Field Notes: Dallas Business Scene



In the mid 1990’s I and a business partner, Emmanuel Gillespie, opened a cultural arts venue called Reciprocity in a small store front in Oak Cliff, Texas.Emmanuel had just closed down his art gallery on the edge of Deep Ellum called Onasile. I was putting together the pieces after the organization, Soul Nation, founded with classmates, burst into Soul Rep Theatre Company, Baduism and Hollywood acting careers.  I moved forward with Reciprocity.  The goal was to provide a local space for the growing Black Arts and Culture movement: a place for artists to network, a place to springboard ideas and a place for community health and cultural awareness.  Reciprocity was a blessed experience because we got to work out many concepts such as: business projects like the Black Market Food Co-op, Reciprocity Records, The Healthy Child Lunch Program; growing local businesses with the consignment store; building the café/juice bar; tapping into the national & international circuit of health and Black/ African studies lecturers and spoken word scene.

The Dallas Black business scene had a voice and strong presence at that time.  In Wynnewood Village Shopping Center alone, there was Black Images Books, Strictly Vegetarian, Ngozi’s, a small health food store, and a pet shop.  All Black owned businesses and many catering to a cultural niche like the great African art and resource center Pan African Connection.  During this time in the 90’s there were a couple of Black bookstores in Arlington, Roots ‘N Culture in Ft. Worth; there was retail like the Forest complex in South Dallas that housed Elaine’s Kitchen, Sonny’s hip-hop clothing shop, Cultural Insights (that became Sankofa in the landmark Green Parrot spot); then there was Touch of Africa and Carib-B on Lower Greenville, Alternative Videos on Exposition; businesses like Irie Connection, Isis Ancestral Braiding, and the list goes on and on!  The independent Black businesses were present! And here, in 2012, a handful of those businesses are still open.

When we opened Reciprocity, this was the business atmosphere we were participating in.  As I reflect back to move forward, there are three thoughts I would like to share today:


One God, One Aim, One Destiny – Garvey

I recently completed a graduate business program at UT Dallas where we reviewed a case study on Texas Instruments (TI). The case discussed how during the .com boom, TI created an intrapreneurial program as a way to keep innovation in-house.  The program allowed for employees to, basically, start a company or be an entrepreneur within the company. This included a share in the ownership of ideas and the opportunity for those ideas to manifest under the powerful machine of TI. So, instead of leaving the company to start a small company, why not propose the ideas through the intrapreneur program at TI and maintain ownership and profits from your idea as it goes through testing, marketing and distribution at levels that you would not have access to as a start-up company.  The parent company, TI in this instance, expands its products and innovation while the innovator also has opportunity to expand and benefit;  an entrepreneur with an instant ‘backer’. Win-Win. What if we had rocked it like this at Reciprocity? Instead of the creative businesses breaking out and going for self, what if structures were in place to develop and launch individual business within a collective business structure?  The expansion and support of generating business must be an integral part of the business model.  Yes, the collective building on wealth.  We have a wealth of business ideas in our communities.  How to build them and profit from them together? To Do: seek resources of Incubator/Accelerator Models; adapt and expand on best practices of co-ops and chains like the Hiawatha franchise model. See it here .


Put Some With Some

What if during this era of a thriving Black business community, while renting spaces around town, a designated amount of monthly profits was set aside for a ‘building fund’? or ‘scholarship fund’? Or to any project that works towards building community health and wealth? To Do: Make a conscious effort to direct profits and reinvest in improvement and expansion; Develop savings models, practice individual and collective saving; educate- financial literacy.

Susu is talking and she says, the idea of pooling resources, you know: put something with something to make something, is an old powerful tool and it’s yours.

A quick example: If 10 businesses commit to $1000 a month for 10 months, each business will receive $10,000 once during the 10 month period.  This money can be used to fund a project or place a down payment on something that will increase profit and benefit of the community. Or, the same group of 10 could commit to 20 months and take the ‘hand’ every 2 months at $20,000.  These sums of money can be targeted towards growing profitable solutions like: property ownership, community development programs, and expanding good business.

*Stay tuned for the registration link for the workshop ‘The Collective Power of Susu’ Feb 28, 2013 at Pan African Connection.

Shout out to all the local business owners! Keep ya head up! And sharpen your sword.  The strength of a network of independent businesses is evidenced in its collective works.

“If you want to go quickly, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.


When I think of big business like ProLine or even bigger like BET or smaller like the local Dallas radio station KKDA and the idea of these powerful resources being sold off, it saddens my heart. I know, it’s a money thang, right?  But, what about the legacy part?  That’s a lot of hard work to capture a specific community to then sell it outside of that community.  Do we know our value?  On just a money level, the collective Black buying power is almost 1 trillion! For real! Read here.  There is a major misappropriation of funds if the Black buying power is that of Canada, yet African Americans rank as the nation’s poor? Read about income levels & poverty rates here. S.O.S.Can we steer some of that wealth into saving ourselves?  And when we gather the wealth into a pot, can there be a commitment to not sell the pot away, never to be seen again.  What kind of return on investment is that? What if we re-socialize the value of cultural identity? To Do: Develop business long term strategic plans should include:1) succession plans and 2) internship and apprenticeship programs as a key integral part of the business model. Continue to teach and grow in cultural awareness. Know your enemy, know yourself.

The wise build bridges, the foolish build dams