Local businesses join Black Lives Matter conversation

Owners of Camas-Washougal brewpubs, restaurants, health clinics say conversations about racism, social equity necessary

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OurBar's "conversation board" asks patrons at the downtown Washougal restaurant how they process anger. (Contributed photo courtesy of Alex Yost)

On the night of June 27, a patron left 54-40 Brewing Company in Washougal after drawing a racist symbol on a napkin, obviously meant to be discovered by a staff member.

Not surprisingly, owners Bolt and Amy Minister didn’t take kindly to that deed. They sent a strong and swift message by declaring that there is absolutely no place for discrimination of any kind in their establishment.

“We built 54-40 to be a place to bring people together, not to divide (or) allow for actions of hate,” they wrote on the brewery’s Facebook page the next day. “If for one second anyone believes that this is something we can or will tolerate, (they) are mistaken.”

The Ministers also announced that “54-40 will work to actively provide support to those that can best bring about positive changes within our community by hosting fundraisers for causes and being a safe space where conversations on racism and social equity can be had.”

“We want to help be an active agent of change in our community,” they wrote, “and are committed to creating a safe and equitable future where Black voices thrive in our community and beyond.”

That’s just one of a growing number of examples of how local businesses are increasing their efforts to raise awareness for racial and social equality.

Emily Olson, co-owner of Ripple Wellness in Washougal, recently talked with representatives from the Downtown Camas Association and Washougal Business Association, and Alex Yost, owner of the OurBar restaurant in downtown Washougal, about getting business owners together to participate in conversations that could possibly lead to the creation of a coordinated effort to combat racism.

“I’m just trying to start the conversation,” Olson said. “We think of Ripple as a community center, a place where people connect and discuss topics of health and wellness, so it doesn’t make sense for us to skip the conversation about racial injustice. I don’t expect everyone to have a polished policy on this, but at the same time, I want to use the platforms we have to make conscious change.”

There are a variety of things that businesses can do to promote equality, according to Washougal artist Anni Furniss.

“I think making sure people feel welcome by having diverse staff and board members is a big one,” she said. “Representation is important, too. This can be done with diversity in marketing without using tokenism. Training and policies that include educating staff and management; listening to employees, especially BIPOC (Black, indigineous, people of color); making sure there are fair and equitable hiring methods, and equal pay; and making sure that there are no anti-Black or BIPOC clothing, cultural or hair rules (are also important).”

Ripple Wellness is offering a 10-percent discount to people of color this summer; donating funds to Movement for Black Lives, a nationwide coalition of groups which represent the interests of black communities, and Mindfulness for the People, a Black-owned social change agency dedicated to disrupting systematic whiteness in the mindfulness movement; and provided a forum for conversation via its July 26 book club discussion about “Me and White Supremacy” by Layla F. Saad.

At OurBar, Yost has found success with what she calls her “conversation board,” a double-sided, mobile chalkboard that she uses to spur discussions by writing prompt phases such as “You matter — what makes you feel seen?” and “You are loved — how do you show it?”

“The biggest thing I’m trying to do is create a safe space for everybody,” Yost said. “I want to keep my space open for people to engage in difficult conversations that need to be had. But more than anything, I want to step out of the way. I’m a white woman who had a fairly middle-class, pretty privileged upbringing, so I don’t want my voice to be the one that’s necessarily heard. But I have access to various platforms — social media, a downtown storefront presence — and I want to help get other people up on those platforms.”

Several other local business owners are also putting their “platforms” to good use.

Lori Reed, owner of Reed Creative in Washougal, participated in the “Race to Equality” 5K, 10K and half-marathon event on July 26 in Vancouver to help bring awareness to racial inequality and raise funds to support scholarships for the Black community.

Furniss is currently donating a portion of her artwork sales to the Vancouver chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

54-40 Brewing is planning an “outdoor trivia night” event to raise money for the NAACP.

Ryon Morrison, owner of Taberna NW in downtown Washougal, recently posted a strong statement of support for people of color to the restaurant’s Facebook page, and encouraged his followers to take an online “implicit bias” test.

“Let’s learn and grow together,” Morrison wrote. “Let’s make this a better world for our children. Let’s make this a better world for every human. We can do this together. We must come together and listen. Let’s listen with compassion to the voices that are speaking right now. Let’s consider their feelings and accept that their feelings are valid; whether we understand them or not, they are valid.”

Washougal resident Jeffree White, founder and owner of the Washougal School of Music, and his wife, Kelli Rule, owner and operator of an art appraisal business, donate to various social justice organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Sierra Club, Black Lives Matter and the Vancouver chapter of the NAACP.

White, who comes from a long line of activists, has been thinking lately about his role as a teacher, businessman, and community leader, and how he can use his voice and resources to promote racial justice in Washougal.

“The struggles and pain that people of African descent have endured in order for me to be a working musician is something I can’t ignore,” White said. “I’m not sure where I go from here, but that’s OK. Equity work is about listening, learning and growing, and being comfortable with being uncomfortable. I am excited to work with other business leaders and citizens in my community on how I can actively and visibly support and show love to our Black, indigenous and brown neighbors.”