Ntozake Shange died on October 27, 2018, twenty-two years after she introduced the world to
her choreopoem, For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow was
Enough. That seminal piece would be one of the first of its kind to infuse dance, music, spoken
word and poetic monologues in a way that weaved storytelling to shine a light on the Black
woman’s experience living in a racist and sexist society.
As cutting edge and experimental as her style was, For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide
When the Rainbow was Enough earned Ntozake her place as the second Black woman to have
her work performed on Broadway; Lorraine Hansberry preceded her with A Raisin in the Sun
nearly twenty years earlier in 1959.
Not only did Ntozake’s work add to the voices of women such as Zora Neale Hurston, Maya
Angelou, and Paule Marshall whose writings all dared to center Black women’s joy while also
illuminating our unique pain; she undeniably blazed a trail for others to follow. In fact, it’s not
unreasonable to categorize her with the works of Gloria Naylor, Alice Walker, Lucille Clifton,
Rita Dove, Toni Cade Bambara and later in the 90s Terri McMillan and Pearl Cleage. Today a
bastion of women writers have composed eloquent literary works that examine, defend, and
preserve Black womanhood.
For many of us, our ideology as Black women was shaped by stories, we digested from these
women who yielded their pens as a warrior’s weapon. Many unapologetically defined
themselves as Womanists. Black feminists who addressed sexual and racial inequality.
Sadly, this has not always been well received. While plenty will say they agree that women
deserve equal rights in a social, political and economic context; these same people demonstrate
their implicit bias upon hearing the phrases feminist or womanist.
Which could be why For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Was
Enough, The Color Purple, Waiting to Exhale and other Black womanists works have been
demonized as male bashing or man hating pieces.
It seems people agree that Black women should be treated with decency and respect; that they
should not be violated nor harmed by men; nor should they face discrimination based on their
race or gender. Just as long as they never write stories, make movies, recite poems, document
evidence that tell the truth… that this world can be a dangerous place for Black women, and very
often at the hands of Black men.
A hard truth to swallow, no doubt. Especially when good Black men abound as shining examples
in our homes, neighborhoods, professions, etc. Yet, there is always room and reason to shine a
light in the dark shadows that hides the suffering. More importantly, the time is always right and
necessary to liberate a woman/girl childhood from her shame, pain and guilt.
Still, I remain forever grateful for Zora, Ntozake, Maya and the tribe of sheroes whose writing
gifts were my backbone to stand taller as a woman even before I realized I could stand. Their
work fueled my passion as the founder and mentor for girls through my organization, Girls Like
It is why I center the liberation of Black women and girls in every space I enter.
La’Keisha Gray-Sewell is a writer, author, digital storyteller, motivational speaker and certified
Overflow Life Coach. She is a nationally recognized urban girls advocate who founded the Girls
Like Me Project organization. Her first book, Move Beyond the Block is on its 2nd print edition.
You can catch her live on her weekly radio show, Move Beyond the Block every Wednesday 6-
7p and Saturday 10-11a airing on Urban Broadcast Media.
Power to the PoP-Ups
I am enamoured by pop-ups. They can be in a traditional storefront or in a funky concept like a
shopping container, pop up retail is not new. It’s kind of like how Uber is a high tech version of a
commonly known livery service. Pop-ups are the new sexy term for short-term retail lease. Most
common forms of them that you may recognize our tax businesses or holiday-themed places
(Halloween stores or Christmas tree sales). These businesses are known to operate for a
specific period of time and then they are gone.
Why This Works
This model works for a few reasons. As a business owner, I advocate utilizing this model prior to
signing a lease.
Great for Seasonal Products
This is extremely beneficial if your business is seasonal, like taxes or selling Christmas trees.
Nowadays, many businesses attempt to diversify to shelter themselves from such seasonality.
But if you are a purest and focused in what you do, a very short-term lease would allow you the
biggest bang for your buck. You would not be stuck with the overhead of a lease, utilities and
insurance during the off-peak season of your business cycle.
Building a business is expensive. From incorporating to registering with your local municipality,
launching a business before your first sale can easily cost you thousands of dollars. Add to that
the cost of rent and renovation and it significantly increases your break-even time.
Test a Market
You may want to test a product or concept in a given market. Target did it in Chicago before
launching, as well as the Nike store. If a major brand is utilizing a concept, a smaller business
can consider doing the same thing. Don’t be the business trying to sell snow to an Eskimo, go
where your consumers are!
Launch a Product
Shea Moisture did a weekend pop up event for a weekend. Events like this create a buzz for
your brand and have a really good impact for social media.
Start a Restaurant
This is probably my personal favorite, as food is a way to redevelop neighborhoods. People still
travel and connect over a good meal. In Chicago, there is a new pop up license that will allow
food-based pop ups to have short term restaurants. It’s phenomenal because out of all business
types, restaurant launches are risky and expensive. They require extensive build out and
investment in equipment and properly trained staff. What if you could do that on a smaller scale,
without all the expense? Enter the City of Chicago’s Pop Up license. Chicago is the first place in
the nation to have a license of this type. While I do agree it’s a way for them to generate more
revenue, it’s also a way for things to be measured. It’s an opportunity for communities to show a
demand for certain things with the data. It’s a way for us to generate measurable commerce in
our communities with the goal of attracting the type of investment that we want.
Options for Pop Ups
There are options around the city, many offering vending opportunities or short-term lease
options. If you’re interested, contact email@example.com and I will send you a list
of what is available in the Chicagoland area.
While options for pop up spaces are increasing, what few offer is the back office support. The
real hands on assistance most business owners of that size need to grow. That’s where Project
Forward comes in. In our true community development fashion, we’ve launched Shop Forward
and Pop Forward.
Shop Forward Markets include digital and physical markets. It will include at least 4 pop ups at
the Woodlawn (1200 E.79th Street) in 2019, as well as other events in neighborhoods like
Lincoln Square and Bronzeville. ShopForwardNow.com is the digital arm of that market. All
vendors who participate will receive a free website listing.
Pop Forward is the virtual incubator for pop up businesses and hosts events like lunch and
learns, workshops and seminars for businesses to grasp the basics while working on a plan for
brick and mortar.
Under its Pop Forward Virtual Incubator, Project Forward was the first organization that hosted
a roll out meeting with the Deputy Commissioner of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.
This allowed Pop Forward members early access to information and the opportunity to get
questions answered from the experts. Their input also helped to shape the policy around this
new law in Chicago.
Even if you currently don’t have a brick and mortar storefront, there are ways that your business
can receive the benefit of a stable location. The rules of business engagement have not
changed though and in fact are becoming more necessary in order to make yourself more
distinct and engaging. Pop up licenses and shopping events remove barriers to starting a
business, but it also makes the waters murkier regarding who provides good products and
services and how to keep engaging with the business. Keep that in mind as you grow your
business using a pop-up model, find good partners who understand that as well.
Black Economics Matter
Why do Black Economics Matter? Because they affect every aspect of our community.
Business growth is evident here in Chicago. Talking economic empowerment on the West
and South sides of Chicago raises questions about race and ethnicity. In Chicago's
Loop area you don't hear talk of empowerment that isn't the language in the UpTown
neighborhood. But when it comes to the South and West sides of Chicago, we hear
community-based organizations saying residents need to understand economic
Let’s keep it 100: Its socio-economic empowerment we should be talking about.
There is a small percentage of the Black community that understands economic
development. Those who are in the know, generally keep the opportunities amongst
themselves. For example, the Neighborhood Stabilization Program had three phases
with approximately $56 million budgeted in each phase
(https://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dcd/supp_info/neighborhood_stabilizationprogram.html). Where did that
money go? Neighborhoods on Chicago's south and west side need a Communication
strategy. There is a social theory called counterfeit community. Its where special interest
groups works to create advocacy for community engagement, which informs residents
on ways to engage but works on behalf of special interest.
Economic empowerment comes in many different forms in urban neighborhoods across
Chicago. If you look at economic empowerment in neighborhoods Like Roseland,
Englewood, or West Garfield Park it would come from an institutional perspective.
These communities must place some form of value on economic equality. Around 35%
of contracts in disenfranchised areas have been set-a-side for certified MBE, WBE, DBE,
and BEPD vendors. The new Mayor of the City of Chicago will have an opportunity to
draft and implement the Consolidated Plan and 2020 Action Plan
0with%20Appendix.pdf). Our local representatives have a role to play as well. Aldermen
can economically empower their constituents through City Councils Participatory Budget
To be able to talk about economic growth in urban settings I need multiple viewpoints.
So, I interviewed a few experts from the development industry and Former Texas A&M
University Professor, Dr. Lloyd Brown. Each of these individuals had different
perspectives but one connecting goal and that's to advocate for financial literacy among
people living, working and worshipping in disenfranchised areas.
My first interview was with Mike Altheimer of MIRO Development. He suggested
developers invest in larger projects to be able to employ more community members. Dr.
Altheimer suggests, there might be a budget gap between the north side and Downtown
and south and westside development. I compared this gap to America's wealth and
education gap. He also stated to me, if we worked together in our respected field of
expertise, that training and outreach would transfer into economic growth and empowerment.
If more black developers looked at economic empowerment like MIRO
(www.mirodevelopment.com) maybe youth unemployment and violence wouldn't be so
rapid in Chicago.
Chicago native, Lloyd Brown gave some theoretical factors connected to economic
empowerment or the lack thereof. Dr. Brown used a term called economic multiples
(how many times does money turn over in an urban area’s economy.) Store buys
inventory from all over the world. The empowerment comes when government creates
an environment conducive for jobs and entrepreneurship. He concluded with the theory
that big box stores operate against economic empowerment.
Executive Director of Endeleo Institute, Melvin Thompson said, a vibrant community is
only vibrant if its healthy. He looks at economic empowerment from a public health
perspective, and leadership is touted as a prevention strategy that recognizes hospitals
as large employers and leaders of community initiatives
Sen. Dick Durbin, released an action plan to reduce violence and improve health in 18
Chicago neighborhoods. Mr. Thompson and I are currently working on an economic
empowerment project along the 95th Street corridor on Chicago's Southside
In closing, I would like the readers to understand black economic empowerment is life or
death to our culture. Leadership with didactic community development focus will
empower in communities with high levels of disinvestment. Former President Barack
Obama used Saul Alinsky organizing model for individual sustainability. We have to find
a way to comprehensively fight for our cultural identity and quality of life.
by Robert Douglas
Why We Must Continue To Rise!
Sojourner Truth raised up to free the slaves. Rosa Parks rose up when we couldn't
sit on the front of the bus. Shirley Chisholm rose up and ran for President.
Barbara Jordan rose up from the southern states into Congress. Oprah Winfrey
rose up to be the 1st Black Woman of her own talk show. Mae Jamison rose up to
be the 1st African-American female astronaut. Michelle Obama rose up to be the
first African American 1st Lady.
There was something in each of them that said to them, enough is enough! At this
point in my life, I feel the same. I've been surrounded by viciousness, bitterness,
maliciousness and sheer hatred coming from all races toward each other. It's so
bad that people can't even celebrate life events, going to vote, even whom they
choose as friends. Everywhere I look, there's someone telling you not to be
grateful, not to love, not to care, and the sad part is we listen like it's GOD
speaking, and please don't tell me I'm not being realistic. I'm speaking right now
from "my" reality. No more do we forgive transgressions, seek forgiveness, love
unconditionally, and value each other. When I find those people that do, I hold
on to them, because they are rare. Simply we must rise up and now!
One example is the disconnection between our youth and our elders. The space
between the generations has widened and continues to broaden. This saddens
me, I must ask, do you want them out here gang banging, killing, being killed,
and jobless or standing up for not only their rights, but ours too! Make up your
mind; you can't have it both ways. I am personally so proud of them, I smile as I
read about them and see them making the hard decisions while being examined,
chastised, blamed, locked up on the world's stage no less and "Still They Rise!"
I always said, if the young people knew the power they had, they would be
unstoppable. Everyone says they are our future, we as adults must help them be
just that. I'm hoping it rubs off on the young people in the streets, and empower
the next generations, something that should have been done starting with mine.
Could you imagine how powerful we all would be if we, (meaning the adults,
elders, old people) stood side by side, held their hands, were there when they
That should be our only goal, to rise together or fall separately!
Diane Latiker – Founder/President Kids Off The Block
I'm not going anywhere, changing anything; I'm going to ride with my faith until
the wheels fall off! My mission, passion or goals have not changed, as a Black
Woman, I have learned that I must Rise in order raise others! I wrote this
because all these Women "rose up" during and in spite of times of racial divide,
wars, injustice and hate. We (I) will continue to rise, even more so because that's
just who we are!!!