Oakland, California is in a state of crisis as a city and as a culture which is also a reflection that mirrors the current threat to Black masculinity in America.
Damon Lawrence, 29, and Marcus Carey, 25, co-founders of Homage Hospitality Group, understand the zeitgeist of our time and have begun to hone in on the adversities for African American males as the crux of their company.
“As we are losing more and more of our safe spaces to gentrification, it’s important to continue to create those spaces for people of color, especially for our men,” Lawrence stated.
The need for space, not only physical, but all things mental, spiritual, and emotional is even seen as the foundation for Homage Hospitality Group through their business partnership.
“Being an African American male, having all the things that you have as a burden that you live with on a daily basis, having another person to communicate with and talk about the issues you’re going through, there’s nothing else like it. Having that partner, having that support system like women do, especially African American women, we don’t have that necessarily,” Damon continued.
“We don’t talk to each other (as African American men),” Marcus added.
“Exactly.” Damon affirmed.
Damon and Marcus met in 2016 at a day party in historic downtown Oakland on a whim as most great collaborations and partnerships happen. Like hip hop. Like that’s fam. Like we gotta link up soon. Like we’re stronger in numbers. Marcus is from Detroit, Michigan and Damon is from Pasadena, California. Both men graduated from Howard University without ever crossing paths before moving to Oakland.
“Oakland celebrates entrepreneurial culture. This city encourages young people who dare to try new things,” Carey answered as to how a Detroiter native turned New York wall streeter has now landed in the Bay Area as an entrepreneur and the co-founder to Homage Hospitality Group.
“I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur since ten or eleven,” Marcus mentioned. Damon began Homage Hospitality off of an IndieGoGo account in 2015 and has taken many of the “lumps”, hard hits, and lessons learned. Once the two partners met, Marcus was able to provide the boost, gas, and business savvy and swag Homage needed to elevate to the next stage of what Marcus calls “the process”. Now with Marcus’s financial background there is a balance in the company as his strength in numbers brings Homage to a whole different level. “(Damon) now gets to be more creatively focused and I get to be more business focused and it’s a good partnership on that basis.”
Walking into the dimly lit corner bar, you would see one co-founder chillin’ calmly on his phone and answering e-mails in the middle of an empty seating area while the other is messing around with the bocce ball set-up in the corner. You would never guess that what these two young African American men have set their eyes and lives on is a business, brand, and driving force like our country has not seen done in the hospitality and business game.
When asked what advice they would give to their younger selves…
“Stop trusting in your training. Shoot from the hip more.”
“Be more bold. When your back gets put against the wall, you’re tested and you become unafraid. That’s when things started poppin’ off for us!”
Both co-founders agreed, being taken seriously, that is the uphill battle. The real life experience and beat down that two young Black entrepreneurs have to figure out how to be twice as good to just be heard. Their core motivation and endurance comes from the fact that they know once they make it, what they can do with their voices can do so much for their community.
“Code switching is terrible. It’s the worst thing, but we don’t have that privilege right now. That’s why you become an entrepreneur, to become your true one hundred percent authentic self,” Damon explained.
“Yeah, man. It’s gotta be intersectional. That’s built into the fabric of what we do,” Marcus responded. “The pressure is on for diversity, simply as an economic opportunity. Especially as Black people, we know our purchase and our power,” Marcus commented on the questioning of African American culture being appropriated and commodified.
Currently, Homage is closing on the purchase of two unique and different properties, very similar to the ying and yang balance between Homage’s two co-founders. “Even in this bar!” Marcus began joking around, “I think the chicken sandwich here is trash, but this dude loves it!” The partners may not agree on chicken sandwiches, business approaches, or communication all of the time, however, with the trust in one another and their collaborative vision for the community at large, they are able to synergize together and continue to move forward through the process of acquisition on their first properties.
In downtown Oakland, Homage is set to build, design, and execute a one hundred bedroom boutique hotel called The Town. Plans for The Town hotel will include a restaurant, two bars including a rooftop, and a number of collaborations with local Bay Area businesses.
The second property will be an intimate two story bed and breakfast with a retail store right outside of the heart of New Orleans, Louisiana called The Freeman. Plans for The Freeman property will include six private bedrooms with their own bathrooms and a lounge. The custom designed property will display a rich palette that reflects the concept of masculuxe that Damon, as creative executive, has tailored for Homage as the essence and energy of the company branding.
Art has not only heavily influenced Oakland culture, musical artists like Kendrick Lamar have also moved Homage to focus on the Black male narrative, image, and presence. Damon discusses, “Homage wants spaces that are inclusive of all African American males. Not just the one linear type. We want the business professionals and the dope boys. Like Kendrick, everyone can relate, everyone is welcome to experience the story, but at the end of the day we feel the safest with this. This is our culture, our story. This is ours. It’s home.”
To receive the welcome of the Homage Hospitality experience, stay tuned to the company’s development at www.stayhomage.com and follow the masculuxe lifestyle through social media at @hauspitality and @stayhomage on Instagram.