How and Why African Immigrants Successfully Manage Businesses in The Bronx

0 22

Get real time updates directly on you device, subscribe now.

The Bronx, one of New York City’s five boroughs, has experienced several demographic changes over the years, with the African immigrant population growing rapidly in the last three decades. This community has earned a reputation for being entrepreneurial, and this report investigates how and why African immigrants can successfully manage businesses in The Bronx.

According to World Population Review and the United States Census Bureau, The Bronx’s population as of 2023 is 1,427,056 with a diverse ethnic makeup that includes 45.8% white, over 43% black or African American, over 4% Asian, 3% Native American, and over 3% mixed race. Over 54% of the population is of Hispanic or Latino origin, and more than 31% are foreign-born. Spanish is the most common language spoken, with over 55% of the population speaking a language other than English at home. The poverty rate is high, with about 30.7% living below the federal poverty line. The Bronx has seen steady population growth, and the largest age group is the 25 to 44 age group, making up over 30% of the population.

Immigrants have been arriving in the Bronx for many decades, settling along with the native Lenape Indians. Bronx is the only county in New York City with people of African descent now witnessing fast growth. Latinos of African heritage, Caribbeans of African descent, African Americans and African immigrants make up the majority of Bronxites today. According to The Bronx County Historical Society in a booklet titled The Bronx: Immigration and Migration, this growth started mainly in the 1980s and precipitated in the 1990s and 2000s forward.

The African immigrant community in the Bronx is known for its entrepreneurial spirit and colorful cultural traditions.  But the incubator of its industrial mindfulness is anchored in its faith affiliations.

My finding shows that the African immigrant community’s success in business is anchored in their faith affiliations, which have fostered a culture of economic cooperatives and systemic charitable programs. Through these programs, the community has established religious centers and houses of worship that have become central points for community and socioeconomic development. More members move closer to the houses of worship they belong to and establish businesses that cater to the growing community’s needs.

During the height of its influx into the Bronx in the nineties, these mostly poor immigrants many of whom didn’t speak any English at all, brought with them their culture of ‘it takes a village’ lifestyle.

“Susus as a form of economic cooperatives and systemic charitable programs despite their meager incomes and resources were established to facilitate their individual, family and communal necessities and socioeconomic development,” said a long time entrepreneurial Bronxite member of the African immigrant community who preferred to remain anonymous.

The African immigrant entrepreneurs have established houses of worship that have become the heart of community development and central communication points for emerging issues and new business opportunities announcements. “These established houses of worship have become magnets for community development and socioeconomic development. More members move closer to the house of worship they belong and establish businesses that cater to the needs of the growing community,” said the anonymous member.

Rasheed Abubakar, the African-American Publisher of Diaspora Today Magazine, has this to say: “There is no single factor that determines the success or failure of African entrepreneurs, as individual circumstances and contexts can vary widely. However, a great deal of African entrepreneurs succeeds because they are mindful with earning halal (righteous income). Islam embodies all teachings to be followed in a Muslim’s life, and it strongly advises making halal earnings in order to benefit both in this world and in the hereafter. Allah says in the Holy Quran: ‘Wealth and children are [but] adornment of the worldly life. But the enduring good deeds are better to your Lord for reward and better for [one’s] hope.’ [Q-18: Verse 46]. As a result of these quranic teachings, there are several factors that have been identified as contributing to the success of African entrepreneurs: resilience, creativity, market knowledge, collaboration and creativity.”

Since it’s easier to deal with people who share their languages, beliefs, traditions, and cultural backgrounds, these new businesses flourish with high demand for their products and services. And because of the community’s reliance on these local businesses, they are more resilient to the usual ups and downs of economic cycles. For instance, African immigrant entrepreneurs in The Bronx County have shown remarkable resilience in the face of various challenges. Many have successfully navigated the complex landscape of starting and growing a business, including securing funding, finding customers, and overcoming language barriers. Despite facing significant obstacles, such as discrimination, limited access to capital, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, these entrepreneurs have continued to persevere and make a positive impact in their communities. Their hard work and determination serve as an inspiration to others and highlight the vital role that immigrant-owned businesses play in The Bronx economy.

According to our source, “African immigrant entrepreneurs can quickly pivot to new opportunities, avoid economic stagnation and the problem of gentrification affecting their counterparts within the Bronx. During the worst period of the recent pandemic that has shuttered so many businesses in the Bronx, African entrepreneurs, like others, amp up their technology usage with online delivery platforms.

The intimate knowledge and relationships that African immigrant entrepreneurs have with their customers have made it easier for them to avail themselves of new opportunities. In the face of the recent pandemic, they have adapted to the situation by amplifying their technology usage, with online delivery platforms being a viable solution.

“I am not afraid of competition. My services and products speak for me.  In business, you have to be honest, that’s why I am not afraid of competition.  I don’t hide from the customers. I am always responding to their inquiries and complaints. I build my customers up,” said Mr. Lazana Tambajang, owner of New York Meat & Fish.

Moreover, it is important to note here that The Bronx is a rental county with less than twenty-five percent owner-occupied residential properties. Therefore, the pioneers in the African immigrant population have set their sights on commercial and homeownership campaigns. As of 2023, there are over seventy houses of worship and hundreds of small businesses owned by African immigrants in The Bronx. Hair braiding by women and taxicab bases are also industries with oversized African immigrant ownership.

This report features five highlighted African immigrant businesses and houses of worship that are the results of this concerted ownership campaign. They include Accra Restaurants, New York Meat and Fish Market, Futa African American Restaurant, Easylife Restaurant, Urgent Care Medical Center, Yankasa Islamic Center, Islamic Cultural Center of the Bronx, Futa Islamic Center, African Islamic Center, and the Islamic Leadership School (K-12), the first accredited full-time Muslim school in The Bronx.

While these businesses are successful, the owners have faced some challenges. Inflation and high operational costs have led to business owners calling on the mayor and other elected officials to prioritize them in their budgets. It is crucial here to note that, according to my survey, over 95% of these African immigrant entrepreneurs in The Bronx County do not receive any financial support for their business operations.

“We’re blessed to be able to run successful restaurants with great food options for as long as we have, but we’re suffering these days due to inflation and high costs of operation.  We need the mayor and other elected officials to think about us in their budget priorities.  Our electric, gas and taxes are killing our businesses.,” said Aisha Abdullah, co-owner and manager of Accra Restaurants.






This story was produced as part of the Small Business Reporting Fellowship, organized by the Center for Community Media and funded by the NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment.

Get real time updates directly on you device, subscribe now.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.