To our wonderful community:
We have searched our hearts for the words to say at this sad time.
As a black owned business, we represent only 2% of the businesses in NYC, although blacks represent 22% of the population. Of the 2% of black owned businesses only 3% employ workers. We understand that we speak from a special and privileged position. This has weighed heavily on us over the last two weeks.
We live in a country where 1 out of every 1000 black men will be murdered by the police. Will the next protest banner read with one of our nephew’s names?
Sadly, the murder of George Floyd will not be the last murder of this kind - no matter how many well-meaning people march and carry signs. The policing practices in this country simply cannot change without deep structural change.
The sad truth is that black Americans are economically worse off than we were in 1968. At the end of the civil rights movement we held 9.4% of the wealth of whites, and today it is just 8.7%. The median household wealth for white Americans is 149K versus 13K for blacks. When we were in school in the 1990s, the wealth divide was around 12 to 1, but today it is more than 21 to 1. For whites with advanced degrees the median wealth is 600K, versus 100K for blacks. We have three advanced degrees between the two of us, yet we are well below the median. A middle class black family works an additional 3 months out of the year, compared with a middle class white family. But no matter how hard we work, the playing field is so slanted that we cannot catch up.
The profound sense of sadness we have over our failure and the failure of our generation to make substantial progress cannot be overstated. Our fathers were born in the 1920s and were underestimated in every aspect of their lives. They could have been George Floyd. They could have been Michael Brown or Trayvon. Our fathers had the same dreams as any other men: to leave an economic legacy of security for their children. Yet due to policies like redlining and practices like restrictive covenants, they could only watch as their white counterparts built generational wealth and ease for their families. Like all black men and women, our fathers had a “knee on their necks.”
The civil rights movement gave generations of black Americans a dream. But the numbers show us that in spite of enormous cultural change, that dream has not been realized.
The health crisis we are currently facing has highlighted the divide. Whereas only 12% of Americans are black, 22% of all the Covid-19 related deaths in this country have been African Americans. And although we have been told that obesity is a factor, there is only a 7% higher obesity rate in blacks than whites. Every one of the diseases that blacks suffer in higher rates are diseases of stress and trauma. What we are seeing is that the actual disease blacks are suffering from is racism.
The truth is that Black Lives Don’t Matter. Black Health Does Not Matter. Black Dreams Do Not Matter.
Even prior to the murder of George Floyd, we were acutely aware of the structural racism we would face in attempting to reopen Align Brooklyn. But now the unique circumstances we face have been laid bare.
The CARES Act was inadequate to serve the specific needs of the small number of black business owners in this city. Many of our businesses have been completely shuttered for months and will not be fully operational for many more months to come. The Paycheck Protection Program was designed to cover only payroll costs for 2.5 months. Owner salary was excluded. And the main business sustaining loan, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, is a traditional SBA loan based on assets, collateral and credit.
Align Brooklyn is in the top 20% of similar yoga, fitness and wellness studios in this country. Prior to the pandemic, we were a profitable business, which is unlike the many “hobby” businesses that make up a large part of our industry. Yet, because the loan standards are based on wealth and not success, we are not able to access these resources. This is yet another example of how the system is set up to maintain the racial divide. We can feel the ”knee on our necks.”
And in fact only .0006% (you read it right) of black female owned businesses receive the benefit of investment funds that allow many businesses to grow.
We have seen so many statements from other businesses offering charity and stating that they will change their practices. Yet, Align Brooklyn has always had an exceptional and racially diverse staff. We have consistently given to charities that impact blacks and people of color including Yoga Foster and the Women’s Prison Association. We have offered social justice trainings to our staff along with a set of principles to ensure the inclusivity of our space. Align Brooklyn has been a part of and supported the work of transforming our society by offering our space and community for the early development of the highly regarded Holistic Social Change transformational workshops.
We have always done this knowing the truth that the deep roots of the racial divide cannot be solved through charity. Charity is based on the idea that the more privileged give to benefit those less fortunate. This is not a bad thing, but at this point in our struggle for racial justice what we need is solidarity. Solidarity is rooted in the profound realization that we all lose by maintaining the interlocking systems that produce racial disparity - and that we need to dismantle these systems together.
So often the damage white people suffer from racism can be abstract. But in this case all of our extended Align Brooklyn family will be impacted, if we are unable to reopen the space so many of you hold dear due to this country’s unrelenting commitment to black oppression. Solidarity offers a path for non-black people to deepen their understanding of how racism harms them too.
Although we still do hope to reopen the studio with each day this possibility fades a little more. The thought of losing our investment in our business and community due to the racist manner in which emergency resources are being distributed is a profound thing to behold.
As so many studios like ours, we have set up an On Demand site and live stream classes in hope of continuing to generate revenue during this critical time. Over the upcoming weeks, we will be launching Align On Demand 2.0. We will save the details for future communications. Our hope is that we can generate the revenue we need to sustain the studio until the end of the pandemic through subscriptions to this site.
The beauty of the Align Brooklyn community has always been its openness, warmth and welcoming love shared with all. We have always believed that wellness is not just about what you eat or the exercise you do; true wellness is held in the relationships we have with each other. Our wish for our collective future is that we can eventually come together to build a new world based on shared wellness.
With love - Pam and Christopher
Published June 10, 2020
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