LA’s Black-owned businesses are giving back to community

Wide array of altruistic start-ups

Isabell Rivera OW Contributor | 9/12/2019, midnight

The City of Angels is facing quite a few crises. For starters, the homeless epidemic has skyrocketed, overwhelming city officials but at the same time eliciting compassion by businesses and organizations.

Many Hollywood stylists who “glam up” the stars for the red carpet, also visit Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles, and help the homeless feel “glamorous,” although just for a day or two.

 Long Beach native Shirley Raines is doing exactly that. She’s bringing her company, “Beauty2theStreetz,” to those who need it most. Raines has invested in her own organization that helps to provide free showers and mini-makeovers, as well as food donations. But she doesn’t just serve Skid Row. She drives around LA to see who needs a quick makeover to feel a little better—even though only externally.

“The men and women of Skid Row are not just all drug addicts and alcoholics,” Raines said. “These are actually people who fell on hard times. They lost their job. They had an illness. They couldn’t keep up with their bills, so they lost their housing. They planned on sleeping in their car until their car was repossessed. I have vets on the street. I take care of a [homeless] woman that has a Ph.D. I think that we have to break the stereotypes of what homelessness is...not all of the people that are homeless are without jobs.”

 Raines explained that these individuals are sometimes only out of a home, and they are not lacking in self esteem. She noted that there are as many levels of poverty as there are levels of wealth, and that it is important for people to understand that simply because someone is without a home doesn’t change who they are at their core.

“Women are still women,” Raines said. “Everyone wants to feel beautiful. Everyone wants to feel special. Every woman wants to look in the mirror and see something different than their circumstances and their hardship and their situation.”

A second ongoing crisis is jail overpopulation, and while food entrepreneur, Chef Ron Freeman, can’t change that, he can make life behind bars a little more tasteful with his own ramen noodles creation. He sells the meal to jail commissaries. A former inmate himself, Freeman came to notice that ramen noodles are a big hit among inmates—even becoming a form of “currency” behind bars similar to cigarettes.

He said his company, “Mama Pat’s Foods,” is a healthier version of the standard high sodium ramen sold in jails. This diet is said to contribute to health issues (high salt content) which, overtime, can result in higher health care costs for inmates. This, in turn, is passed on to Los Angeles County taxpayers.

Freeman said the idea is not simply to serve better ramen noddles, but rather to offer inmates another chance at life once released.

“I’m going to hire people like me that [are] just hungry,” Fereeman said. I want people who want to do something with their lives. So I give them an opportunity.”

The third crisis engulfing much of the city is gang violence, as well as poverty which heavily impacts South LA. The late rapper Nipsey Hussle—born Ermias Asghedom—created the brand Marathon Clothing and a store of the same name. He knew first-hand of the disadvantages of living in underserved areas. He created his brand to give back to the community.

As a former gang member, Hussle embarked on a mission to make South LA a better and safer place, and to end gang violence while providing better economic opportunities for the next generation. Hussle created an investment fund called “Our Opportunity” which he had wished to introduce on Capitol Hill. The profits the Marathon Store makes, are still going to “Our Opportunity.”

“I was excited when I learned of his interest in Opportunity Zones” Sen. Tim Scott (R-South Carolina) told the L.A. Times in an interview. “And I’m saddened that we will never get to discuss our plans and vision for what this initiative could do to partner with and strengthen Nipsey’s already amazing efforts.”