The concept of cooperation is one that has been essential to the survival of Black and Brown communities for generations. It is in this spirit that this Black History Month, Seward Co-op recognizes the legacy of Black and African American cooperators in our past, present and future.
Before capitalism became our society’s primary economic structure, cooperation—and cooperative economics—provided a framework for us to live and work together. Having shared ownership and a shared stake of outcomes allows people to come together to create change within communities.
Throughout history, cooperative economics have provided opportunities for marginalized individuals to find pathways to equity. We honor past and present-day Black and African American cooperators like W.E.B. Du Bois, who was a co-founder of the NAACP and founded the Negro Cooperative Guild in 1918. Considered one of the greatest thinkers of his time, Du Bois wrote about cooperative economics as a road to equity for African Americans.
Halena Wilson was a cooperative educator and worked to empower women within the cooperative movement in the middle of the century. She helped open buying clubs, credit unions, and consumer co-ops throughout the Chicago area.
Locally, Moe Burton was the founder of the Bryant-Central Co-op. His work with the Black Panthers and Socialist Workers Party led him to cooperation as a tool for creating food access.
The Bryant-Central Co-op created jobs and provided cost-effective food options in an area that previously lacked access.
Annie Young’s legacy in the local co-op movement is far-reaching. Her early experience of starting a buying club to feed those she was living with in Sioux Falls, S.D. prepared her for the work she would ultimately do at the People’s Warehouse at the height of the co-op wars.
Later, she filled the role of membership coordinator at Seward Co-op. Not only did she boost membership, but she also established the membership number system that’s in use in Seward Co-op stores today. Later, she served as the president of our board of directors.
Today, we are a proudly Black-led organization headed by our general manager, Raynardo Williams. Ray has held many leadership roles at our co-op over the years. He is dedicated to our ends and has showcased his commitment to the co-op and exemplified his flexibility in times of difficult change and community unrest.
We cannot diminish the historic nature of Ray’s role as the first Black GM in Seward Co-op’s history. Together, Ray and Seward Co-op are making Black history and showing the world what modern cooperative leadership looks like.
Seward Community Co-op is open 8 a.m.-10 p.m. daily and has stores located at 2823 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis, MN 55406, and 317 E. 38th St., Minneapolis, MN 55409.