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In the Media

article imageCafe owner Martha-Renee Kolleh puts up sign: 'Beware, I am black'

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By JohnThomas Didymus
Jul 10, 2013 in Lifestyle
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Ossett - Martha-Renee Kolleh, a cafe owner in West Yorkshire, says she was so fed up with people walking out of her cafe when they see she is black that she put up a sign warning: "I am a black woman... If you are allergic to black people, don't come in."
According to the BBC, Kolleh, a trained chef and a single mother, has run the Yeanon Cafe on Bank Street, in Osset, West Yorkshire that has served British, African and Caribbean food for two years.
The Independent reports Kolleh says her restaurant is "an English café where we sell traditional meals but we also cook Caribbean food. I make everything from fresh because I want to make the best food I can. I would think people would like that."
Kolleh says she has observed people walking out of her cafe after seeing the color of her skin so many times that she was forced to place a sign on the door of the cafe that reads: "Attention! Everyone be aware. I am a black woman, and always will be. If you are allergic to black people, don't come in."
The sign adds: "But if you prefer quality wholesome meals in a pleasant and clean environment, come in [sic] I don’t bite!"
The Independent reports she said: “I was so cross that people kept walking into the café and then walking out so I made the sign. I wanted to vent my frustration and have people take notice."
According to the BBC, she explained: "I put [the sign] there because of the way people treat me in Ossett. They just open the door of my cafe and once they take a look at me they walk out." She added that with the sign in place she expects that "When they open the door they will expect to see a black face."
She told the BBC: "I hired a white woman called Tracey. When Tracey is in the cafe she does well and people will come in and it will be full, once I stay in the background. But if Tracey is not working and I'm working nobody comes in."
She said that before she hired Tracey, she "thought I was being paranoid... I let her stand and serve people while I waited out the back. She did very well and we had a lot of custom, but as soon as I was back behind the counter, nobody comes in."
Martha-Renee Kolleh:  Attention! Everyone be aware. I am a black woman
Martha-Renee Kolleh
Martha-Renee Kolleh: "Attention! Everyone be aware. I am a black woman
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Reaction to her "beware" sign has been mixed: "Some people find it amusing, they were laughing and said 'oh yes it's about time you put that up,' so I think they all realize what's going on here. And some others just read it and walk away. I've heard one or two swear words as well regarding the notice."
She told BBC Radio Leeds that it was not her intention to accuse everyone in the town of being racist because she has received support from a lot of people: "There are some very nice people in Ossett and they've been very very nice to me."
She said if her business does not improve, she would have to close by autumn. According to the Independent, she explained: "This is my livelihood, which I need to support myself and my children. If my business does not improve I will have to pack up in just a number of months. I am a qualified chef, and if I worked anywhere else I would be lost. I am here to cook and I am good at it so it's such a shame people won't come in here."
The local councillor who represents Ossett on Wakefield Council Tony Richardson, said he was "shocked" because he was not aware that such attitudes were so widespread in the town. He said: "It has shocked me very much. I have spent 20 years as a trade unionist and fought against this sort of attitude and I certainly won't put up with it in Ossett. We have got to say it potentially could smack of racism and if it does we have to crush it with everything we have got."
He promised to give Ms Kolleh support and "offer her anything she needs from me." The councillor was optimistic that most people in the town would support her. He said: "I am absolutely certain there is not a problem in Ossett. I have met thousands of people in Ossett and they are wonderful people, very diverse."
According to the Independent, Sarah Pearson, Wakefield Council’s Service Director for Economic Growth, said: "We abhor racism in any form and believe that people should be able to make a living and run a business without interference. We have no reports of any similar issues in Ossett, which has a diverse and vibrant business community, and it saddens us that Martha-Renee Kolleh felt it necessary to take this action. We are supporting her in any way we can. Building Ossett Better ,a community interest company to promote local businesses, is also supporting Martha-Renee is as they would any other Ossett business."
The Yeanon Cafe Facebook page has received hundreds of messages in support from all over the world.
A Wakefield resident, wrote: "Was so saddened to find out about your troubles and the need for the notice you've put on your door. Haven't seen you in a little while as I've been so busy and not up in Ossett nearly so much, but hope to see you soon."
Another resident said: "Beautiful talented lady, please go on providing some of the most delicious food in the world! God bless you and may you and your business flourish."
But others say they have been there and do not like her food. B1uey writes: "I live in Ossett and the choice of cafe's and bars is excellent.This isn't one of them."
According to the BBC, figures for ethnicity from the 2011 Census show that Ossett's population of 16,116 people is 97.5 percent white.
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