by Nkuli Shongwe, Community Wealth Building Coordinator at Nexus Community Partners
Last month, Nexus Community Partners and Village Financial Cooperative held the first annual Blackonomics Conference. Blackonomics is an intentional gathering of Black folks in the Twin Cities and the Midwest that are working towards Black cooperative economics and solidarity economics. The two organizations brought together over 60 people from the Twin Cities, Denver, Oakland, and Chicago.
The gathering kicked off Friday evening with a welcome dinner, where we enjoyed incredible food from Chelle’s Kitchen. The space was blessed by Amoke Kubat, a writer, artist, teacher, Yoruba priestess and community elder who took part in Nexus’ North Star Black Cooperative Fellowship. The air was filled with joy and celebration.
After dinner, we had a “fishbowl” conversation about cooperation, healing, and Blackness. One of the folks from Chicago, moved by the conversation, suggested that we needed to actually give money to the cause. He spontaneously pulled out a $20 bill and threw it on the ground. This prompted folks to dig into their wallets and give. People threw money in the middle of the room and people who didn’t have cash threw in IOUs. We collectively contributed over $180 by the end of the first night.
Saturday morning, we had an incredible breakfast from K’s Revolutionary Kitchen. After breakfast, everyone sauntered off to the three different morning break-out sessions. Danielle Mkali led a session about the steps of cooperative development. LaDonna Redmond Sanders and Makeda Toure led a session about the cooperative principles and values. I led a session about the historic and present local, national, and international BIPOC cooperatives.
During lunch, we had the opportunity to learn about Mandela Foods Cooperative from the keynote speaker, Adrionna Fike. Adrionna is a BIPOC worker-owner of a grocery coop in Oakland, California. Adrionna told the story of how she found her way to Mandela Foods Cooperative. She shared some history about the grocery store and their journey which included freeing themselves from a disempowering relationship with Mandela Marketplace, hiring more worker owners, and forgoing moving to a larger space which used to house the 99c store.
In the afternoon, we had the last breakout sessions. Isaiah Goodman led a session about Becoming Financial; Renee Hatcher, a human rights and community development lawyer, led a session on the legal basics of starting a co-op; and Julia Ho and Salena Burch, organizers from St. Louis, led a session on building solidarity economies based on the work happening in St. Louis.
In the evening we headed to Coop Fest, which was led by Cooperative Principles, a co-op investment club. We celebrated cooperating and had the chance to donate to up-and-coming co-ops incubated by Minneapolis’ C-TAP program, Women Venture, and Nexus’ North Star Black Cooperative Fellowship. Each group gave a brief presentation about their cooperative and stated how much money they needed. There was a lot of excitement and jubilation in the air. At the end of the night, people donated money to the co-ops they were most interested in and the ones they supported.
Sunday morning was spent envisioning what cooperation would look like 30 years from now. Dr. Rose Brewer, a professor of Afro-American and African Studies at the University of Minnesota, and Irna Landrum, a digital campaign director at Daily Kos, led us through an activity about how we would build and maintain a Black solidarity economy in the Midwest. After a lot of robust conversation, we were inspired to build out our networks and invite more Black folks to our movement. We identified who wanted to take initiative and be part of the planning process for the next Blackonomics. We ended our day by expressing our gratitude of being in the space.
Blackonomics was a beautiful, melanin-filled space, that provided healing, hope, love, warmth, joy, and community.