Aquillia Mikel on Rebranding Chicago and the Beauty of Black Entrepreneurship

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Aquillia Mikel - Rebranding ChicagoOn Black Friday, activists took to the Chicago streets for shopping protests along Magnificent Mile, a strip of upscales stores that includes Ralph Lauren, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. In honor of the Black Lives Matter Movement, and particularly the recent killing of Black teenager Laquan McDonald by Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke, marchers blocked entrances to stores and made the case that they would not be spending their hard-earned dollars as long as Black lives were continuously in jeopardy at the hands of white police officers.

With Black spending power expected to reach $1.1 trillion by year’s end, hundreds of African Americans, that day, decided to spend their money elsewhere.

Aquillia Mikel, a 25-year old teacher who lives in Chicago, is one of those people.

Here, we caught up with Mikel to talk about Rebranding Chicago and why buying black is beautiful.

TNJ.com: Tell me about your Cash-In event.

Aquillia Mikel: Cash In is a Chicago-based Black Friday shopping alternative where consumers who want to support black owned businesses can come and shop instead of spending their money at Big Box stores who do not spend their time or money reinvesting in the black community. This year was Cash In’s inaugural year and it was held at Gallery Guichard in Bronzeville. There were 12 black owned businesses there along with free food and wine for participants and live music by Allegra Dolores, a band popularly know on indie TV network, BlackandSexy TV.

TNJ.com: Why did you launch your Rebrand Chicago organization? What is it about? What are its goals? 

Aquillia Mikel: Rebrand Chicago is a lifestyle brand that promotes the beauty of buying black in Chicago. Rebrand is exclusively about Chicago because because black entrepreneurship here needs to become more visible. Chicago is more than what the media portrays- there are a lot of initiatives and businesses that are sprouting that get lost in the melee of violent images that we are well known for. We are also looked over because we are not New York or LA- we are the star of the midwest. Many young professionals use Chicago as a training ground for their success- but then take their talents and their money elsewhere. The goal is to have consumers between the ages of 21-40 economically support Black businesses through various and accessible outlets so that #buyingblack is more than something they do when prompted around the holidays- it truly becomes a lifestyle. We have the buying power- there is no reason that we shouldn’t be investing in ourselves.

TNJ.com: Tell me about the idea of “fighting back by where you spend your money.”

Aquillia Mikel: Think about the commercials that you currently see on TV. Whether cars, clothes, food, or insurance is being sold, it is geared toward an urban, largely Black audience. Young consumers need to better understand that advertising is geared towards gaining new customers or keeping their most frequent consumers happy- and the majority of their advertising points back to us. That is how we fight back. When we are equipped with that knowledge, then we will learn how to become savvy consumers. We won’t buy hair products that cater to us from businesses that exploit its African workers, culturally appropriate us in their fashion shows, will not open grocery stores where they are needed most, or gentrify our neighborhoods without supplying jobs or education. That’s how you fight back- your money is power. If you don’t want to see black people pursuing entrepreneurship or don’t care when one of us gets murdered for the color of our skin, we don’t have to support you and we’ll create our own lane. Period. You will lose us and we will build our own.

TNJ.com: Did you march in the Magnificent Mile protest in Chicago on Black Friday?

Aquillia Mikel: I was not able to march in the protest, as I was getting ready for Cash In. By the looks of things currently in Chicago, it won’t be long before you see me at the next one.