African Outlet on the Attack

Tiny - Posted on 15 July 2014

Leontyne Smith/ PNN Correspondent

July 14, 2014

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, "The good old days, when renting without a lease was no problem, and business decisions were settled with handshakes, was when the African Outlet set up shop in Hayes Valley. With commercial rents on Octavia Street rising from $5,000 to $7,000 and beyond, those days are long gone."

As I learned in Peopleskool and through my own research, the African Outlet are victims of gentrification and will be forced to close. Their situation coincides with Marcus Bookstore, because both business owners had problems with rent and ridiculous bills for repairs that they do not have control over. I sincerely believe there is a reason behind closing the only original African store in San Francisco. It is being closed regardless of how much money they raise, and Marcus Bookstore was taken from under our feet.

I had to investigate this situation personally because I graduated from SFSU in Africana Studies, and Marcus Bookstore was the cornerstone and foundation of the protests to establish the Ethnic Studies Department. The first BSU in the United States, along with every indigenous culture you can think of, was established under the Ethnic Studies Department, and they have emphases on each culture you’d want to major in.

At SFSU I chose my own heritage to study. People judge me as if it means nothing because of the fact it is an Africana Studies major and not a Psychology major, plus everyone keeps on telling me I’m never going to get a job because of my choice of a Bachelors Degree. It is true that a lot of people won’t hire me, but I learned a lot of important things, not only about African Americans and slavery, but also about African Heritage, especially in Egypt and the West African cultures. I even took a class called Black Journalism which Tiny and Mama Dee attended while establishing POOR Magazine, twenty years ago. Mama Dee laid the foundational principles of POOR around what people like Wade Nobles teach.

All this is to say, I, along with everyone else in the Bay Area, are upset because the only Black-owned businesses in San Francisco are being taken, no matter how hard we fight a lawyer or someone who doesn’t want us to rise and unite with everyone. They attack the establishment of the African outlet.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “There's nothing quite like the African Outlet elsewhere in San Francisco, or possibly anywhere. The corner retail space is crammed from floor to ceiling with masks, statues, clothing and art. The aroma of incense burning outside greets visitors who walk through a narrow path between the exotic treasure." I met the store owner, Big Mike, in person at a drum circle, a week later at Juneteenth, and again performing dance at the El Cerrito County Fair for July Fourth, plus I met him over at my friend’s house that I knew since middle school. That was wacked out crazy: he participates in all the events. One thing about his performances that I thought was weird, was they have a casket with doves in them so on stage all you see is a box open. I was blessed to meet all the dancers and see a lot of people promoting African culture.

Every time I see Big Mike, aka Fuck the Police Big Brother of the Hood, his women and his children, I purchase alphets (outfits) when they distribute them during festivals and other events. For example, they had numerous people modeling clothes as well as painting themselves in the indigenous ways Africans do when they are in rituals. They taught us how certain representations of a scar mark men from particular tribes, and mark turning into a man.

Everyone knows Big Mike in the neighborhood because of his famous tattoo, but also his wonderful heart and compassion, his mission to protect his community in all different ways. I personally met him when I was in sixth grade. If someone in the neighborhood disrespects me, all I have to say is Big Mike is my big brother, which a lot of females do.

I love the culture at the African Outlet, because it is not just the clothes, its the continuous flow of people gathering through the spirit of practicing indigenous practices and a safe haven for people to communicate with each other.


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