How to Support the Black Community in SF Right Now
From nonprofits and community organizations to restaurants and bookstores.
The events of the past weekend have left many at a loss for words. We understand that you might be feeling helpless and unsure of how to support local communities that have been affected by the events surrounding the peaceful protests against the police brutality that led to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and too many others. Whether or not you feel able to join in the protests in San Francisco, Oakland, and elsewhere in the Bay Area, one of the ways you can contribute is to support Black-owned businesses, nonprofits championing the Black community, and bail funds supporting protestors arrested for demonstrating in your community. These businesses, and individuals, have been affected by both the pandemic and by the unrest of the past few days -- while the vast majority of these protests have remained peaceful, incidents of damage to local businesses, some of which are Black-owned, have resulted. Here are some of the ways you can make a difference right now.
Support local nonprofits & community efforts
Grassroots 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. Right now, they are delivering free food to Black people who have been arrested during the protests, and who are organizing bail funds. Donate via Venmo @blackearthfarms, or through the Cash app at $blackearth.
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. With our Experiential 'Super Saturdays' Events (namely, fun, enriching field trips) being on hold, we are doing our best to support the community with food donations, care packages, and one-on-one support.”
You can also donate to a graduation season fundraiser supporting Bayview youth with gift cards, or seek out immediate volunteer opportunities, including bagging groceries at City of Dreams’ onsite food banks, or helping maintain their community garden. They are also planning on reopening their garden for their “Earn to Learn” Garden Program this summer. But while they are continually innovating and getting creative with meeting the community’s needs, this year has proven to be especially challenging.
“Our goal this year to reach 60 mentor volunteers has been stifled by the uncertainty of the pandemic, and if/when we will be able to gather in person,” she says. “But it's never too late to sign up. City of Dreams is still accepting, screening, and training mentor volunteers. Our online youth programming has been a struggle, but with the reopening of our spaces this summer, we want to encourage volunteers to start preparing. In the past we've had career presentations and topic-based speaking as volunteer opportunities; we will continue to provide these even if it is remote."
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 companies
Many 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, which has been trying to recover from the double blow of COVID-19 and a recent restaurant.
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. “We want to grow this as big as possible,” says Chris Russell of their meal donation program. While the GoFundMe page dedicated to the project is set at $14,000, he hopes to raise far more.
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 Christpher 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 businesses
Small businesses, in addition to being slammed by the economic slowdown surrounding COVID-19 and subsequent shelter-in-place orders, need your support. A number of GoFundMe pages have been set up to raise lump sums which will be distributed to Black-owned businesses in Oakland, San Francisco, and beyond. Those include the Bay Area Black Owned Business Relief Fund, Oakland Black Business Damage Fund, and Help Oakland POC Owned Small Biz Get Cleaned Up. The Oakland Community Support Master List is compiling a database of businesses, the damage done, and the type of support that they need and want right now. Regardless of protest-related damage, supporting these businesses now, and repeatedly, is crucial.
“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, he notes that they are once again open providing acupuncture services to treat both physical pain and mental health issues. They are also making and selling herbal remedies. This business pivot, called Jing, started in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and includes a number of wellness elixirs that have been developed to boost immunity, treat cold and flu-like symptoms, and relieve anxiety and stress. While initially distributed to frontline, healthcare workers in the area, Dr. Varlack says that they are working to make all Jing products available to the public (they are currently available for purchase and take about a week to arrive; for local buyers, they are available for pickup on site with some options for local delivery).
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 it
Now is the time to be open to reading, learning, and most importantly, listening to the Black community. There’s never been a better 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. “While we work to build our online presence to provide our essential catalogue of Black works nationwide, aside from supporting our campaign, you can place orders over the phone [(510) 652-2344] for local curbside pickup or to be shipped nationwide. You can also join our mailing list to be the first to know when our website goes live.”
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."