build21 — Part of a Storied Lineage
Mobility and the Black Experience
One of the more powerful tropes of the American psyche is the idea of driving across open highways. It is an idealized concept that, in theory, is colorblind and open to every citizen. However, like many institutions, your lived experience greatly dictates what this means to you. There are countless tales of the difficulties of moving while Black in the United States, still, mobility has been a way for Black people to exercise self-determination.
A cursory look at the Black experience easily demonstrates that travel is a core component of our history. One artifact that particularly encompasses that is The Negro Motorist Green Book. The Green Book was created during a period of automotive growth by Victor Hugo Green in 1936 to equip Black travelers with a list of “friendly” places throughout the country. These businesses included restaurants, beauty shops, hotels, and in some cases, actual homes for lodging when no hotels were around.
“There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States.” — Victor Hugo Green
Respecting the Ancestors
This quote, while well intentioned, does not fully appreciate the power that lies in developing the infrastructure that enables easier travel for Black people. It is not a question of if, but of when Black people travel. At build21 we recognize this fact. We firmly believe that every Black traveler is entitled to a soft-landing where they choose to travel. While the Green Book primarily included bastions of Black commerce, we would like to build on top of this legacy.
What is included in a “soft-landing”?
- Access to willing mentors
- Knowledge of work-spaces and hubs of Black professionals
- Of course, “friendly” businesses
At the core, build21 seeks to be a connector for folks that are already grinding. While our ancestors envisioned a day where this sort of connection was not needed, we are actively working against this belief. The focus of build21 is on establishing strong relationships with local business and community leaders and developing products, services, and programs that address challenges faced in the Black community.
As we stated earlier, this year is about building the programs to enable our future growth. These projects are intentionally place based and revolve around connecting pockets of people. In addition to improving the VFA fellow experience, build21 is determined to build tangible touchpoints within several communities. Our initial work will be based in New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. However, drawing upon the work of fellows in cities like Detroit and Atlanta we will try to grow as quickly, and smartly, as we can. Stay tuned for more pieces on our place-based publication for millennials, marketplace for black-owned start-ups and small businesses, and an event series that brings together creatives, entrepreneurs, and young professionals from all social scenes.
Stay low and build.