This may surprise you, or maybe it won't, but according to economics and market research company EuQuant, white-owned businesses hire blacks at a rate of only 10 percent. Compare that to black business owners who, on average, hire their own 64 percent of the time. Shocking. Or again, maybe not, but anyway, it's this statistic that encouraged the formation of The Soulcial Scene, a group of young professionals who host and promote events at black-owned bars and restaurants in an effort to increase traffic and revenue, and in turn, hiring ability.
It's the numbers and what president Damion Ellis says is a lack of places within the city for educated, higher earning young black people to hang out after work that spurred him on. "We felt like there was an opportunity starting with restaurants and bars to get notoriety and tap into the young, professional market," Ellis says.
Once a month, The Soulcial Scene hosts a happy hour bar crawl, partnering with two to three black-owned bars per crawl. They employee two shuttles – one picking up in Midtown, the other downtown – to take bar hoppers to each location. When the shuttle seats are sold out they sell discounted "Meet Us There" tickets, and those people get texts alerts telling them what location is next on the agenda, along with some fun facts about the place. But even the first location is kept secret until about 45 minutes before pull off. Ellis says, "It's a kind of interactive and really fun throughout the whole night."
Increasing the exposure of these establishments is the goal. "People talk a lot about buying black, but how do you buy black? We can say that all we want, but where are the black businesses? And of that list, which of those am I going to be comfortable bringing people to, spending money and having a good time?"
Ellis started promoting the idea of The Soulcial Scene on social media about a year and a half ago to try and answer those questions for himself and for other like-minded consumers. He says he gets lots of ideas, and as most of us can relate, some get brought to fruition, but others gradually fall by the wayside. "This particular idea, I didn't want to just sit on a shelf," he says, adding, "I could try to do all this myself and it could fail, or I can try to get a support system and give people equal access to help me run this thing." So, Ellis invited his followers to meet him at They Say in the summer of 2016, and about 30-35 people showed up, ready to brainstorm. Now, he has a team of 12 dedicated contributors, including IT and marketing people, and graphic designers.
As for Ellis, his background is in finance. He worked in Manhattan on Wall Street at JP Morgan before coming back to his native Detroit in 2010. He consulted for Detroit Public Schools and did a stint at General Motors as a treasury analyst. Now, he's focusing on community activism and his own entrepreneurial projects, like The Soulcial Scene, which, if all goes according to plan, will prove lucrative for Ellis and for Detroit.
"We're trying to really cultivate economic development and job opportunities in the city," he says. "Everything we do is rooted in statistics. It's not really principles – like, we're buying black because we're black – we're buying black because if you want to help a city that is over 80 percent black, that is struggling with job opportunities, then provide business and growth opportunities for businesses that would typically hire that population." Ellis says if black businesses don't have the hiring potential and white-owned businesses continue to only hire blacks at a rate of 10 percent – in a city that is almost entirely black – "That's economic suicide."
The Soulcial Scene also meets up every Thursday from 6-9 p.m. at The Griot, the old-school music lounge that opened at the end of 2016. This event is free. Just show up, hang out and open up – your mind, your mouth and your wallet. They have plans to expand across different business sectors, and to more cities and urban areas around the country. Setups in Chicago, Washington D.C., Houston and Atlanta are in the works for this year.
"We measure our success with the numbers," Ellis says. "We've been able to track a significant increase in revenue in the bars and restaurants we partner with, with the companies that buy sponsorships and that we feature during our events, and we've been able to track hiring. We've got a lot of bartenders and waitresses hired. It's more than just a concept, an event and a good time. We're paying close attention to the impact that we're having on the city."