We really needed this good news, given the current, sagging economy: Johnson Products was purchased by an African American owned entity!
Being a part of the Los Angeles Black-owned business community for many years, I have heard the lamentations that the business industries we do have, once they make it, are
gobbled up and co-opted by others: think sports and where it would be without the African American contribution, think entertainment, especially music, where would it be without us? And even the black hair care products industry which allowed wealth building for generations of black folk, but most of the bigger ones have sold: Johnson, Pro-Line and many others to Wella, L’oreal and Procter & Gamble. What we didn’t sell, Koreans and others took over, selling our nappy hair care back to us.
This week, I rejoiced when I saw a piece on LeBron James who is worth millions and how he fired all of his handlers and hired three young brothers to manager his millions, I rejoiced. Why not give people you trust a shot? How many times have you heard a black elite athlete getting ripped off by so-called pros? These young brothers researched and set about finding the best pros to help them with their mission and so far the industry has been pleasantly surprised.
The second good news, then, this week was the announcement of Johnson Products company being purchased by RCJP Acquisition, led by Eric and Renee Brown who once ran Pro-Line Corporation. Once Alberto Culver purchased Pro-Line some years ago, its founder (and Renee’s father) immediately experienced what Johnson Products’ owner felt: seller’s remorse.
You see, these companies filled the mission of the call to arms that after civil rights, we work for silver rights (a term John Bryant coined). We found that once the laws were changed, the rules changed and without ownership we were still at the proverbial back of the bus.
What Johnson and Pro-Line did by their very existence was grow the black middle class, give opportunities not found other wise, apprentice young college students and employ a whole lot of our people. They funded scholarships, started programs, sponsored TV shows like Soul Train, placed their advertising almost exclusively on black radio and in black newspapers and magazines and in Pro-Line’s case, saved— by purchasing– a struggling Black College, Bishop College.
These companies allowed us to see ourselves “large and in-charge” and dream big. Their physical plants were impressive. They made us stand a little taller with our backs a littler straighter. Plus, they filled the void left by the “other” hair care products designed for straight hair which ruined our hair and left it in a dull and brittle pile in the sink.
You may remember that when Comer Cottrell came through on his book tour, I interviewed him and he talked about his seller’s remorse. There were black hair care companies that rose and fell with the trends–think Jheri Curl, Worlds of Curls and Good Fred. It was good business to take a company he built from an initial $600 investment with a borrowed typewriter to $88 million when he sold it; and Johnson Products, the first African American owned company traded on the New Your Stock Exchange started in 1954 with $500 and was valued at over $100 million at one time.
It is widely known that once sold, Mr. George Johnson tried to buy his company back but was thwarted at every turn. Now that Renee and Eric are running it, he is rejoicing.
So, with the new energy that the presidency of Barack Obama is inspiring, let’s look around and step up to fill the shoes on trails blazed by the generation before. Let’s not sell, let’s buy it back and sustain the next generation and keep this thing going.
Yes, these two are old college friends of mine, but they are consummate professionals and they are heaven-bent on bringing innovation to the JPC brand — something that seems to go away once these companies are sold. The younger generation may not even remember the brands, but stay tuned. You ain’t seen nothing yet!
Looking back…this turn of events predicted my leaving WLAC. This is a poem written by a program assistant who loved the students as much as I. It is titled:
A Beautiful Umoja Semester
A dedication written by a poet on behalf of Instructor Person-Lynn
At the start of the Spring Semester, we were all driven and came with goals
To gain all that we could and positively enrich our minds, bodies, and souls
Closed our eyes, tilted our heads back, and reached towards the great heavenly sky
We were ready for the challenge, we were ready for new knowledge,
we were ready to fly!
Pausing as we were taking a deep breath and
entering the classroom for the first time
Instructor, student, and tutor alike, we all wondered
“What sounds this semester would chime?”
The word “spring” signifies new growth
but would education be planted in our minds?
Eager, willing, and curious — we were hoping that
information would be our find
Sailing across the sea they call college,
we encountered many beautiful people and events
We rode both high and low waves of this ocean;
we came to realize what Umoja represents
Throughout the long sixteen-week semester,
we experienced both things we came to love and hate.
We had a full course meal on this one—
we had food overflowing on our plates
Dr. Patricia Banday and Elizabth Evans were the directors,
guiding the program into academic light.
Glen Schenck helped get money and books, while Marty and Ana
made sure the paperwork was right
Leonor, Jack, Alan, and Jaime assessed you
while also doing the basketball tournament event
And everyone pitched in for the college field trips
to which the Umoja students went.
Instructor Isidra Person-Lynn, the first person to greet you on your way in and last person to hug on the way out
So devout, she would go miles for her students,
this is what dedication is all about
Academic blogger by day and secret Facebooker by night,
she keeps in touch
And for this Instructor Person-Lynn, the whole of Umoja Student Body thanks you very much
The beautiful new addition to the Umoja Faculty, Kaci Sewell will teach you how to speak
She sure knows her stuff, now sit up straight in your seat as she teaches you her technique
Perhaps one of the best things about her is her ever-there beautiful, happy, smile
Always laughing, making sure you make it to her class to make your whole day worthwhile
Professor Tim Russell, Professor Tim Russell, Professor Tim Russell,
where does this poet begin?
He is the only math teacher to actually make you look at a math test,
and feel you can win
Both the resident math instructor and the Plato expert,
he fits perfectly into the Umoja equation
Red bull in hand, he is ready to instruct and tutor anyone in Math regardless of the occasion
About Professor Clare Norris:
she is well-respected, her work is well known
So intelligent and composed– if you don’t want to work,
then leave her alone.
Such a lovely dedicated teacher- it is all about the words,
the verbs, and the proper citations
so make sure you follow that MLA style handbook and
you won’t have any complications.
Also a new addition, Instructor Li Lei
will make sure to instruct you in all of math
Teaching Math 117 and instructing all her students
towards a higher learning academic path
Smart in her field beyond compare,
her lectures contain her small jokes to make students laugh
However, don’t forget that you need to write a complete sentence
and don’t forget to graph!
Umjoa was always there for you, every step of the way;
offering students all sorts of help
Tutors in the classrooms looking for people to help
so give us a holla or give us a yelp!
You got that beautiful Nigerian, Tosin Williams:
quick to give you a hug while laying down the rules
While Michael Sanchez is there to offer you both
his English and mathematics knowledge tools
The fashionable Brittany Goodwell, smiling and joking,
always ready to give students a hand
Then we’ve got the musically and artistic Joshua B.,
the nice guy who can make himself a one-man-band
The one and only eccentric Raquel Leatherwood,
who will dance in front of you will teaching grammar
opposite Math tutor Christopher Hall,
who can enter the room with absolutely no clamor
Straight from West Africa, the buff A.K.
will beat the math equations into your head if he has to
Earl Hall knows his math as well,
He is as cool as any shade of blue.
Everyone needs to get to their feet for the one and only
LaShonda Johnson who deserves applause
Completely dedicated to the Umoja cause,
she is a college counselor with not one flaw
More than the tutors, more than the counselors,
more than the instructors, it was about the students
All of them from those you saw once a semester
to those who were early and always prudent
Education is not for the weak
so will the academic warriors please all raise and take a look around
Some may have fallen by the wayside,
but now only true survivors and fighters surround
Dark skin rich and brown, you all overcame the struggles life came
with, please stand tall and proud
Defeated any adversaries that said you could not.
You are all kings and queens– now wear your crowns
Tilt your head towards the heavens and thank Him that gave you the
courage and power
to come to school diligently and pass tests. Like a 12, you stand atop
of the hour.
Whatever comes or whatever it may seem, positivity and greatness is
all that your mouths shall scream
Using your internal passions you shall embrace all and any of these
things to accomplish your dreams
“Head held high, eyes looking toward the sun, your feet are walking
Your young roars are loud, wear your crowns; You are all Umoja
semester graduates and you will hold your heads proud!!!
By Oluwatosin Williams,
Dynamic Umoja Academic Guidance Counseling Assistant
June 8, 2009