Davyne Dial is the General Manager of WPVM radio, and has the goal of making the station the best in the region, if not the whole country. Thank you for listening.

And how would you fare quarantined inside one of these things?

If you know us, you know we love weird architectural history from the height of the utopian design age, but the idea of spending lockdown inside a radical sci-fi social experiment might take some convincing. This odd cluster of spherical houses is known as Bolwoningen, built in 1984 by artist Dries Kreijkamp as part of an experimental housing development program launched from 1968 to 1984 in the Netherlands. There are 50 of them, and after 37 years of existence, they are still as strange and futuristic as ever. What may look like a subdivision of mini astronomical observatories or a batch of oversized golf balls (you decide) are in fact inhabited by everyday Dutch folk in the suburban town of Den Bosch….Like extraterrestrial mushrooms emerging from riverbanks, they stand out even more because they’re located on the edge of an ordinary new housing estate. 
“The globe-shape is totally self-evident,” explained Dries Kreijkamp of his unusual spherical design. “It’s the most organic and natural shape possible. After all, roundness is everywhere: we live on a globe, we’re born from a globe. The globe combines the biggest possible volume with the smallest possible surface area, so you need minimum material for it. It’s space saving, very ecological and nearly maintenance-free. Need I say more?”
The basic system consisted of two stacked parts: a cylindrical base for the staircase, storage and utility spaces, and a three-story freestanding sphere. In the original project, the spheres were designed to be produced in polyester but the fire regulations imposed concrete reinforced with fiberglass. Each capsule has a diameter of 5.5 meters and six windows.
© Gil Merin © Gil Merin The spherical houses have unusual floor plans too: the toilets and bathrooms are placed in the centre of the ball, while the living room is located upstairs and the bedrooms on the ground floor. There is also a small kitchen which is separated by a wall from the rest of the living room. 
© Super Formosa Photography
The advantages of this type of structure are that they do not require any type of permanent foundation, require low maintenance and consume little energy. They are also lightweight at 1250 kg, and can be easily assembled or transported.

The disadvantages? Well for one, they require rounded furniture. So try fitting your IKEA closet against the wall in here.
“Barbapapa”, a 1970s French cartoon
Uncube magazine has a hunch that the Bolwoningen complex may have been inspired by the houses from a French cartoon series, well-known in the 1970s, called “Barbapapa”.
“Barbapapa”, a 1970s French cartoon
As an art student, Dries Kreijkamp developed an obsession with spheres and was convinced he could revolutionise modern living with them. The media flocked to odd community of Bolwoningen and people did come from all over the world just to see the houses, but the government’s experimental mood (and financial support) came to an end in 1984.

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In the 1990s, Kreijkamp’s career-defining sci-fi experiment was nearly scrapped entirely; slated for demolition after residents complained about maintenance issues with their houses. One of them was even said to be sinking into the ground. But after a some considerable renovation, the spherical homes were left in place. Kreijkamp however was never able to conquer the globe with his designs and he died in 2014, still trying to convert urban planners to get behind his futuristic pods.
One of Kreijkamp’s own prototypes “The Eskimos really knew what they were doing, with their igloos. And so do African tribes who build round clay huts”, Kreijkamp once told a journalist. When living becomes even less affordable than it is now, perhaps we’ll be taking his circular homes more seriously. What say you?

Some of Nature’s Best Work is Hidden Away in Siberia

Shavlo Lake in Northern Chuysky Range
We’re constantly looking for untapped corners of the globe. The road less travelled. Proof that tourism hasn’t conquered everything. Today that search took us to the Altai Mountains, in the least-populous republic of Russia, where the frontier meets China, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan. Genetic research has suggested this Siberian landscape was the birthplace of Native Americans. Settlements in the region date back to the Bronze and Iron Ages. It’s home to mysterious forests, turquoise rivers, 7,000 lakes, martian landscapes, and gold and snow-capped mountains alike. In the aftermath of a global pandemic that has forever changed our overcrowded world, it’s just the sort of place we can see ourselves venturing further afield…Katun River in the Altai Mountains
We’d start with our compass pointing towards the sacred island of Patmos, known as one of the wonders of Altai; it’s essentially a rock with sheer walls located in the middle of the river Katun that flows down from the glaciers of Siberia’s “Golden Mountains”. The sole way to access the island is via a rope suspension bridge, which only 8 people can cross at a time.
The foot bridge to Patmos Island
Consecrated in 1855, Patmos owes its name to the small Greek island of the same name. The chapel was named after the monk’s guardian angel, St. John the Evangelist who lived on the Greek island of Patmos. A handful of religious sites, including a temple, attracting religious travellers to participate in its services. It’s one of the few places in the Altai Republic where you might encounter another foreigner.
A sacred site on Patmos Island © dramoor Patmos Island © sibalt.ru Katun River in the Altai Mountains
There are a few vintage Soviet resort towns in the area but for the most part, the Altai is a huge untouched National Park in an enormous yet sparsely-populated (read: socially-distanced) area. The only inhabitants are the nomadic, yurt-dwelling tribes that navigate the terrain as they have done for centuries. With tourism under-developed, hotels scarce and Airbnb non-existent, the key to this raw paradise is full immersion in nature; living and breathing in the breathtaking scenery like those who call it home. Rent a car and make it an adventure road trip. Spend nights beneath the stars and days on the roads, lakes and rivers…
Kyzyl–Chin
Pitch a tent in the colourful desert mountains of Kyzyl–Chin, known locally as “Mars” for obvious reasons. Lake Teletskoye, the “Golden Lake” is known to have actual gold in the surrounding hills and nearby waterfalls. Try your luck spotting a snow leopard or make friends with a wild horse. If this account is anything to go by – they are pretty damn friendly.
This is also your chance to drive take a scenic drive along the iconic Silk Road via Siberia’s Chuisky Highway. Brave the hairpin bends of Katu-Yaryk Pass, roll through the panoramic vistas of Chike-Taman and Seminsky Pass, or the Red Gate mountains of Ulagan…

Red Gate mountains of Ulagan
Follow a rocky, off-road path to the Stone Mushrooms, unusual rock formations measuring up to seven meters tall that look as though they are tall, capped mushrooms – one of the stranger sights in the Altai.
© sibalt.ru
The people of the Altai have roamed these lands since the Iron Age – this is the land of the reindeer riders and eagler hunters. The Altai has over a thousand caves of note and open for exploration, where archaeologists have discovered evidence of more than 20 different cultural civilisations dating back more than three hundred thousand years ago.
© sibalt.ru
In 2008, scientists found human remains revealing a fundamentally new subspecies of humans, different from both the Neanderthal and the homo sapiens. In the 1930s, a Scythian burial mound was discovered containing sarcophagi, mummies and even textiles. Almost perfectly preserved in the permafrost, archeologists excavating the graves in the Altai mountains found intricately detailed boots worn by a Scythian woman around 300–290 BCE (pictured below).
© The British Museum
DNA analysis of ethnic groups living in the Altai Mountains, as reported by the National Geographic in 2012, found that the region may be a genetic “homeland” for North America’s indigenous peoples, according to the authors.
© Anton Agarkov
Today, Russia’s Altai Republic is home to just over 205,000 people – 35% of representing the indigenous Altaians, a Turkic ethnic group. Many of the traditional peoples remain Shamanists; guides between the physical and ethereal world. These lands have long been regarded as an area of mysterious and occult significance, so prepare for your journey through the Altai to potentially become a spiritual one. After all, the Altai seems to be one of those rare corners on the Earth where nature decided to show everything it was capable of.
© sibalt.ru
Looking for more tips? Become a MessyNessy Keyholder to gain access to our Travel eBook library and a direct line to our Keyholder Travel Concierge to plan your personalised itinerary. Need help planning a weekend in France? Need some restaurant recommendations for a remote village in the North Pole? We’re here to help. 

About Last Night: Ancient Drunkard Apology Letters of the Silk Road

It’s happened to the very best of us, when the stark light of day wakes us from a slumber with a dry mouth, a sore head and a foreboding sense of shame for our previous night’s antics. For last night, far too much liquor had been consumed, and the party was perhaps a little too hard. As Shakespeare so eloquently put it, “That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold.” As we stumble out from which ever place we had laid ourselves, brief snapshots of the night appear and the unforgiving sense of shame takes over. Some call it hangxiety, others the shameover. And so begins the inevitable conversations with those who were there and who perhaps had a clearer vision of what exactly was said and done, as you retrace your unsteady steps and attempt to decipher who might be owed an apology. Today we can make our clunky excuses through the magic of technology, but this morning-after ritual is one that has been around for centuries – let’s just say that for as long as we’ve had alcohol, we’ve had hangxiety.Travel back to the first millennium AD, to China, and more specifically to the oasis town of Dunhuang, which welcomed travellers of the Silk Road, taking refuge from the unending desert. The Tang dynasty, which ruled from 618 to 907 AD, is in full swing, sweeping across China, Iran and Turkey and bringing with it a new appreciation for grapes, and consequently, wine.
Banquet at the Imperial Palace during the Tang dynasty © University of Toronto
The Silk Road is thriving, wine is flowing and the opportunities for a good night out are plentiful. Enter the eloquently named Dunhuang Bureau of Etiquette, a convenient service which allowed our disgraced partygoers to purge themselves of their embarrassment, without too much thought. For the Dunhuang Bureau of Etiquette had handily composed a set of drunken apology templates, which officials could have delivered to their hosts, excusing themselves for the previous night’s behaviour. All that was required of the sender was to copy out the helpful little template, enter the host’s name and sign the apology letter, helping ease some of the headache that must have plagued these red-faced revellers.
One such example, dated 856 AD, reads:

Yesterday, having drunk too much, I was intoxicated as to pass all bounds; but none of the rude and coarse language I used was uttered in a conscious state. The next morning, after hearing others speak on the subject, I realised what had happened, whereupon I was overwhelmed with confusion and ready to sink into the earth with shame.

The entire scroll, filled with Form Letters adapted for various situations, can be seen here. The story for how our ancient drunken apology letters came to be found is one that also merits a mention.
Up until the twentieth century, little was known about the Silk Road. It was only when explorers and archaeologists unearthed the remains of a number of ancient cities, hidden in the desert, that they found a treasure trove of history, made up of sculptures, murals and manuscripts. One of the most notable discoveries was found just outside Dunhuang, in a cave which had been sealed and hidden at the end of the first millennium AD, known now as the Mogao caves.

Mogao Caves ©Yaohua2000
The vital discovery was made by a Chinese monk in the early 1900s, who wished to preserve this spiritual place. He took it upon himself to tend to the cave, meticulously caring for every inch of it and appointing himself as somewhat of a guardian.
Chinese monk, known as “Wang”
One day, the monk observed a crack in one of the cave’s wall and discovered a small, hidden chamber, full to the brim with texts dating from 406 to 1002 AD. Unbeknownst to him, Wang had just excavated a copy of the world’s first dated book Diamond Sutra, which was written in 868 AD and constitutes seven strips of yellow stained paper, pasted together. This however was the very beginning of Wang’s discoveries as he went on to unearth forty thousand manuscripts, paintings and printed documents, which have helped historians to build a rich and enticing picture of the Silk Road’s history. As to why these texts were squirrelled away from prying eyes, the answer is unclear but it is perhaps suggested that the Buddhist monks who did so were weary of an encroaching invasion.
Manuscripts found at the Mogao cavesM. Aurel Stein © British Library
Desperate to secure funding to allow him to continue caring for the cave, Wang sold a British-Austrian archaeologist by the name of Marc Aurel Stein, seven thousand of the manuscripts, along with six thousand fragments, and several cases filled with paintings, embroideries and other artefacts. Stein later remarked that the measly sum of £130 which he paid for this incredible haul was one “that will make our friends at the British museum chuckle.” Indeed, this discovery is now considered to be one of the greatest archaeological finds of all time, earning Stein a knighthood but the enduring distain of those in China.
The collection of work acquired by Stein revealed a world that the West had been oblivious to. The texts were written in Sanskrit, Turkic, Chinese and Tibetan and painted a picture of what it was like to live on the Silk Road during its glory days. Not only were the drunken apologies discovered but along with them, a medley of other documents including slave contracts and police reports.
This remarkable loot is now spread out across the world, displayed in museums in Beijing, Delhi and Paris, while the drunken apology letter finds itself on display in the British Library. A cautionary reminder that one hazy night of your life, might just go down in history in more ways than one. Always drink responsibly!
Further listening:

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Written by Louise McNutt

What We Can Learn from a Bollywood Blockbuster about Periods

“The curse. Bloody Mary. Time of the Month. Shark Week. Code Red. Aunt Flo.” All over the world, euphemisms exist to discretely convey those four simple words: “I have my period”. In the media, the word ‘period’ was not mentioned on television until the 1980s and it seems the western approach for combatting period stigma is to pretend that it doesn’t exist. But in 2018, the muted subject of the female cycle inspired the central storyline of an entire feature film; which became one of the highest-grossing Bollywood films of that year. Based on true events, “Pad Man” follows the story of struggling labourer turned social activist in India, who developed low cost sanitary pads for rural women who couldn’t afford the expense. It’s an unlikely love story about a young husband who will do anything for the comfort and happiness of his new bride, but finds himself unaware of the unhygienic and discriminatory practices she is subjected to when menstruating. In a part of the world where the topic of menstruation was discouraged in households and social circles; considered ‘unclean’; he risks being ridiculed and ostracised to generate awareness for women’s health in rural India. Arunachalam Muruganantham has since inspired filmmakers, lectured at Harvard University and was nominated as the 100 most influential people in the world…

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In fifteenth century Egypt, menstrual blood was a common ingredient in medicines and ointments. In many hunter-gathering communities, a woman’s period was seen as a source of pride; their cycles celebrated and given much attention and praise. Ultimately, perceptions have shifted throughout the centuries across different cultures.
Historian Robert S. McElvaine suspects this shift began when men developed what he coined as non-menstrual syndrome or NMS, which refers to a theory of reproductive “envy” that led males to stigmatize menstruation and socially dominate women as “psychological compensation for what men cannot do biologically.”
Religious texts in the Bible, the Quran and the Torah each contain passages that refer to menstrual blood as dirty. In Leviticus 15:24, women that undergo menstruation are perceived as unclean for seven days and anyone who touches them during the time shall also be unclean. Instead of being praised for bleeding, women were now avoided, excluded, and shamed for it.

This period of exclusion became exacerbated through the centuries, linked to various cultural and religious influences on society. In the Eastern Orthodox religion, a woman menstruating may not receive communion. Similarly, in Orthodox Jewish communities, husbands and wives cannot touch or engage in sexual intercourse. It wasn’t until the late 1950s that the theory about menstrual blood containing toxicity and disease-causing elements was disproven.
It’s difficult to believe that in the 21st century however, that we are still combatting societal stigma surrounding periods.
© Bunu Dhungana
Arunachalam Muruganantham set out to tackle the problem of the period taboo in his own country. He realized rural women did not have adequate access to the sanitary products they needed, and many were too ashamed to vocalize their concerns.
Since 2006, Muruganantham has provided over 4,000 machines to women in India through grassroots efforts. His machines are given to NGOs, who then employ local women to manufacture low-cost- sanitary pads and distribute them to rural Indian women. Hundreds of his machines are being distributed to other developing countries to provide local women with sanitary pads.
Growing up in a poor Indian village, Muruganantham was dismayed to learn that his wife and female family members used dirty rags and newspapers as sanitary pads. To add to his shock, he learned that the price of menstrual products was too exorbitant for the average lower working-class Indian family. A household would need to choose between food items or sanitary pads, as they could not afford both.

Women manufacturing low-cost pads (Sam Panthaky / Getty)
Muruganantham created a low-cost sanitary pad and distributed them to poor women around his village. This feat proved hard, as he could not find enough women to discuss menstruation with him. He lacked willing participants to try his sanitary pad inventions. Similarly, Muruganantham was discouraged by his family to continue his work, as it brought much shame to them. Women would rather expose themselves to potentially life-threatening infection and death than tell a male family member or friend that she was menstruating.
Despite much progress being made, in Western society, there is still the unspoken norm that this natural healthy sign that a woman’s body is functioning normally, should remain hidden. According to one Australian survey, school girls voted that their period experience would be more manageable if more ‘soundless’ menstrual products were available.
The need for discreet period products is high amongst women. As a result, many businesses are marketing their feminine products to be smaller and more discreet to appeal to consumers. Unfortunately, this works as a double-edged sword. By marketing products to be less noticeable, it reinforces the shame and stigma associated with periods; a topic that should be neither seen nor heard, minimising the chance of valid discussions surrounding the accessibility of menstrual products.
Women hide Tampon out of view (Nadine Ajaka / The Atlantic)
Studies have also shown that women often feel ashamed to buy these products in the supermarket and would avoid purchasing them from male checkout employees. Despite recent efforts and campaigns made to normalize periods, openly discussing one’s period is seldom brought up in a social circle, especially in a males’ presence.
Many UK women report feeling ashamed to tell their fathers that they have their period, which can pose a problem for single-parent households, whereby the sole parent or guardian is male. Girls may be too afraid to tell their fathers about their period and ask for menstrual products, depriving them of adequate care.
Period stigma also prevents women from publicly supporting a shared sentiment: that woman menstrual products are too expensive. Many businesses compete to make sanitary products discreet, soundless, and smaller. However, this optimization does not come with the label “more affordable.” It is estimated about 137,000 girls in the UK miss school each year because of a lack of access to sanitary products. Research from the University of Queensland found that in Australia, young women felt forced to steal menstrual pads because packets could cost up to $10 each. Homeless women were also particularly vulnerable to the high price of menstrual products, with thousands admitting to using old clothes, newspapers, and even leaves during their cycle or stealing from supermarkets.
Ending “period poverty” has noticeably raised more awareness in the mainstream media in the past few years. Just earlier this week, French President Emmanuel Macron renewed a promise made in December that women’s dignity must be protected from what he termed an “invisible injustice” that could no longer be tolerated. France’s plan follows New Zealand’s decision to roll out free products to all students earlier this month, and Scotland, which became the first country to make period products free in 2020.
Despite increasing attempts to normalize the stigma however, women are largely still left out of their own debate while prominent male figures and legislators still champion women’s period concerns for them.
Women stand in solidarity against menstruating taboo (Denise Maher/ Everyday Health)
Stemming from outdated cultural and religious influences, perhaps it’s time we recognised this taboo as a form of misogyny; one that silences women and instills fear and shame. And if we don’t discourage an attitude of embarrassment and discretion from the outset, it will continue permeate through into general society. So let’s talk about it. Period.
Written by Zakiyyah Job

13 Things I Found on the Internet Today (Vol. DXLIV)

1. These Kitschy Jell-O molds are actually Lamps
Made by mixed media artist Elrod (aka Mexakitsch.com). Found via PeeWee Herman’s blog!

2. Billy Meier’s UFOs
Eduard Albert Meier, commonly nicknamed “Billy”, is the founder of a UFO religion called the “Freie Interessengemeinschaft für Grenz- und Geisteswissenschaften und Ufologiestudien” (Free Community of Interests for the Border and Spiritual Sciences and Ufological Studies) and alleged contactee whose UFO photographs are claimed to show alien spacecraft. Meier claims to be in regular contact with extraterrestrial beings he calls the Plejaren. He also presented other material during the 1970s such as metal samples, sound recordings and film footage. Meier claims to be the seventh reincarnation after six prophets common to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: Enoch, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Immanuel (Jesus), and Mohammed. (Wikipedia).
He also has great photoshop skills! At Sotheby’s, a lot of his photographs sold for $16,000.
Found here.

3. News footage announcing the discovery of the Titanic wreckage (1985)

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4. A ‘Witch Bottle’ Discovered in an English Chimney
Filled with teeth, pins and mysterious liquid, the charms were designed to ward off witches, but new research suggests they had medical uses as well. Contractors demolishing the chimney of a former inn and pub in Watford, England, chanced upon a creepy surprise in 2019.
Found on the Smithsonian.

5. Mariah Carey’s Secret Alternative 90s Rock Album
Carey secretly wrote, recorded and released an alt rock album in 1995 under the name “Chick”. She initially provided leading vocals but producers told her it could damage her career so she asked her roommate Clarissa Dane to provide lead vocals whilst leaving her own background vocals on the tracks. This wasn’t revealed until 2020.
Here are two music videos from the album which Mariah Carey directed (warning: they’re both pretty terrible): Malibu and Demented
It seems she did provide some clues, her dog was featured in Malibu. In addition, she had a song in her album E=MC2 called “I’m That Chick”. Carey stated in her memoir: “I created an alter-ego artist and her Ziggy Stardust-like spoof band. My character was a dark-haired brooding Goth girl [a version of her, Bianca, showed up a few years later in the ‘Heartbreaker’ video] who wrote and sang ridiculous tortured songs.”
More on Wikipedia.

6. The Qajar series, inspired by the studio portraiture first introduced to Iran in the late 19th century
These photographs are from a series of thirty-three portraits by Shadi Ghadirian, a contemporary artist who was inspired by the studio portraiture first introduced to Iran under the Qajar dynasty (1794–1925). In order to re-create the earlier setting, Ghadirian employs painted backdrops and dresses her models in vintage clothes to emulate the fashion of the day: headscarves and short skirts worn over baggy trousers, as well as thick, black eyebrows. She adds modern elements to these traditional scenes, such as a Pepsi can, a boom box, a bicycle and an avant-garde Tehran newspaper. She has said of her work, “My pictures became a mirror reflecting how I felt: we are stuck between tradition and modernity.”
More found here.

7. An Asian-American owned store in 1942
Oakland, Calif., Mar. 1942. A large sign reading “I am an American” placed in the window of a store, at [401 – 403 Eighth] and Franklin streets, on December 8, the day after Pearl Harbor. The store was closed following orders to persons of Japanese descent to evacuate from certain West Coast areas. Found in the Library of Congress.

8. Chilling Underground
Victor Sukhorukov is a young photographer from St. Petersburg who is seriously passionate about extreme sports and photography. He chooses hard-to-reach places as sites for filming – underground mines and tunnels, roofs, high-rise towers and bridges.

9. Magnificently Detailed Porcelain Ceramics
by Hitomi Hosono

10. The Surreal Architecture of Michael Sorkin
Sorkin was house architecture critic for The Village Voice in the 1980s, and he authored numerous articles and books on the subjects of contemporary architecture, design, cities, and the role of democracy in architecture. He died of Covid-19 last year. His prolific body of work is found on his website found here.

11. Los Alamos National Laboratory. Working on nuclear testing projects. 1974
Inside the lab: found here.

12. Jeff Goldblum selling us Apple Computers in 1999

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13. The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)
The Abominable Dr. Phibes is a 1971 British dark comedy horror film. Its art deco sets, dark humour, and performance by Price have made the film and its sequel Dr. Phibes Rises Again cult classics.

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The film posters are pretty rad if you can find one. Otherwise, there’s the t-shirt.

The Pandemic’s Existential Threat to Black-Owned Businesses

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Of all the products made at Danette Wilder’s small manufacturing plant near the University of Kentucky in Lexington, the products she depended on most for sales were the O-rings cranked out by her vintage presses.
Each month, Wilder’s crew of six people, working at long tables as they listened to a soundtrack of funk and R&B, made thousands of the rubber loops, cut from spools into precise strips and spliced into uniform perfect circles.

The work distinguished Wilder’s company, SealingLife Technology, as one of the vanishingly few rubber products suppliers owned by a female engineer — not to mention one who is also Black. It hasn’t been an easy path: Wilder has navigated state and federal set-aside programs, tight-fisted bankers and what she saw as obvious discrimination. But eventually, Wilder built SealingLife into a reliable vendor for all manner of aerospace, medical and other industrial businesses.
Now, SealingLife is struggling to survive as orders for its O-rings have dried up over the past year, plunging the company into hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. That’s not an unusual story in the current pandemic-induced recession, which has been a gut punch for millions of small business owners. But Wilder faces obstacles that are disproportionately common among Black-owned companies, which on average had fewer resources to draw upon going into last year, were hit particularly hard by the downturn and were less well-served by the relief programs set up to help.
Danette Wilder in Lexington. Credit: Andrew Cenci for ProPublica
“We’re in a purgatory state,” Wilder said. “The long term is, if we can’t get our foot in the door with people who understand what we do and how we do it and provide us opportunities to grow, then the outcome is very bleak.’’
There are disparities between American businesses owned by white people and those owned by all minority groups, but the widest ones are typically with Black entrepreneurs, who tend to have modest family wealth and thin professional networks to help recruit talent and cut deals. Although the number of Black-owned businesses has grown in recent years, the vast majority remain sole proprietorships. As of 2012 — the most recent data the Census Bureau has collected — average annual sales for a Black-owned business came to about $58,000, compared to nearly 10 times that amount for the average white-owned enterprise.
Those years of compounding disadvantage have been exacerbated by the pandemic. For example, 18.4% fewer self-employed Black people were working in July 2020 than there had been a year previously, compared to 6.2% fewer self-employed white people (the dips for Asian and Hispanic people were even smaller). And minority-owned businesses overall have also been at the back of the line for relief programs, which were initially designed without factoring in the unique challenges of small businesses owned by people of color. As a result, federal Paycheck Protection Program loans to businesses in areas with a higher percentage of minority residents came in later and in lesser amounts per employee.

White-Owned Firms Are More Likely to Meet Criteria for Health and Stability

Note: Healthy firms meet at least two of these criteria: Profitable, high credit score, or use retained business earnings to fund firm. Credit: Source: U.S. Federal Reserve Bank of New York
That’s not new either. Decades of public and private initiatives meant to boost minority-owned businesses have fallen short. Since the 1980s, race-based contracting preferences have been weakened by federal court rulings. Now, the pandemic’s fallout threatens to arrest the nascent progress of a generation of Black entrepreneurs. That would only widen the yawning gap between wealth held by white people and that held by African Americans, which had barely begun to narrow after the last recession in 2009.

Wilder, 50, stands an imposing 6 feet tall, and shows up for a factory tour wearing maroon slacks, loafers, and big blocky glasses. She’s lived through all of those systemic disadvantages that show up in statistics. But she doesn’t want to end up like the averages. She just wants a fair shake.
“Whenever something’s been amputated, you need a recovery period,” Wilder said. “It’s sort of like, when you get behind on something, if there’s nothing to help you recover, nothing really helps.”
Danette Wilder grew up in inner-city Detroit, where her father, with only a few years of formal schooling, had moved to work in a Chrysler plant. She went to Detroit’s Central High School, which at the time had one of the worst graduation rates in the nation.
But Wilder did well in school, and enrolled at Old Dominion University, in Norfolk, Virginia, where her half-sister Gwendolyn Wilder lived. When their brother was murdered in Detroit, the two sisters took over caring for his two infant children. Danette Wilder worked multiple research and development jobs while finishing her degree, then landed an engineering job at Corning Inc., the venerable materials company now famous for making glass iPhone screens. Gwendolyn Wilder, too, got a Corning job, as an executive assistant.
Corning, located in largely white upstate New York, was making a diversity push. But Danette Wilder said she soon learned that she’d been hired at a much lower salary than the other engineering recruits; when she raised the disparity with her bosses, she said, she got nowhere.
Instead, Wilder tried a workaround, getting a side job for a few hours a week at a Toys R Us in Corning, which she knew company employees and executives would frequent. The extra income helped, but she also believes her second job led higher-ups to double her pay. “It caused such an uproar, because people were like, ‘She works for Corning?’” Wilder recalled.

Wilder believes SealingLife Technology is one of the few Black-owned rubber companies in the U.S. Credit: Andrew Cenci for ProPublica
Wilder reasoned that working within the system might be more effective than loudly decrying injustice. “Sometimes it’s not all about starting a riot,” she said. “It’s about strategically understanding their rules, and learning how to utilize them to get what you need.” (A spokesperson for Corning declined to comment on the incident but said that the company has “consistently operated at parity for minority and majority pay equity for many years.”)
Next, Wilder joined Toyota Motor Manufacturing in Georgetown, Kentucky, which paid even better. But the work wasn’t as professionally stimulating as at Corning, so Wilder started doing some information technology consulting on the side, and in 2005 she quit Toyota to go out on her own. One consulting client was Les Burd, who in 1989 had started a rubber company called ElastoSeal. Burd hired Wilder as ElastoSeal’s chief operating officer, and credits her with improving all manner of business functions. A few years later, when Burd was looking for a succession plan, they arranged for Wilder to buy a stake in the company.
The transfer, however, hit a snag when other people involved in the transaction objected. That brought Wilder to a familiar point for many people of color: Seeing no other plausible explanation for a setback, and wondering whether discrimination could be at play. “You see I’m educated. I’ve proven I know how to make you money. And you’re still struggling?” Wilder said. “It’s hard to prove in a court of law, but it really is that legitimate.”
Burd said he understands prejudice exists, but doubts that it thwarted his deal with Wilder (who emphasized her respect for him). “It’s just different hurdles to jump through, and we didn’t make a conscientious enough effort to get it done,” he said.

While the deal languished, Wilder started SealingLife, focusing on niche, high-value, low-volume products, many of which needed to be custom-designed to fit specific machines. ElastoSeal eventually leased part of its facility to Wilder and allowed her to run most of its operations. Wilder figures the long incubation period within an established business may have helped her gain a foothold in Kentucky’s decidedly white male manufacturing industry. (According to the Census Bureau, in 2012, 6,269 out of 7,032 manufacturing firms in Kentucky were white-owned, while 122 were owned by Black people.)
“We gained a lot of business under that camouflage, because it was white-owned,” Wilder said of assuming ElastoSeal’s operations. Gwendolyn Wilder, who now helps run SealingLife, recalled both of them being blatantly slighted in meetings with other businesses and lenders. “It’s not like it’s hidden. It’s in your face,” she said.
Wilder with her brother Delonzo Wilder, left, and half-sister Gwendolyn Wilder. Credit: Andrew Cenci for ProPublica
Danette Wilder’s small staff includes her brother Delonzo Wilder, who helps with SealingLife’s trucking division, and childhood friend Jasmine Heflin, who works in the production room. As orders dropped off during the pandemic, Wilder tried to avoid layoffs by reducing hours, which was easier because some employees left of their own accord to care for children whose schools had closed.
Inside the company’s supply warehouse, a high-ceilinged room with racks that hold spools of rubber and plastics, a curtained-off section hides much of the advanced work that may be key to SealingLife’s future. Sitting atop a giant tabletop machine used to cut large sheets of material, Wilder huddled with a young process engineer named Sarah Honchul, who showed her a tiny, orange, hole-filled rubber rectangle that she had developed for an equine medical device. (Kentucky is horse country, after all.) Honchul is also working on a gasket seal for a company that manufactures laboratory experiment systems for the International Space Station.
“That has to pass tests at NASA,” Wilder said with a hint of pride.
SealingLife is AS9100- and ISO 9001-certified, which allows it to do aerospace business. The certifications are neither easy nor cheap to get, but they are supposed to pay off by getting big companies to trust a business to deliver quality on high-risk products. SealingLife will do lower-tech jobs too; one of its more consistent gigs is making football thigh pads with custom-designed decorative imprints.

Still, everything is harder for companies without strong networks and vast capital reserves. Wilder doesn’t have the cash flow to afford high salaries, so she hires workers right out of college and trains them. She can’t afford new equipment for extruding and grinding rubber, so she buys ancient machines at auctions and refurbishes them. The colorful masses of steel sit like dinosaurs around the warehouse, in various states of operability. “The newest thing in here is probably the fridge,” said Jennifer Cady, Wilder’s quality representative.
When the machines break, which they often do, Wilder repairs them herself, sapping time from hunting new business. She could seek a loan to expand more quickly, but Black-owned firms have historically had a tougher time with lenders. According to a 2016 Federal Reserve survey, the share of Black entrepreneurs applying for loans was 10 percentage points higher than that of white entrepreneurs — but were almost twice as likely to have their applications rejected.

Black-Owned Firms Are Less Likely to Receive All of the Financing They Apply for Than Firms With Non-Black Owners

Only 13% of Black-owned firms that applied for loans received all of the financing they sought.

Note: Black, Asian and white categories refer to non-Hispanic owners. Credit: Source: U.S. Federal Reserve System survey from September and October 2020.
Burd, who is white, said he never had trouble getting loans for ElastoSeal. Wilder’s experience was different: Her own bank turned her down for a loan multiple times, and she finally found a small local bank to extend credit. Of course, it’s easier to guarantee loans with high-dollar, long-term contracts in place. And those kinds of contracts are difficult to win without equipment that produces quick turnarounds.
For example, cutting rubber for O-rings takes longer than it would if SealingLife had the capital to purchase more modern equipment. The company’s hand presses are difficult for less-skilled workers to operate, making it harder to ensure high-quality product. “We would love to get automated presses, because that makes it so we can standardize the process more, we’d have more consistent pieces coming out,” Cady said.
An old machine needing repair at SealingLife’s plant. Credit: Andrew Cenci for ProPublica
To help her employees develop some of those skills, Wilder sent them to train with Darryl Hawkins, who runs a small rubber compounding company in Wichita Falls, Texas. Compounding involves mixing various chemicals used in rubber production, such as carbon black, which can coat clothes and skin so thoroughly that it still seeps onto sheets after workers have taken a shower. Hawkins and Wilder met at a conference; as far as they can tell, theirs are among a small handful of Black-owned rubber companies in the U.S.
Hawkins followed a path similar to Wilder’s, but two decades earlier. He served as a chemist for tire manufacturing companies before striking out on his own in 1985. Trying to get loans, he said, he was often passed over. Instead, he slowly expanded his company. He primarily served the oil industry, which was struggling with sagging prices before the pandemic, and saw them fall off a cliff when energy demand collapsed. He would sell his business, but there aren’t many interested buyers.
“Unfortunately, it’s like trying to reach up like a drowning man right now,” said Hawkins, who has a fuzzy beard and walks with a cane. “You’d grab for almost anything.”
Wilder hoped that her orders for rubber would keep his business alive, but hasn’t had enough to pass along. She still dreams of buying Hawkins out, but the pandemic put a hitch in those aspirations. Now, she worries about becoming what he is: a small business owner without a cushion that could be wiped out if conditions worsen.
“Where is his retirement?” Wilder asked, rhetorically. “I get emotional about this now. Because there are still people out here who have a sense of integrity, want to give back and do well and serve their customers the old-fashioned way. A lot of minority companies, that’s what they want to do.”
And despite all the progress America is supposed to have made on racial equity, nothing seems to be getting easier.
“I see it happening to me,” Wilder said.
A work station at the plant. Credit: Andrew Cenci for ProPublica
Policymakers have tried for years to mitigate the structural disadvantages facing minority-owned businesses, but those efforts have been scaled back over the years, rather than strengthened.
Take contracting preferences. After passage of a 1977 law, federal, state and local governments set firm targets for the percentage of their procurement dollars that should go to minority-owned businesses. White business owners challenged them almost immediately in court. In 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled a set-aside program in Richmond, Virginia, but left the door open if the public entity conducted a study and found that minority-owned firms were disadvantaged in the area. In 1997, even that bit of flexibility disappeared, when the high court found that Philadelphia’s set-aside program was unconstitutional. Over the years, cities and states weakened their minority contracting requirements to the point where they often have little effect.
In Lexington, for example, the city government aims to award 10% of its contracting dollars to disadvantaged businesses. But that category includes women- and veteran-owned businesses, which scooped up the overwhelming majority of those opportunities in 2019 and 2020, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. Less than 1% of the dollar value of the city’s disadvantaged-business contracts went to Black-owned businesses.
Wilder’s experience with city government contracting has been difficult. In 2014, she decided to repurpose trucks that she’d purchased for rubber business and turn them instead into a waste-hauling division. As the business grew, she signed on as a minority-owned subcontractor to a white-owned company called Waste Services of the Bluegrass, which was vying for Lexington’s 5-year, $17 million trash contract. She thinks her participation in the bid helped Waste Services ultimately win. But as the number of vehicles needed to fulfill the contract grew beyond Waste Services’ plans, she contends, her equipment was damaged and the business went to another supplier. She’s now suing in Fayette County Circuit Court for breach of contract, having lost thousands of dollars on the debacle. Waste Services did not respond to a request for comment.
“Welcome to Kentucky,” Wilder said wryly.
On the state level, Kentucky maintains a directory of women- and minority-owned businesses, but does not require their participation in government procurement.
A few of SealingLife’s high-value finished rubber products. Credit: Andrew Cenci for ProPublica
Federal programs have also been under attack. For example, in 1998, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell tried to amend a transportation funding bill to strip out race-based preferences. “Every time the government hands out a highway contract to one person based on race or gender, it discriminates against another person based on race or gender,” McConnell said during floor debate. The Department of Transportation’s disadvantaged business contracting program survived, but the Clinton administration had already tightened eligibility requirements, making it harder to qualify.
What’s left is the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) program, which gives a competitive edge for federal contracts to small firms that are owned by veterans, minorities, or women. But with onerous certification requirements and no guaranteed returns, the number of enrolled businesses sank in the early 2010s. Participation rose again over the past few years as the application process was streamlined. In 2018, the agency’s inspector general criticized the changes for giving benefits to firms that weren’t truly disadvantaged. (Hawkins’ business got certified — at a cost of about $10,000 — but he said he never saw much new business as a result. Wilder is in the process of applying, saying she thinks she’s built the connections necessary to actually win contracts.)
The federal government also tries to help minority-owned businesses in other ways. The Minority Business Development Agency, established by presidential decree in 1969, has limped along with a budget of about $45 million a year, running a network of business assistance centers and commissioning occasional research reports.
President Donald Trump proposed eliminating the MBDA, but Congress did not oblige. So to run the office, Trump appointed a 2016 campaign volunteer who, before he took a job in Trump’s Department of Commerce, had no business development experience: Henry Childs II, a Texas lawyer.

Childs said he tried to get the MBDA enshrined in statute, and despite his initial allegiance to Trump, spoke up when he saw potential problems with White House initiatives like PPP that gave an edge to businesses with strong banking relationships. “I don’t know if they thought the PPP was going to be the answer, but it wasn’t,” said Childs, who went on to launch a private equity fund for minority-owned businesses. “I don’t think they understand the difference between Wall Street and Main Street.”
Efforts to help minority-owned businesses also exist in the private sector. Over the years, many large companies have developed “supplier diversity” programs to include entrepreneurs of color. But they often have little transparency and weak standards, according to surveys.
With heightened attention to racial injustice following the George Floyd police killing, many large corporations pledged to amp up supplier diversity and lending initiatives. Coca-Cola, for example, pledged to increase its purchases from Black-owned suppliers by $500 million over the next five years, while Netflix deposited $100 million into Black-owned banks. But Adrienne Trimble, who ran the National Minority Supplier Development Council until Mar. 1, when she took a job as chief diversity officer at Sysco, worries that corporate attention could fade.
“We don’t want this to just be a moment in time,” Trimble said. “We expect this to be a movement, and holding those companies accountable to ensuring they have diversity in their supply chains.”
An employee cuts rubber to make O-rings at SealingLife. Credit: Andrew Cenci for ProPublica
Accountability is an elusive thing. Outside of government contracting, no law requires private businesses to contract with minority-owned firms, or to disclose how much they do. As Wilder has experienced, a diversity initiative can peter out quickly. “Like a lot of things to help women and minorities, there’s a big push for a while, and then it wanes off,” Wilder said, remembering her time at Corning.
Parker Hannifin, the Cleveland-based conglomerate, was SealingLife’s biggest O-ring customer until it cut back its orders almost to zero in early 2020. Wilder said the company gave her no explanation.
A spokesperson for Parker Hannifin, Aidan Gormley, said that orders were dropped after it merged several business units and began to manufacture O-rings in-house. “The change was a business decision and in no way reflected the quality of products or services provided by the supplier,” Gormley said.
Parker Hannifin said it has a diverse supplier base, but it declined to disclose any numbers, which makes Wilder skeptical about how much effort they’re putting into it. The company controls so much of the market for seals that, without it, Wilder has a more limited range of potential customers. Wilder even won a regional supplier of the year award from the NMSDC, which she hoped would jump-start new business opportunities. But pitching big companies is frustrating, even when they have supplier diversity programs.
“A lot of times the wrong people are sitting at that table, and they don’t have the knowledge to know what we’re talking about, and they don’t know where to put us,” Wilder said. “So we get caught in this nested loop, which becomes very frustrating, if 99 out of 100 times that’s what happens.”
Wilder is grateful for the nearly $500,000 she got from the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan and PPP programs, which she applied for early (although her second-draw PPP loan hasn’t come through yet, leaving her more dependent on the non-forgivable EIDL). But it’s merely left her treading water, while she works to diversify into operations consulting and team up with other small companies to go after bigger contracts.
What more could public policy do? Along with strengthening government contracting requirements for small businesses, Wilder suggests, one big step would be more heavily incentivizing and monitoring private-sector supplier diversity programs. If the federal government pushed companies like Parker Hannifin to buy goods and services from small and minority-owned firms, she thinks, the resulting leg up would allow companies like hers to grow and be more competitive.

Black Workers Are More Likely to Be Unemployed but Less Likely to Get Unemployment Benefits
Advocates and academics have proposed plenty of other ways to bolster Black entrepreneurs. One would be for the federal government to pump tens of billions of dollars into community development financial institutions, which explicitly focus on lending in underserved communities. (Congress got a start on this in December, allocating $12 billion to CDFIs.) Another would be re-invigorating the MBDA to fund more universal, easier-to-access technical assistance programs and to make infrastructure grants that support Black communities, like renovating and redistributing vacant properties. (Connor Maxwell, the Center for American Progress analyst who co-wrote the MBDA proposal, now works at Biden’s National Economic Council, but so far the administration’s racial equity agenda has not specifically focused on minority-owned businesses.)
One side benefit of supporting minority-owned businesses is that they tend to employ more people of color, which could also help close racial gaps in unemployment. And that’s true of Wilder. She’s always seen her business as a way to lift up those around her. Long-term, she doesn’t want SealingLife to be just a family business. She wants it to be something bigger.
“This industry has been run by a lot of white companies that do this and they pass it down to their kids, and it’s like a glass ceiling, and breaking into it is impossible,” Wilder said. And then, only half-joking: “The government needs to have a stimulus package for mental health counseling for what we go through, the constant letdowns. We need some rehab.”