When it comes to businesses in the Black community, there’s often a plethora of hair care, beauty and clothing brands to choose from. This is something to take pride in and be happy about. But, when it comes to other industries, there is a lack of color. African-Americans have been discouraged from entering non-stereotypical fields and hobbies for generations due to racism, bias and several other systematic barriers.
According to a survey done by The Bayer Facts of Science Education, with women and under-represented minority chemists and chemical engineers, 40% reported that they had been subjected to discouragement at one point in their STEM education and career. For 60% of respondents, college was where most of that attempted dissuasion occurred and college professors were often the source.
This discouragement from STEM and education has also been translated to other fields that have been perceived as out-of-reach for African-Americans. We spoke with business owners in the Long Island area during one of the largest events for Black business owners on Long Island, Ujamaa Fest 2021, about why there is a lack of African-Americans in their field.
According to Zippia, 2.7% of florists are Black out of 32,390 florists in the US. Kera Reid defied those odds when she went into business. Reid, who is based in Manhattan and grew up in Freeport, attended Ujamaa Fest to showcase her business Purposeful Gifts & Designs. She creates floral designs and arrangements for events, gift cards and proceeds from her sales are donated to nonprofits. The floral designer says that when she goes to major floral conferences, there are only a few Black floral designers.
“When I got to the American Institute of Floral Designers’ conference, there’s maybe like three or four of us there. It’s not too many of us. There are tons of Black floral designers, most of them are out of state. You see a lot of them in DC, but we need more of us. I want it [this festival] to continue to be a big movement, not just on Long Island, but I want to see it in other places in New York, other states. I want it to grow into a national movement. I’m pretty sure other states are doing it, but I feel like we need more organizations like this [Black Long Island] everywhere. We need to support and put money back into our community. It has to start with us first because if we don’t support ourselves, then we can’t expect for people outside of our community to support us.”
Education and Engineering Field
This was Dr. Tyrone Bennett’s first time at Ujamaa Fest, but he often attends books fairs and colleges to share his books including his fifth book, “So You Think You Know How To Study.” It touches on nutrition, breathing, sleep, exercise and the best ways to facilitate real studying for students. He aims to aid and encourage students, especially Black students, to take their educational abilities to the next level.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, seven percent of public school teachers are Black. The National Science Foundation found that 4.8% of scientists and engineers are Black in the US. In Bennett’s fields, there are very few African-Americans, but he says there are still plenty of African-Americans the youth can look up to in various fields, including science. With close to 30 years of experience in the engineering filed and 19 years of experience being a teacher at the high school, middle school and college level, Bennett has poured and knowledge and insights into his books and encourages Black youth to invest in their study habits and aspire to be the best.
“I tell students that all the time. You can do anything you want to do. I ask this question in my class, ‘Where do you see yourselves five years from now?’ What we need to do in the African-American community is start having goals and start finding a mentor, someone that looks like you and start setting our goals toward. As black people, we have everything. We have mentors and role models in everything. Scientists, a lot of people don’t understand. Don’t you know that a Black woman invented the ironing board? When it comes to mathematics go all the way back to the land of Egypt in Africa, Black folks. So we should be proud. Yeah there’s a lot of negativity out there, we understand, and the media is not gonna always show what’s positive, cause they say negative sells. However, with this generation, we need to wake up. This is our time. We have to show young people in this 21st century what we can present and they can also become like us, businessmen and women.”
Kelvin and Michael Lastique are the co-owners of Status Cigars, an uncle-nephew establishment. They went into business around April 2020, but they have been cultivating the business for five years. At Ujamaa Fest, they showcased their flavors, which included a Honey Jack Whisky flavored cigar. They pride themselves on their products. Despite the pride, they were hesitant at first to go into the industry. Michael says they took a chance when starting the business because the industry has not really reached the Black community yet.
“It’s not just the clothing and not just the hair products and you know our urban wear and stuff like that, but this is a business that hasn’t been touched by our [Black people] market yet, our culture yet. So we’re taking the leap of faith and we’re getting a great response from the public and the communities we go to. It’s our own company. We have three different varieties. We call it like a traveling cigar bar. We base our cigars off our status and how we [Black people] drink. So we have the Status VSOP, which is a Hennessy-inspired cigar. Then we have the Status Premier cigar, which is a Cuban and Dominican blend cigar.”
“We look to have drinks. We have flavors that our people drink. So it’s something similar to that and we want them to feel comfortable and enjoy that and we get a great response from that.”
Graphic Design and Illustration Industry
Hudson Chanoine will take any opportunity to showcase his work and skills as a graphic design and illustrator. He was happy to attend an event that showcased Black businesses. For him, he is able to connect with businesses and get products from right around the corner, as opposed to driving somewhere else to get it. Chanoine acknowledges that in his field, it would be nice to see more Black people.
“It’s always good for anyone whose tryna better themselves to showcase their craft, no matter what nationality. Now, yes the fact that I’m Black and I’m showcasing with our fellow Black people, of course it’s amazing because you don’t get to see that quite often. Not to say that it’s not done, but you know it’s nice to know there are other people doing it, struggling just the same struggle you are. Then, you know, you can talk to each other and share battle stories. It’s definitely a good experience and no matter what shade of Black you are or white you are. You should always hone your craft and try to market yourself so that you can sell it and better yourself and better the world in that retrospect as well. In terms of Black graphic designers, I know they exist. How many of them are there? I probably could count a few on both my hands and unfortunately that’s the sad retrospect of it. It shouldn’t deter you from trying to join that field anyways. Just because you don’t see yourself, be that first person. Be that second person. Just do it because you love to do it and the people who love what you do will gravitate towards it.”
Black Long Island, Host of Ujamaa Fest
Billy and Falischa Moss have been running Ujamaa Fest since 2017, and the 2021 festival is the latest one they’ve had with over 90 vendors at Wyandanch Plaza. After going to various expos in the city, they felt there was a piece of culture missing on Long Island.
Falischa stresses the importance of marketing yourself, especially as a Black business owner, and this is one way to heighten exposure for Black business owners, especially in fields that are not seen as a fit for Black people. Billy emphasizes the importance of not only marketing, but knowing what’s going on in your own community and family.
“We need that culture out here on Long Island to unite the community and say ‘Hey, we’re here.’ We matter, our lives matter, our businesses matter, our community matters. So here we are four years later because guess what, all those things still apply. The Black community is just filled with the same types of businesses that are in every other community. It’s just that we don’t know about each other because we don’t advertise ourselves. We don’t share what we do. So, here we are now and everybody is learning about one another. They’re networking. The social commentary has picked up. Now we’re communicating. This is probably the biggest year ever. It was a great collaboration with the Wyandanch Plaza Association along with the various sponsors.”
“We wanted to help Black people fellowship with one another. We wanted to increase awareness of our talents, skills and abilities within our community. A lot of times, we know about what other people are doing, but we don’t know about what we’re doing: our nieces, nephews, cousins, our best friends’ best friends. So we wanted to put this together so that we can support one another from the inside out.”