From East Atlanta to Expo West and Beyond: Reflections from a Southern, Black Woman Pt. II

Lauren Everett Digital Storyteller, Marketing | Atlanta Native | The Storyteller's Storyteller

June 12, 2023

This article is a personal perspective from an employee at B Lab, the nonprofit behind Certified B Corporations. In this series, we invite B Lab employees to share their experiences, inspiration, hopes, and challenges as they work toward a more inclusive and regenerative world. This edition of B Lab Voices is from Lauren Everett, Digital Storyteller, Marketing. 

At the time of this writing, I am in the most beautiful hotel in Cusco, Peru. It took two flights and twelve hours to get here but to say it was worth it would be an understatement. 

I would be doing both of us a disservice if I didn’t take you back to the beginning of March, maybe even a little further back. As many of you know, March is B Corp Month, and every year, B Lab U.S. & Canada and several B Corps venture to the west coast for Expo West, a behemoth of a trade show for natural products. Seems straightforward enough unless it’s your first time — and this was my first trade show ever. To say I was overwhelmed would be my second understatement, and I’m sure there are more to come. The most jarring aspect of this event wasn’t the thousands of people crowding into the convention center, nor was it the extravagant spectacles popular (and well-endowed) companies showcased to lure their competitors and eventgoers to their booths. I was taken aback at how white every space I occupied turned out to be. But in retrospect, my surprise seems vastly misplaced — I was attending a natural products expo. 

I feel empowered to make that connection because I think back to my formative years and how many of the stores these products were sold were never in my neighborhood. The neighborhood in question, Decatur, Georgia, is a predominantly Black neighborhood by design with few health-conscious food stores and many fast food options. Growing up in the 90s and early 2000s, I was delighted to go to the DeKalb Farmers Market. Every so often, my mother would make the 30-minute drive, and we’d spend what felt like hours traversing various aisles and cultures. Those moments in the melting pot were pivotal in exposing me to another version of the world, a world all too distant to a little Black girl on the east side of Atlanta. 

Education Break: A food desert, according to Johns Hopkins, is an area where residents have extreme difficulty finding healthy, affordable food at large grocery stores and farmer’s markets— particularly in urban and poor neighborhoods, negatively impacting Black and brown communities. These negative impacts include health disparities attributed to poor diets, such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and heart disease, the higher economic impact to attain healthy food choices due to longer travel times or spending more at accessible, convenient stores, and limited access to food education. This is by no means a flaw in design but rather an intentional consequence thanks to racist policies such as redlining, ensuring white families had access to better housing, public transportation, and, subsequently, healthy food. 

Now let’s get back to it! 

Well, this little Black girl fell right back in her place amongst those halls at Expo West, an outsider, a foreigner to what should have felt somewhat familiar. In my last writing, I talked about the shared language in our community. But what happens when your community transforms into a system with multiple foreign languages that everyone happens to understand but you? I found myself navigating this ecosystem with limited knowledge yet blending into the best of my ability with the help of some dear friends. It was those same friends and colleagues who made the comparison that Expo West felt like Trader Joe’s on steroids. Would it surprise you that I went to my first Trader Joe’s just last year, in my late 20s? Foreign territory and unfamiliar language. Like Expo West, that experience was jarring because I was only one of a few people of color in the store that day, and unbeknownst to me, first-timers are heavily encouraged to ring a bell. So not only did I have to traverse this new terrain, but I had to inform everyone in an auditory fashion that it was indeed this little Black girl’s first time in the neighborhood. What a day! 

On the one hand, I’m grateful that my time at B Lab U.S. & Canada has allowed me to venture to foreign lands. On the other, I wonder how many foreign experiences I can handle. This thought came to me as I recently traveled to Burlington, Vermont, for a B Corp tour. Had it not been for B Lab, I doubt I’d have a reason to venture that far north, let alone to Vermont, of all places. Before setting foot in one of the greenest places I’ve ever seen, I thought fairly often, “What business do Black people have in Vermont?” A valid question, of course; I’m biased; it seemed fair to speculate, seeing as there weren’t many Black people in Vermont to ask. And yet this is no secret to the B Corps in Vermont, who are looking for ways to diversify their companies and ways to do business.

The same feelings of displacement I had earlier in Anaheim, California, at Expo West had slowly dissipated by the time I made it to Burlington, Vermont — the only difference was speaking my own language and knowing how to communicate regardless of my audience. I have been the only constant, no matter my environment. Undoubtedly, I will find myself in a foreign territory the longer I find myself in this community. 

As I close this writing from the Buckhead area in Atlanta, another foreign place to this native and most Black folks — my hope, for both you and me, is to find comfort along the roads less traveled, for we all hope to end up in the same place.

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