by Omowale Adewale
Black VegFest was introduced last year to end our community’s dependence on animals and the destructive corporations we patronize. Our goal was to speak to address the Black community about issues related to life, love and longevity. A couple thousand people showed up on the rainiest day (August 11) of the year making it one of the best events of the summer in Brooklyn. Sixty-five percent of the attendees identified as Black.
The reliance on animals and corporations that push them as commodities has truly hurt our health, savings and our spirituality. This reliance on animals has given us heart disease, debt and moved us further away from building community.
I wish members of the African American community who are vegan, plant-based and/or animal rights activists knew NYC City Council Speaker Corey Johnson was sponsoring NYC bill Intro 1476 on banning fur. We would have been proactive on this issue as it aligns with our purpose of Black VegFest. As an activist, I could have easily fathomed that the billion-dollar fur industry would not go quietly as it is threatened in the center of the fashion world. I’m only dismayed that my elected officials would want to keep such an exhausting behemoth around.
The reality is expensive furs at Saks Fifth Avenue will never complete us spiritually. How does ripping fur off of foxes, minks, and raccoons bring us closer to the Creator?
There’s actually a long history of building successful brands and commodities off the backs of African Americans. Long after slavery and the growth of cotton and tobacco in America, African Americans are still being used to rebuild brands from prisons to pop culture while never getting our fair share.
In 2003, McDonald’s launched a successful campaign plan with Steve Stoute, a Hip-Hop industry mogul to turn the tide back with their new campaign I’m Lovin It. The campaign which first targeted the Black community spent $1.37bn on advertising. Rapper Pusha T and Justin Timberlake have both debated rights to the jingle but not who they targeted as the consumer-base. Pepper Miller, president of Hunter-Miller Group, a firm that handles African American market research and consulting said, "It's worth leading with African American insights.” She believes when brands initially use African American insights, it jump-starts the brand leading it toward more national and international growth.
This was also true in 1985 when the largest and most successful sneaker brand was reintroduced to the world through a young Michael Jordan. Nike placed bets on a deal that almost bankrupted the company. Today, Michael Jordan’s sneaker incessantly advertised to a loyal young Black group of consumers accounts for 50% of Nike’s total sneaker profits and has remained its driving force of revenue.
In 2019, the fur industry is attempting to sell campaign that support for furry animals is actually an insidious plot to destroy Black culture. Wherever there’s an industry or brand in America suffering the Black community is looked to salvage its slow demise, regardless how silly the angle is.
Possibly the worse or best inception (depending on who’s telling the story) was in the early 1930’s. An ambition marketing genius left a position at Mercedes-Benz to go revamp GM Motors during the Great Depression. Nicholas Dreystadt modernized the marketing strategy of leaning on Black consumers to save failing corporations. Dreystadt simply needed to get GM out of the red. He recognized Black athletes and musicians were paying White men to purchase similar luxury items because of Jim Crow. Dreystadt believed this transaction cut into GM’s profit and marketing dollars. Jim Crow wasn’t only rampant in the South, it was driven by rich corporations and others in power until it ceased to make cents. Dreystadt persuaded the board at GM to reverse its policy of discrimination to sell Cadillac cars to African Americans. At the time, the strategy was specific to Cadillac. Dreystadt wasn’t a civil rights hero, he wanted to sell cars that would impress his bosses.
But Dreystadt couldn’t just begin selling African Americans Cadillac cars. First, Dreystadt had to significantly remodel the current luxury product reducing its features to offset manufacturing costs to GM. Dreystadt complained to the board it was too expensive to manufacture the vehicle as is. And thus, Cadillac began overhauling every inch of the vehicle to develop a less expensive cheap automobile. However, the costs to the overzealous Black consumer interested only in obtaining some example of first-class citizenship. Regardless of their income levels, Jim Crow barred Blacks from purchasing expensive items that made audacious men of them, especially in the faces of poor whites.
By 1934, Cadillac went from a downward spiral to driving sales up by 70% during the Great Depression. The Black community went on to make Cadillac a viable product for decades to come. The development of the clunky automobile with historically poor mileage is probably the greatest heist of the American consumer’s self-interest.
The Black community is a safe bet for failing brands. Today, in NYC, a billion-dollar business is betting the farm of wild animals that the Black community, who is barely surviving in New York City will save their luxury business. True comedy.
I’m wagering my own bet. Black VegFest at Weeksville August 10 and August 11 will revitalize our community and adhere to our own best interests for once.