Flavor 91 owners: The conversation on race is way past due

Katy Smith
Freweini Alemayoh co-owns Wintana's Salon & Spa and Flavor 91 Bistro in Whitehall with her children, Moses Hayelom and Winta Hayelom.

In an unprecedented break from the routine avoidance of political issues, major brands across the country have pledged their commitment and their resources to fight racism in the wake of the killings of George Floyd and many other Black people by police.

In Columbus, some 750 organizations including the leaders of the city’s largest private sector companies signed a letter to City Council declaring racism a public health crisis. The group of supporters has grown beyond 3,000 and represents a major departure from the sideline sentiments of the past. With businesses putting themselves out there to advance racial justice and equality—supporting employees attending protests and wearing Black Lives Matter garb—many have asked: Now what are these large corporations going to actually do to create meaningful change?

Columbus CEO asked business leaders.

As a movement for racial justice and equality has grown recently, what has it been like for you as a Black business owner?

Freweini Alemayoh, co-owner, Flavor 91 Bistro and Wintana's Salon & Spa, Whitehall: I think it’s way past due. It’s the 21st century—every human being should be treated equally. Nobody should be treated the way [George Floyd] was treated.

When we get pulled over by police, you don’t know what’s gonna happen to you. Four years ago, my son got pulled over in Baltimore and got seven citations in one stop. The police gave him everything you can think of. The bill was $1,900.

A lot of young men are getting killed by police, so I always told him if he got pulled over, make sure you say, “Yes, sir.” Do not argue. Just be polite. Be nice.

[I hired] an attorney and the case went to court because it didn’t make sense. It ended up getting dismissed. But if I hadn’t been able to pay for an attorney for him, if he wasn’t able to pay that $1,900, if he had hidden the ticket like some kids, he would have had arrest warrants issued to him. He would have lost his scholarship and going to college, period. And he would probably gotten arrested and his life would have probably been done.

For the July issue of Columbus CEO, we touched base with a number of business leaders on the topic of race. Here's what they had to say.

As a society, we have to stand together to make change.

Moses Hayelom, co-owner, Flavor 91 Bistro, Whitehall: I’m appreciative of the fact that people who don’t even have to worry about this being a reality in their life are taking it upon themselves to show care, to show compassion to show frustration and to actively process and actively be out and demanding the conversation change. That’s a beautiful thing to us to see. You know, there’s many experiences that we’ve had, through life, being profiled or, you know, racially thrown slurs at.

Business-wise, we’ve been getting a lot of overwhelming support, and we’re happy about that. We hope that we’re able to bring about the change that we want to see as well with our own business and how we reinvest that. I hope all Black businesses are empowered from this and that people don’t use this as a marketing ploy. They use it as a real movement.

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What can large businesses do to actually bring change?

Moses Hayelom: Statements are not enough. They need to include Black people and people of color, (who)have a say in their direction. Bottom line, it has to include systemic change at the same time. So I would ask: How many Black writers are on staff at Columbus CEO? (Editor’s note: Point taken. We have one Black writer, one Black intern, and one Black freelance writer.)

Just like with the NFL, putting their statement out there, you look at it like: Is that real or not? Is Colin Kaepernick going to be on the board of directors? How do you implement that in your leadership?

Katy Smith is editor of Columbus CEO.

Moses Hayelom co-owns Wintana's Salon & Spa and Flavor 91 Bistro in Whitehall with his mother Freweini Alemayoh and sister Winta Hayelom.