A natural hair care brand that helps Black girls and women love and learn about their hair.
A creative lifestyle and design agency that cultivates Black joy through positive images of Black culture.
A staffing agency that helps people obtain their career goals and companies reach the next level.
Three local businesses serving as shining examples of Black entrepreneurship in spite of, as Multnomah County’s Chief Diversity & Equity Officer Ben Duncan said, “the legacy, and not too distant history, of formal exclusion to economic opportunity and prosperity in the Black community.”
On Thursday, Feb. 20, inspired by the testimony from the owners of the three businesses, the Board of County Commissioners proclaimed February as Black History and Future Month in Multnomah County. The proclamation was co-sponsored by Chair Deborah Kafoury and Commissioner Susheela Jayapal.
While the County first proclaimed African-American History Month in 1994, “the landscape of our country and our culture has changed a lot since then. However, we know, unfortunately, that there are many ways that things haven’t changed nearly enough,” shared Chair Kafoury. “I am proud to be a part of continuing our County’s tradition of recognizing Black history, Black excellence and Black contributions.”
Commissioner Jayapal followed by introducing the year’s theme, saying, “This year at Multnomah County we are celebrating Black empowerment and mobility through entrepreneurship. Black entrepreneurship has always contributed to Black mobility and to the fabric of American life and economy, even under the most extreme conditions.”
Denise Tupper, a business development specialist for Micro Enterprise Services of Oregon (MESO), spoke to what she’s seen in her work supporting minority small business owners. Supporting Black businesses, she shared, sends ripples of positive impact beyond the business and far out into the local community.
“The clients I support, they often collaborate with other entrepreneurs. They purchase from local suppliers. They pay their employees a livable wage and they provide products and services that the community needs... They also provide a legacy for their families so that the tradition of entrepreneurship can continue.”
Kayin Talton Davis owns Soapbox Theory, a creative brand producing greeting cards, t-shirts and other accessories with joyful images of Black culture. She witnesses the seeds of tradition being planted in her children as they’ve watched her and her husband run their business for 15 years. “My three daughters, they just started a button-making business. It’s cool to be that leader.”
After gaining experience in myriad professional roles, Kenyatta Trice found a knack and a passion for helping friends and family refine their resumes and interviewing skills. She helps job seekers with employment services and businesses with growth planning through her business, Trice Occupational Consulting Solutions, but she knows that her work is often in service of a bigger picture.
“Career is important when you are looking at financial stability for your family…. A lot of what I do with businesses is help them make a plan and gear it toward advancement for themselves and their families.”
April Etuk and her daughter were unable to find healthy, organic hair products. She was also painfully aware that Black women are bombarded by messages telling them their natural hair isn’t beautiful, that they need to straighten it or do anything other than love it themselves to make it acceptable. So while Lovely Coils, on the surface, offers organic products for Black hair, Etuk uses her products to promote Black identity, history and self-acceptance.
“Lovely Coils is just here to really set a fire underneath each individual. Stop apologizing for your DNA. That’s what it’s about: your heritage. Stop apologizing for it. Love yourself. Love others,” she said.
Etuk closed her testimony by exhorting anyone who has the position, privilege or purchasing power to support Black and minority-owned businesses as a way to make right America’s long history of broken economic promises.
“As a small business owner and a woman of color, I hear you,” Commissioner Lori Stegmann following the testimony. “I love the name of ‘Black History and Future.’ I think that represented eloquently of the life ahead of us and what we can be as a community.”
Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson followed, saying that while proclamations are great, what’s more important is “the work we do every day, the conversation and relationships we develop, the way we show our support for each other.”
Commissioner Jayapal reiterated her gratitude. “Enormous thanks to all of you for coming and sharing your stories, for the work you do… not just for yourselves, but to pay it forward to all those in our community.”
“You embody the future. It is really so, so powerful what you are doing,” Commissioner Sharon Meieran shared. “You really are visionaries.”
Chair Kafoury reflected on the history reflected in the day’s presenters.“The more events that we hold like this where we take the time, those of us who don’t know the history can learn it. It’s incumbent upon us, and it’s not incumbent upon the Black community, to teach it to us,” she said. “We’re not all going to be healthy until we right the wrongs of our past.”