard. We had never met but I’d been admiring her now for nine months and we had developed a phone/email/social media friendship. I remember thinking that for all the evils of the internet, it allows me to find people like Nikki and for that I am grateful. We started by introducing ourselves which we were terrible at. Usually I provide a prompt of some kind, “do you consider yourself a feminist?” but today I just left it to each person to choose how to introduce themselves. I won’t make that mistake again. Most of the women in the room minimized their worth in a way that broke my heart. We’re going to have to circle back to that at the next Think Tank. The one man in the room (straight, cis, white, educated, able-bodied, rich, Christian man) gave his name and then just said “I’m here to listen” which I really appreciated. It isn’t easy for people with so much privilege to silence themselves. They aren’t trained to do that like everyone else it. His comment was a good reminder to me that I should spend this time listening too. I am not a Black Woman and there were five Black Women in the room that could carry this conversation. Today I would just be learning.
Nikki has a vibrant personality and connects with people almost immediately so for a while we all just sat entranced, listening to her story of starting Buy From A Black Woman and the Black Woman Business Grant for which we were collecting donations. The first woman to receive the grant, Shanae Jones, owner of Ivy’s Tea Co, was there with her mother. Shanae is also an excellent speaker which surprised me. Public speaking is a hard thing to do so whenever I meet people who are naturals at it I am impressed. I’ve been working on it my whole life and still struggle. But Nikki and Shanae kept us in stitches with one liners while keeping the conversation real. “I wouldn’t say I’m a competitive person but I just like to be number one” Shanae told us straight faced before we all collapsed in giggles.
Nikki told us about some of experiences she’s had online with accusations of reverse racism or sexism because her company is for Black Women and not white women or black men. She said she doesn’t like to respond to negative comments herself because she doesn’t want to tarnish her brand—she asks friends and allies to respond and allows followers to take up the conversation. At the mention of reverse racism and sexism my eyes rolled so far back in my skull I thought they’d get stuck. I committed to writing a blog explaining the false logic in those concepts. Maybe Nikki’s allies can just post the link in response to her harassers and be done with it. If I’m being honest, I got kind of mad when she talked about some of the grief she’s been given. Buy From A Black Woman is supporting a group of people who have been neglected and oppressed by both black men and white women throughout history and now these people want to cry that they aren’t being included? Not everything has to be for you! Damn.
Luckily, Nikki and Shanae both had stories of incredible support they’ve received to lift my spirits up again. We talked about the importance of funneling money out of the pockets of men and into the pockets of women, particularly Black Women. They even let me give my “women” not “girls” pitch. My roommate was literally bent forward in her seat, leaning toward Nikki as she asked question after question about BFABW and Nikki’s plans for it. Nikki told us about an idea to have branches in multiple cities with a physical space where Black Women could work before they have their own office or storefront and collaborate with each other. This lead to a conversation about the exclusionary nature of the We Work spaces.
Even after we wrapped up many of us stayed to chat less formally, enjoying the space and the people who had come together. Our photographer, Krystal Spencer, who had joined in the conversation as a Black Woman doing freelance work, had captured the spirit of the day in her pictures. Although we covered serious and important topics, we spent most of the time laughing and enjoying each other. A Think Tank regular told me this was the best one she’d been to and I have to agree. It was made even better a few days later when I spoke to London and we realized that the donations we had collected (London had their own event) would be enough for a whole other Black Woman Business Grant when matched by Verve. Almost a year ago I wrote about the importance of buying from Black Women. Since then I’ve been expanding my personal network of Black Women business owners. Next year I am going to strategize how to significantly increase my purchases at businesses owned by women, especially Black Women. I’ve already started by switching our household’s tea supplier to Ivy’s Tea Co. Will you do the same?
Article by Claire Ryder
VERVE Operative USA & Humanitarian Activist