Twins Jonathan and Matthew Burgess are no strangers to American history; they’ve been a part of it their whole lives. Their great-grandfather, Rufus Burgess, a freed enslaved person, became a landowner once California became a free state. There, in Sacramento, he owned the first African American-owned church — the Emmanuel. Growing up with this legacy, the Burgess brothers dedicated their lives to learning more about where they come from and using that information to educate others and affect change on where they’re heading.
“With California being one of the states where you see a reparations task force, our family story, I’ve been told, will be story in a case study to kind of look at what was done. I’m not saying that our story is exactly what reparations represents, but [reparations] definitely comes into play when you talk about it,” Jonathan remarks. He and Matthew founded both the African American Gold Rush Museum and AAGR Organization.
Knowing that their own family is an important part of history, when the brothers looked to their communities they wondered why the concept that Jonathan refers to as “true, inclusive history” was not being told. This drove them to open the African American Gold Rush Museum.
Jonathan explains, “The driving point in us [pursuing the museum] was the resistance that we met from the Marshall Gold Discovery Museum. The state park officials were just not: one, being inclusive by face value, but two, being receptive to inclusion. When we did a lot of research, I found a lot of documents that I shared with the State of California and the Discovery Center. They weren’t new documents. They knew this history already and so it became clear to me that if they wanted to be inclusive, they would.”
Now, Jonathan and Matthew have created the museum and are excited to educate their community, but their work does not stop there. The brothers both felt that while inclusive education is incredibly important, once that work is done they had a responsibility to continue the work of their legacy and push the societal needle even further.
They asked themselves, “Why are there not Black farmers? Or Indigenous or people of color who actually own the farms, not just working them?”
“Why don’t we have suppliers in the hospitality realm that actually own their own manufacturing plants that represent someone that looks like me? Well, we can tie all of this back. And if that’s the case, then what are we doing to carve out something for people like us?”
And thus, Jonathan and Matthew began their next endeavor of the African American Gold Rush Association complete with all their initiatives designed specifically to empower and uplift BIPOC suppliers.
“One of our goals is to basically make it very easy so that school districts, private, or public entities who are looking to do business with BIPOC suppliers that can scale, we make it easier for them to do it so that they no longer have the excuse to say, ‘We can’t find them, explains Jonathan’”
A pinnacle of both the Burgess brothers’ professional endeavors is always being grounded in what exactly their mission is. Every decision made is rooted in putting BIPOC suppliers first. Matthew explains, “We were asked to sponsor a golf tournament that’s predominantly all-white. And so, I said, I have no problem sponsoring the tournament, however, what I’d like to know is how do we get our product in the supply chain? Because they’re not using any of our products.”
Their biggest piece of advice when asked what can be done to help their mission is to be willing to have tough conversations, and to be willing to grow from those conversations and apply changes accordingly. Both Jonathan and Matthew know that it is not enough for corporate entities to simply say that they want to support BIPOC-owned businesses; they need the fire lit under them to actually do it, and the Burgess brothers are that fire.
Jonathan and Matthew Burgess are esteemed alumni of ICIC’s Inner City Capital Connections (ICCC) program. Since their business Burgess Brothers participated in the program in 2019, the brothers have remained active members of our Inner City Alumni Network (ICAN). To learn more about ICAN click here.
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