When Darrell Dugger joined Facebook groups to network with other Black business owners at the beginning of nationwide lockdowns caused by COVID-19, he felt the countrywide groups made it too difficult to network on a local level, so he created his own.
Launched a week before 2020’s Juneteenth celebrations and titled Oklahoma’s own BOB, Dugger’s online group has amassed more than 7,000 members in the last eight months, with daily interactions between business owners and consumers.
“I wanted to make a more local group that was gonna focus on the businesses in the state,” Dugger said, who owns a truck delivery company called Dugger Logistics, LLC.
With a wide variety of business owners posting in the group daily, ranging from hair care specialists and photographers to certified public accountants and restaurant owners, Dugger said he brought on a volunteer named Valarie Morgan to help manage the group.
Morgan posted in an early post from June of 2020 saying, “This movement is just the beginning. Our goal is to make this a permanent thing. Supporting our own daily!”
Dugger echoed the sentiment of black businesses supporting each other, a sentiment that speaks to the spirit of philosophy called Black cooperative economics, or the fourth principle of Kwanzaa–Ujamaa.
Loosely based on the writings and practices of Tanzania’s first president, Julius K. Nyerere, who blended socialist and communist principles in the 1950s and ’60s to bring about social change for his people, Ujamaa became a major philosophy for people of African descent across the diaspora.
Black cooperative economics, or Ujamaa, represents the desire “to build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together,” according to the Official Kwanzaa Website.
Its three major tenets include shared work and wealth, economic self-reliance, and an obligation of generosity.
Orleis Smith, a hairstylist who offers services in hair braiding, sew-ins and custom coloring, joined the Facebook group Oklahoma’s Own BOB in January of 2021. She said she wanted to reach out to other businesses, grow her network, and expand her own brand.
“I absolutely know that this group empowers our black community because it allows us to continue to communicate with one another despite this pandemic,” Smith told The Black Wall Street Times. “It pushes us to expand our Black-owned businesses and relationship with one another to continue keeping our money circulating within our communities.”
The daily interactions in the group are in fact so frequent, that discussions have begun among group members about how best to offer equal elevation and awareness to the thousands of members making up this online community.
But for consumers looking to support Black businesses, the reception has been positive, according to Myiesha Antwine. She said the group has helped her add to her own vender referral list.
“When I request recommendations, I get them!” Antwine said. “Members are great about tagging other businesses. I learn about amazing businesses from amazing entrepreneurs.” Antwine said she believes the group supports black people financially and emotionally, with the potential to circulate millions of dollars within the community.
Moreover, what started out as a meeting space to connect is quickly turning into an incubator that helps new businesses grow and succeed. Dugger said the group plans to hold sessions teaching members how to form LLC’s, create websites, and more. He also wants to start holding happy hour meetups between business owners once the pandemic ends.
“We want to help people at all stages,” Dugger said, pointing out that members range from those who already have LLC’s to those who create as a hobby.
When asked about his reaction to folks who say color shouldn’t be a factor in which businesses you support, he acknowledged that minority communities have been historically overlooked and underresourced.
“It’s important to help all facets of our community, yes. But it’s even more important to support minority-owned businesses because if you’re supporting that business you’re also supporting that community as a whole,” Dugger said.
A recent study from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows that roughly 40 percent of Black-owned businesses across the nation closed from February to April 2020 alone. And with earlier studies showing the median wealth of Black households will reach zero by 2053 if left unaddressed, more and more communities are turning to the principles of Ujamaa.
It’s the same principle that birthed Tulsa’s Black Wall Street in the early 1900’s Greenwood. O.W. Gurley’s decision to buy up land and sell it to other Black people, along with the community’s resolve to build it back after the racist destruction from violent white mobs, represent glaring examples of the success of Black cooperative economics. It remains evident today as descendants of those early black and freedman pioneers, along with newcomers, seek to bring new life to the district.
“With having ownership, not only does that bring a sense of pride, it also plants the seed for generational wealth, and that’s something I think our communities need more of,” Dugger said.