Lancaster entrepreneurs pitch social business plans

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Contestants in the 2016 Great Social Enterprise Pitch collect funds to support business ideas

Lancaster Great Social Enterprise Pitch

Would you like to see low-income communities have more access to healthier foods, or more venues that promote sobriety during a night out?

Lancaster entrepreneurs are pitching ideas – and launching crowdfunding campaigns – for nine startups that aim to have a positive influence on society and the environment.

About 150 people attended a kick-off event Wednesday night at Zoetropolis, a theater at 315 W. James St.

Contestants presented two-minute films about their ideas, said Tracy Cutler, a spokesperson for the Lancaster County Community Foundation.

Now through Sept. 14, you can support your favorite idea by donating money to a crowdfunding campaign started by the entrepreneur behind it.

After the campaigns end in September, five contestants will go on to compete in a live competition, which is slated to take place Sept. 30.

Winners of the competition could receive up to $50,000 in cash, free business services and other resources to move their social enterprise forward.

The competition, known as the 2016 Great Social Enterprise Pitch, is hosted annually by the foundation and ASSETS Lancaster.

The contestants

Kyle Kuehn, Soberbars: An idea to create more spaces where people recovering from addiction can enjoy a night out without being surrounded by the typical bar scene.

Kristin Snyder, Sophie Stargazer Boutique: A women’s fashion store whose goal is to sell only ethically made products, or products that are made with sustainable materials by people who are paid a fair wage to create them.

Lixin Ji, Ebenezer Wholistic Foods and East Side Community Kitchen: A raw vegan food company dedicated to providing people with healthier food options.

LaShonda Whitaker, Whitaker Family Child Care: An enterprise that will supply healthy, local food to childcare facilities.

Saba Williams and Olayinka Credle, BirdOrganics: A manufacturer of ethically-produced, natural, hygienic products, or bath and body products that are made with organic materials.

Luis Miranda, BootCamp900: An initiative to develop a fitness and wellness center focused on improving the health of people in low-income communities while providing a fair wage to employees.

Heather and Michelle Long, WIN Workplace Solutions: A company manufacturing portable spaces that employers can provide to women employees who need to pump breast milk in the workplace.

Will Kiefer, Bench Mark B-Fit: A wellness initiative to empower and train at-risk youth to become personal trainers in corporate settings.

Timbrel Adidala, Lush Bazaar: A fashion provider that employs underprivileged women so that they feel empowered and have jobs in a stable environment.

There were ten contestants when the contest started, but one dropped out because the founders decided it was not the right time for them to pursue their idea, Cutler said.

In the Spotlight: F&M professor Amanda Kemp mixes artistic expression with political activism

Congratulations Dr. Amanda Kemp, an activist, artist, and ASSETS client! 

Amanda Kemp is a visiting scholar in Africana Studies at Franklin & Marshall College.
Amanda Kemp is a visiting scholar in Africana Studies at Franklin & Marshall College.

As long as she can remember, Amanda Kemp has cared deeply about community, justice and social change.

Mississippi was still segregated when she was born there in 1966. As a child “I had a personal attachment to Martin Luther King,” she said. “My first poem was about him. … I grew up yearning to follow in that path.”

At the same time, she loved the arts, so she looked for ways to combine artistic expression with political activism.

Today she is a visiting scholar in Africana Studies at Franklin & Marshall College, an author, performer, consultant and the founder of “Theatre for Transformation,” a touring drama company that presents original works based in African-American history and culture.

This summer, Kemp released “Say the Wrong Thing,” a collection of short essays and reflections on creating racial justice and true community.

The book is the basis for a series of free “Lunch and Learn” workshops she has been conducting at the Candy Factory in Lancaster, presenting strategies for inclusion and conflict resolution. Two sessions remain; they start at noon and last an hour.

In Lancaster County, as in the rest of the country, one can see clear patterns of structural inequality, she said. In education, to take one example, children in affluent suburban school districts have more access to opportunity than those in struggling urban ones.

She acknowledged there seems to be a gulf separating those who are willing to talk about such problems from those who aren’t. Still, people of all races are increasingly willing to engage constructively with issues like white privilege, and “I think that’s a real improvement,” she said.

Age: 50

Hometown: Born in Biloxi, Mississippi; Raised in the Bronx.

Education: Double-majored in history and African and Afro-American Studies at Stanford University; earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in performance studies at Northwestern University.

Family: Married to violinist Michael Jamanis, director of Lancaster’s “Music in the Schools” program. They have five children between them.

Languages: English, Spanish, elementary Zulu.

What I’m reading now: “Letting Go,” by Maria Thompson Corley. She’s a Juilliard-trained pianist who self-published her first novel. It’s great! I highly recommend it.

People I admire: The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He was spiritual and political. … He also was broad-minded about faith. Someone I like now is Tara Brach. She’s a Buddhist meditation teacher/writer. She promotes mindfulness, and she’s looking at how we can be mindful about social change and social oppression.

Future goals: I’d love to write for film. It’s an unknown frontier for me. I want to do something outside my comfort zone. And I want to make some kind of film with Michael. We have a piece called “Chaconne Emancipated,” with narration from Dr. King, Black Panther Assata Shakur and a little bit of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. I’d like to collaborate with a filmmaker and create a music video of this 15-minute, mostly classical music piece.

On social awareness among college students: I think folks are trying to figure out, what are ways that we can partner that don’t mirror unequal relationships? How can we make our partnerships equal given that there is not a level playing field in which we operate?

On activism: My strong hope is that we keep inviting people to the table. We don’t have to have 100 percent unity for you to be a part of something. … Wise movement leadership knows that you’re constantly expanding the circle.

Favorite leisure activities: I love walking my dog. Also, game night with my daughters. They are so silly — they make me laugh.

Taking the Historic View of Economic Oppression, Opportunity

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The United States is inarguably one of the wealthiest economies in the world, with the largest gross domestic product on the planet.

But one thing rarely discussed is the fact that America’s economic standing has roots in centuries of oppression of people of color.

This analysis of our economic history has much to tell us about the state of current race relations and the powder keg of conflict we’ve seen emerge around racial bias in policing.

One of my college professors, internationally acclaimed conflict transformation scholar and practitioner John Paul Lederach, describes the importance of an expansive view of the present when dealing with conflicts.

He talks about the “200-year present,” which he defines as not just your own life experience, but the life of the oldest person you’ve known and the youngest person you know and their potential life span.

It is very easy to presume that conflict is just about what is happening right now, but for one or more factions, it is almost always about decades, if not centuries, of lived experience.

For black Americans, the “present” could include parts of this country’s 245 years of slavery, 100 years of legal segregation and economic discrimination and almost 50 years of the war on drugs and mass incarceration that continues to disproportionately affect people of color.

This “present” for whites could include immigration, fleeing from oppression in other parts of the world and poverty, among other trials. But it could also include slave-holding, white supremacy and participating in or benefiting from legal oppression.

So what do we do with this? First, I think it is essential to listen without defense to the stories of the “200-year present” of your neighbors or to those you disagree with.

Finger-pointing, name-calling and blanket sharing on Facebook isn’t particularly conducive to progress. But real conversations, relationships and pragmatic action toward healing and change are.

For many white people, this fearsome work can induce guilt, frustration and a deep sense of not knowing what to do — but listening helps discern further action.

So why is this article in the business section?

At Assets, over and over we see ways that our racial and economic history adds up to unequal opportunity for our clients — especially people of color — who are seeking to start or grow their own businesses.

Through the programs we offer, we see our clients working to expand their economic opportunity, but often see that it takes a system disruption to ensure their success.

For example, it took the creation of a new financial product not provided by our financial system — a credit building microloan — to truly meet the needs of some of our clients and provide a greater chance of business success.

In general, due to many of the systemic reasons outlined above, people of color have amassed just one-tenth of the wealth that whites have in this country.

The average cost to start a business is $30,000, which far exceeds the average net assets of most people of color. Such a reality is a proxy for our larger conversations around race and class: Equitable development and progress is a mixture of personal effort combined with access to appropriate and equitable systems and structures.

I challenge you to ask questions, dream up new disruptions and build systems that are equitable and true to the American dream.

We don’t need to look far for opportunities for engagement. Here are several:

— Lancaster County’s school achievement levels are widely disparate based on race and class. Can we collaborate across districts to further integrate students, gain efficiencies and pilot new programs that one district can’t do alone?

— Lancaster County’s business ownership is not reflective of its population. Can your household intentionally move some of your buying power away from large corporate stores that siphon profits away from the community to local businesses owned by people of color and women instead?

— Our elected representation is not reflective of our racial and gender diversity. Could you run for office or support underrepresented candidates?

— Lancaster city’s poverty rate exceeds Philadelphia and Pittsburgh’s. Can your business explore the possibility of hiring someone with a barrier to employment or raise the wages of your lowest-paid workers?

— Many have described current race relations as a tinderbox. Are we going to fan the flames or learn about what is making this so incendiary and do something productive about it, even if it is the harder thing to do?

I encourage you to engage in real conversations with a wider group of people across racial and economic differences that consider our 200-year present and barriers that may be beyond our own making and help come up with new solutions.

• Jessica King is executive director of Assets, an organization that seeks to create economic opportunity and cultivate entrepreneurial leadership in order to alleviate poverty and build vibrant, sustainable communities.