My business exposure, inspiration, training, role model, and experiences all comes from my family. My primary, positive exposure comes from my mother’s experience. My primary negative exposure, inspiration, training and role model comes from my Dad’s Sisyphus (in Greek mythology)-like experiences. The net result has been a hard and fast entrepreneurial self-employment mind set.
The first move was my father’s taking an opportunity to move his family, with his job, from discriminatory Oklahoma to a less open discriminatory California. I say less open discriminatory because the same discriminatory attitudes that existed in Oklahoma existed in California, especially in California’s Central Valley where Agriculture is and was then king.
California had sunset towns and even sunset parts of town. A sunset town is one where blacks were not safe after the sun set. In Bakersfield, where my family ended up, there was a physical City Circle. Blacks should not be in town on the North side of the Circle after dark. That part of town was called Oildale. It was called Oildale because that was the part of town where oil discovery and production occurred. The South side of the town was home to Cotton and Cotton Pickers. It was called Cottonwood. The main street was called Cottonwood Road.
My mother would join the army of domestic help who would travel daily to the North side of town for domestic work. They would give her hand-me-down clothes and used furniture and household goods to take home. My mother, who was described by my aunt as bigger than life, would take the items and give some to her family and church members. Soon she realized the items had a value and people would buy them so she began to sell them. Eventually, she rented a storefront on Cottonwood Road and put out a sign that said, HOPKINS USED CLOTHING AND FURNITURE.
For the next forty years the business blossomed and profited, as my mother began to go to yard sales and rummage sales to fill her store. I and my brother worked at the store as salesmen and janitors, and whatever else was needed. My father delivered furniture and appliances the customers bought.
At some point Daddy, seeing the profit generated from Mama’s store, was inspired to start his own business. He rented a brick and mortar garage and opened HOPPIES AUTO POLISHING. His boss at the used car lot where Daddy had worked polishing cars, and who Daddy had followed from Oklahoma to Bakersfield to take the same job, went to Daddy’s landlord and made a deal to raise Daddy’s rent to a point Daddy could not afford, so Daddy was forced to give up his business and go back to the job.
Daddy kept the job, but the taste of success inspired him to maintain customers as well as buying and selling used cars on his own which he would buy cheap, fix up, polish, and sell at a profit. Then, the Hopkins family had three sources of income. When I was twenty, a local minister built a building next to HOPKINS USED CLOTHING AND FURNITURE. My mother rented the building which had a a Barber Shop in it and I was in business with my own barber shop.
Within a couple of years I married and my wife, Ruthie. We moved to Los Angeles to continue my education. Later we moved to the Pasadena area where I finished Law School. After a few business ventures, including opening a second hand store and an employment agency, I passed the State Bar and opened up a law practice, and later we began publishing a local weekly newspaper, The Pasadena Journal. We invested in property and on a property owned by the family we have provided a business location for a number of small businesses, including a Bible Study, a Barber Shop, Beauty Shop, Gift Shop, a coffee a Snack Shop and a Storage business. All this activity was inspired by my mother and father’s lessons on life as an entrepreneur.
My maternal grandfather, William C. Shaw, published a magazine called UNAMIT, subtitled Southern Oklahoma’s foremost Negro Magazine. A rare copy was given to my Mother who passed it on to me. It is undated and mimeographed. I had my secretary type it and I passed out copies to family members at a family reunion, in 2016.
My Mother was a strong entrepreneurial woman who, though her business was located on skid row, held the respect of those in the community. Known for her love of the Lord, a person cursing or talking rough in her store was admonished that they needed to straighten up because they were in the presence of “Sister Hopkins”. Tough as nails, she studied antiques, knew their value, and how to price the goods she sold.
With only a tenth grade education, she taught us the poems of Langston Hughes and the proverbs of the Holy Bible. With the gift of discernment, she could tell your future and dispense advice that you should be sure to follow or suffer the consequences. She was truly one of a kind.
The next chapter in the Hopkins saga is to pass the Journal and other businesses on to our children. Passing it on is a career move that requires a plan to develop, an appetite to unify, and uplifting the black race. We should not let the opportunity to pass this legacy on. You must first develop some interest by teaching the value and need for continuing the business and involve them in some type of work in the business, so they can see the value in it without worrying about the income. When you pay them for their work, that would be an added asset.
With regard to the Pasadena Journal, our children have developed an appetite for the Black Press. They realize publishing an African American newspaper means demonstrating the potential to unify and uplift black people and also share our culture with all people. We’re thankful this process has begun, as each of our three sons have assumed a role in continuing the paper.