Friday, October 05, 2007

The Fight to Save Eso Won Or Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

If I had a nickel each time I’ve heard an African-American commentator say that we make more and spend more than the GNP of many small nations, I’d be a millionaire. I’d be a billionaire, if I had a nickel for the times I’ve heard African-Americans rail that blacks don’t support each other. That means that blacks won’t put their money where their mouths are when it comes to patronizing black businesses, donating to black causes, or doing business with black professionals. Yet, don’t bat an eye when it comes to spending a king’s ransom on expensive cars, trendy fashion designed garb, high priced sneakers, booze, and cigarettes, on concert tickets, and lavish parties.

If I had a nickel for the times that I’ve heard blacks slam mega millionaire black athletes and entertainers for not coughing up more cash to aid or start their own black businesses, support education, and recreation programs, fund health care, and job development initiatives, and to help the black poor. I’d be a trillionaire.

It’s certainly grossly unfair to paint all blacks with the broad brush of being selfish, self-indulgent tightwads when it comes to supporting black needs. There are countless numbers of blacks from the rich and the famous to struggling working folk who give, and sometimes give generously, to black causes, and who dutifully patronize black vendors and establishments. The questions are are there enough that do that? And do they do contribute commensurate to their ability to shell out the bucks to help and support black businesses and causes? The answer is yes and no. The fight to build the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial in Washington D.C. is a text book example of the good, bad and ugly when it comes to assessing black financial giving. Many blacks did give generously and willing for the completion of the memorial. The target date for dedication is 2008. Many others haven’t given a penny toward its completion.

It took cajoling, pleading, imploring and a national arm twist campaign by fraternities, sororities, and high profile black celebrities, and the much publicized kick-in of millions by corporations from Walt Disney Corporation to Pepsi to boost the fund appeal campaign to a sum close to the $100 million needed for the Memorial. There’s still a shortfall of nearly $20 million.

The fight to save Eso Won Books is shaping up to be L.A.’s mini version of the King Memorial campaign. It shows the same conflicting trends in black financial giving. The frenzy of emails and appeal letters to keep the doors of the financially strapped bookstore open has been heartwarming and gratifying. But that also raises two more questions. How did it get to the point where there had to be emails and appeals to save the store? And, now that there is the real danger that the store could close, what are the thousands that have attended signings, book discussions, and events at Eso Won during the store’s near twenty year existence going to do about it now that is in danger of folding? Will they recognize its value as an artistic, intellectual and literary icon in our community? Will they buy buy buy buy books at the store in quantities to insure that it’s here twenty years from now (or even twenty more weeks)?

The short answer is that those that believe in the store and what it has done for the community, and will do in the future, must immediately buy buy buy buy at the store. In other words, they must quickly go in their pocket or purse and spend money to preserve a store that has been a vital resource for the cultural and educational nourishment and uplift of the community.

The long answer is that panic buying when the financial gun is held to a black businesses’ head is not enough. There must be a personal commitment made to buy a book or buy a book as a gift from Eso Won monthly or quarterly. That' takes real commitment, discipline, and the awareness of the need to resist the temptation to click on Amazon and get their independent book store crushing discount, or tool offer to Barnes and Noble or Borders to get a chai latte while slipping on headphones to listen to CDs.

The dollars and the discounts for books at Borders and on Amazon don't create one job in our community, provide one service, boost cultural and intellectual enrichment, and stimulate activism on the burning social problems that sledgehammer our community. But the dollars that go to keep an Eso Won and the dwindling number of Eso Wons of America alive and well do.

It's an investment in ourselves, our future and our children's future. The fight to save Eso Won is indeed a fight that's worth putting our money where our mouth is.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press, October 2007).