Returning from DC this year, I carry a sense of momentum that has me more hopeful about the years ahead. While the group of restaurants attending this year’s summit was not as large as last year, there were new faces with inspiring stories and lots of energy. There were friends from previous years who are still, like me, doing the hard work of getting their doors open each and every day to serve their customers while sticking to high road values. And this year, I made some time to walk DC, to visit The African American Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, Ford’s Theater, and to eat at the places I’d heard about during our prior year summits including Florida Avenue Grill and Bus Boys and Poets. They filled me with trust that love is alive and active in the world.
I was also amazed at the new energy last November’s elections brought to congress. We met with members of the House Progressive Caucus, who were excited to be doing their part to improve pay equity and workplace improvements. I had the opportunity to hear from two of the announced presidential hopefuls as well as national leaders in the fight to eliminate the sub-minimum tipped wage that still exists in many states. Our restaurant owner summit coincided with a gathering of organizers and workers in the restaurant industry also calling for workplace improvements - and together our presence was felt.
On the local level, systems and structures are building to support better pay, better benefits, and the infrastructure behind it all to help small, independent businesses thrive. Yes, I’m daily reminded that there is much that is broken, there are too many too-large corporations with too much wealth and power that play by different rules than the little main street folks investing in their neighbors. And I’m certainly aware of the challenges of a divided society that was designed from the start to reward some and oppress others. And yet, as I soaked up the story of “making a way out of no way” that honored the pain of slavery while also honoring the creativity and faith that has fought for equity and justice, I am ever more aware of the role we all play in building a better present and a better future for those who follow us.