The Black Mall
At least twice a month, D’Juan Hopewell makes a separate – sometimes inconvenient – trip to pick up household items at 79th and Rhodes. He’d rather buy them at the Black Mall than at Target
“I buy my paper towels here and buy a lot of my essentials here so I’m pretty much here every other week,” says Hopewell.
“My thing is this: I can buy at Target but I can have a direct impact on Black entrepreneurs and Black unemployment by shopping here, so it’s purposeful.”
The project’s co-owner and founder is Cassiopeia Uhuru who proudly proclaims, “TheBlackMall.com features nothing but black-owned products.”
The space on 79th Street is another step in Uhuru’s effort to rebuild small businesses in the Black Community. Her Theblackmall.com went online in 2011 as a directory that now lists over 2500 black businesses. But many of them still need space to show and sell their products.
“We are going to turn this space into a space that you can find in Hyde Park, you can find in Wicker Park, you can find up north,” says Uhuru.
“It’s going to have a boutique look, but it will still feature all the different kinds of products that we have in here now.”
The vendors–who sell everything from food and personal care products to jewelry and art–are the up and coming new breed of Black entrepreneurs:
Vendor Heka Ma’at Kemet owns ShopthePHCompany.com.
“We’ve been taught that going to work for other people is the answer that’s the societal norm,” Kemet says, adding, “to go to school and go get a good job when in reality especially for black folks that doesn’t really exist.”
Michael Wells of the Do Well Sandwich Company is a caterer who sells bottled drinks at the Black Mall.
“This the only place that supports us for us. And it’s really with the right energy. It’s with love.”
The building’s landlord is Black and Uhuru is hiring a Black contractor to expand the mall’s space. She welcomes any help from the city but vows that she and her partner will “go it alone” as they have for most of the past decade.
“It’s great to go after grants, to go after loans, to get city help; but no one is going to care more about your own neighborhood than you are.
“If we want to see a difference then we’ve got to get our hands dirty and go back in and do the work.”
D’Juan Hopewell realizes that at this point he cannot buy all the household items he needs at the Black Mall. But for him, the special trips to buy a few things are worth the time and travel.
“What I know about Black progress in history, none of it was convenient. If we want a different world for our children, how much are we willing to be inconvenienced?”
For the mall’s developers and vendors, the growth process here does not have to be complicated. Black people already spend billions of dollars throughout the Chicagoland region. It only takes a small fraction of that to make this dream come true.