Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2015

Abstract

Growing up in the Bronx, New York, our neighborhoods served as the fulcrum for the world we knew. Like many in my neighborhood, we were immigrants. My family had come to New York from the West Indies, for higher education, to make a better life and to contribute to a growing, energetic society. In many ways, the ultimate goal was to have a transformative effect upon our family tree. Many children, my sisters and I included, grew up in homes where we welcomed our parents’ siblings and their families – our aunts, uncles and cousins – to live with us for a transitional period as they adjusted to life in “the States.” My aunt and uncle in Brooklyn had done the same for us, several years earlier. This pattern served to cement the bonds of family, ease the transition to a new country, and unbeknownst to me, plant the first seeds in my mind of what it meant to be my brother’s keeper. It was also a primer on what it means to be an entrepreneur and how it fuels upward mobility. Unlike my children, who today are driven by car or ride school buses to elementary, middle and high school, virtually all school kids in New York’s five boroughs walked to their elementary schools. I attended P.S. 78 (officially named Anne Hutchinson Elementary School), which sat on Needham Avenue in the Bronx in the Eastchester District. The journey to school generally encompassed the Boston Road neighborhood flanked by Gun Hill Road to the south and Eastchester Road to the north. It was a middle class neighborhood with an assortment of multi-family homes, apartments and townhomes. Our journey would take us past a host of corner stores and family businesses including Pete’s West Indian Bakery, which sat on the west side of Boston Road, just south of Eastchester, where we could satisfy our hunger with a beef patty and cocoa bread. If we had a taste for New York’s most enduring staple food, we would visit Tony’s or Sal’s Pizzeria where the often imitated, but never duplicated New York-style Pizza would be devoured for 50 cents a slice. For that same 50 cents, we could purchase the latest record, a “45” of course, at the RecordRama, which sat on the east side of Boston Road between Fenton and Corsa Avenues. An album could be purchased for $3.99 or $4.99 at that same neighborhood record store. My first album purchase was the 1976 Earth, Wind & Fire album entitled “Spirit.” For a few bucks, we could get a haircut at one of several barbershops on Boston Road. If you needed clothing items, any number of stores between Gun Hill and Eastchester could fit the bill. Not to mention my Mom’s friend Marilyn who essentially ran her own mobile clothing store. I’m convinced that Marilyn would have had a nationwide, or potentially global enterprise if the Internet had existed at that time. It never occurred to me during my elementary and middle school years, but we were surrounded by entrepreneurs. All of those establishments were family businesses or sole proprietorships, created by entrepreneurs, many of whom were immigrants or first generation U.S. citizens who were pursuing the American dream. The area was quite diverse, with West Indians, Puerto Ricans, Italians, Jews, multi-generational African-Americans, and just about every other ethnic group owning a piece of the neighborhood and serving to educate us in the ultimate melting pot. It was New York, it was the 1970’s, and it was the very best place to get a 360-degree view of small business in its most fertile ground, a multicultural, middle class neighborhood. Growing up in a neighborhood where I was surrounded by entrepreneurs, it is no surprise that business has always excited me. I had my first job at the age of thirteen, when I took over my friend Steven Mayfield’s paper route and began delivering the New York Daily News and New York Times throughout my neighborhood. It was a great training ground for developing a strong and consistent work ethic – papers had to be delivered by 6:00 a.m. daily and 7:00 a.m. on Sundays – rain, snow, or shine. I even had my first experience as “management” when I hired a friend to make deliveries on my behalf on Saturdays. I was soon loaning money to my sister and other family members whenever they were in need. I didn’t understand it when I was thirteen, but entrepreneurship has always been the fuel that ignites financial growth and creates generational wealth. In this chapter, I will first look at how this fuel has historically been a powerful accelerant when combined with media, intellectual property, and entertainment. I will then give examples of how artists, specifically in the African American community, have used it to ignite the fires of social justice, and close by revisiting how these tools and energies can be directed to promote communal economic empowerment, i.e., how I can be my brother’s keeper.

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