Breaking BREAD: The Black Cotton Club and Frugal Bookstore Collaboration
“We have a tendency… when we network, [to] network up and it really is about networking across. Who’s next to you? Who’s struggling? Who’s in the trenches with you? Who is just as hungry as you are? Those are the people you need to build with.” — Issa Rae
Boston Racial and Economic Active Dialogue, also known as BREAD, is one of Boston’s answers to bridge the racial and economic divide that exists in the city. BREAD’s signature event, their Start Up Classroom, is a space where Boston’s communities of color come together to “express [their] strengths and to share these strengths in a mutually beneficial way.” A typical BREAD Start Up Classroom consists of an eclectic mix of creatives, entrepreneurs and millennials who meet on the top floor of Boston’s newest municipal building, the Bruce C. Bolling Building in Roxbury’s Dudley Square. They eat delicious food, and mix and mingle while listening to music specially curated by a DJ. With the Boston skyline as a backdrop, BREAD’s Start Up Classrooms provide the ideal opportunity for Boston’s creatives and entrepreneurs to network and make connections that transcend beyond the space.
One unique example of a cross collaboration birthed out of a BREAD Boston event, is that of Priscilla Azaglo’s Black Cotton Club events and Roxbury’s Frugal Bookstore. Azaglo, a writer, poet and performer, envisioned the Black Cotton Club as a poetry, spoken word and jam session event for black artists to come together and collaborate. However, at the time Azaglo started attending the BREAD events, it was just an idea getting off the ground. A chance meeting with Frugal Bookstore owners Leonard Egerton and Clarrissa Cropper, who are regularly vend at BREAD events, and a subsequent visit to Frugal Bookstore itself would change all of that. Azaglo says, “I was talking [to Clarrissa] about the space and how beautiful it was and how there needs to be more events that happen within a bookstore like this. She [Cropper] was like, ‘Yeah, let’s talk about it!’” Together they came up with a date, and the Black Cotton Club and Frugal Bookstore partnership was solidified.
Considering Frugal Bookstore is the only Black owned bookstore in Boston, it was a no-brainer that the first collaborative event with Black Cotton Club in November 2016 would be widely embraced by the community. Cropper said, “It was a huge success. The good thing about the setup with the bookstore and the racks that we have is that they have wheels and we were able to open up the floor. It was awesome. We made it work and it worked.” Almost one hundred people were in attendance at that evening and the subsequent Black Cotton club events held at Frugal Bookstore would continue to attract 60 to 70 people on average. The mutually beneficial partnership helped cement Azaglo as a legitimate figure on the Boston poetry and spoken word scene, while the unique jam sessions of her event, set her apart. As for Frugal Bookstore, the Black Cotton club events provided them with much needed exposure considering they had just moved to their current location only a few months prior. When asked how it impacted business, Egerton elaborated, “Oh yeah! People were in here buying books in the dark. And then people who came that [first] night, came back and have been coming back.”
Moving forward, Azaglo definitely sees more collaborations with Frugal Bookstore in the future, but she says that one of her goals is to, “take Black Cotton Club on tour and reach out to other black businesses.” To date, the Black Cotton Club has hosted events at the Shirley-Eustis House and the Dorchester Arts Collaborative. Later this month, Azaglo will also be hosting the Black Cotton Club Women’s Edition Jam Session at Black Market Dudley, a black owned retail pop-up market whose mission is to revitalize Boston’s Black creative economy. As far as Frugal Bookstore goes, they’ve also collaborated with Boston Medical Center’s Vital Village Program, facilitated story time for preschool aged children in coordination with the Boston Public Library, hosted various book club meetings including that of the Boston Network for Black Student Achievement and the Cool Girls Club (which is affiliated with Justin Springer, BREAD’s Chief of Brand Strategy & Digital Marketing), as well as a weekly teen game night among other things. And of course, they are open to more collaborations and partnerships that benefit the community as a whole. As Egerton puts it, “The aspiration is to grow and be a staple in the community.”
Without BREAD’s Start Up Classroom and the unique and inviting space it provides for creatives and entrepreneurs, the collaboration between the Black Cotton Club and Frugal Bookstore may not have taken place; the fact that it did, however, is a testament to the far reaching effects that BREAD is already having in the community. In addition to creating spaces that foster collaborative efforts, BREAD also puts its money where its mouth is, so to speak. To date, BREAD has invested over $39,000 into local businesses and businesses of color, hosted 11 Start Up Classrooms, created three part-time jobs for local residents, as well as four volunteer positions. In addition, Start Up Classroom attendees have also purchased $650 worth of books from Frugal Bookstore, while BREAD’s two community crowd funding dinners raised an additional $1,500 that went directly towards investing into the community. The social media numbers don’t lie either. Across all utilized social media platforms, BREAD events have reached almost 1,000 people while garnering over half a million impressions. Only two months into 2018, BREAD has already set a high bar for themselves by hosting, not one but two, Start Up Classrooms via Facebook Live! But no worries though for those of you who want to experience it live and in color; the Start Up Classroom returns in its original format on March 21st at the Dorchester Brewing. Some parting words from Azaglo? She says,
“Come open to receive.”
See below to stay up to date with BREAD, Priscilla Azaglo, Black Cotton Club and the Frugal Bookstore:
BLACK COTTON CLUB