While it’s easy to sit back and complain about the injustices happening within the current tumultuous racial climate we’re living in, it takes a dedicated, concerned onlooker, or onlookers in this case, to take action and do something to right the wrongs they witness on a daily basis.
In this case, Hillary Van Dyke and Josh Bean, two professionals who each serve full-time roles with Pinellas County Schools, decided to step up and do their part to shine a light on minority-owned businesses in the Tampa Bay area who’ve suffered greatly in light of shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In particular, Van Dyke and Bean took the initiative to bring visibility to Black-owned businesses in an attempt to boost their visibility in the local marketplace.
This pair of local activists put its collective efforts and ideas to work and came up with a venture called Green Book of Tampa Bay. The title was inspired by the green book that Black folks used as a tool during the Jim Crow-era south; folks who utilized that green book traveled cross-country and needed a resource for businesses and places of commerce that would openly welcome them without the threat of segregation or racism. Eating at a restaurant, staying at a motel or filling a car’s gas tank are all necessary when taking a road trip but the prospect of not being afforded those services due the color of one’s skin was a reality in this country not so long ago.
“In 2020, it’s more about continuing that support for Black-owned businesses” Van Dyke stated during a conversation with Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. While the possibility of being refused service is less likely to occur these days, it’s still a valid idea and informational service both she and Bean feel are incredibly valuable and worthwhile in present day America.
“We just really wanted to find a way to invest in the community and we found a way to do that. We wanted to increase the traffic of Black-owned businesses and help circulate the Black dollar in the Black community” Bean eagerly added.
To date, since the idea went from a pipe dream on paper to a reality in the winter of 2019, the time and dedication the pair have put into the venture has paid off. Initially designed as a blog, the concept has blossomed and has taken on the configuration of an easy to navigate online directory that encourages users to contribute to its growth and success by self-listing their own businesses giving the project a real sense of community and collaboration.
“It’s exciting seeing business owners finding each other and collaborating. A photographer might find a wedding planner who then finds an event planner and they might all plan an event together” Van Dyke added with an undeniable sense of pride in her voice. “That’s really, really awesome to see.”
Early in its incarnation, Green Book of Tampa Bay boasted almost 200 individual business listings; that number has almost quadrupled as word has gotten out about this invaluable service.
“We really wanted people to actually go to a website themselves, bookmark it and have the availability to look up stuff themselves,” Bean went on to say while explaining the ease and convenience involved in having this type of resource available in the community. “Users can add listings and then we approve them. The directory consists of businesses but we also have listings for nonprofits, African American artists, painters, photographers, musicians. We try to cover the entire gamut.”
When the topic of the senseless death of George Floyd and other Black Americans came up, Van Dyke made her point very clear. “When it comes to ‘Black Lives Matter,’ we want that to be more of a lifestyle and not just a hashtag or a trend. His death made people realize that they kind of had to look out for one another.”
A true testament to the efforts both Van Dyke and Bean put into the venture is the time and dedication they both selflessly put into it.
“Oh my God. It’s legit. It’s another job!” Van Dyke joked when describing the time she invests into the project outside of her 40-hour workweek.
When asked what their hopes are in regard to the creation and the ongoing success of Green Book of Tampa Bay, both of its creators shared the same idea: “We’re just trying to expand and to have more businesses represented” they jointly expressed.
Taking this endeavor from the proposal stage to a real-life, thriving operation is due entirely to the dedication and work of both of these admirable, concerned citizens who made the choice to create a vehicle that would give local residents more educated options when spending their hard-earned dollars.
“It takes a village to raise a child” according to an ancient African proverb. Hillary Van Dyke and Josh Bean are living proof that, sometimes, all it takes is two well-informed and enlightened citizens to bring about positive change in that same, local village.
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