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Local businesses boycotted by Black Lives Matter group say action is misguided

The 800 block of Massachusetts Street is pictured on Nov. 17, 2015.

Derek Hogan moved to Lawrence from Overland Park in 1994 because, as he puts it, “Where else in Kansas could a gay kid in his 20s go then?”

“Lawrence was awesome,” he said, and that’s why he chose to open a business here and call it home.

That downtown business, Java Break — with its then-novel rainbow sticker on the door, underground vibe and 24/7 operating hours — quickly became a haven for gay kids and others who didn’t always feel they fit in.

“We were the ‘safe space’ in town,” Hogan said.

That’s why he was surprised — and deeply saddened, he said — to see his 22-year business on a boycott list created by a group that professes to value safe spaces for marginalized people.

The list, created by a group calling itself Black Lives Matter LFK, is made up of businesses that BLM LFK says refused to write letters of solidarity with the group’s causes or wrote responses that the group deemed inadequate.

Representatives from BLM LFK have not returned requests for comment, but its Facebook page lists the causes broadly as support for “revolution” and “unconditional intersectional liberation.” More specifically, it lists expressions of support for “People of Color, the LGBTQIA community, Trans and Non-Binary Folks, Indigenous and Native populations, people of Muslim faith, immigrants, the incarcerated, and the differently abled.”

When asked on its Facebook page if it would create a category for businesses that wanted to “remain neutral” on such topics, BLM LFK wrote: “No, we will not.”

Hogan, like other business owners on the boycott list, said that he doesn’t have an issue with the causes so much as with the group’s tactics.

For one, he said, he was never personally approached as the business’ owner and asked for a letter or to talk about any issues, but Java Break nevertheless wound up on the list.

He says if he had been asked, he would certainly have considered writing a letter because he completely agrees with the group’s goals of social justice.

“Their hearts are in the right places,” he said, but he also questions, on principle, the value of any statement that is made under threat of boycott. Is the statement sincere or is it offered mainly to protect a business’ bottom line?

Sherry Bowden, owner of Z’s Divine Espresso, has similar concerns about the group’s tactics and procedures.

Bowden says she wrote a letter of solidarity for the group in October, but the letter was rejected as inadequate for reasons that still aren’t clear to her.

When she tried to determine what the issue was, she said she was met with hostility, “negative comments” from someone on the BLM LFK Facebook page, then silence.

“I don’t like that no one will explain to me why we are on that boycott list. We did try to support them. It’s really frustrating to me,” she said, adding that Z’s, which she has owned since 2012 but which has been in Lawrence since 2000, “has been an open, inclusive organization since the day it was founded.”

Both Bowden and Hogan said businesses should be judged by their actions and contributions to the community, not simply by the words they will say.

When she looks at the other businesses that are on the boycott list — including Free State Brewery, Wheatfields, Dusty Bookshelf, Zen Zero, among many others — she doesn’t understand what BLM LFK is seeking to accomplish.

“They’re not trying to effect any kind of real, concrete change. Those businesses on the list aren’t engaging in racist or bad business practices,” she said. “We all support the concept of a safe, inclusive community … The boycott list has no specific purpose.”

That’s a sentiment that Martin Watson, owner of Watson’s Barbershop, agrees with.

Watson’s Barbershop is also on the boycott list — despite being one of the few black-owned businesses in Lawrence — presumably for not showing the right kind of support for BLM LFK.

Watson said his 12-year business has always been about serving the community. If people want a haircut, that’s what he’s there for. If they want to make him advertise his feelings about this or that issue, that’s a different matter.

“I just let people talk,” he said. “I don’t get involved in that. It’s not my cup of tea.”

When asked if he was bothered by the boycott, he said simply that it hadn’t hurt his business.

“They don’t control what I do,” he said, referring to BLM LFK.

If a business writes a letter that BLM LFK deems satisfactory — and dozens have — it makes it onto a Facebook list of endorsed businesses. According to BLM LFK’s instructions on Facebook: “We add your name to the endorsed list. You go about your life and feel the warm glow of justice growing inside you. You expect to be contacted by us in 2017.”

One of the endorsed businesses is Meg Heriford’s Ladybird Diner.

Heriford said she was not approached by BLM LFK to write a solidarity letter. She just did it on her own after seeing the “pushback” that The Granada got when it posted “Black Lives Matter” on its Massachusetts Street marquee. She said the business was getting grief for “being political,” but she doesn’t see the issue as one of politics. She sees it as simply “human rights.”

“My only role in this community is to feed people and nourish them,” and nourishment, she said, includes the emotional kind.

When asked how she felt about fellow business owners being boycotted, she said: “No judgment on my part. I just am not and never have been a neutral personality. I genuinely understand all of those positions. I don’t discount anyone’s position.”

Although the BLM LFK boycott list already is posted on Facebook, in a post Dec. 5 addressed to “Comrades,” the group said it had extended “our local participation deadline” to Dec. 19; what that means for businesses on the list, however, was not clear.


Example letters of solidarity

See more statements of solidarity from local businesses at the Facebook group "Living Justice LFK"

Comments

Bill McGovern

We should boycott BLM LFK.

1 year, 6 months ago

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Bob Forer

Caleb Stephens will eventually be completely repudiated (and he is almost there). just as Missouri Professor Melissa Click was. Remember her? Calling for "some muscle" to remove two student reporters who had a First Amendment right to be present and report on a public protest.

1 year, 6 months ago

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Calvin Anders

BLM LFK are being bullies. This kind of proactive demand for businesses to adopt the group's language and positions, just to stay off the naughty list, is aggressive and unpleasant and will alienate a large portion of a community that has been mostly sympathetic to their cause. It's a shame because Lawrence has a proud history of activism. BLM LFK so often attacks the wrong targets and uses unethical tactics to try to bend everyone to their will. Activism should be about raising awareness and winning hearts and minds. Activism is about righting wrongs, not insisting community members stand up for you or become your enemies.

1 year, 6 months ago

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Jillian Andrews

Totally agree. I support BLM, but I do NOT support BLM-LFK. I don't know what yahoo (or yahoos) are running this group, but they don't have a clue what they are doing, and they are certainly not following the activism of the national group. They'll get no support from me for their ridiculous "boycott list". And I'm like, so liberal it hurts...way to alienate people that would've normally supported you. Genius!

1 year, 6 months ago

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Bob Summers

Where's the blue ribbon panel of citizen oversight, promulgating an effort establishing Lawrence as a sanctuary city for local businesses, when you need them.

1 year, 6 months ago

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NewYorkLilly

Is this for real?? I would call this a form of extortion and BLM are behaving like thugs!

1 year, 6 months ago

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Evan Holt

Unfortunately it is real. I felt the same way when they attacked our restaurant that had only been open for 2 months.

1 year, 6 months ago

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Jj Lawrence

You've summed it up perfectly, Randolf. To put businesses, that clearly are all-inclusive and potentially considered a 'safe place', on a boycott list because they won't publicly get involved in politics and write a letter supporting BLM-LFK, is ridiculous. But, to BLM-LFK, if you publicly remain neutral then you are against them and the cause. I'm willing to bet that this "boycott list" has had zero negative economic effect on the businesses that are on the list.

It's a shame that if BLM-LFK would have chosen different tactics they would probably have most of the Lawrence community behind them. Unfortunately they've managed to alienate way more people than they've drawn to their movement.

1 year, 6 months ago

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Greg Cooper

Yes, different tactics. Like, act as if they were adults.

1 year, 6 months ago

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Mike Edson

I'll be gosh darned if I'm going let a group like BLM LFK tell me where to vote with my dollar. See? They have already alienated another potential supporter. This is not how you make friends. You find those sympathetic to your cause and build their trust. From there you can grow your supporters. This "you're either with me, or you're against me" approach will not serve them well.

1 year, 6 months ago

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Bucky Chow

We could always boycott Stephens Real Estate and any other business associated with those running BLM-LFK.

1 year, 6 months ago

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Bob Forer

Let's leave the Stephens family out of this. They are probably torn between their love for their son and their probable personal disapproval of his unacceptable tactics.

Although I am not familiar with the family, I surmise that they adopted Caleb. It takes courage and decency for any white family, especially a prominent one, to adopt a child of color. Caleb is an adult. They have no control over his decisions.

Let's take the high road. Please leave them alone.

1 year, 6 months ago

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Alex Landazuri

This group is filled with nothing but thugs and extortionists. They should be treated as such.

1 year, 6 months ago

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Richard Aronoff

Sounds like this group has studied the Al Sharpton Guide to Shaking Down Businesses. Would the LJW please print a list of the places being boycotted? I;d like to do business with them.

1 year, 6 months ago

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Matt O'Reilly

From the BLM LFK Facebook page:

BOYCOTT LIST:
Z's Divine Espresso #1
Z's Divine Espresso #2
Z's Divine Espresso #3
River Rock Family Dental
Happy Shirt
ACME Lawrence
The Dusty Bookshelf
First State Bank & Trust
Free State Brewery
Legend's Dental
Pawsh Wash
Watson's Barber Shop
Lawrence Nutrition Center
Cibo Sano Italian Grille
Henry's
Genovese
Zen Zero
La Parilla
Wheatfield's
Picklemans
Wal-Mart
Java Break

1 year, 6 months ago

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Matt O'Reilly

Well, it *was* a formatted list...

1 year, 6 months ago

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Brad Greenwood

Looks like I'm going to be drinking a LOT of coffee this weekend, drinking a few Free State beers, having a couple of Cibos, getting my dog washed, buying a Dusty book or two, and making a few other local business stops. (Sorry Wal-Mart, you're always and forever off my list.)

1 year, 6 months ago

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Brandon Devlin

I'm personally glad the LJW didn't publish the list of boycotted places. Publishing it in the news would give that list more credibility than it deserves.

1 year, 6 months ago

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Harlan Hobbs

Good response, Richard. This is getting ridiculously dangerous and cannot bode well for Lawrence.

1 year, 6 months ago

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Bob Smith

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

1 year, 6 months ago

Bob Summers

Wake me up when the snowflakes of BLM 2016, start behaving like the Liberal snowflakes did in the 1970 race riots.

Thanks

1 year, 6 months ago

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Fred Whitehead Jr.

Who gives a rat's ass about BLM LFK.......I don't. I shop where I please and buy what I want and all these stupid politically motivated groups can go rotate. This article did not even deserve any notice in this news rag.

1 year, 6 months ago

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John Middleton

The poor little buttercups are using one too many letters... it should read "Black LIES Matter".

Thanks for the list of places to shop. I already go to many of them but the rest are now on my list to frequent.

1 year, 6 months ago

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Emily Hadley

Your racism is not welcome here.

1 year, 6 months ago

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Paul Beyer

Maybe Lawrence consumers should simply take the list of these idiots approved places as places to "NOT" patronize. I intend to.

1 year, 6 months ago

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Rick Masters

When they all close down, I'm blaming you and your actions.

1 year, 6 months ago

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Emily Hadley

Why on Earth would you do that? Are you actually opposed to businesses saying they do not discriminate and want all people to feel safe and welcome?

1 year, 6 months ago

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Emily Hadley

You are responsible for your own compassion, ethical behavior, and work for justice, regardless of anyone else's actions (with which you may agree or disagree).

I would hope anyone who disagrees with the lists would ignore them, rather than use them act out of hostility or with any kind of kneejerk reaction toward the businesses, or toward the group. When we keep our purpose and intent in mind, we can keep moving forward despite frustrations and dissenting perspectives.

Quick recommended reading:
"6 Signs Your Call-Out Isn’t Actually About Accountability"
and
"3 Things To Consider When Choosing Between Calling Someone Out Or Calling Them In"

1 year, 6 months ago

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Calvin Anders

Paul, I'm not sure that's fair. And I think it gives BLM LFK a little too much power. I think most of the businesses who chose to write letters of support did so because they wanted to support an inclusive policy. Much of what BLM LFK asks for support around is great. It's the strong arm agenda and their insistence that they are the ones to judge who is inclusive and who is not that is so troublesome. While I wish their initiative and been completely ignored, I don't harbor any ill will to those who responded with support. At this point, I think it's important to call out BLM LFK for the bullies they are being and, as best we can, just ignore their efforts.

1 year, 6 months ago

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Bob Smith

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

1 year, 6 months ago

Bob Forer

Is Caleb Stephens related to the Stephens Real Estate business?

1 year, 6 months ago

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David Holroyd

Yes, Mr. Forer. , related , but not by DNA..only Ancestry.com knows.
Mr. Stephens has insulted a community real estate firm and the family connected with it. He has no respect for his family! And that is fact, jack! Dr. Phil needs to visit with him.

Can you imagine if the chancellor at KU carried on the way Mr. Caleb has? One would think that Caleb Stephens could learn something from Chancellor Gray - Little. Like her or not...she could be an ally of his,,but she would set him straight in a couple of hours. After all, she does have a PHD in Clinical Psychology....as I do recall

As for boycotting the places named. How many of the Black Lives Matter members even patronize them anyway?

Boycotting the businesses is about as effective as the Chamber of Commerce running ads to shop local.

Lawrence needs Dr. Phil and Dr. Ruth for a town hall meeting.

Go Dr. Ruth..and when Dr. Phil comes his wife will give away her special beauty treatment stuff. Lawrence could use a makeover for sure.

1 year, 6 months ago

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Bob Forer

So he is a child of privilege. Ironic that he goes around lambasting "white privilege."

1 year, 6 months ago

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Bob Forer

Mr. Stephens claims to be in solidarity with marginalized people yet his group boycotts one of the few local businesses owned by a openly gay person and frequented by many members of that community. And he boycotts one of the very few black businesses in town.

This fool needs to retake Activism 101.

1 year, 6 months ago

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John Lee

Marginalization does not qualify one for sainthood, as BLM has pointed out. A black man can still hate gays or other marginalized groups, and vice versa.

1 year, 6 months ago

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Bob Smith

Can I get Bob's College of Cheese Making and Taxidermy onto the naughty list?

1 year, 6 months ago

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Bob Forer

"You go about your life and feel the warm glow of justice growing inside you"

Now that is a hoot (and thoroughly sophomoric). Social justice and racial equality come through deeds, not mere professions of belief.

1 year, 6 months ago

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Bob Forer

I think we should all note the significance of the fact that the NAACP and the many folks in Lawrence known for their long time social justice activism have nothing to do with these people.

Here is a link to a Topeka Capital Journal article where members of Lawrence BLM disrupted a meeting between area law enforcement and leaders of the Topeka black community. Apparently, they really pissed off the community leaders with their antics.

http://cjonline.com/news-local/2016-0...

I find it ironic that Caleb Stephens, the leader of the group, comes from a local family of extreme privilege, yet he continually denounces "white privilege." I think the many poor and underprivileged white folks in this country would beg to differ. Of course, one never hears Mr. Stephens talk about the only real privilege that divides us--the class privilege of the 1 per centers.

I listened to one of his presentations to a local board (can't recall which one) wherein he introduced himself as "cis gender" which means he identifies with the gender he was both with, i.e. he is like the vast majority of people in this country. Yet he takes offense when some folks state "All Lives Matter." The hypocrisy is startling.

Although we have come a long way, there is still a significant racial divide in this country. The tactics of this group is profoundly divisive and thoroughly counterproductive.

My late father spent his entire adult devoted to causes of social. justice, and ventured to the deep south to register black voters shortly after WWII. He was almost lynched. That Mr. Stephens a local man of extreme financial privilege would go in front of a governmental body of our progressive and tolerant community and proclaim that he felt "unsafe" is a vulgar insult to the memories of the thousands and thousands of folks who actually risked their lives in fighting for racial equality. Those braves folks accomplished profound change in this country, while Mr. Stephens and his ilk have been woefully ineffective in addressing the many incidents of overt physical attacks against People of Color in this country that gave rise to their movement.

Were my father alive today he would have quite the lecture for Mr. Stephens, and knowing my father, if I had to venture a guess, he would probably come away from that meeting muttering that "the guy likes to hear himself talk and is hungry for the TV cameras."

1 year, 6 months ago

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Bob Forer

Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.
--Malcolm X

I only subscribe to the last portion if deadly force is reasonably and lawfully necessary.

Nonetheless, one would think Mr. Stephens would have learned something from those who came before him.

1 year, 6 months ago

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Harlan Hobbs

Very eloquent, Bob. One of my least favorite sayings in trying to show empathy is "I know how you feel." Whether it is losing a loved one or facing injustice in the world, the saying, while undoubtedly well-intended, rings a little hollow. In fact, only those who have lived it can really know how one feels.

Of course, these two situations are not very similar. We all have experienced the loss of a loved one, but the vast majority of us have never experienced the types of injustice that preceded the civil rights movement, and to some degree continues today.

Of course, history is full of injustice throughout the world, but in this country, I believe that most of us aspire to see equality and justice served, although we may sometimes disagree about what is equal or just. That's one reason why we have courts, lawyers, and juries to sometimes sort things out.

We have indeed come a long way, but we will not finish the job as long as radical groups of all persuasions continue to foment hatred, jealousy, and anger. That is one thing on which all reasonable people should be able to agree.

1 year, 6 months ago

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Stephen Roberts

I now know where I will shop... I will shop the stores on the boycott list..

1 year, 6 months ago

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John Middleton

Dinner and brews this evening at Free State... yum!
Breakfast tomorrow at Wheatfields.

Black LIES matter.

1 year, 6 months ago

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Stephen Roberts

Personally I believe in ALL LIVES MATTER (red, yellow, black, white etc...) so I will boycott any store that bows down to this group...

1 year, 6 months ago

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Louis Kannen

Out here, the clearer atmospheric altitude occasionally allows for perhaps a clearer attitude and point of view. To that end, and to specifically address the Mental Midget(s disguised as 'BLM LFK', how about grasping a current copy of your misguided missive and purposefully implant it within your sorry self. If you don't care for Lawrence then, with your disgusting bully-tactics in place, take a proverbial, extra-long hike right on out of town. And if by chance you find yourself wondering if you'll be missed, well...actually not really....

1 year, 6 months ago

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Dave Yates

Excessive force from Law Enforcement Officers (LEO) is an issue that should never be marginalized and is the onus behind the start of BLM.

I'm a white male and I have to tell you, I am very careful when interacting with LEOs. The dynamics of the issue of excessive force from LEO's is beyond the ken of this discussion... but it is no accident that there is a massive uptick of seasoned LEO's leaving law enforcement, because they are literally afraid of the reactivity and poor critical thinking and reaction dynamics of many younger folks entering the profession.

In short... they don't want to die... or get pulled into a lethal force issue by young officers that can't manage their reactions.

That said... what we are seeing here is "ideological totalitarianism". Who really loves a bigot... other than other bigots? But using bigotry as a weapon against racism isn't much different than using a pit bull to stop a dog fight in a dog fighting pit. You can't legislate, or at least are not supposed to be able to legislate, against "thought crimes". No one is talking about legislating correct thoughts and speech here... but this kind of garbage "the end justifies the means" is where the destruction of the fabric of a society gets started.

All the democide of the last 100 years got it's start when some group of folks who wanted to control what others think and say, somehow came to power and used manipulative tactics and fear of personal loss to coerce others to "get in line". Pol Pot would be pleased.

Wanting ALL elements of governmental systems to respect ALL peoples, especially those who may be marginalized in our community and society... sure as hell nothing wrong with that. Far from it.

But using tactics that mirror the tactics used historically in pogroms against those who are "different" (including who believe differently than us) is sure as hell, not the way to get respect from other folks.

"If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all." - Noam Chomsky

1 year, 6 months ago

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Joshua Cain

But using tactics that mirror the tactics used historically in pogroms against those who are "different" (including who believe differently than us) is sure as hell, not the way to get respect from other folks."-D.Yates

Vety succinct. I'd add that its not going to accomplish their goal. It's self defeating and I think the overwhelming response from the community will be the proof. So far it doesn't look good for the success of the boycott.

1 year, 6 months ago

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