By Hye June Park
The number of black-owned businesses in Austin is growing. February is Black History Month, an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of blacks in U.S. history. To celebrate Black History Month, Economic Growth Business Incubator (EGBI) recognizes two clients that operate an African food mart and a nonprofit that highlights black history. One brings Ethiopian food to the Austin community, while the other helps youth shape their identity and learn from their past.
Sitotaw Degefaw, one of the owners of Selam International Mart & Café on North Lamar, sells imported Ethiopian and East African foods and spices in his grocery store. Visitors can explore East African culture while enjoying traditional Ethiopian food without the need to travel to Ethiopia. Selam International Mart & Café is a place where the East African community in Austin can come and enjoy their native Ethiopian culture, as well as a place for non-Africans to try something new in a very friendly environment. Degefaw’s favorite part of owning his business is meeting new people and having a place where his community can gather.
He started his business with just an idea. He came to EGBI to get the support he needed for his small business, with the idea of starting a slaughterhouse for a particular type of beef important to Ethiopian food. EGBI helped him to understand the governmental regulations around processing meat, and as his idea got better defined, he had the opportunity to purchase a grocery mart that had space to add a butcher shop for his specialty meat.
He worked with Joni Foster, EGBI’s Program Director, through one-on-one coaching sessions. “She connected me to the supplier that slaughters the specialty meat according to my country’s custom,” Degefaw offered. “She worked with me side by side to make my dream happen.” He continues to visit with Joni once a month to talk about this business. For more information about Selam International Mart & Café, visit selamcafe.com
The Living History Foundation was founded in February 2018 when the first group of people sat around the table and called the meeting to order. In the past year, the organization has received its 501(C)(3) status from the IRS and presented three living history programs in Central Texas. Edgar B. Garza, the Board President of Living History Foundation, said, “The mission of the Foundation is to inspire children and the young-at-heart to learn about the contributions people of color made in the building of this great nation from the time before the first Europeans to the present day.
“History is an important part of our personal lives,” Garza continued. “It is the key to understanding who we are as humans. The youth will ultimately develop their own perspective on human life and society. One that is based on stories about ordinary people just like the youth that are in the program. They will also learn from ordinary people lessons in courage, leadership, and constructive protest.
It is the first time for many of the board members to be a part of a non-profit organization, but EGBI meets with directors a couple of times per month to help them put everything together. The board gathered in December 2018 to make plans for 2019, and Joni Foster, Program Director at EGBI facilitated the conversation. Keep a lookout for one of the 12 living history programs the organization will offer in the months to come. For more information about the Living History Foundation, visit facebook.com/livinghistoryfoundation.