A Little Store with Big Heart

In seeking racial reconciliation, we begin to understand each other through dialogue and relationships. This blog is part of a series that explores the issues facing our world today.

‘We Have to Be the Change: A New Partnership for Willow’

  On the far South Side, 47 miles away from the South Barrington campus of Willow Creek, a large gray building sits across from a sugar factory.
Next to a small white sign reading “Inter-City Supply Co.,” Jackie Dyess steps out, her blue and green blouse a burst of color and her face a palette of joy amid this industrial nook just south of 87th Street.
Behind her lies 15,000 square feet of warehouse space containing janitorial and cleaning supplies – bottled water, latex gloves, facial tissue name tags, coffee creamer – that are now ending up in some of the offices of Willow Creek’s South Barrington campus.
The partnership between Willow and Jackie’ Inter-City Supply started just a few months ago, and it’s much more than just a business deal. It’s an opportunity to partner with someone who has a vision to right-size the economic and racial inequity in Chicago.
“I really went into business to try to create some jobs, to offer folks an opportunity,” Jackie says. “I really want to help underserved communities. It’s not easy to do that.”
Nearly half of young black men, ages 20-24, were unemployed or not in school in Chicago in 2014, according to a report released in 2016 by the Green Cities Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago. That number – 47 percent – is about 15 percent higher than the national average and in cities like Los Angeles and New York.
Miles away in the northwest suburbs, Angelia Hopson, volunteer and event coordinator at Willow’s South Barrington campus, boarded a bus trip in February to the American South. Called the Mosaic journey, Angelia and a multiracial group of 15 Willow staff focused on the history racial injustice, making stops in cities like Selma, Birmingham, Atlanta and Charleston.
Before her time at Willow, Angelia worked on behalf of diverse suppliers and minority business owners, trying to connect them with contracts, but “I was never going to do it again,” she says. “It’s very draining, it’s very difficult, it’s very disheartening to see how much systemic racism still exists in these major corporations. So I walked away from it. I was never going to touch it again.”
On the last day of the trip, Angelia and others were challenged to take one step to create change in the area of racial reconciliation.
“I remember sitting at that table, saying ‘We have to be the change before we can invite other people in to embrace racial reconciliation,’” Angelia says. “Our congregation needs to look diverse, our purchasing needs to look diverse, our staff needs to look diverse, right? So how can we ask it and not be it?’”
Angelia reached out to Jackie, whom she first met 15 years ago while chairing a committee together for the Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council. Jackie grew up in Evanston and lives in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood but has intentionally headquartered her company in an underserved community. Daily, she commutes from her North Side home, and glass-paneled lakefront condos on her route turn to neighborhoods with modest brick row houses and abandoned buildings.
“I actually live the disparity, just commuting to work,” she says. “I see the racial disparity. I see it every day.”
When Jackie took over the company about 21 years ago, there were two employees, with the business doing less than $1 million a year. She’s added trucks and vans and expanded the businesses to 13 full-time employees. Now, the company brings in $10 million in revenue each year. Last spring, began supplying Willow’s Sections department with more than $1,300 of products. She and Angelia hope the partnership will grow.
"You give the opportunity to a minority firm who gives jobs to other minorities,” Angelia says. “If we really want to create racial reconciliation, and we want to have diversity embraced in the church, then I think we gotta start with pouring into and helping small businesses grow and then employ those people.”
 Jackie puts it this way: “I don’t think Jesus Christ just sat in a church. I think that he was the community, touching people (who were) underserved. It’s a sin when we close our eyes. It hurts to deal with hard things, and we’re supposed to experience that hurt, and we’re supposed to do something about it.”        
Racial Reconciliation Resource
You want to commit to racial reconciliation, but practically, how is it done? In a brief article for “Relevant” magazine, Christian author Christena Cleveland lays out Five Steps to Becoming a Racial Reconciler. She challenges us to know the truth, embrace our racial identities, confront our privilege and/or oppression, count the cost and leave our places of comfort, just like Jesus did. 
Where was the last place you shopped that was not a mainstream grocery store, such as Jewel, Mariano’s or Target? 
Suggestions for other suburban grocery stores to try: 
SuperMercado La Salsa: You’ll find loads and loads of pan dulce (sweet breads) at this supermarket in Elgin, plus all the tortillas you could want, alongside staples like meat and bread. 879 Villa Street, Elgin, www.facebook.com/smlasalsa.
Mitsuwa: This Japanese grocery store in Arlington Heights lays out fresh sushi every day. Toward the back, a spacious foot court sells ramen, crepes, bubble tea and more. 100 E. Algonquin Road, Arlington Heights, www.mitsuwa.com.
Patel Brothers: This spacious storefront right off busy Golf Road in Schaumburg carries all the spices and supplies you could imagine to add Indian flavor to your food. A bakery inside the store makes fresh chapati (a type of Indian flatbread), too. Started on Devon Avenue in Chicago in 1974, Patel Brothers has grown into an Indian supermarket juggernaut, with 51 locations throughout the United States. 830 W. Golf Road, Schaumburg, www.patelbros.com.

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Know the truth, embrace our racial identities, confront our privilege and/or oppression, count the cost and leave our places of comfort, just like Jesus.