In case you missed it, 540WMain is transitioning to a virtual organization. This move is both bittersweet and incredibly exciting. In the spirit of openness and transparency I wanted share more insights on what influenced me to lead our organization in this direction and what it means for 540’s future.
As a Black Entrepreneur, Equity and Ownership Matters
I started my career as a content creator in 2012 with the creation of my first blog; and at the time had no idea how that blog would change the course of my life. I knew I wanted to connect with people through writing and education. I knew I would somehow be able to make a living from this work. I didn’t quite know how but I knew I would never know if I didn’t take that first step. I knew nothing about the business behind non-profit work and never dreamed that; four years later I would develop what would become a non-profit education brand, 540WMain. I started as social entrepreneur with a goal to create a social enterprise. I knew that I wanted to create a business and a brand that was concerned with more than making money. I knew that I wanted to be a part of something that was bigger than the bottom line, something that made the community and the world a better place. Something that was helpful, equitable, and meaningful for all people. Because this work has always been so much bigger than me personally, incorporating as a non-profit was essential to ensure that this movement that I started in 2016 was long-term and sustainable. I did so with no outside investment, no savings, and no familial wealth.
Why ownership matters
Systemic racism and inequality throughout the history of the United States made the ownership of property illegal for Black Americans for many centuries. Since that time individual bias, racist policy, and racist law made the creation of generational wealth impossible for descendants of slaves that I myself am. These same factors have made property ownership a continued uphill battle for people like me down to present day. As I grow and develop as Black low-income social entrepreneur the ownership of space and property is vital to ensuring that the equity and investment that I have expended is maintained and honored for future generations.
As 540WMain developed and evolved it has always been the goal to be mindful stewards of the historic property in which the organization occupied as well as support the “big picture” work of transforming the West Main corridor and Susan B. Anthony neighborhood into the true international destination that it deserves to be. Over the years many community members and volunteers invested thousands of dollars, time and energy into improving the building and surrounding green space including a significant renovation to the courtyard. I entered into this work willfully and have no regrets over the route that I decided to take. However, I always knew that without full ownership over the physical property this time and investment could only ever go so far.
How COVID gave me confidence
Like so many other organizations the pandemic changed the nature of how we carried out 540WMain’s mission and vision. As soon as the state shut down almost immediately we pivoted our work to virtual and the community feedback since has been overwhelmingly positive. Our entire team was blown away by the quantity and quality of the work that we produced. We engaged in a record number of classes, our donations increased multi-fold, and our membership base increased exponentially. In addition to all of this were connecting to people all over the world. The impact of COVID-19 taught me that this important work can happen anywhere and is not contingent on occupying any specific physical space. It also reinforced for me the wisdom that Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) business owners have to have equity and ownership of spaces before they make time, financial, and energy investments.
Education without borders
In another time, I would have been shaken to my core by not being able to exist in a physical brick and mortar space. Especially a space that I have such a physical and emotional connection to and a neighborhood that I have become so deeply attached. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught me a valuable lesson. The work that I have spearheaded through 540WMain is truly education without borders. It is not confined to any specific geographic space or area. It is truly national and global in scope. We offer a classroom open to the world without the constraints of physical space. That said, 540WMain will remain committed to preserving and transforming the Susan B. Anthony neighborhood and West Main corridor into an international destination. This vision can and is being carried out virtually and I look forward to more engagement, more service and more connection to this neighborhood that we have shared for the last four years.
About Calvin Eaton
(he/his/him) Calvin Eaton is a disabled community educator, content creator, and social entrepreneur, whose area of expertise includes antiracism, equity, justice, instructional design, and program development. In 2016 Mr. Eaton founded 540WMain, Inc. a virtual non-profit organization and antiracist education brand that promotes justice for all. The organization encourages individuals to broaden their horizons and learn more about multidisciplinary issues and topics that impact the world.
Still thinking about how you can support antiracism education?
Your support goes directly to providing new, dynamic & affordable class content, the planning of a rigorous antiracism facilitation training program, and the hiring of a grant writer.
- Visit our blog for over 700 social justice focused posts from our Founding Director, contributing writer Chris Thompson, and various guest writers.
- Morethanisms podcast a series created by Calvin Eaton that unpacks social and cultural issues that impact black and non-black millennials of color.
- Discuss books relating to antiracism in our Unpacking Book Discussion Series. Join at facebook.com/groups/540unpacking
- Check out our on-demand class library to learn about structural racism, environmental justice, and more.
Knowledge is power, educate yourself with 540WMain