We had the good fortune of connecting with Barak Bomani and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Barak, Let’s talk about principles and values – what matters to you most?
People matter the most to me. This wasn’t always the case, but I have definitely morphed into a community-focused mentality. If you take care of the people, the people will take care of you. If you employ someone and treat them well, he or she will replicate that identity of worth to the next person. It’s that simple. The value of generosity is a part of my family legacy. My mother is a generous person. My grandfather was a generous man. I watched them change the environments in which they lived by giving to others and honoring people who may not have had as much as they had. Opening City Catering in Compton, CA with Pat Dirkse and Barry Cunnigan allows me to continue that legacy. Instead of simply creating the best barbecue in Compton, we ensure that our homeless neighbors who are often forgotten about (especially during Covid-19) have homemade meals to eat with dignity. They receive combination plates of smoked chicken, smoked pulled pork, da people’s potato salad and bangin’ baked beans to enjoy while trying to figure out how to solve life’s next obstacle. People matter…and we should especially take care of people who may not be a part of our privileged tribe.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
First, I had to stop lying to myself—telling myself untruths about myself, my abilities and my future. It’s so easy to believe the rhetoric around you and to let it destroy you. After I started telling the truth, it became a lot easier to cultivate hope with the right people around me. I have a small circle of friends and family who keep me accountable to my success and failures. I pray, meditate, hike, exercise, cook, take walks, play tennis, read and worship. Singing to the Lord gives me life and allows me to share my freedom with others. The choices I’ve made give me life. I had to learn to pour into my own cup or I would never have anything to give to others. So my favorite response sometimes is, “No, I cannot.” And…I’m okay with that. During this journey towards being spiritually, physically, emotionally and mentally healthy, I took an Enneagram course, which led me to understanding myself better and being fully present. My takeaway from the experience were two words: “Cultivating Hope”. Cultivating Hope, which became my business name, is who I am and what I do. I cultivate hope wherever, whenever, however I can contribute. This has always been my life’s mission. It just took me a while to see it. I get excited about participating in someone experiencing a significant moment in their life. This is why I became an educator. I treasure intimate moments with people who want to see change happen but may get frustrated along the way. I crave concerted efforts that bring hope to communities. If I can bring money, food, shelter, employment, wisdom or a listening ear for someone, I consider that to be a good day. When people bring those resources to me, I am humbled and rejoice in the Lord. Today, I am a Founding Partner of Cultivating Hope with my business compadre Amare El Jamii. Cultivating Hope equips traditionally underserved communities with educational tools, knowledge and deep connections for professional academic growth. Our team supports sojourners to see with different eyes, to hear with new ears and to speak abundant life into existence. Our coaching and training are uniquely designed for school learning communities and organizations to reach their desired goals. We work with schools, school districts, non profits, and families in the community. We intentionally work in African American communities and serve alongside our people. This also brings me great joy. I run a local nonprofit organization, called Unearth and Empower Communities (UEC) with my wife Sara. UEC creates pathways to college, employment, and entrepreneurship for Compton youth through engagement with education & the arts. Currently, our programming is focused on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) during the pandemic. Our online community just started and we are building fun STEAM projects with families from Compton. The whole family participates, and this is a game changer for our community. If you are going to Zoom, you might as well have a dance party, right? Every Monday is lit. Weekly, we gather for education and end up building better families after the instruction is completed. One of the best parts about my life is that I get to prepare my mother and grandmother’s recipes every week for City Catering, which is a catering company that I own and operate with my two business partners Pat Dirkse and Barry Cunnigan. We smoke meats, cook savory sides and bake Sunday sweets. 3 chefs. 1 mission. To create great food and employ the local community. Every time you support City Catering, you partner with us to end the cycle of poverty in Compton by investing in local entrepreneurs that create jobs for themselves and people in the community. Since April, we have served over 1200 meals to our homeless neighbors, and we hired Randy, our first intern, so he could learn how to become an entrepreneur while putting some money in his pocket. Our brick and mortar restaurant is coming soon to Compton. Stay tuned.
Being an entrepreneur as one might guess is beyond challenging. I am actively running multiple businesses and loving every moment of it. So grateful for the nerd moments I had growing up, where I would daydream and see myself doing exactly what I’m doing now. That alone feeds my faith and gives me strength to continue. Once I realized that nobody is going to believe in my dream unless I am completely sold out for it, the struggle became even more beautiful to me. So what do I suggest? Embrace the suck. Celebrate the mistakes. Faith over fear. Cry and laugh a lot. Live in community. Speak life not death everywhere you go. Go on hikes and walks with your loved ones. I will end on my favorite quotes: “Do the best you can until you know better, and when you know better, you do better.”–Dr. Maya Angelou
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
One of my favorite spots in Los Angeles is hiking at the Griffith Exploratory. Once at the top the view of Los Angeles is amazing, and well worth the energy burned. I’m a foodie and lean towards organic goodness so here is my list for dining: The Urban Taco Factory, Baba’s Vegan Cafe, Native Foods, Hijo de su Madre, The Grain Cafe and for the best fast food burger–Wholly Mother Vegan and Plant Power Fast Food. And how can I forget Rick’s Produce Market–the acai bowl is the best I’ve had. Driving along the Pacific Coast Highway has turned into one of my favorite pastimes because you can get out literally in whichever coastal city you desire and walk near the water. Some days I like crowds and go to Venice Beach; other days I might visit the Music Center and pray that Alvin Ailey Dance Theater is performing sometime soon. And if you like life music, any recording of Jonathan McReynolds is like heaven on earth.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My wife Sara is my rock and puts up with my hundreds of crazy ideas. Love her. My parents laid the firm foundation to dream and do what I love. My church family, City Church of Compton, helped me re-establish my faith. But this story would be remiss without acknowledging my extended community of thirty plus years–Ted and Stacy Milner. I wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for their support, guidance and employment. Ted and Stacy Milner are the business owners of Executive Temps, a full-service employment agency in Burbank, CA, designed to exclusively meet the staffing needs of the entertainment industry. During the worst point in my life Ted reached out to me and offered me a job to help him grow his extremely successful business of 20+ years. It wasn’t because he needed me. He offered me the job because I was in need. This was when the market fell in 2007, and every business eventually downsized. But not Ted, he brought me on his team. During those three years, he put me in charge of major projects and challenged me to become the best person I could become despite my previous failures and poor life decisions. Because of this opportunity, I was able to rebuild my life and imagine myself as my own CEO creating businesses born out of my unique passions. Ted and Stacy empowered me to use my voice. They saw something in me that I could not see at that time. Everybody needs a Ted and Stacy. I am overly grateful for their mentorship and for treating me like family. The African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”