JA: Hunter’s Point woman uses her position to support black business owners

SAN FRANCISCO — Even before the pandemic, U.S. Census figures show eight out of 10 black-owned businesses failed in the first year and a half. This week’s Jefferson Prize winner is a woman whose goal is to make a difference.

Andrea Baker was a Jamaican student studying hotel and restaurant administration at Cornell University.

“The woman, who was white, immediately pulled the thing out of the door, out of the window, and said, ‘No, the position is filled. We’re not looking for anyone,” Baker recalls.

Sensing something was wrong, one of Baker’s white friends then applied for the same job.

“She walked in and she got the job five minutes later,” Baker said.

It was his first taste of racism.

“I sat on the sidewalk and cried because it looked so wild,” Baker said.

It still stings decades later.

“Why, I decided then that I would become an entrepreneur and have a place where black people could apply and find jobs,” she said, fighting back tears.

Baker has become a self-proclaimed “serial entrepreneur”: She’s launched several businesses – from catering to gifting – in the span of a decade.

And she had a long-time consulting business, Andrea Baker Consulting. She turned it into a non-profit organization, En2Action, in 2019 in the Hunter’s Point shipyard.

In2Action empowers and supports several dozen small business owners each year who are Black, Indigenous and of color.

Like Quanisha Johnson, the owner of Yes Pudding. Johnson uses the non-profit organization’s free shopping space, Ujamaa Kitchen, to make her popular dessert. Thanks to Baker, Johnson has turned his homemade pudding hobby into a business that belongs in the Ferry Building.

“It’s amazing, it’s like a dream come true,” Johnson said.

En2Action’s free incubator training program helps entrepreneurs obtain permits and grants, grow their online presence, and sell their products through pop-ups and events.

Small business owners get the guidance they need to help them succeed.

“Andrea lives and breathes to serve,” Johnson smiles.

And Gumbo Social’s Dontaye Ball calls Baker a lifeline. He says the food hub she created with other partners has kept black vendors like him and Johnson going during the pandemic, delivering boxes of food to those in need.

“She’s such a leader, even if it’s not her expertise, she knows how to find someone to help her with that,” Ball said. “It’s like having another mini business partner.”

A partner who sparks success as she had hoped so many years ago.

“We’re here to support those dreams,” Baker said.

So for giving underserved entrepreneurs free business development training, this week’s Jefferson Prize in the Bay Area goes to Andrea Baker.

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