Buy Black Friday: Visit Hire Harlem
All images via Hire Harlem
Usually, on Black Fridays, we try to highlight a particular business owned and operated by a Black woman. But today, we’re switching things up a bit and profiling a recently launched organization called Hire Harlem. Hire Harlem was founded with the intent to promote and empower businesses that hire locally, give back to predominately Black and minority communities or are owned by women or people of color.
Comprised of a team of four people, Jordan Stockdale, Rafael Ramirez, Nicole Javanna Johnson, and Kenneth Miles, Hire Harlem seeks to combat the negative effects of gentrification in New York City neighborhoods.
We had the chance to speak with educator and founder Jordan Stockdale about the site’s beginnings, its mission and how economic empowerment could work to end racism in the United States.
“I moved here in 2010 to teach. I was teaching in Harlem. I lived seven blocks from my school so I saw my kids everywhere. I saw them out in the park, on the basketball courts and I felt like I was really a part of the community. I felt like even though I may be gentrifying, I’m definitely giving as much as I’m receiving.”
Though he eventually came to identify his presence in Harlem as an example of gentrification, it wasn’t something he always recognized.
“I think that was a process. Because at first, as a Black person, I share the same culture. I’m not trying to uproot the culture. And when I first started teaching, I really wasn’t making any money, anyway. But I started working for the city and then I was doing less for the community, I wasn’t teaching anymore so I didn’t see my students. And I felt like, ‘Ok, I’m definitely paying more than the median rent so I’m probably raising rent prices. I’m buying things at the grocery store that weren’t being sold here previously. I’m driving up the cost of basic goods too so that’s hurting people here. So what can I do as a community member to reduce the negative impacts of gentrification?’
At first we thought about doing a certification. So we’d certify businesses. ‘You are a conscious business that’s good for the community.’ Then we realized no one would give a sh*t about our certification. So then we brought Rafael Ramirez on. He interned for me three years ago at the Mayor’s office and he’s just brilliant. So he joined and he figured out how to make this map and figured out how to make this database, like taught himself how to make the database.”
While interning for Stockdale, Rafael created a map about resources for parents in the South Bronx and upper Manhattan.
“That map was really extraordinary and that’s actually what made me think we can just do this for the minority owned businesses. And then we wanted to be more inclusive than just Black and Latino. We wanted to make sure that if you’re White and do some good things, you can also be on here. So hiring locally, provide more jobs, or give back to community based organizations. Because community based organizations and the nonprofits their rents are going up too. So if they don’t get more money, they’re going to have to cut services or move out of Harlem.
It took three months for the team to gather information from state databases. But those only included certified businesses.
“What we did to fill the gap between those that are certified and those that are on the ground that aren’t, we sent out a survey to a bunch of businesses and we actually just walked around and asked people, ‘Are y’all a Black owned business or you a Latino owned business?'”
Asking the question outright was a bit tricky initially.
“It was kind of nerve racking at first. It took a little bit to believe in the mission enough to be like, Ok we think this is actually important, it’s giving back to the community, let’s just go in there and be bold about it.”
In keeping with their mission to highlight businesses who are committed to giving back to the community, the group is working to create a database where users of the site can see which businesses are doing what for their neighbors. Not surprisingly, minority women business owners are already ahead of the game on this front.
“We notice that the minority women owned businesses are already giving back to the community which is a cool thing to see. They live there, their kids go to school there, so they care about the community growing. Versus, if you’re someone who doesn’t live there, who doesn’t really understand the culture, care about the culture, you’re in and then your money’s out. You’re going to take that money and go somewhere else. And if you’re not hiring from within, that money literally never touches Harlem. So if you’re increasing cost of rent and you’re increasing the cost of basic goods and no money’s being recirculated in Harlem, we’re hurting ourselves.”
While various businesses could find themselves featured on Hire Harlem’s map, the founders wanted to make sure there was a particular focus on minority women.
“Women and people of color, definitely people of color who are women, have been marginalized more than anyone else. They’ve had less access to capital, historically. They’ve had less access to opening up a business, people believing they can open up a businesses. And so we thought it would be appropriate to really try to drive consumers to those businesses, make sure they’re sustained. Thirty percent of Black owned businesses closed in five years in New York. And if Black women already have a lower percentage of businesses, then we’re really driving down the number citywide, specifically in Harlem. We need to sustain as a community our businesses that exist, that triumph despite being marginalized historically.”
During the site’s launch event, several attendees wondered about expansion plans and whether Hire Harlem would eventually become Hire Brooklyn or even Hire Atlanta.
“We’re going to go to the Bronx. We’re going to get more businesses in East Harlem. Assembly member and vice chair of the DNC Michael Blake, really wants us to do this there. So we’ve had a couple calls and we’ve worked with a couple community boards out there and the various business alliances to pull together this list and then we’re going to survey and we’re going to be on the ground there too.”
The gentrification of Harlem has been years in the making and while several corporations are making money off of the changing neighborhood, Stockdale says community members need to ask what they’re receiving in return. Aside from the businesses owned by minority women, corporate contributions the community are a bit ambiguous.
“That’s yet to be determined. We haven’t seen a lot of that yet but we know that Whole Foods is doing a lot. The Whole Foods on 125th they’re selling products from local businesses. I really respect Whole Foods for doing that. But part of that is community pressure. They knew they had to come to Harlem right. There’s the “Whole Foods Affect,” that’s well known. That’s the kind of thing we want to be able to do. Banana Republic is there. It’s all these new businesses there. 125th is starting to look like 42nd street. So those businesses have to give back. And I bet you they would give back if they put this pressure on them.
We want to have this business town hall, where we pack out a room, we invite the minority women businesses who are giving back and we invite some of the new corporations and we say ‘come tell us what you’re doing.’
Several times on the site we’ve written about the stereotypes about Black owned businesses being sub-standard. I asked Stockdale to comment about whether that notion is keeping Black businesses from thriving in the community or if it’s that the community is unaware of their presence.
“I think a lot of it is they just don’t know about it. When we start businesses, we generally have less capital than White business owners. Historically, our families just have less capital. So we have a shorter window of success. We have to prove success quickly otherwise we run out of funding. Other businesses last longer, maybe they can take out ads, maybe they just have more capital to inject into communications and advertising. We don’t have that. So that’s partially what this site can do. Is say, ‘you’re on the map now.’ There’s a Black-owned cycling place uptown, there’s a Black-owned pole dancing spot uptown. If you don’t know about that, then it’s hard to get there. But now it’s highlighted. So if you go to the website and click on gym, it’ll pull those places up. ”
In addition to spotlighting various businesses, a part of Hire Harlem’s mission is to employ community youth.
“We want to step to businesses and say ‘are you hiring locally?’ And then there are also several groups in Harlem that train youth for jobs so we want to help deliver that pipeline. So on the site we want to put up the different places that train youth in Harlem so there’s one place where employers can go and see all the different trained youth in employment options. The unemployment rate in Harlem for 18-24-year-olds, is 50 percent. These are young adults and kids who need jobs. They’re just on the street out there and they have to figure out different means to make money. It would behoove all of us to employ them, to give them hard skills. To the extent that there are already community based organizations training youth for jobs, we should ensure that any kid that goes through those programs, gets a job in the community. And we can do that. There are tons of employers who would like to employ these kids. There are employers who don’t know but once they get pressured, will want to hire these kids.
A lot of times when we speak about economic empowerment as a community, it’s for the purpose of not being so reliant on White people, or mainstream corporations. Stockdale believes it serves an even greater purpose.
“I’m a big believer that we won’t reduce racism in the U.S. , until we have more economic equality. We won’t go to the same schools, we won’t live in the same neighborhoods, we won’t see each other on a regular basis, outside of maybe on the train, unless there’s more economic equality. Or, when we do see other, it’s a manifestation of gentrification where people are literally getting pushed out, which creates a larger racial divide.
Until there is more economic parity, we will see these contrasts. We’ll still have more Black and Brown people going to jail. Part of it is economics, part of it’s other systemic influences, different kinds of policing in different places. And so until we can live comfortably together, and go to the same schools, there will be serious racism–there will be just misunderstanding because people don’t actually know each other. So this is about economic empowerment. If we can ensure more people have jobs, more people can own businesses, we level the playing field. And once we do that we can reduce racism.”
Learn more about minority owned, philanthropic and specifically minority women owned businesses in Harlem by visiting Hire Harlem.