Black Middle Class
10:49 pm
Tue July 22, 2014

What's A 'BAP?' St. Louisans Duke It Out On Reality TV Spotlighting Black Middle Class

Stay tuned for rock-star style drama tonight as six St. Louisans argue and scream their way through a new Lifetime TV reality show called “BAPs,” which stands for Black American Princess. Or Prince, in the case of local coffee shop owner Jason Wilson.

Jason Wilson, coffee in hand, talks with two of his workers at the Northwest Coffee Shop in the Central West End.
Jason Wilson, coffee in hand, talks with two of his workers at the Northwest Coffee Shop in the Central West End.
Credit Nancy Fowler | St. Louis Public Radio

Wilson is the founder of Chronicle Coffee and gathering space in north St. Louis, and owns two Northwest Coffee shops. He’s also among the “BAPs” cast pulled together by a Los Angeles production company.

So what exactly makes someone a BAP? Wilson said he got the label for his Creve Coeur upbringing, professional parents and Washington University MBA.

“It’s about economics or being born into affluence,” Wilson told St. Louis Public Radio. “It’s a segment of the black population that isn’t often talked about.”

High drama, harsh reality

The term BAP was first popularized in the 1997 Halle Berry movie “B.A.P.S.,” which Roger Ebert called “jaw-droppingly bad.”

But Wilson says the TV show is laudable and even educational with its debates on issues including racism and classism within the black community. Still, in typical reality-show style, emotions run high in “BAPs." In a promotional video, one character proclaims that “Kanye and Beyonce have nothing on us.” During an argument, another jokes, “Someone call 9-1-1!”

But the reality of the black middle class is no laughing matter. White households have a median wealth that is 20 times that of black households, according to Pew Research data.

Other figures from Pew Research show that blacks lag behind in home ownership, retirement accounts and business ownership, all of which help determine wealth. Furthermore, the recession is eroding gains made since the 1960s, when blacks first began entering the middle class, an upward journey that escalated during the last decade of the 20th century.

Jason Wilson
Jason Wilson
Credit Richard Knapp | Lifetime TV

"I am part of the first generation to come after the civil rights struggle," Wilson said.

Now, Wilson is addressing economic disparities here in St. Louis. In 2010, he opened Chronicle Coffee in north St. Louis, near the site of the old Blumeyer high-rise public housing projects, with the goal of bringing people together to improve their lives. It’s more of a public service than a money-maker, he said.

“We wanted to create that space for community engagement,” he said.

Chronicle regularly holds poetry and movie nights. It also provides a meeting space for the Greater St. Louis Association of Black Journalists and the Sweet Potato Project, an organization that teaches young people about entrepreneurship, sponsored by the Missouri Botanical Garden and the North Area Community Development Corporation.

In the Sweet Potato Project, students grow and harvest sweet potatoes, and then use them to make cookies. They’re paid minimum wage as they learn about urban farming, marketing, sales and teamwork.

A second Chronicle Coffee will open in Grand Center in September. Part of the reason Wilson agreed to the reality show was to publicize the new site and his other locations. Wilson said he hopes that the more prominent Grand Center shop will create awareness of, and drive more traffic to, the north St. Louis spot.

Ultimately, he’d like to open more  coffee and meeting spaces in other urban areas across the country.

“Our goal is still to expand with several coffee shops on the north side of St. Louis, and coffee shops in any quote-unquote north side of any community in of any state in America,” Wilson said.

‘BAPs’ premiere

Where: Lifetime Television

When: 9 p.m. Central, Wednesday, July 23

‘BAPs’ viewing party and cast meet-and-greet

When:  Starts at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 23

Where:  Brennan’s, 4659 Maryland Ave., 63108

How much: Free

Information: Brennan’s website

‘BAPs’ viewing party

When: Starts at 5 p.m. Wednesday, July 23

Where: Marquee Restaurant and Lounge, 1911 Locust St., 63103

How much: Free

Information: Marquee website

Jason Wilson is a contributor to St. Louis Public Radio.

Rai Rai Evans, Gina Cheatham, Kristen Gipson Jones, Anisha Morrell, Kendrick Evans, Brandon Williams, Riccarda Lacey and Jason Wilson
"BAPS" cast, from left, Rai Rai Evans, Gina Cheatham, Kristen Gipson Jones, Anisha Morrell, Kendrick Evans, Brandon Williams, Riccarda Lacey and Jason Wilson
Credit Richard Knapp | Lifetime TV

Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL