What would you do if you were to have your wishes to start a new business? What would you do for startup money? This is the primary question for a potential entrepreneur. Sources for startup monies are numerous: personal savings, family, friends, banks, credit unions, and so on. The secondary question is what business an entrepreneur wants to enter? Third question is where? That’s the famous question, “location, location, location”?
My personal historical entrepreneurial hero is a man named A. G. Gatson. My second is my mother. Both of them entered business in their neighborhood. Gatson opened schools, banks, insurance companies, a funeral homes and hotel. He was an African American man who lived and died in the segregated south, yet he amassed a fortune building businesses in the Black community. My Mother started her business by selling pies. Later she built a used clothing and furniture business in the Black community in an area known as Cottonwood Road, in Bakersﬁeld, California. Her ﬁrst customers were seasonal farm workers who came to Bakersﬁeld, to pick cotton, potatoes, watermelons and other crops in the greater San Joaquin and Central Valley of California, between Fresno, Bakersﬁeld, and surrounding areas.
Gaston opened businesses to ﬁll needs in his community where there were none. My mother’s businesses were to ﬁ ll the needs of farm workers and their families. These families needed clothes to work in, to go to church in, and furniture to ﬁll their housing needs. Though they needed sofas, chairs, tables, stoves, and refrigerators, they had little money, living off of the few dollars per day. Their lodging was a rented room in someone’s house for a few bucks a day. Signs were everywhere that said. “Room For Rent.” No one was homeless. “Everybody took care of somebody until that person could do better.
These Southern bred workers needed a place to stay and they were too proud to beg and too poor to buy what they needed. They were workers not beggars. They picked cotton for two to three dollars, per one hundred pounds. To get an understanding of how little that was, take a cotton shirt and weigh it.
Watermelons were big money you could make twenty ﬁve dollars per day pitching melons. That was back breaking work over time. Your body paid the price, if this work wasn’t something you weren’t accustomed to. Many workers could barely walk the next day. Thank God for a hot tub of water and some Epson Salts. You had to make a living for your family no matter how small or large it was. If your family was large, you could put them all to work and bring home a little extra money.
One of my aunts met and married a guy who rented a room from my family. There was a sense of respect from everybody because we were all poor and rowing in the same direction. This renter became my uncle and moved to Los Angeles with my aunt where she went to beauty school and eventually got her own beauty shop on Western Avenue.
My cousin followed my aunt to Beauty School and worked in the shop. Years later, I moved to Los Angeles with my little family, that aunt was a ﬁnancial security blanket for us. I studied on Sundays and holidays to pass the bar exam. We had come full circle. My aunt and cousin, together with Big Mama (my grandmother) and other family members helped with babysitting when my wife got a job.
I was told that my father’s father died when my father was eight years old. Daddy had ﬁve sisters but no brothers. My Big Mama put them all together like a team and went to the cotton ﬁelds in Oklahoma. My youngest aunt was pulled along in a little wagon down the cotton ﬁeld rows while the rest of the family picked the cotton.
On my Mother’s side of the family, there were four boys and three girls. We all ended up in Bakersﬁeld, where I worked as a janitor with my uncles. I learned to shine shoes and cut yards. Never at a loss for work, I also worked in my mother’s second hand store, in the meantime, and eventually graduated high school at seventeen. Then I went to barber college.
Homeless people, in my mind, are people who ticked somebody off in the family and couldn’t get any help. They liked the drugs or the alcohol to the point of spending all their earned money and stealing from the family to feed their habit and refusing to get help when they reached bottom. Result: they lost family respect, got kicked out and homelessness took hold. This history makes it hard for me to be a ﬁ ghter for the homeless. I’ve come to realize that homelessness can be a result of falling on hard times. They’ve lost their jobs and their homes. Many live in their cars. Some on the streets may be homeless Veterans or have a mental illness.
Our family history is full of how we got over from the outhouse to our own houses by working together. As a little boy, I used an outhouse toilet. I have been told you can’t eat here, because “we don’t feed N’s here.” I have been denied a room to sleep in at a motel on the highway because I am Black. I have been beaten and arrested in Los Angeles by the LAPD in a trafﬁc stop, but I never gave up. I sacriﬁced, went to college, worked two jobs, and became an entrepreneur of businesses which included a second hand store, an employment agency, a barber shop, a beauty shop, a gift shop, a coffee shop, and a paralegal school. My wife also worked. We saved our money and currently are entrepreneurs of my law ofﬁce, this newspaper, and property owners/managers.
Blacks must return to strategies of the past when we had a trade. The time is here again where we should be encouraging our children to have a trade business of their own. They can become a barber, hair stylist, mechanic, painter, electrician, plumber, or gardener, etc.
I say to you, hook up with your family. Reach out and help them, as long as they want the help. If they have been diagnosed with an illness, do all you can to get them the services that they need. Seek God’s help, and don’t give up on them.