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An Open Letter To Our Customers on Why Black Lives Matter

Last week on Instagram we joined in with the #blackouttuesday campaign to mute ourselves and help amplify the voices of our black friends, family members, neighbors and customers. 

A few days later we want to circle back and make sure we are crystal clear on where we stand so that there is zero confusion as to what we believe and how we flesh those beliefs out into our community and world. 

It seems such a strange thing to have to advocate on behalf of humanity and justice. But here we are. While some of our staff come from the Christian faith and others from secular perspectives, we believe all great faith traditions, our country’s Constitution, and the moral order of the universe speak explicitly about the dignity and humanity of every person. Black Lives Matter. They always have for us. And always will.

This doesn’t mean that all lives don’t matter. Of course all lives matter. But in the same way we’d run to your house if it was on fire and help you put it out, we’re running to our black friends and family members house and and asking how we can help with their fire. More importantly, we’re listening and learning about what we can do to prevent future fires to their house.

This is no different than the way we’ve treated any other individual or group since we’ve been a small business. When a friend asks for help, you help them. 

When our community suffered through widespread forest fires a few years back, we ran towards their house to see how we could help. When our local police department or Sheriff’s department comes to us and asks for help, we run towards their house to see how we can help. We’ve done this with non-profits, civic organizations, and veteran groups for 4+ years now by raising money, awareness, and standing in solidarity with them for being such integral parts of our lives.

But we’re embarrassed to admit we have done a pretty horrible job of offering the same support for our black friends, family members and neighbors. And that is no one’s fault but our own. We’ve done it over phone calls, over text, and in our living room but we haven’t done it here, publicly and proudly. We are like a lot of white people in that we justified our silence by saying we’re scared to death to mess it up. To say the wrong thing. To do more damage than good. But that’s just a really bad excuse and a complete and total moral failure on us. We deserted so many people we care about precisely when they were hurting the most. 

So today, we want to talk directly to our black friends and customers. 

If you know us in real life, you’ve already heard us say this to you while humbly standing before you.

For those of you who only know us online or in passing, we are deeply sorry. We apologize and are committed to working towards repentance of all the ways we’ve stood by quietly while your lives and your bodies have been treated as “less than”. It’s not just George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. It’s been happening for decades and centuries before that. While it’s true that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”, we were complicit in thinking that sitting on the sidelines would help black Americans achieve “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” the same way that we experience it. 

I (Josh, one of our owners) have a beautiful, strong, and intelligent black sister-in-law. This week I got to hear the fear in her voice as she told me of what her experience in our country is like and how scared she is for my niece and nephew. How they will always have to be twice as good to count. To matter. We have heard these stories and concerns over and over again from our family, our friends, our neighbors. And while it broke our hearts, we so rarely acted on it. We made a conscious decision that it was safer to be in the middle and couch our words. The last few days we have watched your strength, resolve, and compassion and it has stirred us to work towards the same in our own lives.

Our lack of action embarrasses us. It breaks us. It shames us. 

It is completely on us to know better and do better. 

As we have done some self reflection as individuals and as a small business we want to share some of the ways in which we plan to change going forward. 

  • We have done a horrible job using our Blog to share the stories of black owned businesses and individual wanderers in North Georgia. You can scroll through our content from the past couple of years and there is very little representation of the amazing black owned small businesses and individuals across our region. We look forward to using our platform to better tell these stories going forward. We’re still desperately trying to get our small business back up and running after 3 months away, but you can expect to start seeing this content roll out by the end of the summer on our website. We’re excited to help tell the stories of how these small businesses and people are making their North Georgia communities better places to live. 
  • We are expanding the minority voices in the book section of our store. While some of our favorite authors like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Toni Morrison, and James Baldwin are already represented, we want to make sure we have resources available for those wanting to learn more about the history of black Americans in our country, and in particular Appalachia and in the outdoor industry. We will donate 100% of the sale of those books indefinitely to Black In Appalachia which focuses on the history, visibility and contributions of the Black communities in the Mountain South. 
  • All four owners will be attending a virtual workshop next Thursday geared towards business owners discussing how to prioritize anti-racism in the workplace.  
  • We currently donate 1% of all sales, every day, to local Rabun County non-profits. We believe giving locally in this way allows us to be as strategic and contextual as possible in our support. However, going forward we are going to expand this program to include additional regular donations to black run non-profits in North Georgia and the region that are encouraging diversity and a more inclusive outdoors for everyone.
  • Once our current social distancing measures are lifted in our store and we resume workshops, we will host a free workshop type event for all of our customers interested in listening and learning about our collective role in making the outdoors more inclusive for everyone.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of what we’re reflecting on but it’s our first step in hopefully many more.

We don’t need a bunch of people telling us how great we are for standing up and saying something which is what the post on Instagram turned into. We’re not here to save anyone or propose solutions that don’t begin and end with us getting our own house in order. Honestly, this is the easy part. We haven’t done much yet besides type a few words and post a black square. As we all know the proof is in the pudding. The burden of proof is on us to make these words apart of our daily rhythms as a small business. And we’ve got a long way to go to earn some trust and make a real impact with the people and places we care about.

We want to thank every customer and neighbor who has been patient with us as we wrestle around and try to find our voice. We promise to do better and use our voice more wisely and clearly going forward.

All the love from our two families,

Courtney, Jake, Alex, & Josh