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Black Minnesotans making history in business

Every Monday on Sunrise, we're getting to know some of the Black Minnesotans making history today.

MINNEAPOLIS — Monday February 1, Black History Month begins. Last year on Sunrise, we launched "Black Minnesotans Making History," a series featuring individuals who work for positive change in their communities. Considering all that has happened in Minneapolis since then, panel discussions felt more appropriate this year. 

This week, the focus is on business. Reporter Kiya Edwards spoke with Fatimah Hussein, founder of ASIYA Sport, Carl Johnson, founder and CEO of Storehouse Grocers, and Tayo Daniel, founder of Shop Local MSP

Edwards: Thank you so much for joining me. Please let me know the ways you are making a positive change for the Black community.

Fatima Hussein: ASIYA basically is enabling young Muslim women to be physically active, to take care of themselves. What we found, and also research found, is that women and girls who participate in sports are more successful in careers. So we are really starting early, as a PE class, for them to start loving sports because this is where you learn leadership. This is where you challenge yourself. This is where you learn 'win and lose.' What we also found out is that a lot of Black girls are not participating in sports so we are really trying to get them to start.

Edwards: Specifically, the company sells activewear. How much does that help for people to be able to feel comfortable doing sports without compromising their beliefs?

Hussein: Our story is, really, we're co-creators. We work with the community. I was a basketball coach. I saw the need of girls participating in sports. Right away when I started this space where girls participate, is when we saw girls were not feeling comfortable playing with their hijab. We brought the sports hijab to the community because before, it didn't exist and now Muslim girls have options. We are socially impact. We do not worry about finance when it comes to girls who wants to play sports and we sponsor girls. 

Credit: ASIYA Sport

Carl Johnson: I founded Storehouse Grocers, which is an affordable and accessible grocery store. We are volunteer-ran. Everything in our store is $5 and our main mission is to end every day hunger by eliminating accessibility and affordability [issues], a part of food insecurity.

Credit: Storehouse Grocers

Tayo Daniel: All right so Shop Local. You can find us at shoplocalmsp.com and what we're doing is we're creating a marketplace, an online marketplace, for local businesses. Pretty much an analogy for that is we're building an Amazon for local businesses. We're realizing that during this pandemic local businesses, especially brick and mortar operations, took a major hit. So we created something that really addresses those issues and helps local businesses build their online presence. We have this platform free for businesses to sign up and the kicker is, unlike Amazon, we actually help you build your brand equity. We'll give you free online course training in the ecommerce space and free marketing and resources. We have a goal of keeping $10 million in the community. 

Credit: Shop Local MSP

Edwards: I love it. Let's dive into some of our other talking points here. After George Floyd was killed, we saw companies ranging from small businesses to major corporations declaring, 'Black Lives Matter.' Did you perceive that as genuine? Is it still happening?

Johnson: Representation matters. When a company shows that they believe in representation and actually puts a foot forward for it and actually sacrifices for it, like loses business for the representation, their clientele for the representation, it shows me that they're authentic in what they're doing. Now, there is a 'quick-solve' when it comes to companies. We may call them diversity and inclusion specialists. All companies now have, probably have, a diversity officer or an inclusion officer. Now it depends on what that company wants to do with their bottom line. Just hiring somebody is easy to fill a void. So we can see where authenticity matters. If the board room changes. That's where authenticity matters and if they remove barriers for their clientele. Like, I work with Hy-Vee. So now they're asking me to bring people to come work for Hy-Vee now and they're actually cutting the red tape and saying, "Whoever you give us, Pastor Carl, they're coming to the top for an interview." That right there like changing those relationships. They know they can't do it so they need people in the community who have influence to do it. So I think those things will change but I think some things will stay the same as far as our small business loans, our banking. Those things have not changed very much during George Floyd.

Hussein: A lot of companies who say 'Black Lives Matter' are continuing to still oppress the Black community. It became something that was like, "Okay that company's doing it. I'm going to lose customers. So it's just the right thing to do." Accountability is what needs to happen and when I hear the word "trend," it really triggers me because there's people who are dying. This is not something, just a current event that you're going to just jump on it and then continue. There's people, brothers, sisters that have lost their family members. So accountability is the first thing and I think this is a start where people need to feel uncomfortable because Black community has been feeling uncomfortable for many centuries, years. Like my brother Carl said, the board is where all the decisions are made.

Daniel: I've had a lot of corporations ask how they can be more authentic in their marketing strategies. It's one thing to talk about it but you really have to be about it. Consumers are really starting to be very conscious of who they're buying products from, whose services they're using, and they want to know what your brand is all about. So it's in the company's best interest to be authentic. Who is a part of your board of directors? Who's in your upper management team? How are you considering the people that you're servicing as far as their cultural behaviors. But so it is a step. When a company does say, 'Black Lives Matter,' I'm happy about it. It's a move in the right direction.

Edwards: Has your approach to business changed in the last year?

Daniel: When we were out there in the marches and whatnot, a lot of people have come to me and asked like, 'How can I contribute to a charitable organization that I believe in but I don't have the financial funds?' We showed them the value of your Instagram posts. A single Instagram post, it has value. When we did that, more millennials were donating more of their Instagram posts to social causes.

Johnson: We stepped up and provided a hot meal and we started helping churches around the area create hubs. And then our supply line shut down. At one point, we weren't selling bread anymore. We were just selling tortillas and so you had to pivot.

Edwards: Moving forward, what needs to happen next?

Hussein: We have to create our own empire where we just start slowly. For example, my company, it started with the community believing in it and then moving to the second circle. We have to start with the inner circle and I think that power is within us.

Edwards: I see the wonderful work that you three are doing to make a positive difference in our world so thank you very much for your time.

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