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A Concrete Rose Book Bar in Lancaster would be the state's first Black-owned winery

Evita Colon and Solise White of A Concrete Rose Bookbar

Photo courtesy of We & Company.

In 1999, rapper Tupac Shakur released a book of poetry titled "The Rose That Grew From Concrete."

Written a decade prior and compiled after Shakur's death, the collection served as a look into the musician's poetic side. In particular, the collection's titular piece resonated with readers. 

'Did you hear about the rose that grew

from a crack in the concrete?

Proving nature's law is wrong it

learned to walk with out having feet.

Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,

it learned to breathe fresh air.

Long live the rose that grew from concrete

when no one else ever cared.'

The words resonated especially deeply for Evita Colon.

"I first encountered that poem when I was 10 or 11," says Colon over the phone. "My mom gifted me Tupac's poetry book, and it was a book that really inspired me to write as a poet and express myself and question the things that were going on in the world."

Two decades after the poem's release, its name has inspired a forthcoming business from Colon and her partner, Solise White, A Concrete Rose Book Bar.

"What we were finding was that we weren't seeing places in Lancaster where we felt comfortable expressing ourselves and meeting people that look like us to exchange ideas," Colon says. "So the next best thing is to create that space."

The business is envisioned as a combination of the duo's passions, both old and new - bringing together literature by Black authors, a small performance space and wine, created by the duo themselves.

"We originally planned for a cafe, but we realized coffee wasn't our passion," Colon says. "We were drinking wine while planning, and the light bulb went off. 

"I learned that I have a passion for wine," White adds. "I liked wine before, but now I'm getting really deep into it, understanding it is a beautiful art once you start learning it."

When it opens its doors, A Concrete Rose Book Bar won't just be the only Black-owned winery in Lancaster - it will be the only one in the state. According to Phil Long of California's Longevity Wines, less than one percent of all wineries in the United States are Black-owned.

Concrete plans

In early March, Colon and White were ready to kick off the initial fundraising promotion for A Concrete Rose Book Bar with an Indiegogo campaign and a month of events to spread awareness about the project. Then, due to the coronavirus, the duo was forced to change their plans.

However, Colon agrees that hitting the pause button allowed her and White to read more and take additional online wine-making classes. 

That personal development included numerous classes and pinpointing their own personal taste profiles - Colon prefers dry varieties, while White enjoys sweeter wines.

"I feel like we are very knowledgeable about wine at this point," Colon says with a laugh. "We probably know a lot more than we probably would have known if we had opened in our original timeline."

The artistic backgrounds of Colon and White - the former, who is a writer and poet, and the latter, a dancer and choreographer - give the duo an interesting entrepreneurial edge.

In 2014, Colon created Speak to My Soul, an organization dedicated to hosting events that "Enlighten, empower and educate." Recently, in the wake of the increased social unrest due to continued systemic racism and police brutality, Speak to My Soul rolled out plans for leadership and coaching programs, as well as a publication, "The Black Voice."

While literature and wine are the central focuses of the space, there will be an intimate area planned for open mics and readings.

With this background merging social justice, business and the arts, Colon believes A Concrete Rose Book Bar is emerging at a time when Lancaster seems to be ready for it.

"I think a lot of businesses are like, 'Oh, I don't want to be too political, I see everyone as the same,' which is not OK," Colon says. "A lot of activists have used the phrase 'Silence is violence' and we want the businesses that we occupy to understand that our experiences are different than others and we're not asking for things that are irrational. We want equity, as everyone else does."

On June 15, Colon and White created a GoFundMe campaign for additional funds to get A Concrete Rose Book Bar from the seeds of an idea to a fully formed flora. Within a week of announcing the campaign, the duo has already cleared nearly $10,500 of the $25,000 total.

Though COVID-19 has pushed back a planned opening from 2020 to early 2021 and a location has yet to be announced, Colon and White believe they have laid the groundwork for eventual success.

"I get a kick out of learning everything I can, because I want to be able to share and inform people in the future," White says.

"The Rose That Grew From Concrete" remains a poetic fixture not just because of the enormous popularity of its author, but because the message is timeless - to persevere in the face of adversity, whatever shape it may take.

"I really wanted to reflect the idea of [Shakur's] poem," Colon says. "We came from very rough beginnings, Solise and I both had our struggles growing up. We still grew through it and grew past it and we were able to become such pillars in our communities, so I want that to be amplified in this space."