While growing up in low-income housing, my grandmother, Nanny, often ran a “Candy House” to make ends meet. It was not the house made of candy you read about in Hansel and Gretel or the delicious and colorful gingerbread houses you see during the holidays and in movies. My Grandma’s Candy House was her side hustle in a three-bedroom apartment to raise funds for her 15 grandchildren because her monthly social security check was never enough.
The Candy House was where neighborhood kids, families and passerbys could buy packaged or individually wrapped candy for a few coins, homemade desserts from family recipes, Southern-style cooked meals, soft drinks and my absolute favorite, Kool-Aid flavored icee of all colors for a fraction of the cost of what you’d pay at a corner store, supermarket or restaurant.
Whenever bills started to stack up, someone in the house had a costly accident, or there was a special occasion in our family, Nanny would resurrect the Candy House and start selling meals, treats and icees to generate income and keep our family afloat and in good spirits. When the Candy House was in full force, the freezer was filled to the rim, the kitchen smelled of cakes baking and there was always something cooking on the stove that the kids in the house knew not to touch…or else. Nanny did not need to advertise when the Candy House was open because our family was a walking billboard and she would be able to generate the profit she needed in a matter of days from students, church goers and kids playing outside.
Side hustles like my grandmother’s candy house are not new news to Black communities. These types of business ventures are how many households survive and are sustained, even today. Black families and communities have thrived because of their innovative ways of generating income when traditional opportunities were not offered or available. These legit services such as babysitting, car pooling/taxiing, letter writing (drawing and reading), doing hair, cooking meals, hosting rent parties and pop-up candy houses are only a few ways Black people raised funds to take care of their basic needs.
Bringing in the dollar through Black businesses
We all know the unfortunate and unfair treatment of Black People in this country's history. From the free labor of slavery to the Jim Crow South, segregation, the current wage gap and lack of representation, the struggle for economic equality for Black people, Black women and Black families to rise up has been a let down. The Black experience has been and continues to be anchored in our ability to hustle and find creative ways to turn our obstacles into opportunities. Many people believe that Black people fail to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and remain impoverished, yet as Dr. King said, “It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.”
We also know the fight for economic justice continues and everyone, not just Black people, must do their part in ensuring we all have equitable and sustainable opportunities to thrive. So, as long as non-Blacks are still the leading decision makers and power players in this nation's economy, we will continue to do what it takes to make a dollar out of 15 cents.