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Black entrepreneurs say racial justice movement brought greater representation, visibility

When the coronavirus pandemic forced the lockdown of Sonoma County nearly two years ago, Chris Christensen, a Santa Rosa resident and owner of Bodkin Wines, worried his business could be on shaky ground.

Christensen, who started the business in 2011 as a way to establish himself as a winemaker, knew the lockdown orders would dampen sales because he relied on restaurants to purchase and carry his wines.

But with the rise of the racial justice movement that gripped the country in summer 2020 following the high-profile and controversial deaths of Black residents at the hands of police, among them George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Christensen said something unexpected happened: A concerted effort by wine professionals and customers to raise awareness and support of Black winemakers.

Soon, Bodkin Wines’ Instagram following tripled within a few weeks, and the size of his wine club quadrupled within three months. A marked increase in sales soon followed. Clients also sent him messages sharing their excitement about supporting a Black winemaker, Christensen said.

He was especially surprised by interaction with aspiring Black winemakers, who sought his advice on ways to break into a business that had so few Black entrepreneurs.

“I’ve now learned in talking to other people who have that level of apprehension getting into the industry … it’s a big stumbling block,” Christensen said. “I say, ‘You know, as long as I’m in the industry, you won’t be the only biracial person or African American here.”

The wave of support for Black business owners following the 2020 social justice movement was not exclusive to the wine industry.

Across the country, businesses large and small came forth to show their support for the Black community through staff-wide diversity training programs and pledges to boost diverse hiring.

On the consumer side, many looked for ways to financially support Black entrepreneurs, in light of the challenges they faced during the coronavirus pandemic.

In Sonoma County, that interest played out on such social media platforms as Facebook and Reddit in the form of inquiries for Black-made goods and food. One Instagram page with nearly 1,000 followers, @socopocbiz, highlighted Sonoma County businesses owned by Black and Indigenous entrepreneurs, as well as other people of color.

Christensen said the newfound interest was surprising, as he was not accustomed to receiving praise for his accomplishments as a biracial winemaker, he said.

“I’m one that kind of shies away from attention, particularly when it comes to my race,” he said. “I always felt like I should be distinguished by my wines.”

Black entrepreneurs in other fields throughout Sonoma County said they’ve also seen and felt the impact of the racial justice movement, whether it be through a spike of support for their own businesses or changes in representation of Black people and other people of color in the industries in which they work.

For example, freelance makeup artist Sara Dain of Santa Rosa said 2020 was her busiest year to date, even though the coronavirus pandemic forced her to press pause on her business, Makeup By Sara D, for a few months in early 2020.

That year, she heard from more and more clients who said they sought out her skills because they appreciated her ability to do makeup for a variety of skin tones, the 32-year-old Dain said.

Versatility was a priority for Dain. Early on in her career as a makeup artist for a Santa Rosa cosmetic store, she was “crushed” when she could not find the right shade for a customer because of the store’s limited makeup range.

“I never want a client to feel like that,” Dain said. “I should have every product. I should have variety.”

Conversations about diversity with her clients coincided with changes to the makeup industry as a whole, Dain said. Brands and makeup artists made a greater effort to show people from diverse backgrounds how to use their products and services.

“I think people care about everybody being included … instead of just making one type of look their focal point,” she said. “It was just, everybody is beautiful. Light skin to dark.”

Nicole Ward, a Penngrove-based yoga, meditation and emotional wellness educator, said she hasn’t noticed any tangible impact on her own business, Yoga with Nicole, since the racial justice movement began.

What she has seen, however, is more people within the yoga community discussing diversity, inclusion and the representation of diverse bodies. It’s a valuable experience, she said, in a practice predominantly seen as space for white people.

“(Black, Indigenous and people of color) visibility is important because it reflects a little closer of an authentic picture of what our global, regional and specific community is like,” said Ward, who first started her business 20 years ago.

“That helps people through its transparency and through their witnessing of what we’re doing. The more authentic we are about our presence online, and in person, that helps with healing.”

Conversations about race and equity have surfaced during one-on-one conversations with her clients; moments Ward sees as opportunities to find allies within the community.

“I think I’m the only teacher of color, I don’t even know for how many miles now,” Ward said. “I’m looking around and there’s nobody else here. So yeah, it’s about building bridges and looking around for anchors and allies for me.”

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets.

Nashelly Chavez

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, The Press Democrat 

Who calls the North Bay home and how do their backgrounds, socioeconomic status and other factors shape their experiences? What cultures, traditions and religions are celebrated where we live? These are the questions that drive me as I cover diversity, equity and inclusion in Sonoma County and beyond.   

 

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