This month’s Powerful Perspective is brought to you by Martin, co-owner of Northgate Salon and Wigs, Rochester’s premier ethnic salon and purveyor of authentic, quality African hair and beauty products. Martin speaks on the unique challenges faced by immigrant minority business owners and sheds valuable personal insight on diversity and inclusion in Rochester.
Q. What are some challenges unique to minority business owners?
A. There are so many things you need to consider as a minority if you want to be a business owner. First of all, you want to get everything right. As a minority, to do business, you have to be faithful. You have to be truthful in everything you do. If you are selling, let’s say a remote control, you have to make sure that the remote control you are selling is the right one, the best one for your customer. You must make sure that everything on your shelf and every service that you provide is of top quality. Be faithful. Be sure that people who come in look at you as more than just a businessman. You want people to feel comfortable.
Also, the banks look at you as a risk. Unless you are a legitimate, long-term client who already has money, raising money from a bank can be an issue. We actually got lucky and did not take any loans out for our salon. My wife had already been in business for so long and I had owned businesses as well. So we have relationships with banks now just in case we need to work with them in the future, but for now we do not.
Your appearance, your dress code, is another major factor. It’s the first thing people see. Sure, everyone is concerned about appearances but it’s even more important for minorities who want to get into business.
Q. Why do you think it’s more important for minority business owners to be aware of their service and product quality than non-minority business owners?
A. Because, minorities in this country are downgraded. We are perceived as people who do fishy things. We do things that are wrong. As a minority, if you want to do anything, you want to be sure that what you are doing and telling people is right and factual. Everything you present must be pure fact. It’s very important because we are less respected in society. Especially foreigners. Once we speak we are deemed as not American. Customers know right away that you are a foreigner. And they’ll ask you, “Oh, where are you from? Your accent is beautiful”. If you want to do business, it’s very important that you are nice and kind when people ask you those questions.
Minorities in this country can do a lot for our communities, but only if we cooperate, if we love each other, if we share ideas. It’s unfortunate that we do not share ideas. We tend to hate and undermine each other. It’s really putting us backward. If we love each other and help each other, we won’t have to overcome the majority, because we will be successful in anything we do, especially business.
Q. What can the community do to help our city not only assist minority business owners, but attract more successful minority business owners such as yourself? What can we do to help?
A. I think Rochester is a great city to live in. I lived in two states before Minnesota, and Rochester is the best place I’ve lived in by far. The city and community are already open to minorities and foreigners and already have facilities. You just have to open yourself up to those facilities and make good use of them. You make good use of them, you will be happy to be here.
Q. What makes Rochester the best place you have lived?
A. Well first, the crime is low. Also, the loving people in Rochester are amazing. In Georgia you can’t even say “hi” to someone you don’t know. They won’t say “hi” back to you. They make you feel like you’re stupid for speaking to them. Rochester is not like that. You meet anyone anywhere and they want to talk with you, if you approach them the right way. They are ready to help you with anything you are finding difficult. I would not hesitate to invite anyone from around the world to come to Rochester. If you are coming to the United States and you want to do business, come to Rochester.
Q. What do “diversity,” "inclusion,” and “welcoming” mean to you?
A. Diversity in Rochester is amazing. I tell my wife all the time that I can’t live in the Cities because it is too crowded. Rochester is different. I’ve been to most towns and cities in Minnesota, and you see people everywhere who are connected. Like my church, I am a Christian and have been an Assemblies of God member since living in Ghana. When I came to the U.S., in other states, if it’s a black church, it’s a black church. If it’s a white church, you’d go there and there is no diversity. When I came to Rochester and joined the Assemblies of God church, I met members from China, Japan, London, Germany, all over the world. So the environment in Minnesota is already built that way. The diversity in this city lets me know that this place is the place to stay. We have customers from Mayo Clinic that used to come to our shop that would move away because of their job, but ended up coming back. Not just one or two, but several customers have done this! It’s just a Minnesota thing. When you come in, you are always welcome. When you come in you feel at home.
Q. What about inclusion. Do you feel included?
A. I am. I do. Maybe someone would say they are not, or that we are not, but it all depends on who you are and how you do things. Me for instance, maybe because of the way I was raised in Ghana—we are a loving country. We are raised to be loving always. That’s why when you go to Ghana you see a lot of Americans. We are brought up to be loving people. When you come in we greet you freely. So I don’t care where you are coming from. When you meet me you see a nice guy. Maybe that’s why I feel included. I am able to associate with people without encountering grudges or problems, but it’s all about your approach and how you do things.
I love that I was able to interview Martin first. I knew his unique life experiences would provide him with novel and valuable insight into what makes our community great. I resonated with his opinions on Rochester’s diversity. The sheer amount of ethnic and cultural diversity we have is usually only present in much larger metropolitan areas. We truly are a lucky community. I feel as if Martin and I are lucky, that we are both involved and active in smaller communities within the city (Assemblies of God church and Seventh Day Adventist church) which regularly expose us to the culturally rich side of Rochester. He and I both agree that the people are what make Rochester a great city to live in.
I also agreed with Martin’s points on individual approaches and responsibility with regard to interpersonal interactions. The key lesson that I took away from this discussion with him is this: We have to be intentional. When it comes to meeting new people, or learning new things, we are responsible for getting out into our communities and making those connections necessary to learn and grow. Once we have grown it is then our responsibility to bring that knowledge and connection back to our home communities. We are the builders responsible for creating the community bridges necessary for a better and brighter tomorrow
Reader, where in your life are you able to start building community bridges? Do you have a background in social justice and belong to a book club that wants to get more involved with social justice initiatives in our city? If so, how can you make that connection? Maybe you’re a teacher and you’ve noticed an increased interest in certain cultures within your students. How can you engage your students with those culture groups on a deeper level? These were just examples, but the principle is the same for both. Why not be the one to initiate that experience of growth and learning? Where can you start doing this within your own life? I challenge you to make one community connection this month. If you need any help, please contact the Diversity Council. We would also love to hear about the community connections you’ve formed. Please reach out!
Also, if you are willing to share your unique perspective with the community, I'd love to interview you for Powerful Perspectives. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.