Medina Oyefusi learned about the restaurant industry after she became a host at a restaurant and jazz bar in Fairmount.
She learned about coordinating large gatherings by participating in Obama’s Organizing for America in 2012, and she discovered her event-planning skills while working for the National Society of Black Engineer’s Temple University chapter.
Then, Oyefusi began putting on a couple events a month at Green Soul, a large chic venue on Mount Vernon Street with a Southern-inspired but healthy menu.
Now, she’s extending her influence.
On Feb. 22, the 22-year-old college student, soft-spoken but ambitious, is holding her biggest event to date, I BUY BLACK TOO. It’s a restaurant and bar-crawl in greater Center City featuring four black-owned venues, live music and vendors.
If the first jaunt goes well, Oyefusi hopes to hold the event on a quarterly basis, highlighting bars and restaurants in different parts of the city each time.
She was inspired to organize the crawl, which coincides with Black History Month, after reading about how few businesses in Philly are black-owned and seeing the success of similar gatherings in D.C., where she has family.
Haute Lounge, Reef Lounge, Green Soul and South are the host sites for I BUY BLACK TOO. While attendees are bar-hopping, there will be a scavenger hunt involving black-owned shops.
For $15, you’ll get a T-shirt, exclusive food and drink specials at each stop, and access to giveaways, including two tickets to Dreamville Festival, the North Carolina music festival put on by hip-hop heavyweight J. Cole.
Ticket holders can check in to start the crawl between 3 and 5 p.m. at Reef or from 5 to 7 p.m. at Green Soul. The specials will remain in effect until 10 p.m.
“Some people hear black-owned business and they say, ‘OK, so it’s not for me. I can’t go there.’ It’s like, no, it’s for everyone.”– Medina Oyefusi, organizer of the Feb. 22 I BUY BLACK TOO event.
I BUY BLACK TOO has attracted a massive amount of support on social media with little-to-no advertising or promotion. More than 700 people have expressed interest on Facebook, and ticket sales have been steady, Oyefusi said.
The event was initially called “Black-Owned Bar Crawl,” but Oyefusi changed the name because it didn’t fit. It’s far more than just a stroll between watering holes.
“It’s kind of more than that now,” she said. “It’s become more a spotlight on black-owned businesses in the Center City area in general.”
It’s a spotlight that’s needed, Oyefusi said.
Though 41 percent of Philly is black, only one in 40 businesses is black-owned, according to PEW’s 2019 State of the City report.
Oyefusi, a self-described “super foodie,” has seen black-owned restaurants she enjoys shut down after a year or two in business.
“A lot of them are great businesses and beautiful businesses, but they go out of business very quickly because people either don’t know about them or they didn’t have the right type of support to keep it afloat,” she said.
The goal of I BUY BLACK TOO is to raise awareness and let people know which spots are owned by black entrepreneurs. It’s to connect a restaurant to a face and give it an identity, Oyefusi said.
She hopes the event, which figures to draw young black professionals and tastemakers, motivates people to invest in themselves and start their own companies.
“These businesses are thriving,” Oyefusi said. “They’re beautiful, they’re inclusive. I want people to see that and get inspired.”
It’s not about shaming black people into spending all their money at black-owned businesses, and the event isn’t closed to folks of other races, either.
“It’s I BUY BLACK TOO,” Oyefusi said. “It’s not saying, ‘Oh, this is for black businesses or for black people.’ It’s about saying, ‘I’m willing to recognize the identity of a business, and that’s not going to deter me from patronizing them.’”
“Some people hear black-owned business and they say, ‘OK, so it’s not for me. I can’t go there.’ It’s like, no, it’s for everyone,” she added. “Each of these locations have completely different identities.”
Joie Kathos is buying in. The West Philly native is performing and curating the live entertainment at Haute Lounge.
Kathos, who recently opened for rap legends Method Man and Redman, said she has come to dig food and bar crawls and is always intrigued by efforts to give back to the black community.
“In my experience, I haven’t been to a lot of black-owned restaurants and bars,” she said. “When you’re looking for them, they’re a little hard to find. I guess there’s just not as much accessibility to them in publication.”
Kathos, who described her style as alternative soul hop, envisions a soundscape-style show at Haute, with performers taking turns on stage while taking advantage of the food and drink specials.
WJYN 98.5 Uptown Radio, a community station that broadcasts from North Philly’s Uptown Theater, will be hosting the entertainment at Reef Lounge. Several of the station’s shows will be participating in a two-hour live broadcast. They will also be bringing acts to perform for the crowd.
Mike James, Uptown Radio’s program director, said the station wanted to participate “for Medina and also for what she represents and supporting black-owned businesses.”
Over at Green Soul, NoSpace Productions will be sponsoring a full lineup of R&B and soul music.
Aaron Robinson, Oyefusi’s business partner, said a lot of work has been put into the event. They have been coordinating with photographers, videographers, performers, hosts and others to make sure everything is covered.
“Even as we speak, I’m on my way to two meetings actually to meet with some of the lounge owners and just view the space,” he said last month during a phone interview.
Oyefusi and Robinson are in the process of developing an online platform to connect musicians and venues. Their venture, Stumble Media, is expected to have a full roll-out in the coming weeks.
It might seem like a lot for a 22-year-old who, by the way, is still taking classes at the Community College of Philadelphia.
“I feel like starting young is really important because it allows you to make mistakes early, and, by the time you’re in your 30s, 40s, you’ve figured out, for the most part, the kinks and figured out your recipe,” Oyefusi said.
“I hope that I can be an inspiration to other young people that you don’t have to wait and put things off until you’re older,” she said. “If you have a dream and if you have something that you really want to put into motion, start doing it.”
She credits Bynum Hospitality Group, which owns South and Green Soul, among other Philly restaurants, for giving her a platform and opportunity to host events.
Oyefusi is pursuing a degree in construction technology and is scheduled to graduate in December.
“My childhood dream was to be a civil engineer, which I’m still going to do,” she said. “But I also found that I have a knack for organizing and planning, and I love it.”
I BUY BLACK TOO | Feb. 22. 3-10 p.m. facebook.com/events