‘What would it be like if you owned the business down the street?’: Richmond residents fight for more ownership over their careers

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Najari Smith, Josue Hernandez, and Roshni “Tay” McGee have opened a worker-owned cooperative in Richmond called Rich City Rides. The bike repair shop opened in 2015, but the organization responsible for community rides and outdoor activities, has been around for five years. The goal is to have a space where people can come in and buy a bike, get a bike fixed, or learn more about bike repairs. The three put on free Friday bike repair workshops, weekly community rides, a youth “Earn a Bike” program, and many other events to engage the community.

And the community certainly engages back. The store starts to get busy around 3 p.m. Many friends and neighbors stop by to check on their bikes, inquire about repairs, or just say hello. The shop is in a former warehouse structure that was divided into three businesses. Tires flank every wall, and the center space is filled with bikes for sale. Some of the bikes have been donated by wealthier shops in other counties.

Smith, Josue, and Tay spoke about all the hard times, from having just $15 in the cash register to doing free repairs on the Ohlone Greenway.

“We’re here for the community. We really want people to stop in even if they aren’t trying to buy a bike,” McGee said. “We really want the community to know that we’re not here as a for-profit business to take from them, but to give them something that’s been missing from this area.”

McGee, whose family has been in Richmond for at least three generations, recounted times where a flat tire would take a week to repair, which meant being without transportation.

He also talked about his family’s orientation toward the community. His mother was a childcare provider for low-income income families. “We knew everyone,” he said. Hernandez’s family, who relocated to Richmond from San Diego in the early 2000s, also had an entrepreneurial streak. “My mom was always like the sales lady, made food to sell, always tried to find another way to make money,” said Hernandez.

Smith’s family struggled to make ends meet. He first went out looking for work at 14, but when no one would hire him, he started “boosting,” or stealing and reselling, to earn some money for his family.

“At this point in my life, I look at economic violence as one of the ways that our current capitalist system creates criminal activity because if you block resources and opportunities from people, they’re going do what they need to do to survive,” Smith said. “Certain people in my family, myself included, fell into that.”

Smith eventually found a mentor who taught him graphic design skills and started his first worker-owned cooperative for graphic design and website development.

“The best part is working with folks that are equally invested in a business as you are,” Smith said. “I don’t want to be ruled and I don’t want to rule anybody else. I don’t want to have a boss. I’m cool with being the boss over myself.”

Doria Robinson is the founder of Urban Tilth, a nonprofit that runs urban farms and community gardens. She is also a board member of Cooperation Richmond, an organization that helps fund worker-owned cooperatives. “I think we need more democratic governance in the workplace. The goal is to figure out how to make sure that the profit stays in the community,” said Robinson. With the help of Cooperation Richmond, Rich City Rides is working on getting a loan to expand the space and potentially bring on new worker-owners.

The three described their decision-making process as relatively easy-going. “We do not step on each others’ toes,” said McGee.

Since each is equally invested in the business growing, they make sure to keep each other updated and give each other latitude in decision-making. Each one has an area of expertise.

“Could you imagine if people like us, in the urban community, were sitting at the top of these corporations and could move all of that money where it needed to be moved to instead of most things being centered around greed?” McGee asked.

“I would love my urban community to adopt something like that.”


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