Express Yourself! Los Angeles
By James Clingman Jr.
Remember Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band’s song, Express Yourself? Younger folks are more familiar with N.W.A.’s version on their famous “album,” Straight Outta Compton. Because it originated in L.A., I thought it appropriate to draw a business analogy.Why is it so difficult for us to accept that Black businesses are the backbone of our neighborhoods? Can’t you see it in the comparative statistics on wealth and family net worth? Can’t you see it where you live, where others own the businesses that you support? Can’t you see it in the eyes of your children, as they sit on stoops and stand on corners, their lives wasting away? Not only do we need more business ownership, we need to grow our Black businesses to where they can provide jobs for our children.
I read an article that stated, “…30% of all Koreans living in the U.S. work for other Koreans.” Thomas Boston, in his book, Affirmative Action and Black Entrepreneurship, suggests a plan called, “20 by 10,” which calls for Black businesses being able to hire 20% of the Black workforce by the year 2010. Looks like we will miss that milestone because we are too busy allowing (Yes, I said “allowing”) many of our businesses to close due to lack of support. Because of our neglect and sometimes outright refusal to patronize our brothers and sisters, we are missing out on the benefits of ownership and control of the neighborhoods and communities in which we live. You had better believe the Korean people are not missing the opportunity. Can you say “Black Hair Care Products”?
In my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, Hudson Brothers Dry Cleaners is 65 year-old Black owned business operated by two sisters whose father passed it on to them. The sisters have reached the age for retirement and are, understandably, ready to see the world and enjoy the rest of their lives while they are physically able to do so.
As a long time customer, I stopped in one day to pick up my clothes and they told me they were closing on October 31, 2008. My immediate reaction was, “NO, you can’t do that; you can’t walk away from this business, which has been an icon in Cincinnati for six decades.” Sound selfish? Not at all.
While I understood their desire to retire, and supported their decision to do so, I knew we could not afford to lose another Black business, especially one that has served the community, not merely by cleaning clothes but also by being a voice, a supporter, a neighborhood rallying point, and one of the “Drums” through which information was passed along to Black people. It’s really more like a barbershop than a dry cleaner.
I asked the sisters if they knew the Black owner of two dry cleaners across town, to which they answered, “No.” I asked them to allow me to contact him to see if he would consider taking over their business via some kind of contractual relationship. They agreed; after all, they were simply closing and discontinuing their business income. One good thing though: They own their building free and clear.
The sisters are now transitioning their business rather than closing it. Their customers will not lose the convenience of the location and the service to which they are accustomed; the neighborhood maintains its continuity; and the new owner grows his business. Instead of mourning the death of a Black business, we are celebrating the expansion of a Black business.
How does this apply to Los Angeles? Well, there is a business on Manchester Av., Express Yourself Books, owned and operated by Dr. Rosie Milligan, a sister who would probably give her right arm for her people – Black people. Rosie has made tremendous sacrifices for the folks in Los Angeles; she is an icon as well in L.A.
She has offered her store for various meetings, a distribution point for Black manufactured products, a venue for lectures and book signings, and as a place where folks can come and purchase other things in addition to books, such as health products, household items, and copy/fax services. Express Yourself Books is just like Hudson Brothers Dry Cleaners in Cincinnati; it serves as a “Drum” for Black folks in L.A.
Now Dr. Rosie’s business is being adversely affected by the current economic situation and a lack of support by Black folks. Her bookstore is among the few Black owned stores still standing in this country. Will L.A. “express” itself in a positive manner by rallying to save it, or will L.A. “allow” another Black business to close? The name of the business says it all: “Express Yourself.”
I am calling on Black Los Angeles to express yourself by showing some love to Dr. Rosie’s business. Express yourself, L.A., by individually committing to buy at least one item, one book, one bottle of vitamins, some herbal remedies – just buy something and make it habit to do so at least once a month. There is something you need in your home every month that is sold at Express Yourself Books. Please buy it there.
Don’t think I am letting those outside of L.A. off the hook. No matter where our businesses fail they still affect all of us in some way. It is incumbent upon us all to do anything we can to help Black businesses survive. So, I am asking you to go to http://www.milliganbooks.com and buy a book.
With all of its celebrities, rappers, athletes, mega-church members, and conscious Black folks, I know L.A. can save Express Yourself Books and sustain it for a long time. So, c’mon Los Angeles, here is your opportunity. Go to “Express Yourself” Books and do just that. Charles Wright, Dr. Dre, and Ice Cube will be proud.