By Sarah Berjan
City College’s students were dismayed to find that Chasing Lions Cafe, the popular coffee shop embedded in the Multi-Use Building would not reopen for the Fall 2017 semester. The space that founder and owner Keba Konte once filled with music, food, and CCSF community members of all sorts is shuttered and dim. While another business will most likely soon fill its niche, Chasing Lions Cafe was not only a peaceful place to spend an hour between classes but a minority owned and employing business. Even if its successor exhibits the same level of ambiance and quality, it would be a tremendous loss if CCSF does not make a commitment to finding a vendor whose profits and paychecks benefit underserved communities.
The lack of diversity isn’t a new topic.
Minorities are constantly battling for recognition at all levels of society. Too often, society overlooks the importance of representation in the ownership and operation of businesses as well as in our civic life and culture. Consumers too deserve the right to learn about where the proceeds of their purchases are being sent, and the democracy of consumer choice is vital as a supplement to legislative efforts at achieving parity.
It is also important to emphasize diversity in businesses to build a greater sense of community. Chasing Lions Cafe was widely known by students for their artisan coffee, specialty drinks and for its prominence within an already diverse community. The shop represented an array of cultures that reflected the intentions of the owner. It also directly reflected the community with it’s green standards an evocative collection of decor, seemingly composed of the inhabitants of the neighborhood. It captured the zeitgeist of the community it surrounded; City College, home to an array of ethnic, religious, political and sexual backgrounds under one roof.
Konte has expanded his business ventures to Red Bay Cafe, located in Oakland, where underfunded communities are benefited through the accessibility of well paying jobs. A trend can follow with higher presence of minority owned businesses to set examples of social justice in efforts of constructing better opportunities. It may be easy to dismiss the intentions of businesses as money hungry through over priced products made to lure hipsters into the rat race that is capitalism. But for business owners willing to forgo offering the lowest possible wages to their employees, proprietors can effect change in a society whose minimum wage increases slowly if at all by offering wages that they feel are fairer.
We are evolving as a society to a greater sense of personal responsibility for the protection diversity and toward advancements in every way possible, particularly in light of recent changes in our national political climate. Having more business establishments with a greater degree of representation for diverse groups of people is beneficial and would provoke newfound ideas in the market place. In addition, developing diversity within businesses allows for the elimination of preconceived stereotypes in the reputation of individuals, by giving proprietors the ability to represent themselves directly in our culture and economy alike.
Previous customers have described the Chasing Lions cafe to have a different mood from the competing businesses in the area. Phrases such as “different”, “welcoming”, “eclectic” were used in their descriptions. Perhaps it was the mixture of people which gave the cafe a homely feel. We search for a little slice of home in the places we visit. Fostering diversity in our immediate community can do just that. San Francisco is celebrated for its diversity, but there is a need for more locations to welcome and even celebrate our multidimensional society. By committing to diversity in City College contracts, we move away from mere appearances and into a reality of equality and self determination.