THE BLOG
05/02/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Black Unemployment: Boycotting for Change in LA

Originally published on Youthradio.org, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.

By: King Anyi Howell

Hassan Cheney is a hustler.

It's not what you think. Yes, the term "hustle" can mean making money illegally. But in the African American community, "hustle" can also describe the borderline economy of earning money on any product or service you can offer.

"I see people with jobs hustling; working full time, but on the side braiding hair, or selling knives," Cheney says, from his South Los Angeles neighborhood. "The hustle only lasts for so long. I've seen certain people with the same hustle go out make hundreds of dollars a day and (other people) only make 10 dollars."

Cheney, who's 26, hustles his music instrumentals. He needs the money to pay rent and tuition. Cheney is a senior at Cal State Northridge. But these days, his homework consists of one thing: finding a job.

"From the Valley to LA, I've been filling out applications wherever I can find a job," Cheney says. "I know people with Master's and BAs and they can't find work."

Cheney definitely has his work cut out for him. Even before the recession, African Americans experienced higher rates of unemployment than any other group in the nation. But the wounded economy has worsened the job situation. The national unemployment rate hovers around ten percent, while the rate for blacks is at 16.5 percent.

The issue caught the attention of the Congressional Black Caucus. Its members want President Obama to do more for the African American community. CBC Chairwoman, Barbara Lee (D-Ca) released a statement this month in response to a January jobs report.

"[January's] jobs report is an encouraging indicator that our economy shows signs of improving now that the unemployment rate is below 10 percent. However, the unemployment numbers for African Americans have steadily increased over the last five months."

One solution to the unemployment problem is to force businesses to hire African Americans, which has been the approach of The Millennium Panthers, a community organization born out of Black Panther Party. In an interview, Millennium Panthers' founder, Gerald Pitts, told me his organization conducted a study showing that African Americans spent $8.2 billion shopping at Los Angeles stores, and that many of those stores where African Americans spend the most money don't hire many black workers. So the Millennium Panthers have organized the Greater Los Angeles Economic Blackout. It's a boycott on stores that do business in the black community, but don't hire black people.

"Their pockets are tight," says Pitts, who's leading the boycott. Pitts says community members have noticed the disparity between residents and workers. "They don't understand why no money is coming into the community, but they see other people coming into the community and rolling better than they are."

Pitts and his group targeted a black-owned liquor store in the heart of an African American neighborhood in Los Angeles. He says the store only hired Latinos. According to Pitts, the store manager was feeling pinched by the boycott. "Why are you trying to destroy me?" he asked Pitts, who then explained, "We're not trying to destroy you, we're trying to keep our youth employed and our people working too! Couldn't you just hire two and two? We don't mind to share..."

And sharing is exactly what Pitts says happened at the liquor store: "Now when you go in there, you've got two black employees." Two black Americans, who Gerald Pitts says might not have been working otherwise.

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