Harnessing Communal Energy

I grew up in Paynesville, a town of roughly 1,500 people 40 miles southwest of Saint Cloud. My first job at age 14 was at Tuck’s Cafe as a waitress; I got the job because my best friend’s dad was the owner. It was one of only a few places where you could get a delicious home-cooked meal. Loretta, who lived across the alley from my family, was the pie maker for Tuck’s, and I am pretty sure she made pies until she couldn’t anymore.

Minnesota Women’s Press Outreach Director Crystal Brown

I also remember my parents purchasing what seemed like half a cow from the butcher every year and buying gifts at Corner Drug Store or Ben Franklin. Everybody knew everybody, so buying local was kind of inherent. Of course, people still shopped in Saint Cloud or Willmar, but the daily basics could easily be found locally.

I moved away for college in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and I quickly fell into the same “meeting people” attitude that my parents instilled in me. My sense of home was about participating in various clubs and activities and connecting with diverse people. After graduation, I landed on the Northside of Minneapolis. Finding my community took a little longer, but eventually I found connections through poetry, open mics, music, and grad school.

People who were once acquaintances have become chosen family; I can call on my aunty circle for support, and community-focused organizations like 612 Jungle, The Zen Bin, and Cycle Sisters have helped me heal through movement. I also have friends I go to when I want to eat out or buy gifts at spots like The DREAM Shop Mpls, Inner Peace Fragrance, Roseline’s Candles, BrazilianFunky, SoulSpeak Expressions, So Me by Jamelah, and Shara Baked.

I want to shop with the community I know — people who look like me and share my values. It is important that my patronage of a business means something and that the business also shows up when the community needs it the most.

Forever, for Black folks, it’s been about community. Since the pandemic, I’m noticing a surge in Black women harnessing this communal energy through entrepreneurship. When women start their businesses, it has the power to help heal generations. The idea that we can heal ourselves in our own communities is not revolutionary, but it is economically sound.

As with a small town, that sense of “knowing everybody” is a form of accountability. I saw a lot of integrity growing up; people meant what they said and followed through. I find this sense of community, this sense of “Heal thyself first, sis,” when I visit H.E.A.L. Minneapolis. Eating a bowl of pumpkin porridge, I watch my young daughter run behind the counter where the staff have a hairnet waiting for her.

These women and their journeys to run their own spaces inspire me and the next generation of entrepreneurs. Because of them, my daughters can see how women can create wealth, level up, and participate in various sectors.

I asked Miss Opal Robinson, a Northside resident and business owner, why this entrepreneurship surge exists for Black women. She responded without hesitation, “Accessibility and affordability.” I whole-bodily agree. The resources we need to care for ourselves have to be affordable and sustainable — we can build that system for ourselves.

Crystal Brown (she/her) is the Outreach Director for Minnesota Women’s Press and Changemakers Alliance

Ecolution reporting made possible by Seward Co-op, which has been a community-owned grocer since 1972: Together, we continue to cultivate a cooperative economy.