How to Support the Black Community in SF Right Now
From nonprofits and community organizations to restaurants and bookstores.
The events of 2020, and their impact on the Black community, were a much-needed wake up call to many. From the devastating impact of COVID-19 on people of color to the shocking displays of police brutality that led to peaceful protests around the world, our country’s gross inequities (most of which have been deeply ingrained since its founding) have become impossible to ignore. But there are things to celebrate, too. The incredible triumph of Black organizers in Georgia and beyond. The swearing-in of our country’s first Black woman to higher office. Countless examples of Black power, Black ingenuity, and Black joy. While a new year, and a new administration, may signal a degree of change, now is the time to really take stock of what we learned in 2020, and to show up to support the Black community, today, tomorrow, and always. One relatively simple way to give back right now is to support Black-owned businesses, nonprofits championing the Black community, and bail funds supporting protestors arrested for demonstrating in your community. We’re resurfacing this guide of some of the ways you can make a difference in honor of Black History Month to encourage you to remember that this work happens every day, in times of crisis and recovery.
Support local nonprofits & community effortsGrassroots organizations—the ones trying to make change happen from the ground up—are essential in this moment and are hugely important to support. Black Earth Farms, a Berkeley-based farming collective, focuses on creating food sovereignty in the community. Follow them on Instagram @blackearthfarms for updates and to learn how you can contribute.
Many of the gross inequalities faced by the country and the Bay Area’s Black community stem from a feedback loop of poverty and limited opportunities. City of Dreams is a Bayview-based nonprofit that is working to break that cycle with youth-facing initiatives for kids 8 and up who are living in San Francisco’s low-income and public housing communities.
“Giving monetarily is always an easy option for those looking to give,” says Jarae Clark, City of Dreams’ executive director. “We are a small organization and depend heavily on individual donations from our supporters to maintain sustainability.” Other ways to get involved? By signing up to be a mentor, or volunteer with the organization in other ways.
You can donate to City of Dreams here, and look into other ways to get involved here. Looking for more ways to help the community directly? Check out organizations like the Roots Community Health Center, People’s Breakfast Oakland, the East Oakland Collective, and the Anti Police-Terror Project (this resource, compiled by San Francisco-based creative Courtney Sabahi, has more information on organizations to support). Interested in supporting bail funds for protestors in the Bay Area and beyond? Broke-Ass Stuart has compiled a resource for that here.
Donate to Black-Owned restaurants, bars, pop-ups & catering companiesMany restaurants are offering take-out and gift card sales, and an extensive list of Black-owned restaurants in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Santa Rosa, Vallejo, and beyond, compiled by food critic Soleil Ho, can be found here.
Looking to contribute immediately? Employee support and rent relief funds have been set up at businesses including Minnie Bell’s; other Bay Area businesses include restaurant, bar, and community space 7th West; Swan Market stalwart The Cook and Her Farmer; beloved downtown Oakland bars Drexl, The Miranda, and Fort Green; San Francisco's legendary Sheba Piano Lounge, home to incredible Ethiopian food and nightly live music; Richmond neighborhood staple Bella Trattoria; and San Jose’s Jackie’s Place.
Some businesses, in addition to offering takeout, have set up meal donation programs to support their community at large. These include Oakland’s wildly popular Brown Sugar Kitchen, and Red’s House, a San Francisco-based Jamaican pop-up dinner series, run by mother-son duo Chris and Sharon Russell. (Red’s House was forced to pause their meal donation program, but are continuing to fundraise for it via GoFundMe.)
Chef Sharon Russell is unequivocal about the importance of major systemic changes, and accountability, in stopping the cycle of violence and discrimination.
“I’m a mother first and a chef second,” she says. “As an immigrant, I have faced tremendous hardships in my life, and all I ever wanted was to create a beautiful life for my children and myself. Growing up on the island of Jamaica, you hear stories about America, the land of endless opportunities. But what you don’t hear and are not prepared for is the amount of hate and discrimination you’ll face because of something as simple as the color of your skin. A feature that should not factor into anyone’s decision making. People must be held accountable for racial injustices against people of color. There needs to be a better system in place that gives us a fair chance to succeed. We need better legislation for fair lending and housing practices for people of color. Hate breeds hate and we need to look into ourselves to access the truth about how to really affect change.”
Affecting change, and creating a place that feels safe among these challenges, is a major inspiration for why Red’s Place came to be.
“Being a person of color comes with a set of responsibilities we bear from birth to death,” says Christopher Russell. “I am tired. We are all tired. The people want to live in harmony and are tired of the yellow tape that one has to cut through just to survive. There has to be an easier way to live amongst one another with our differences. This is why Red’s House was born. It came from a place of safety and warmth. My goal has always been to create an experience from a rich culture that has been imitated, watered down, and duplicated unsuccessfully. It is our culture, my family’s heritage, their sweat and tears that made it possible to do what I do today.”
Shop from & donate to Black-owned businessesSmall businesses, having been slammed by the economic slowdown surrounding COVID-19 and subsequent shelter-in-place orders, need your support.
“Align with Black people, Black organizations, Black businesses, etc. and ask them in what ways you can help, and then help,” says Kehinde Koyejo, owner and creator of Oakland-based clean self-care company Kalm Korner by Kehinde. “Be a real ally and a real advocate. When you spend your dollars in communities of color you are helping small business owners support their families, build their business and advance their communities. Be a conscious buyer, which simply means you consider ‘the social, environmental, ecological, and political impact of your buycott or boycott actions.’ When you spend your money you are either contributing to the problem (systemic racism) or contributing to the solution (equality and equity). We all get to choose and, right now, our freedom to choose is our power to create real change.” And when you make these purchases, amplify that message as best you can.
“Help by making a purchase at kalmkorner.com, and posting your order once it arrives,” she says. “Send a loved one a Kalm Korner care-package to encourage and promote self-care during these times. Referrals are a great way to support my business and other Black-owned businesses and donations are a great way to support as well. Small businesses were hit hard during COVID-19 and are struggling to keep afloat. Plug a few local Black-owned small businesses, like @kalmkorner, on social media using popular #buyblack hashtags. You can find a list of popular hashtags for buying Black on Google.”
“We’re not looking for donations,” says Dr. August-G Varlack. To support the business directly, book massage, acupuncture, or nutritional counseling services to treat both physical pain and mental health issues.
Dr. Varlack, who is “a Caribbean New Yorker from a Civil Rights family,” encourages white supporters of the movement to read this piece for ideas of how to start taking action in their communities.
For more ways to support Black business owners, check out the Oakland Indie Alliance’s Small Business Repair Fund, which is prioritizing Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC)-owned businesses. Other Black-owned businesses in the organization include sex shop and adult gallery Feelmore, holistic tea company Teas With Meaning, downtown Oakland-based oo la la! gift lounge, massage and wellness center Downloaded Wellness, and Oakland Acupuncture.
Continue to educate yourself & support Black-owned bookstores while you do itIt’s always beneficial to be open to reading, learning, and most importantly, listening to the Black community. Meaning it’s always a good time to support Oakland’s Marcus Books, the oldest independent Black-owned bookstore in the US, with an inventory full of books by and about Black people (you can shop from and support other Black-owned bookstores around the country here; find a useful starter reading list here).
"The COVID-19 pandemic struck as we entered our 60th year of business,” says team member Hank Oliver, whose great-grandparents founded the store, and whose grandmother, Blanche Richardson, continues to work with her siblings. “Our community’s health and well-being has always been a priority for us and we were happy to do our part to maintain socially distant business practices. Still, like so many other independent businesses already working tirelessly to compete with larger corporations, we were hit hard by the shelter in place.”
Marcus Books has set up an anniversary GoFundMe, to hopefully support many more decades of business, and of being a focal point in the Bay Area community.
“Thanks to the generosity of our community near and far, we were inspired to shift our focus from surviving the shelter-in-place to thriving in spite of it and other forces threatening our space. Words can’t hold our gratitude for this continued support,” says Hank Oliver. To shop for books from home, call 510-652-2344 or visit Marcus Books on Bookshop. You can also join their mailing list here.
Businesses like Marcus Books are essential—especially as we commit to doing the work to make meaningful change in our community, and our country.
“For those looking for ways to cope, support, and turn feelings into action: building cultural and intellectual awareness through reading, learning and using your means to protect Black-owned businesses, institutions, and safe-spaces from erasure are key to supporting us and the Black community at large both now and always."