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Local Movement to Support Black-owned Businesses Receives Positive Feedback

Buy Back New Bedford
BuyBlackNB is one of the local online platforms dedicated to highlighting Black-owned businesses.

Many communities and activists trying to harness the momentum that has come from the protests that erupted after the death of George Floyd and other African-Americans in police custody.

One response has been a movement to support Black-owned businesses.

A website recently launched in New Bedford, one is in the works on Cape Cod, and one on Martha's Vineyard has been up for more than a year now, but it's recently had an increase in activity.

The organizers say it's one way to bring about racial equality after centuries of systematic racism.

Justina Perry started the page, BuyBlack New Bedfordwhere she has a list of about 90 Black-owned businesses, and counting.

Perry is Black herself, and a physical therapist who was furloughed during the pandemic. She had time on her hands and when George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police, she wanted to get involved. 

But she has an 8-month-old baby and was afraid of going to a protest and bringing the virus home to her newborn.

So instead, she started BuyBlack New Bedford.

She points out that there have been centuries of overt racism, but also systematic racism that has left many communities of color undeserved. But she says that people are becoming more consciousness of where they spend their money, and she's tapping into that.

Perry says she's had a lot of positive feedback from people who come across the website, but also from store owners.

Celia Brito runs Celia's Boutique with her daughter Tanya Alves in downtown New Bedford. They say they are excited about the website.

Celia’s opened in the early 2000s selling women’s professional clothing. At the time, downtown New Bedford was experiencing a renaissance of new business, Brito says.

Brito was born on the island of Brava in Cape Verde, and grew up in New Bedford. When she started Celia's, Brito says they were one of the only Black-owned stores downtown, if not the only. And certainly the only women-of-color running a shop.

She and her daughter say they have not experienced out-in-the open racism at their location, but they sometimes wonder if certain people don’t shop there because they are Black women.

But what they are more troubled by is the lack of diversity in business owners in downtown New Bedford. The city has a long history and large population of Cape Verdeans, but she says you don't see that in the downtown business community. And that's troubling.

“As a Black person, you are always aware, am I the only Black business here, am I the only Black person in the room?" Alves says. 

"Are we not sharing the same amount of customers because we are people of color? Those thoughts do cross your mind," her mother, Brito, says.

But they are hopeful -- especially with the help of BuyBlack New Bedford -- that things could change. They hope the recent protests and the website could encourage more Black-owned businesses to open, and hope it could also allow black owned business to be more successful and expand.

A similar list of Black owned businesses is also being compiled for a Cape website, although it has not been launched yet.

Tara Vargas Wallace is compiling the list, and says she has close to 200 shops owned by people of color.

Wallace is from the Cape and is of Puerto Rican dissent. She's married to an African American man, with whom she is raising three children.

Wallace’s website is similar to the BuyBlack New Bedford site, and she’s working with the local chapter of the NAACP. 

She says buying from Black owned businesses is a direct way people can address racism. 

"The reason why it is so important is because of historic and systematic discrimination," Wallace says. "Close the wealth gap. Job creation. To celebrate Black and people of color. Our culture. And the fact that it serves our communities and helps to lift these communities up."

Wallace is also hopeful with the recent protests she has seen, compared to others in the past. She has seen years of injustices brought up police, but says the white community is responding unlike it has before.

"This is the first time in history where I have seen more white rage over a Black issue," Wallace says. "It’s like 'yes, thank god. It’s about time.' People are paying attention, they’re listening, we just need to keep this ball rolling. It can’t be just a phase."

Wallace has worked with the chamber and others in the community to compile the list, as well as the business-owners themselves. She says it has been a lot of work, but she is hoping to launch the list soon.

There's a list for Martha's Vineyard businesses that has been in circulation for well over a year. India Rose started a website called Experience Martha's Vineyard.

Rose says it was more of a way to connect African-American tourists, to Black-owned businesses on the island. Martha's Vineyard has historically been a popular vacation destination for people of color. Martin Luther King Jr. often visited, and President Barack Obama vacationed routinely, before buying a house on the island.

Rose is from the Vineyard, and a business woman herself. She's also married to an African-American man and they are raising a family on the island. 

Like with the New Bedford website, Rose says that there has been more traffic to her website recently, which she thinks can be explained by white shoppers trying to support Black owned businesses, or least interested.

Similar to New Bedford, though, business owners are troubled by a lack representation. The overwhelming majority of businesses on the island are white owned. 

But many are encouraged by a number of protests on the island recently. Hundreds of people have marched and participated in rallies, many of them white people calling for justice.

With these websites bringing awareness to businesses, and what seems like a new movement to support Black culture, many store owners say they felt at least a little hopeful for the future of the Black business community on the island. 

Sam Houghton left CAI in February, 2023, to become News Editor at the Martha's Vineyard Times.
He worked at CAI since the summer of 2017. Before that, he worked at the Falmouth Enterprise, where he covered local politics.