In light of the Black Lives Matter movement, Azikiwee Anderson turned baking into a business with a mission to challenge stereotypes.
Black Lives Matter started as a hashtag after the absolution of George Zimmerman in a shooting that resulted in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012. It then grew following another two deaths in 2014, and became the center of national attention last summer after the murder of George Floyd — killed by a Minneapolis police officer during an arrest, according to the Law Library in Howard University School of Law.
During the time following Floyd’s murder, Anderson strongly questioned his place in the world as a Black man, and what it meant to exist in current America.
“I was angry but most of it was sadness, and I didn’t like the way that the world thought of me or people like me and it was very bothersome,” Anderson said. “There was a period where I was very lost, and I found solace in the act of making bread. It was kind of like magic.”
From that so-called magic came RizeUp Sourdough, described as a micro-bakery on its business website. RizeUp Sourdough, baked at a culinary space at 2675 Mason St. in San Francisco, offers local pickup at Anderson’s home and wholesale delivery.
Anderson’s introduction to baking was made when he was asked to join a group of parents who all enjoyed food and whose children went to school with one of his sons. For Anderson, the group was a way to kill time during the pandemic and share recipes with other parents who shared an interest in food via text group chat.
“It started out being a friendly thing to do with other parents that I thought was fun to kill time but it’s like one of those things, I didn’t know how much I loved it until I did it,” Anderson said.
Anderson’s first aim in mind was to become a professional Black baker, something he hadn’t seen before in his environment while growing up. He wanted to be a baker who provided others with the possibility of thinking outside the box about race through his bread.
“I want to inspire others to use the platform that I now have to make a difference with me, through me, utilizing what I’ve worked really hard to get good at,” Anderson said.
Yet at that point — before the soon to be new business owner could scope out those goals — he did not expect the hobby to sprout interest like it did. During this time, Anderson baked from home.
I found solace in the act of making bread. It was kind of like magic.”
— Azikiwee Anderson
In Anderson’s case, the baker believed his friends’ Instagram pictures and word of mouth are what drove the pastime to business, until he saw himself in need of a large space to fulfill the growing demand for orders.
“It went from making one person a loaf to suddenly having people wanting to pay me for loaves after having seen pictures shared to them on Instagram,” Anderson said. For him, it then became imperative to make his bread as beautiful as he could, now that individuals wanted to pay for it.
Anderson remained baking from home until he could no longer keep up with the growing demand. In June of 2021 the baker moved the kitchen to the commercial culinary space it is at now.
“Once you know you can work that hard It kinda changes your capabilities,” he said.
While Anderson could not point to a specific time where his craft flourished into a job, he did attribute the growing success to the community around him.
One of RizeUp’s current wholesale customers is “Olive This Olive That,” a gourmet grocery store located in Noe Valley. After having heard about the bread in the San Francisco Chronicle May of last year, owner Janell Pekkain was captivated by the story behind the up-and-coming business.
“I just loved the mission and I thought it was a very powerful story and I thought a new baker with that kind of passion and mission was exciting and I wanted to be a part of supporting him,” Pekkain said.
Pekkain said Olive This Olive That has purchased from RizeUp Sourdough for several months and she assured there will be no change to come.
One of the biggest platforms through which those who first enjoyed his bread were able to share it was via Instagram in 2020, Anderson said. Last summer through fall, Instagram recorded 1.3 million Instagram posts in support of “Black-owned” or “Black-led.”
The social media platform also saw the number of businesses with those same descriptions increase by 50%. Most recently, Instagram created a tool that allows businesses to identify as Black-owned, which could then be featured in the “Shop” tab to attract more visits.
Anderson’s bread was, in part, a testament to such numbers, having become part of similar hashtags by those who first enjoyed the bread, before it became RizeUp Sourdough. Anderson noticed that there was a heavy inclination for anything in support of Black-owned businesses.
Kaia Garcia-Vandergrist, a RizeUp customer and Olive This Olive That employee, picks up his grandmother’s RizeUp order from Pekkain’s shop. He said that his grandmother became drawn to the bread after learning about the business’ origins. His grandmother saw the bread highlighted in a local television news segment, prompting her and her grandson to hold larger conversations about race.
“She made a point to learn more about RizeUp bakery, and she felt really strongly about the murder of George Floyd and all of the terrible things that were coming out, and so this was something she felt she could do to support in this small way,” Garcia-Vandergist said.
Around the time Anderson started his business in June of 2021, many food delivery services were supporting Black-owned businesses in support of the protests in the name of justice for Floyd.
In fact, according to a report by Bringing Clarity to Crisis between May 24 and Aug. 22, 2020, there were more than 10,600 demonstration events related to Floyd’s death and BLM.
With growing attention and a wider audience, Anderson hoped to dissociate the color of his skin with his work and the ability to do it successfully. “I want to make people happy and in other ways I want people to see me and say wow I didn’t know you could be a normal friendly baker man doing well and be a Black guy,” Anderson said.
The aspect that was most bewildering to Anderson was why Black success came at such a surprise, unfortunately for some of his customers too, he said. “I want it to be where people aren’t surprised like if I pull up in a car and people are surprised that it’s my car or people that come to pick up their bread at my house and ask if that’s my house. There’s just this assumption that I must be something different than them and I just don’t understand it.”
Nevertheless, Anderson understood from the beginning of the experience that because of his skin color, he would face obstacles embedded in the system he so wished to contribute a change for.
“I wanted to represent myself the way I felt about myself and not the way others around me perceived me,” Anderson said.
Black Americans own about 9.5% of all U.S businesses, as opposed to the 70.9% of businesses owned by white Americans, according to the Small Business Administration.
Anderson, originally from New Orleans with his mother leaving a violent relationship, moved to San Francisco then Chico where he alluded to having experienced racism.
What I did in college didn’t really affect anything I do, but what I learned from college is that I could teach myself to do anything,” Anderson said.”
— Azikiwee Anderson
While racism was something he’d experienced since childhood, he admitted to being unaware of it early on, having grown up in a biracial family. As he grew older he began to conceptualize the idea of racism, and just how much of it he endured throughout his life, he said.
After graduating high school, the baker moved back to San Francisco. “I left my heart in San Francisco, it always felt like my adopted home so the day I graduated high school I left Chico.” For Anderson, there was a feeling of happiness in the city and for that reason he couldn’t imagine establishing a business anywhere else.
Before Anderson became the baker he is today, his past education was widespread. Anderson first attended Santa Rosa Junior College.
He was a professional rollerblader for 20 years and more recently attended culinary school at San Francisco Cooking School, where he received a Certificate of Culinary Arts.
“What I did in college didn’t really affect anything I do, but what I learned from college is that I could teach myself to do anything,” Anderson said.
The business owner added that besides being an enjoyable pastime to share with other parents, he recognized the happiness this hobby brought to him during the time following Floyd’s murder and the deep doubt and disconnect he experienced.
“At first I didn’t even really enjoy it, but over a period of time, I realized that I could lose myself in it,” Anderson said.
While Anderson hopes the support he’s received continues to trend upward, he’s enjoying where his business is at now and affirmed, being solely interested in the present.
”I’m staying in the moment and people keep trying to ask me about the future, but I’m just keeping one step in front of the other, “Anderson said. In doing so, the baker is looking to work as best he can at the new location and deal with growth as it comes.
For Anderson, the idea of creation coupled with happiness and change will always resonate most loudly in his mission over the personal gain his business may bring.
”I just want to make beautiful things that make people happy and for people to enjoy because I like making people happy, and I like to use my hands to do so,” Anderson said.