By Sarah Thompson
After tasting the food at My Wife Didn’t Cook, you might think that owner Deivone Tanksley’s number one goal is to make your mouth water. After all, his fried chicken or deep fried whiting fish with mac and cheese, collard greens and cornbread or the wing plate with his signature barbeque Hennessey sauce will captivate you in no time. And while there’s truth to his goal of serving only the best food, the reason behind his restaurant runs much deeper—it’s bringing people together, one plate at a time.
Tanksley, who co-owns the restaurant with his wife Jaci—who Deivone says is his biggest supporter—has deep roots in New Britain, where My Wife Didn’t Cook opened its doors in 2019. Having lived in the city his whole life, Tanksley knows firsthand how difficult it was to overcome some of the generational challenges so many of his friends and neighbors face.
“I was brought up in the projects where my dad was in and out of jail and my mother was on drugs. They are both doing wonderful now and have changed their lives around, but it was at age 11 when I was first incarcerated—I was sent to juvenile detention,” he shared. “Then [the mistakes I made] kept trickling to 14 years old, 16 years old, and the system engulfed me. At the age of 20, I started reflecting. I had two kids and I kept thinking, this is the status quo. I was able to see how the culture repeats a cycle for generations after generations—and in that moment my eyes opened and everything changed. From there I said I have to cut the cycle, so I started working and people would laugh at me. I went from the kid on the corner selling weed to a kid with his shirt tucked in. I was like, you can laugh all you want. I have a family to take care of.”
And, thanks to his self-described “relentlessness” and creative brainstorming and partnership with his wife Jaci—who is a whiz in the kitchen--he was able to continue turning the pages in the next chapters of his renewed life journey, inspiring countless people along the way.
In 2016, Tanksley started New Britain Legacies, a youth basketball mentoring program. Not too long after, he recognized that there was a market for a soul food restaurant in New Britain, so he opened My Wife Didn’t Cook. Perhaps surprisingly, the non-profit and restaurant often work hand-in-hand to make a positive impact in the community.
In fact, three alumni from New Britain Legacies worked at the restaurant before heading off to further their careers, and several other youth are currently working at My Wife Didn’t Cook, building their job skills and receiving mentoring support.
“We feed each other--the restaurant feeds the program, whatever the program needs, and we use the restaurant platform to provide. We try to give the kids that outlet. If we can’t hire them or fulfill something, we use our resources and reach to point them in the right direction,” he shared.
Last year, Tanksley’s felony record was expunged. While he lived through some dark and challenging times, he’s committed to sharing his story to help others, and to amplify that story through his business.
“It’s my purpose—I can reach more people with my story, I can help more people with my platform, I can continue to be a philanthropist and invest in the community, and this is where my relentlessness comes from. I feel like I’m that one person that people look at and see that people can change and people can be something in their life. If I quit now, I’m not just quitting on me. I’m quitting on my whole name and history—my kids, my community, my people. I feel that my sacrifice of my time is worth it to help thousands of people,” he shared.
Tanksley proves that there are people with stories behind every business, people who have experienced setbacks, struggles and sacrifice--but he hopes to inspire other people to pursue their passions and open a business, too.
“Because of the status quo of Black businesses and Black entrepreneurs, there’s not a lot of us who are in this game for ownership; there aren’t a lot of us who are creating our own,” he explained. “We had so much setback, so when we do either try to sit at that table or challenge the status quo we are questioned--do you belong here or do you not? And we can’t make as many mistakes and not be criticized. We have been miseducated, we’ve been misguided, we haven’t had certain resources, we don’t have generational wealth, so we’re literally setback. The challenge that we face is probably double or triple as opposed to another person facing that same thing.”
"I feel like I’m that one person that people look at and see that people can change and people can be something in their life. If I quit now, I’m not just quitting on me. I’m quitting on my whole name and history—my kids, my community, my people."
When another enormous setback—COVID-19—struck, Tanksley chose to use it as an opportunity to help the community. He and his crew were able to provide free meals for nearly 2,000 people in just a few days, earning a “Think Beyond Yourself Award” from New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart.
“I’m real big on community and providing for the community in times of need. If we didn’t have this platform, we would not be able to give away so many free plates during COVID,” he said. “During the first week of COVID when everyone was really struggling, we prepared about 900 plates—we had a line out the door. Within a half an hour all those plates were gone. Over the next couple of days, people around Connecticut heard about this story wanted to help. They started sending me and my wife checks from all over, so we did another barbeque again and another 1,000 meals were out the door.”
Free meal or not, Tanksley works hard to make sure all who visit his restaurant receive fantastic customer service.
“It’s the main thing I train my staff on,” he explained. “I love people so for me to have [good] customer service is all I care about—when that customer walks in, whether they are having a good day or a bad day, I want to make sure they leave happier than when they came in. Customer service is number one, and the food has got to be consistent and excellent, which it is. It’s not just customer service because we want their business, but it’s when I’m walking down the street, I want a customer to say--that’s a good guy.”
Bringing people together is at the heart of My Wife Didn’t Cook. When customers step inside, they are transported into a place that inspires and comforts. From the cozy lounge area to the bright colors throughout and motivational quotes on the walls, happiness is evoked.
“When [you] come into our restaurant, you get more than food. You get an experience. People come to get inspired. And it inspires us to hear their stories. We didn’t want to just bring a restaurant--we wanted to inspire the youth, adults and the community to let them know that we’re here. That’s our whole purpose.”
My Wife Didn’t Cook is located at 89 West Main Street, New Britain, CT and will soon open a second location at the Buckland Hills Mall in Manchester, CT. Click here to visit their website for hours, menu and more.
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10/16/2020 0 Comments
By Terrence Irving
“My whole purpose is...if you can’t eat it, you probably shouldn’t have it on your skin.”
It’s a warmish fall day and I’ve just arrived at the suburban Willimantic studio of Isankofa Natural Skin Care, owned and operated by Sahra Deer. She greets me outside along with her marketing manager. Kids, including Sahra’s daughter, are outside enjoying the weather. The smell of leaves is in the air, but so is something else. Something really, really good.
Not even a Covid-19 mask could prevent the first impression that Isankofa inevitably leaves its visitors: the wonderful scent of the products that await inside. Ingredients such as apple, peach, and pumpkin are autumn-appropriate.
Once we get started, Sahra quickly makes it clear that Isankofa is about much more than just nice smells.
THE ISANKOFA WAY
We’re in the studio now and the source of the enticing aroma is before me on several rustic wall shelves. The professionalism and care is obvious: everything is neatly organized and aligned. The products are carefully labeled with a description and list of ingredients, complete with Isankofa’s branding. Sahra also accepts online orders that can either be picked up in person at the studio or shipped directly to customers.
Early on in our talk, Sahra points out a subtle fact about human anatomy: our skin is our largest organ. When asked about Isankofa’s “why,” Sahra expands:
“The company started for [a] couple different reasons. My mother, and a few of my cousins, and one of my aunts had breast cancer.”
Questioning the concept of conventional deodorants and antiperspirants, which are well known for containing chemicals which aren’t exactly healthy, Sahra’s outlook on self-care evolved. She took action, gaining an interest in natural skin wellness, then developing her own deodorant.
Eventually, her resolve was only strengthened by one of her children’s skin conditions: “And then when my daughter was a little bit older, she ended up having horrific eczema…[Her prescribed treatment consisted of] all these chemicals that never seemed to help. So then, that’s how the body butter started.”
MORE THAN JUST A NAME
Sahra’s father is a Rastafarian who used to be an antique dealer in her native Jamaica. Naturally, then, she admits an affinity for mixing old with new in her business.
Her strong connection to (and fondness for) the island nation is evident beyond her accent. It also explains the “I” in “Isankofa”:
“The Rastas don’t believe in the you, the me, or the we, they believe in just the ‘I’,” she explains.
Enter Iyaric, the Rastafari English dialect. A manner of speaking created to combat oppression, convey piousness, and maintain African roots, Iyaric makes extensive use of “I”, both as a word and as a concept.
With the “I” portion of her business’s name, Sahra goes on to explain the rest. The Rastafarian culture, popularized in America by the late and great Bob Marley, is widely associated with Jamaica only. Few are aware of its African roots, including the West African nation of Ghana. Enter “sankofa,” an ancient concept born there. The exact definition varies slightly depending on where you look. Sahra’s does great a great job of conveying the point:
“‘Sankofa’ means...to look into the past in order to have a prosperous future.”
Sahra is very up front about Sankofa’s influence on her business philosophy and product development: she borrows from ancient self-care methods and recipes, modernizing them for her customers. She puts it frankly:
“Sometimes I feel that people have gotten so smart that they need a 360, back to stupid.”
In other words, when it comes to keeping your skin healthy, simple is best. From Africa to Asia to North and South America, people have been caring for their skin naturally for millenia. Figuratively, then, the Isankofa brand challenges us to ask ourselves, “Why fix what isn’t broken?”
“My whole purpose is...if you can’t eat it, you probably shouldn’t
QUALITY YOU CAN SENSE
Meeting Department of Consumer Protection standards in Connecticut isn’t easy. Sahra takes great care to ensure that Isankofa’s facility, ingredients, and production methods do so.
“I am making [each product], so my name is out there on the line...I try to use locally-sourced, organic, fair trade...and most of all, food grade, ingredients. Even down to the lye that we use,” Sahra explains.
I already described the pleasant effect Isankofa products have on your sense of smell, so we can scratch scent off of the list.
Let’s move on to what you can see. The products are clearly packaged well; Sahra also makes it a point to use biodegradable shrink-wrap on Isankofa’s soaps. This stuff isn’t mass-produced, so you can see just about every speckle, hue, and swirl of the unprocessed ingredients used to make them.
Touch is an easy one. Isankofa is primarily, after all, a small business focused on natural skincare products. From oils to balms to butters to soaps...with actual grains of rice in them. The list goes on. Everything here is created to keep your largest organ feeling and looking healthy.
And what about taste? A bar of “Aren’t Figs Rose-mantic?” soap literally looks like pudding. The reason is that it actually contains, well, food. Figs, olive oil, and coconut.
Perhaps noticing that I was staring at the soap as if we were in a pastry shop, Sahra offers a lighthearted dose of reality:
“It’d be really nasty, but yes, you could eat it.”
STAYING ON COURSE
Like many other small businesses around the state, Isankofa was hit hard by this year’s Covid-19 pandemic. In addition to in-person retail, Sahra is used to inviting customers into the studio for classes as well as attending markets with like-minded vendors.
She explained, “Last year was a really great year for the business. It grew leaps and bounds. And I felt like...finally, 2020 was gonna be my year...and that did not happen.”
Still, Sahra remains optimistic and focused on the Isankofa’s mission of continuing to provide quality skincare products that respect our bodies and our environment. As of this writing, new email list subscribers are eligible for a discount as well as those who return Isakofa glass bottles to the studio for recycling.
“I want to make sure that I have an affordable, natural product...for people that look like us...I tell people all the time: I don’t expect you to drink the [natural skincare] Kool Aid. But, try one thing [before writing it off].”
So what are you waiting for? Give Isankofa Natural Skincare a try today. Your skin—and your conscience—will thank you for it.
Click here to visit Isankofa Natural Skincare's website.
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Photo courtesy of CIO.com
By Damon Carter
Editor's note: This article is the first in a four-part series on how IT leaders can effectively address systemic racism in their organizations and was originally published on CIO.com.
In response to ongoing protests across the United States (and globally) denouncing the institution of systemic racism that has plagued the black community for more than 400 years, many corporations have publicly announced their full support for social justice reform, anti-racism tactics, and “allyship” in various ways.
Since technology directly shapes how business is conducted globally and given the political capital IT leaders have earned through their progressive leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic, CIOs are well positioned to play an integral role in helping to eradicate systemic racism in their organizations. To do this, they must strategically employ a systemic solution. This special series will cover recommended actions that IT leaders can begin employing today to drive this dynamic shift into the future...
Click here to continue reading.
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9/18/2020 0 Comments
By Barry Alexander, Founder & CEO of Aquiline Drones
As businesses and individuals struggle with an uncertain coronavirus-tainted future, Barry Alexander has a clear vision for success. The Black entrepreneur has always been on the cusp of innovation, mainly in aviation, despite seemingly insurmountable odds. Now through his company Aquiline Drones (AD), the experienced pilot is offering others the chance to set a course for their future by offering a unique drone pilot training and small business start-up program called “Flight to the Future.”
“From the very beginning, as a person of color and native of St. Lucia in the Caribbean, I decided to determine my own destiny by becoming a pilot and pioneering a crucial air ambulance service called ‘Aquiline Air Ambulance’ that was designed to fly patients and medical resources to specialized hospitals across the Caribbean and into the US,” explained Alexander, CEO and Founder of Aquiline Drones. “Self-actualization is a necessity in combatting adversity, and is the most appropriate gift that gives hope, empowerment, self-worth and balance where financial uncertainty looms over our economy.”
As part of Alexander’s latest endeavor, Aquiline Drones (AD) - a progressive drone enterprise and cloud technology company (AD Cloud) based in Hartford, Connecticut, the new online Flight to the Future training course prepares a participant to become a fully licensed drone pilot and business operator by using advanced technology to create high-paying jobs to help transform the current unemployment landscape.
Alexander notes that Aquiline Drones’ Flight to the Future system utilizes the most sophisticated technological platform to achieve its goals, including AD’s proprietary digital agent named ‘Spartacus’, that provides feedback throughout a participant’s curriculum and training. Spartacus then becomes a job advisor once the individual establishes his or her business by forwarding lists of requests for actual drone job opportunities. This advanced Drone On Demand (DoD) job aggregation system actually matches newly certified drone service providers (DSP) with real jobs and missions in their respective areas.
“Self-actualization is a necessity in combatting adversity, and is the most appropriate gift that gives hope, empowerment, self-worth and balance where financial uncertainty looms over our economy.”
The first wave of classes began on September 15, 2020 with new semesters occurring every eight (8) weeks. The Flight to the Future program ranges in cost from $799 for licensed pilots to $999 for the general public.
The four steps of the Flight to the Future course offers participants:
According to a recent report by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment in America has reached an all-time high of 23.9% - primarily because of the coronavirus pandemic and efforts to contain it. But unlike our predecessors during the Great Depression, today’s 40 million jobless individuals have more options than ever before to quickly reboot their careers in our post-COVID world – and AD is on a mission to help Americans regain financial independence. The full-service, drone and cloud technology company has spent years conceptualizing and incubating this innovative new online drone pilot business training program for seasoned aviators, drone enthusiasts and the general public.
“As one of four drone airline companies in America and privately owned by professional aviators, we have witnessed a massive amount of our fellow pilots lose their positions and border on bankruptcy as a result of this detrimental pandemic,” said Alexander. “At the most basic level, drones are miniature aircraft and thus, a natural transition for commercial pilots. However, we’ve created a simple and tangible training program that appeals to the masses as well. Our powerful drone pilot training program is a chance to get out of unemployment, leave the present behind and reinvent oneself for the high-tech future.”
Interested candidates may register at www.aquilinedrones.com/flight-to-the-future.
About Aquiline Drones
Aquiline Drones is an independent, Black owned, American drone company founded by highly experienced aviators, systems engineers and IT gurus. With a customer-centric model, US-based manufacturing and supply chain and world-class MRO services, the company offers innovative and successful ways for using drones in commercial activities.
Supported by a dedicated UAV cloud and real-time OS, autonomous drone operations with real-time control and dynamic in-field decision making capabilities, Aquiline Drones’ full-spectrum of technological solutions provide a more expansive and deeper applicability across countless industries and environments by delivering real-time data insights. Aerospace-compliant processes for software, hardware manufacturing and systems integration, along with best-in-class mission capabilities are being planned and designed as the company continues to create strategic partnerships with Federal, State and private organizations in an effort to develop and launch new drone system applications in a collaborative manner. Visit www.AquilineDrones.com for more information.
All photos courtesy of Aqualine Drones
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By Patrina Dixon, Owner/Author/Speaker, P. Dixon Consulting, LLC
In today's world, there are many ways you can give back to your community or those in need. A small encouragement or support from your end may make a lasting impression on someone else's life. Also, as the saying goes, if others' generosity has blessed you in your past, you are obliged to pay it forward to keep the good karma going. There is nothing more fulfilling in life than helping someone else without expecting anything in return.
I was recently a part of many of Experian’s #CreditChat panels and shared my views on paying it forward and giving back.
As a personal finance expert, international speaker, host of the podcast The Money Exchange and an award-winning author of the financial journal book series, It'$ My Money™, I have been asked several times by Experian to share my views and this one is near and dear to my heart.
For me, the primary benefit of giving back and paying it forward is just the joy that comes with the act of helping someone else succeed. The fulfillment which comes with that act far exceeds any tangible benefits. The causes that I support are the ones that align closely with my own beliefs. Some include United Way, YWCA, and my church.
The act of giving back doesn't necessarily have to be monetary. Even some simple acts of kindness and thoughtful gestures can make a significant impact. The action can be as small as asking someone how they are doing at the start of the day, sending a kind note to your colleagues, friends, or family and just inquiring about their well-being or just reminding them that you are thinking of them. I find that I give back in time and labor more than anything monetary. Sometimes all that someone needs is for someone to listen to them and that's enough to brighten their day.
You can give back directly for charitable causes without breaking the bank. If you would like to be generous, there are multiple ways you can do it, even if you are on a tight budget. You can create or build something that you can then give out to those in need. An example during the COVID-19 time would be creating masks and donating them to the organizations where you can make a maximum impact. Another way would be to help provide food for people experiencing homelessness in your neighborhood, which again provides a significant effect on person in need without having to spend a lot. These are charitable activities that can be done on a low budget and without a lot of pre-planning.
The act of giving back doesn't necessarily have to be monetary. Even some simple acts of kindness and thoughtful gestures can make a significant impact.
I have spent a significant portion of time raising awareness in shaping the spending and saving behaviors of my clients to guide them toward financial independence. I believe whatever the cause is, the best way to raise awareness is by using social media platforms, especially video-based platforms like YouTube. That is where the audience who will be supportive of your cause is hanging out, and you reach them where they spend most of their time. COVID-19 has also put most of the conventional ways of supporting and helping your community on pause or moved to unconventional ways. This doesn’t mean it is not possible, you just have to be safe and social distance and wear masks.
Many people are out of jobs, and many small local business owners are trying to save their business. You can help them stay open by buying local and support the jobless in finding new jobs, hire them or contribute to train them.
As with anything positive within human endeavors, we also have negative aspects like fraudulent charities and organizations that pop up. The best way to determine if a charity is legit is to search their track record by researching on Google or the Better Business Bureau website to see their business rating. You can also check who the team members are running the charity and read their financial statements to understand what percentage of your charity goes to the cause and what percentage goes to administrative expenses.
Sometimes acts of kindness are a complete surprise and come out of the blue without any warning. The most memorable act of kindness I received was when my husband and I went out for dinner for our anniversary. We had a beautiful evening and thoroughly enjoyed our delicious four-course meal. When we completed our dinner and asked the waiter for the bill, we were pleasantly surprised. The waiter told us the gentleman seated at the table next to us had paid the entire bill and taken care of the tip as well. It was such an unexpected but beautiful gesture, especially coming on the day of our anniversary. The gentleman that paid asked the waiter not to tell us and he was gone when we found out.
One of the areas I focus on is finding ways to help inspire kids to be generous. I spend a lot of time working with kids on educating them in developing better financial prudence for their future. On my website, there is a free It'$ My Money™ and Sammy Rabbit Coloring Book that is perfect for kids to have fun while learning that saving is a great habit. In my experience working with kids, I believe that the best way to teach them about giving back is to show them acts of kindness instead of telling them to be kind.
The best way to give back and pay it forward is always to be kind, spread love and joy, tip the essential and demonstrate these actions in front of kids regularly.
By Cassandra McKenna
We Shine Apparel and Accessories (We Shine) is an online store run by two young entrepreneurs, Bryson and Justin, with a little help from their parents and some outside resources. The store offers clothing and other products that feature uplifting and encouraging messages with the hope of inspiring others to believe the good things about themselves and to help promote kindness and positivity. In the immediate future, the young duo plans on expanding their business to offer canvas wall art, long sleeve shirts, sweatshirts and more accessories.
While they have been generating ideas for their business since 2016, the boys first formally named, promoted and launched We Shine in November 2019 while preparing to participate in an upcoming Kids Pop-Up Market in their community.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, they did experience some setbacks.
Their plans to attend every weekend craft fair and sales event within a one-hundred-mile radius had to be put on hold along with their pending offers from local coffee shops and stores to showcase their items and expand their market.
In lieu of not being able to physically attend sales opportunities, their mother Jaclyn began to learn more about social media group sales. “It’s been quite the learning curve,” she shared, “but we are trying our best to let the world know what they are offering and why it matters!”
We Shine truly is a family business.
“As Co-CEOs, both Bryson and Justin are heavily involved in creative designs and operations,” Jaclyn shared. “They both have shirt designs that they alone created. Bryson often wakes up with ideas for new designs and Justin always wakes up asking about orders to fill for the day. He is the taskmaster that ensures orders are prepared and shipped out swiftly. Mom is essentially a COO, keeping operations and fulfillment running smoothly, and Dad has been the primary investor and constant source of support and inspiration.”
When Bryson was seven years old and Justin was three, the boys came up with the idea for their business while they were out shopping for new clothes for the upcoming school year. Shortly into their shopping experience, Bryson quickly noticed that none of the shirts represented who they were. Most of the commercial inventory featured messages such as “lazy but brilliant” and other statements like “addicted to video games” and “talk to the hand”. He had no interest in wearing apparel that did not represent who he was and even said that “Mom wouldn’t buy these anyway.”
The boys were mobilized by the fact that there is a gap that exists within children’s apparel to uplift and encourage, which ultimately inspired them to move forward with their idea.
He was right. The boys were raised in a home where they were taught to encourage and uplift others—so their mom challenged them with one simple question: “What are you going to do about it?” Bryson thought about the question and decided they should make their own shirts that say what they want them to say. The boys discussed the idea and Justin enthusiastically agreed that it was a great idea.
According to Jaclyn, the boys were mobilized by the fact that there is a gap that exists within children’s apparel to uplift and encourage, which ultimately inspired them to move forward with their idea. From that day forward, Bryson and Justin began calling for family meetings where they would work together to compile positive phrases that they used at home on a daily basis. They did this with the hopes that one day they would be able to share these uplifting messages with the world.
“Over the last three years, we built a list of approximately 70 phrases and words that are design possibilities,” Jaclyn shared. “Bryson and Justin believed that the affirmations we utilize every day would be helpful for people outside of our home to use. So, they focused on building a list with positive and encouraging messages that would help people feel good about themselves.”
Whenever Jaclyn talks about her sons and the accomplishments they’ve made at such a young age, you can tell how proud she is. “Any time a five year-old and a ten year-old—their ages when they made the decision to move forward with We Shine—feel compelled to put themselves out there solely for the purpose of making the world a nicer place, you know that there is something special happening.”
The boys happily invest a lot of their free time into their business They work together to come up with designs, often engaging with design support and offering critiques and suggestions on iterations of their visions. Bryson checks the We Shine email throughout the day to monitor inquiries or incoming customer communications. He personally answers 75% of the email traffic himself, always responsibly cc’ing his mom on the exchanges.
Justin happily owns order fulfillment. Every day, without fail, he wants to know what orders came in overnight, what orders are outstanding (and why), and leads the charge for weighing outgoing shipments, printing packing slips and shipping labels. He is also the lead salesman. His insistence to share information about their business with anyone who will listen has garnered a lot of business over the last few months!
The pair also include personalized notes of appreciation with each order.
“The boys are grateful for every order and every person who supports their business. They write thank you notes—using their absolute neatest handwriting—to express their appreciation for everyone who chooses to spread love and positivity.”
Originally starting out as a way to inspire kids through positive messages, their business has grown into so much more. Wise beyond their years, they also acknowledged that adults need encouragement too, so they insisted on expanding their items to meet this need. According to Jaclyn, their hearts are what make We Shine unique.
Their most popular items? the Amazing Bracelet (click here), The ABCs of Me Journal (click here), and the "Smart, Kind, Strong, Awesome" t-shirt (click here) top the list.
We Shine focuses on long-lasting and high-quality products. “It was really important to all of us to put high quality messages on high quality materials,” Jaclyn explained. “We didn’t want to dilute the brand by choosing the cheapest shirts available and sacrificing the integrity and confidence that We Shine represents.”
The shirts are long-lasting and are made with very high-quality fibers, which is why they are so soft and comfortable. Many customers also express how much they love the bracelets due to their durability. Jaclyn described the experience that customers have with the business as being genuine, positive and heartfelt.
I know all of this to be true because I recently purchased a few items through their site including a t-shirt that featured the phrase “Be the Nice Kid,” which has a comfortable fit and feel. I also purchased a journal and a bracelet off of their site and I was very happy with the quality of each item and the excellent customer service. I especially loved the personalized handwritten note from the boys that was included with my purchase.
Jaclyn discussed the some of the ways in which their business offers great customer service. “Communication is key,” she said. She emphasized the importance of keeping customers informed of order updates or delays.
The boys are also actively involved with social media, creating their own posts about We Shine and interacting with customers on those platforms. Jaclyn discussed the importance of paying attention to detail as she talked about how their entire team strives to make sure that things are done properly or are promptly corrected when required.
We Shine is rooted in their community by using local vendors and suppliers, as opposed to using less expensive online options, and they partnered with various support systems during their launch and growth process.
Jaclyn mentioned the importance of patronizing other local businesses—two organizations in particular have really stepped up to assist them, Big Thunk in West Hartford and Budget Printers in Hartford. “We sincerely appreciate everyone on our team and have made great strides with everyone’s support,” she shared.
Sometimes, the We Shine team seeks professional graphic design guidance to lend creative perspective to the typography designs, but at other times Bryson and Justin have a clear vision for a design that they want to execute. The boys are actively working on gaining skills that will help them continue to build onto their business in the future.
“Bryson is currently enrolled in a graphic design course, so that he can learn the art of taking ideas and making them aesthetically pleasing images,” shared Jaclyn. “Justin hopes to also learn that skillset eventually and, by then, the two boys will be unstoppable.”
“As their parents, we hope that the pride and sense of self that they are cultivating lasts a lifetime,” she added. “We also want them to see how impactful their efforts to improve the world can be! They are so proud of themselves and truly believe that they are uplifting people and inspiring others to be better and do better. They want to help people and they also want to be successful businessmen.”
The boys hope that they will be the catalyst for a shift in how people treat each other and how they regard themselves.
“They often vocalize that they want to make the world a nicer place because people can be really harsh,” shared Jaclyn. “Who can argue with that? And who wouldn’t support two little boys in wanting to change the world from where they sit? We keep going, because telling them they can’t do it is not an option.”
At a time when kindness and positivity is most needed, it is refreshing to see children leading the way in reminding all of us to encourage and lift each other up, and to be a light in the world that continues to shine.
Visit We Shine online at www.weshine.shop or on their social media pages on Facebook and Instagram.
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Photos courtesy of Caleb Roseme
By Caleb Roseme, Co-owner and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Assured Quality Homecare
I am a 35-year-old Black man, and I was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts. As a child, my parents regularly warned me that I would be treated differently because of my skin color.
I never wanted to believe them because living in a predominantly Haitian community, I was protected from experiencing racism. I loved my country and could not believe that I would be treated differently because of my skin color. When I was 11 years old, all of that changed when my father was assaulted and arrested in front of his family at the annual Brockton Fair in Massachusetts.
That week, my parents made a promise to take us to the Brockton Fair, and we were excited. My three siblings, four cousins, and I spent the entire week planning, anticipating, and imagining the amount of fun we were going to have at the fair.
When we arrived at around 3 PM that day, we went to the ticket booth to purchase tickets. My father started to ask the woman selling the tickets, who was caucasian, questions about which package would be the best for the family. My dad has a master’s degree in education and was pastor of a congregation of 56. Those who know him know that he loves to ask questions. But those questions started to annoy the woman selling tickets.
After several questions, she became more aggravated, told my dad to piss off (in much harsher language), and refused to sell him tickets. After a minute of going back and forth with my father, the woman called over nearby police officers.
The police immediately grabbed my father and slammed him against the fence. My father told the police that he had done nothing wrong, but they yelled at him to shut his mouth. My siblings, cousins, and I all started crying hysterically, and my mom begged my dad not to say a word. My father again asked what he had done wrong. He told the officers he had rights and that they were treating him unjustly. That’s when two of the officers pulled out their batons. As the two police officers were about to hit my father, a third officer assisting with the process saw us children. He realized that they were about to beat my father in front of his children and stopped them. The officers promptly threw my father in the police car and hauled him off to the police station -- car keys, money, and all.
In those days, there were no cell phones, and we had no way to get in touch with my father to know what happened to him. We were in a different town, with no friends and family nearby. All we knew was that he was at the police station, which was two and a half miles away, and the only way to get to him was by walking. So we walked...
That was the longest two and a half-mile walk in my life...
"I am a 35-year-old, married black man, with three kids, a degree in mechanical engineering, with no criminal record, a volunteer at my church, and my wife and I are business owners and I still experience racism living here in New London County."
When we arrived at the police station, we found my dad waiting for us there. The police accused him of disturbing the peace, a charge that was eventually thrown out. By the time we returned home that night, I was asleep from the emotional and physical drain of that night. However, my sister was still awake and witnessed for the first and only time in her life my father break down and cry at the dining room table. We have never seen him cry since then, even though he is now 68 years old and has since lost both his parents and a brother and sister.
The story I described to you was the earth-shattering moment in my life when I realized that I was not safe and would never be truly safe because of my skin color. Since then, I have been pulled over and yelled and screamed at profusely by police, had objects thrown at me by Caucasians driving by me as I was jogging, worked around openly racist coworkers, been prevented from entering peoples home because they did not want black people on their homes, had a police officer put his hand on his gun when I approached him for directions, and much more. I moved to New London County at the age of 22 when I graduated from college to work as a mechanical engineer, and many of the events that I described to you happened to me while I’ve lived here, some as recently as 2019.
The experiences that I share with you today are not unique, and in all honesty, I am fortunate to have only suffered those “minor” experiences. It could have been worse, I could have been beaten, I could have been jailed, I could be dead. Even now, it is still not over for me. I walk around daily knowing that if I am in the wrong place at the right time, I could easily find myself -- a married man, father of three, engineer, and business owner in Norwich -- in my father’s shoes.
Photos courtesy of Assured Quality Homecare
The racism buck did not stop at my father’s generation, and it has not stopped at mine. Since my daughter was four years old (she is now 8), I have had to console and explain to her why some of her classmates and in other cases, kids in her children’s ministry class, didn’t want to play with her because she has “brown skin.”
If I were to invite you to a family gathering and you were to speak with my relatives and ask them about their experience, you could write several books. If racism and police brutality against my family is not dead and we live in New England, how much more is happening in the other parts of the country where whole communities and elected officials are openly racist?
I am a 35-year-old, married black man, with three kids, a degree in mechanical engineering, with no criminal record, a volunteer at my church, and my wife and I are business owners and I still experience racism living here in New London County.
Racism is real and ever-present. Until we are willing to accept that truth, we will not be able to bring the change and healing that our black community and this country needs to move forward. I hope that by reading this letter, it will help you see the reality of what our black American community across the country, including New London County, faces so that you can join the much-needed conversations to bring change in our country and communities.
Click here to learn more about Assured Quality Homecare.
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By Elijah Manning
As our nation continues to grapple with sins of the past, and finds ways to change our future for the better, there is one specific area that needs attention on a national level, but can start locally. I’m not talking policing, or equal housing, or so many other issues that have rightfully given us pause. To me, it starts with one important piece, and this is most important for children in the Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities. It starts with inclusive truth in education.
When Black Lives Matter again took center stage, inequities, and inequalities that have been rampant in these communities were highlighted. The statement that has resonated the most, and became commonplace with many people was, “I never learned about that.” This statement came from many learned people, who began to realize they were missing very important pieces of their education. The missing pieces usually involved the learning about BIPOC, woman, and many other “minority” groups.
Why are so many people missing something that should be taught regularly? Perhaps there is no singular, simplistic answer, but can be summed up in the words of spoken word poet, Regie Gibson, speaking on America’s relationship with its past. He said, “I think our problem as Americans is that we actually hate history, so we can’t really connect the dots. What we love is nostalgia. We love to remember things exactly the way they didn’t happen. History itself is often an indictment. And people? We hate to be indicted.”
In communities around our country and even the world, we started to realize how much we missed. How much we relied on our friends in said “minority” groups to give the education completion that many never sought. For example, Christopher Columbus. We are taught the glorified version of who he was, but history leaves out the terrible things he did. That leaves us incomplete. It leaves us with half truths, and when we acquire new information from new sources, and new perspectives, we are left wondering why we were not given the full story.
It breeds within us a discontentment that may never be reversed, due to our mistrust of the system that was set up to teach us, but hid the truth.
This is the tip of the iceberg. We are awake to Juneteenth, and the story of what actually happened in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Anger over Aunt Jemima, the stereotype on the pancake and syrup label for years, no longer there. Some searched the history of minstrel shows and “Mammy” and learned about Nancy Green. If they had been taught who she was they would have realized why the label should have been changed years ago.
Instead some fought about it and fought about Columbus statues, or Confederate general statues and flags, and many other things. This goes back to one crucial piece of information — we are not taught all the many perspectives of American history.
"People have decided to say 'I don’t see color,' and while this may have the best intentions, it does more harm. If you don’t see my color then you don’t see all of me. You are missing parts of what make me unique and what makes me, me. You are missing an opportunity to learn from me and allow my life to help yours and denying me the opportunity in reverse."
We have opportunities to grow as a nation by not limiting what we teach. We grow individually, but not always collectively. By not learning about all the accomplishments of the variety of people who have contributed positively to this country, we do a disservice to the work they did, and it limits our understandings of one another.
If we expanded our curricula to be more inclusive and teach all “minority” achievements, it may help to cross our divides as people. And limit fear of each other. We are more than us vs. them. We are a collection of differences, our experiences. A collection of our ancestors, and our communities. As we all have differences, learning those differences allows us to realize what makes us different makes us great.
People have decided to say “I don’t see color,” and while this may have the best intentions, it does more harm. If you don’t see my color then you don’t see all of me. You are missing parts of what make me unique and what makes me, me. You are missing an opportunity to learn from me and allow my life to help yours and denying me the opportunity in reverse.
This is no different than missing parts of our history. If you aren’t taught the reason for the Civil War was majority slavery, or that George Washington had teeth in his mouth that used to be the teeth of slaves. Or you’ve never read “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”, by Frederick Douglass, or haven’t learned the important work of Investigative Journalist Ida B. Wells. And learning about space and NASA is incomplete if Valerie Johnson isn’t discussed.
We need to teach the advancements of minorities, as well as the setbacks faced. The importance of landmark Supreme Court Decisions, such as Brown v. Board of Education, Mendez v. Westminster, and the legislation that was passed as a result. Teach the Trail of Tears, teach about Japanese Internment Camps, The Fugitive Slave Act, The Tuskegee Experiment, and so many others.
I could fill an overwhelming number of pages giving full accounts of all the African Americans, Latinx, women, Natives, and other minorities that have made significant contributions to the America we all know and love. Because we love it, it is our responsibility to do justice to the people who have come before and have made advancements, or positive changes. That have invented and solved, explored and written, ran from slavery, or ran for office, have challenged our thinking, and taught us new ways to think. Have fought for freedom, or helped save a life.
I believe so much in this that I, along with others in the state, have founded a Facebook group that is dedicated to making these changes come about in our school systems. It is called the “CT Coalition for Educational Justice and a Culturally Responsive Curriculum.” We have members from all over the state as well as people from outside of our state looking to help us and themselves. We organize our information so it is readily available, we have resources dedicated to teaching, and training, and learning.
We have a “Roll Call” where you can say what school system you are part of, and we have people willing to help consolidate resources to best share. We are looking to add more things community based, and communications based within the near future. If you would like to be a part, or learn more, find us on Facebook.
It is up to us, all of us, too change things as they are currently, and make a better way forward for all. History, in particular, isn’t about teaching only positives. It is equally important to teach negatives. This gives us a complete picture. With that complete picture, we are granted the opportunity to make a decision how we feel about certain individuals, certain time periods, certain laws, certain cultures, and more.
I will sum up with two important quotes from Frederick Douglass. The first is about slaves: “Knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave.” The second quote pertains to teaching children: “It is easier to build strong children, than to repair broken men.” If we teach our children a more inclusive education today, they will lead all of us to a better tomorrow.
Click here to find Black-owned bookstores in Connecticut.
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By Meghan Brennan, Connecticut Small Business Development Center
The Connecticut Small Business Development Center (CTSBDC) provides no-cost business advising to small business owners and entrepreneurs to start, grow and thrive in Connecticut.
Our professional staff of 18 Business Advisors offers confidential and expert business advising to small business owners and entrepreneurs to overcome challenges and reach their goals.
From the entrepreneur looking for help developing their business plan, to the experienced business owner who is perhaps looking to pivot their business at this time, CTSBDC Business Advisors have the expertise you can count on.
Our business advising includes not only an assessment of business plans, but access to resources and tools to grow business, such as:
“Working with my advisor was easy, fun, and a great experience. For other small business owners considering working with the CTSBDC, it will be one of the smartest things you do.”
Through our connections with various traditional and non-traditional lending institutions, we help business owners get access to capital when it is needed most.
Registering for advising services is at no-cost to small business owners. After submitting an initial inquiry, business owners will be connected with a Business Advisor who will work closely with them to understand their business. We want to help ensure business owners have all the tools they need to make sure their business succeeds.
We understand that small businesses may be facing unprecedented challenges at this time and we are here to help.
The CTSBDC is located at 222 Pitkin St, East Hartford, CT 06108. Learn more by clicking here, watching this video or on Facebook by clicking here.
The Connecticut Small Business Development Center exists as a partnership between the US Small Business Administration, Connecticut’s Department of Economic and Community Development, and UCONN’s School of Business.
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By Brenda De Los Santos
When Tiffany Shultz’s son was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis (MG), an incurable neurological autoimmune disease in 2016, she had no idea that it would lead her to opening her incredibly popular new Pawcatuck, Connecicut vegan cupcake and ice cream shop, Dutch’s.
In 2018, Shultz, who has followed a vegan diet for over eight years, was fundraising for MG, and decided to offer vegan cupcakes in exchange for donations. People loved them, and Shultz, who always dreamed of opening a restaurant, decided to pursue her own business selling her vegan confections. She named it Dutch’s, which is her son Jake’s nickname.
Featuring classic cupcake flavors like chocolate and vanilla, a rotating monthly menu that has included strawberry shortcake, Biscoff Boston cream, and lavender Earl Grey cupcakes as well as vegan soft serve ice cream, Dutch’s, which opened it’s brick and mortar location in July of this year, has proven to be a success. Their bakery case sells out regularly, and their vegan soft serve has been an unexpected hit as well. “It was kind of meant to be a side item and not a main menu item,” says Shultz, "but there are a lot of people that want that and it’s been super popular.”
Initially, Shultz would burn the midnight oil baking her cupcakes overnight after working a shift at her full time job as an 911 dispatcher, and sold her cupcakes at local farmers markets. Then, she started offering them at the now-closed Cafe Otis in Norwich, and La Belle Aurore in Niantic. Online orders followed, thanks to La Belle Aurore, who also gave her use of their kitchen to bake in, offering their location as a pickup point for her customers.
In December 2019, Shultz didn’t know what kind of future Dutch’s had, as her son faced a health crisis and her business was put on hold while he was hospitalized. By February, he was back home and doing well, and Shultz was gearing up to finally open a brick and mortar shop in Groton with the help of an SBA loan. However, the March day she signed the lease for her new location was the same day that the state of Connecticut announced shut downs due to COVID-19. With the SBA not fulfilling loans during the initial uncertainty that the pandemic brought, Shultz’s plans were brought to a dead stop. Shultz explains, “We didn’t know anything about COVID. Moving forward they didn’t know how an SBA loan would work, so I went back to work [as a dispatcher] full time in New London.”
But then in May, her business advisor called her and let her know her deal was still on the table, if she wanted it. She started her search for locations anew, and stumbled onto a Facebook Marketplace listing for a location in Pawcatuck with a commercial kitchen, equipment included. Shultz says, that it “seemed like scam,” but she went to look at it anyway. “I thought it wouldn’t be anything, but there was a full kitchen, I just had to bring in furniture and mixers.” Feeling more comfortable about taking the risk of opening a new location in the midst of a pandemic, she initially thought it would be used as a kitchen only, but as she moved forward, it spun into storefront for her cupcakes. And, feeling the supportive and friendly vibe of the neighborhood, she thought, what if we did ice cream here too?
Having had her eye on the certified vegan gourmet ice cream cones made by woman-owned and Brooklyn-based The Konery for some time, Dutch’s serves soy-based vegan soft-serve that is as, if not more, delicious than it’s dairy-based counterparts. Cones are served with unlimited toppings, and they also offer floats, milkshakes, and a secret menu that social media followers are privy to.
Shultz credits the universal appeal of cupcakes with helping her to spread the word that vegan food is delicious. While many of her customers have plant-based diets and are so excited to have a place to go where they can walk in and choose anything on the menu, there are also plenty who are not vegan. “I’ve seen every demographic from every walk of life come in here and they all have a different reason for doing it,” she says, “[Vegan food] can be delicious and fun and photo worthy.”
Even despite that, Shultz has been blown away by the neighborhood support she has seen, including a philanthropic community member who introduced her to the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, and even bought her a new oven when the oven in the shop broke a day before their grand opening. Support from customers has been overwhelming too, with Shultz saying she was not mentally prepared for how busy they would be. “If there’s a dope place that has good vegan food, I’ll drive an hour, but it’s insane to me that people will come an hour to come see us — it’s absolutely insane,” she says, “I thought there was a need for it but I didn’t know what the demand was.”
“Living out my dream is not something I thought people like me did. I’ve taken a little from every place I’ve worked and every boss I had that I enjoyed and put that into Dutch’s. I want it to be the best cupcake and ice cream you’ve ever had.”
With vegan diets becoming increasingly popular in the U.S., Shultz is part of an ever-growing cohort for whom the environment, animal rights and health are at the forefront of their decisions to follow a plant-based diet. Shultz explains “From what I’ve seen, I don’t believe our bodies are meant to ingest dairy or animal products. As somebody who has cut those things out you feel the difference. Something is better when you start eating more fruits and vegetables.” With that ethos, she focuses on quality ingredients, like high-quality vegan dark chocolate, plant butter, house made sauces and fresh fruits. She spends the time needed to whip frosting and batter so the final product is light and cakes are super fluffy.
When asked about how people see Dutch’s, she thinks that customers may be surprised, either because they are vegan and haven’t been able to find great vegan desserts locally or because they are not vegan and were expecting to not like it. She says they will be elated to have have somewhere to come in and not have to modify every order, and they will feel welcome. Shultz tries to greet every customer who walks into the shop, and strives to treat them like guests in her home and wants her customers to constantly feel appreciated.
When thinking about the future of her business, Shultz looks back to it’s beginnings as a fundraiser for myasthenia gravis. “It all started for MG,” she says, “and I still regularly donate to them personally.” She wants to start doing fundraisers, with something on the horizon next year in June, which is Myasthenia Gravis Awareness Month. She also hopes to be able to support local hospitals, who have made an impact on her family as well.
“Living out my dream is not something I thought people like me did,” Shultz says. “I’ve taken a little from every place I’ve worked and every boss I had that I enjoyed and put that into Dutch’s. I want it to be the best cupcake and ice cream you’ve ever had.”
Dutch's is located at 2 Prospect Street, Pawcatuck, CT. Their hours are 12:00-8:00pm, Thursday through Saturday. Learn more on their website, Facebook or Instagram.
By Sarah Thompson
It’s been quite a “season” for Lillard Royal Lewis, Jr.
Also known as “Chef Jay,” Lewis is a world-renowned chef, an insightful food philosopher, a published author and a philanthropist. He applies his philosophy and global vision of food sustainability and health disparities, plant-based economics and corporate responsibility to his Connecticut-based business, which is 100% Black-owned. His many products, which include the Baby J’s Spice label, are all driven toward two central philosophical pillars of his corporate structure: sustainability and diversity in education.
While his gourmet spice line has launched him into a class all his own, his journey started as a private chef to the stars, preparing meals for R&B legends and performers including Carl Thomas, K. Michelle, Smokey Robinson, Al B. Sure!, Styles P and Gregory Osbourne. Over the years, some clients turned into significant friends and mentors—including legendary actor and comedian John Witherspoon and business icon Curtis Robinson. Both have provided Lewis with invaluable professional guidance.
“Some of the first people to try my spices before they were even labeled were Smokey Robinson, John Witherspoon and Soledad O’Brien,” he shared. “They tasted my food, sampled the original spice blends and they were like wow, you’ve got to bottle this!”
Lewis knew early on that what would set his business apart was research and development of proprietary intellectual property. He wanted to own components and raw resources used to create in his industry.
“In the culinary world, spices and spice blends are to the culinarian as gold is to the watchmaker or platinum is to the jeweler,” he explained. “Spices are immutable commodities in my profession. Unlike raw material commodities, spice blends can be created and for the creative mind—opportunities will always abound.”
Inspired by stories of spice traders throughout Africa and Asia, Lewis began to create various herb and seasoning blends—almost daily! Eventually, he created an array of reliably delicious spice blends that were hit when used for exclusive dishes for his private clients.
"I take my products around the world, around the country and around the state and use our resources to educate on social and corporate responsibility as well as feed hungry people."
What followed was the incorporation of his business, Fūd, Inc. Built completely from the ground up and self-funded, Lewis specifically chose to incorporate his business in Connecticut because he believed in how positive the future could look.
“This is our state,” he shared. “We must invest in ourselves and in our children’s future.”
And it has always been his two young boys, Jayden and Jameson, who have been by his side as his builds his company.
“Ever since I’ve started this business, they’ve been there every step of the way,” he said. “They taste-tested and helped develop the spices. I remember bringing them to the Secretary of the State’s office, meeting Denise Merrill while I was trying to set up my business, and being there when I closed the deal with Geissler’s—they were right there with their pens and papers, with their hands raised. I think it’s a phenomenal way to teach my sons what it means to be a Black-owned business.”
Lewis and his boys are delivering some phenomenal products to people all across Connecticut and beyond. Now featured at grocery stores across Connecticut and Massachusetts, Baby J’s Errr-Thang Spice—which, according to Lewis’s sons, goes great on steak and chicken—has become a household hit.
Photo courtesy of Chef Jay
Geissler’s Supermarket, a New England-based family-owned chain founded in 1923, saw value in partnering with Lewis’ brand right away.
“We took this last year as an opportunity with Geissler’s—who has been an amazing business partner with us—to understand how retail works, how having a product in grocery stores works,” explained Lewis. “It’s a field rife with challenges but enormous benefits if one is willing to put in the time, gather and listen to advisors and work toward excellence. I wanted my sons to see this process up close and appreciate what it takes to be an entrepreneur.”
Following a logistics and strategy meeting with Rob Rybrick, co-owner of Geissler’s, Lewis’s son shared that he was “going to grow up to be a genius just like Daddy.” Soon after, Baby J’s Errr-Thang Spice arrived on Geissler’s shelves in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
“The response from the community has been enormous. We’ve been getting calls for product all the way from Texas to Colorado and we’ve even shipped to California,” he said. “We have a couple of cases going overseas. We’ve gotten a really good response.” While Lewis is grateful for this uptick in business, he doesn’t want to simply benefit from the moment.
“It’s a good opportunity to fundraise,” he explained. “If we are going to get this influx in new customers and revenue streams, I think that it’s a socially responsible and corporately responsible thing to do to take some of that and reinvest it in the community so that my sons have some more tools than I did.”
Lewis has already given to his son’s schools and is currently forming an initiative that focuses on diversity in education, inside and outside the classroom.
Every bottle of Baby J’s says, “of food and philosophy,” which mirrors the heart behind Lewis’s business and the transition he’s making from the catering world to retail, business consultation and social justice education.
“In my most recent trip to Ghana, I lectured at Webster University about sustainability and corporate responsibility to a group of undergraduate and grad students,” he shared. “That’s where the company is going. I take my products around the world, around the country, around the state, and use our resources to educate on social and corporate responsibility as well feed hungry people.”
Lewis, who has a degree in Philosophy and African American Studies from Central Connecticut State University, stresses the importance of “balancing the scales” when it comes to business leadership and decision-making.
“Everything has been so data driven lately, but what we’re seeing in real time is how data-driven solutions are not necessarily the best solutions for the times,” he said. “What we need in board rooms across America is more wisdom, we need more social sciences and philosophy. Students with Liberal Arts degrees are, in my opinion, where the leaders of the future are going to be coming from. Today’s corporations, large and small, need more empathy, maturity and to be more social justice-minded.”
Lewis believes that the best way to start the day is with positivity. Often, that positivity comes from his sons, who he refers to as “living life coaches.”
“My sons have been such a phenomenal source of positivity first thing in the morning,” he shared. “When you start off with your sons believing in you—believing in themselves—and having their own ideas for the business, that’s a help!”
And, Lewis says he feels like a genius when he sees his boys wanting to start their own businesses.
What’s next? You guessed it—a new Baby J’s spice blend called Genius, which will feature young boys and girls of color on the bottles. Lewis will also feature the youth on the bottles in blog posts, sharing why they are geniuses, ultimately benefiting a charity as well.
One thing is for sure, with the next generation following in his footsteps, the Baby J’s brand is going to be just one of many great businesses to come from the Lewis family.
Find bottles of Baby J’s at Geissler’s Supermarkets across Connecticut and Massachusetts. Find locations here. Click here to connect with Chef Jay on Facebook and here on Instagram. A website featuring Baby J's Spices with purchase options will be available soon.
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Photo courtesy of The Key
By Jaclyn Wilson
Inspired by the intimate interactions she had with booksellers as a conference attendee, Hartford, Connecticut resident and UCONN grad Khamani Harrison created The Key Bookstore in 2018. The Key is an Afrocentric mobile and online bookstore with carefully curated book lists focused on African American history, environmentalism, entrepreneurship, and spirituality. Harrison calls these subjects the four pillars of her business, using each as a guide when building a list of books. “Curation,” Harrison explains, “is everything.”
Photo by Angel Thompson Photography
Her booming business and thriving online community prove Harrison knows exactly what readers want. Harrison notes, “Some bookstores are missing the connection to the soul of a book reader.” Armed with that knowledge and dialed into the desires of readers like herself and her friends and neighbors, when she first began bookselling in 2018 Harrison would set up her mobile bookstore at community events, festivals, open mic nights, and pop up events, bringing knowledge right to the community, and providing books intended to enrich their lives.
By building a dynamic, interactive space for online reader discussion, Harrison is filling the void left by traditional brick-and-mortar booksellers—a void that is filled when a reader is able to go online and interact with others who have also just read the same book and want to discuss the book’s content, pose questions, talk about their favorite parts, or get clarification.
Like all businesses, Harrison’s has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting shut down, and is currently operating exclusively online at keybookstore.com. During the pandemic and since Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25, Harrison’s business has “exploded.”
Harrison explains, “People are looking for answers to take action with…the marches have led people to ask themselves ‘what do I need to know, how can I learn it, and where do I get it from?' The answer to that has been Black-owned bookstores like The Key.” Harrison also notes that part of the explosion of orders and subscriptions she’s seen is also due to The Key’s “White Ally Book List” that went viral on Twitter 10 days after George Floyd’s death, and was then picked up by Buzzfeed.
Photo by Angel Thompson Photography
“People are looking for answers to take action…the marches have led people to ask themselves ‘what do I need to know, how can I learn it, and where do I get it from?' The answer to that has been Black-owned bookstores like The Key.”
Photo courtesy of The Key
Harrison includes White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo on the “White Ally Book List” and notes that it is currently her best-selling title. A New York Times bestseller as well, White Fragility explores how the reactions of White people when confronted with issues of race can ultimately serve to maintain racial inequality. Other titles on the “White Ally Book List” include the most lauded and celebrated Black voices of our time, such as The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, Citizen by Claudia Rankine, and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
They Key also offers other insightful book lists about the Black experience, such as Black365, which includes titles like Survival Strategies for Africans in America by Anthony Browder, The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B DuBois, while the Black History 101 book list recommends The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Narrative of the Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, and The African Origin of Civilization by Cheikh Anta Diop, now in its 30th printing.
No matter what readers may set out to learn, the book lists curated by The Key offer readers sophisticated recommendations and a dynamic online community with whom they can discover these books, and perhaps a new perspective on life.
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By Kerry Kincy
Yes, it’s Capital with an “a” and no, it’s not a spelling error (for all our "Grammarly grammars" out there…LOL). Even though Capital Ice Cream is located on Capitol Avenue and is just two blocks from the state Capitol Building, the owners envisioned opening a place that was reflective of the beauty, positivity and diversity of the people of the capital of Connecticut—Hartford. That said, they take great pride on being affectionately referred to as the “The Happy Place in Hartford”. Chantell Kelly, who co-owns this sweet little magical place with her husband Shane, says she gets asked that question about the spelling a lot. According to Kelly, it was intentional—because when you dream you’re supposed to dream big! We hope to expand throughout the city of Hartford and beyond!
Kelly and her husband are Hartford residents. They saw a need in their community and decided to fill it.
As a Kindergarten teacher, Kelly’s students would always share stories of going to far away places to have ice cream. As a parent, she would also take her own children beyond city lines into West Hartford and other towns for ice cream. Always aspiring to open a community business, she and her husband thought how nice it would be to open an ice cream shop that local children and families could enjoy and be proud of right in their own neighborhood.
Voila! Dreams can come true if you only just believe.
She believes her little shop, with more time and resources, can be recreated in many towns across the state.
On an otherwise invisible strip just beyond the Bushnell Performing Arts Center and before the once famous Capitol Records—another hidden gem that for years stored and sold albums that would delight only the serious of vinyl collectors—this jewel is worth “the dig.” I mean, what’s more exciting than finding a hidden gem? Capital Ice Cream is definitely a treasure—glimmering and sparkling with happiness.
“I love that little brown girls and boys come inside and see someone that looks like them, that I can be a role model...It feels good being able to nourish their ideas of self and help them to see in real time, that they too can achieve anything they put their heart into.”
As soon as I walked up to the building I was taken back to my childhood when the biggest problems in the world were what flavor of ice cream to choose. Although only about 250 square feet of frontage and maybe 250 square feet more inside, the rainbow of colors all over the shop is a feast in and of itself for the eyes. Handmade tulle cones stacked high upon each other in the window complement and offer a preview of what lies ahead and colorful umbrellas and metal stools circle the outdoor tables.
I learned that Kelly enlisted the help of local artists and nearby University of Hartford art students to create the detailed menu artwork on the walls. Capital Ice Cream’s staff only adds to the brightness that emanates from this tiny shop.
The sign on the door instructed that only three customers were allowed inside at a time. However, I think even if current times didn’t require six feet of space, any more than three feet would not provide the space needed to peruse the choices that the colorful menu just above eye level displayed. I was thrilled to be able to take it all in slowly. Just being inside Capital Ice Cream is its own enchanting experience.
As I scanned the menu, my eyes settled in and focused on the Kindness Cones. This gentle reminder in selflessness encapsulates exactly what Kelly’s intentions are and why she chose this particular location for her shop. Customers are invited to purchase a kindness cone at a discounted rate and leave a handwritten note on a paper cut out to “pay it forward.”
“So often children from the neighborhood stop and peek into the shop, sometimes just wanting to say hello, simply curious, and sometimes humbly ask for a cup of water,” shared Kelly. “The cones are for these children and families that come, sometimes ordering two cones for a family of five to share.”
We can all appreciate that not many families have extra income to purchase an ice cream cone. “Pay it forward” kindness spreads and is as delicious as the selection of Capital Ice Cream’s toppings. Of course, a Kindness Cone was included in my order and honestly, made my cone taste even better.
When creating her business model and wanting to offer top quality products, she realized the price point might fall outside the income levels of some families in the neighborhood, and rather than sacrifice quality and continue to maintain a successful business, this was a way to make her amazing ice cream accessible and available to everyone.
For those of us who cannot handle the speed at which this amazing “real” ice cream demands on a hot summer day, the cup and spoon “just in case” was a smart idea. I realized I couldn’t lick and hold another cone—and wear my mask simultaneously—so I quickly rushed outside to hand over my friend’s cone and sit down.
As I enjoyed my sweet treat, I watched as a little boy, maybe all of three years old, held tightly onto his cone as he and his dad were exiting. His eyes were filled with anticipation as he waited patiently to remove his mask to taste. I felt it deep in my heart: this new normal is not feeling normal at all.
Thankfully, Kelly and her sweet shop are helping create a place of comfort and inspiration despite these challenging times.
“I love that little brown girls and boys come inside and see someone that looks like them, that I can be a role model,” she said. “Both children and adults are surprised to learn that a Black woman owns this sweet little place. It feels good being able to nourish their ideas of self and help them to see in real time, that they too can achieve anything they put their heart into.”
Capital Ice Cream
389 Capitol Avenue
Hartford, CT 06016
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By Sarah Thompson
Surf’s up, right in the heart of Blue Back Square in West Hartford! Marked with a bright pop of blue on its exterior, Playa Bowls welcomes guests with a laid back vibe. Surfboards, egg chairs, murals of mermaids, flat screen TVs streaming surfing and extreme sports and even a cozy fireplace all combine to bring a bit of the beach right to this restaurant.
But, according to owner Mitch Jackson, what stands out the most is what he calls the best acai ever.
Jackson’s background is in corporate and private business, in the information technology space, so before taking the plunge in business ownership he knew it had to be good.
“I tried the product before I bought into it—and it’s the best I’ve ever had,” he shared. “The owners of this franchise have gone above and beyond sourcing just the right acai from Brazil. It’s blended with real cane sugar, no preservatives, and everything is all natural. It’s delicious!”
From bowls to smoothies and juices, Playa Bowls offers a colorful selection of inviting and unique offerings that are delicious and satisfying. Customers love the Nutella, Pura Vita and Electric Mermaid Bowls most. The best part? Everything is prepared fresh and right on the spot.
Playa Bowls West Hartford open its doors in November 2019. Friends since their college years at UCONN and having both grown up in the area, Jackson and co-owner Mike Bogdan had noticed an untapped opportunity to bring something new and fresh to West Hartford. Having been mutual acquaintances with the CEO of Playa Bowls—a franchise that began as a pair of blenders, a patio table, and a fridge that has flourished into over 83 stores, thousands of employees, and a mission to lead communities in healthy, sustainable living—they had a great place to start.
Jackson is also an agile specialist for Deloitte, so when the challenges of running a business come his way, he handles them with optimism and wisdom.
“When COVID hit, everything had to go to a standstill,” he explained. “Once we started getting more information about it, we were able to pivot. We had already had delivery with Grub Hub, Uber Eats and Door Dash, so that gave us a huge advantage, so people could order even though our doors were closed. We took a pretty decent hit and we were a bit concerned and worried like any business owner would be in February and March, but once people started to acclimate into the new style it was as if things were regular. We actually did better than we did when we were open.”
In fact, they adapted so well that their growth created new jobs and adding more hours.
"The customers love the product and the energy. We give them a place where they can just hang out and work on their laptops and do their homework or hang out with their kids, because we appeal to all ages, whether you’re eight months old or 80 years old."
“It was great to be able to say that we aren’t going to have to let anyone go and that we could still hire some other folks,” said Jackson.
When it comes to customer service, he says “there really isn’t a secret sauce. It starts with saying please, thank you, and smiling.”
Playa Bowls West Hartford is particular about who they hire and keep on staff, because they want to ensure that customers experience a positive energy the minute they walk through the doors.
“Everything starts from being polite to maintaining safety, and then it goes from there,” explained Jackson. “We preach safety in every way, making sure they are safe, wearing their masks properly, constantly washing their hands, and looking for things that are out of sorts with food or surfaces.”
The restaurant even has an app where customers can track their purchases to earn points for discounts or free bowls.
At the leadership level, Jackson says they try to bring a positive energy to their employees.
“It’s contagious. The customers love the product and the energy. We give them a place where they can just hang out and work on their laptops and do their homework or hang out with their kids, because we appeal to all ages, whether you’re eight months old or 80 years old,” he said.
And while Playa Bowls is new to West Hartford, they have made a commitment to give back in any way they can. “We think it’s important to give back to the people who put trust in you, the customers,” shared Jackson.
Through Dine-to-Donate, they’ve been able to work with various local organizations and causes to give back a portion of their proceeds, including supporting a senior dance concert for University of Hartford students and holding a Best Buddies fundraiser to support local students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Jackson also believes their employees should represent the people in the community and that being on the Playa Bowls team means being part of a family.
“We have a multitude of different backgrounds and representation, including a minority owner. When there were Black Lives Matter rallies and protests, one of our employees spoke at one. We allowed other employees to wear BLM shirts and speak out on social media about it. We highly encourage it. I sat down with every employee and told them that if there was anything that they were struggling with that we are here as a family – not just as owners or managers or shift leaders, but as a family to talk about this and grow through this and learn from each other. We’re all in,” he shared.
Playa Bowls is located at 51 Memorial Road, West Hartford, Connecticut. They are open 8:00am-9:00pm during the summer and 8:00am-8:00pm during other seasons. Learn more or browse the menu of acai, pitaya, coconut, green, chia, banana, and oatmeal bowls, and their huge variety of smoothies and juices at: https://www.playabowls.com/.
Click here to connect to Playa Bowls West Hartford on Facebook.
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By Arianna Velez
Mind, Body & Soul Food is a new restaurant located in Meriden, Connecticut. Owners Deja Durant and chef John Small are longtime family friends who share a love for soul food. Family-owned, together they follow recipes that have been passed down for generations. Offering a variety of dishes including seafood, chicken, mac and cheese, collard greens and more, their quality meals are made with the freshest ingredients. And, they will soon be offering daily specials and desserts, including delicious cheesecakes.
Durant is not new to owning a business. He recently closed his clothing store and wasn’t expecting to open a restaurant. When the store closed, he took some time off to reflect about what he really wanted to do, and this new opportunity just presented itself. After driving by the location daily and seeing the for-rent sign in the window of where Mind, Body & Soul Food now operates, he started thinking that he could do something. With many cooks in his family, he decided to give the number in the window a call. The result? What was once a Subway that sat empty for quite some time is now the new home of one of the best soul food restaurants in Meriden.
Durant is well known in his community, not just for his business endeavors but also for the role he plays in giving back. At his previous store, he held events for coat and back to school drives and more. Co-owner chef John Small was in business with Durant when he owned his clothing store, and he would regularly contribute 60 backpacks to the drives. Recently, Meriden held a Black Lives Matter rally where Durant and Small gave away free food. They made chicken and mac and cheese—which were a big hit.
“The line was like a mile long,” said Durant.
Both Durant and Small are just the type of people who naturally like to give back. For Durant, his daughters are what motivate him. Not only is he building a legacy for them but he’s also showing them what it means to uplift those in the community.
“For me, it’s my kids,” he shared. “I got all daughters. I have 4 of them. I’m trying to provide for them and also, like it’s legacy too. I want to leave them with a piece of something.”
Customer service won’t be the only thing to set Mind, Body & Soul Food apart. The cozy aesthetic filled with portraits of Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, Lauryn Hill and others create a warm vibe.
Aside from their amazing food, customer service plays a role in customers coming back to Mind, Body & Soul Food. Durant believes in always being polite and remembering everyone has their good days and bad. At the end of the day, he says, “we’re all human.” He believes in customer satisfaction and if the customer’s experience isn’t the best, he wants to know how he can make it better.
Customer service won’t be the only thing to set Mind, Body & Soul Food apart. The cozy aesthetic filled with portraits of Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, Lauryn Hill and others create a warm vibe. Chef Small, who learned to cook from his grandmother, relocated from New York to Connecticut when he was 17. He loves sharing his love of food with those around him and knows his food will make the difference when it comes to people coming back for more. Home cooking in a restaurant made with love and with the help of his wife is the perfect recipe for hungry guests to right at home.
Small and Durant believe that guests will be surprised, comfortable and satisfied after visiting their restaurant. Upon entering, the beautiful aesthetic will surprise guests and make them feel comfortable. The food will absolutely satisfy. And, Small and Durant make sure all meals are double checked even before leaving the kitchen, to ensure orders are correct and presentable.
Mind, Body & Soul Food held their grand opening on Saturday, July 18, 2020. Their first day open they sold out of food completely and even had to close two hours early—a complete success!
Owning a restaurant is a completely new experience for Durant, but it is clear he has a lot of support and his food already has received many amazing five-star reviews. With lines wrapped around the building, wait times may longer due to COVID restrictions, but guests are being understanding and staff is doing the best they can. The food and service are truly amazing, welcoming and satisfying.
One customer shared, “Mind, Body & Soul Food had great customer service from ordering to pick up! Food was amazing! Place is really nice inside! Kept it simple with fish, mac and cheese and corn bread. My very picky eaters devoured every crumb. We will back soon to try more stuff!”
While they’re closed on Mondays, guests can visit the restaurant Tuesday through Saturday, from 11:00am to 8:00pm and on Sunday from 12:00 to 6:00pm. They will soon be offering delivery.
Mind, Body & Soul Food is located at 511 West Main Street, Meriden, CT 06451. Learn more about Mind, Body & Soul Food on their website.
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Pictured: Playa Bowls in West Hartford (Photo by Corey Lynn Tucker Photography)
By Yvette Young
People often ask, why does ShopBlackCT.com only focus on Black-owned businesses? The quick answer is because of the impact systemic racism has had on the Black community.
Let’s use the “Monopoly analogy”—utilized by Kimberly Latrice Jones on social media—to highlight how systemic racism has impacted the economic reality of Black people in America.
Imagine you are playing Monopoly for 450 years and for 400 of those years you are not allowed to have money, own any property or have any possessions. Then, for the next fifty years, everything that you earned was taken from you. You are playing for the benefit of the person you are playing against. You have to play to build their wealth and not your own. The question is, how do you win? The answer is that you can not win, because the game is fixed.
Left: Reginald White, owner of The Crab Shack King - A Touch of Soul (Photo by Brenda De Los Santos Photography); Right: James Hanton, owner of The Singing Sliders (Photo by Corey Lynn Tucker Photography)
"Wealth matters, and when you have played the 'economics of racism Monopoly' for centuries, you do not have the wealth required to start a business and sustain a business through hard times."
Black people in America have been trying to catch up for centuries and when we put in the hard work and build our wealth it is burned to the ground like in Tulsa and Rosewood. This leaves us having to start all over again, forever trying to catch up.
We are asked to catch up in a system that was established to allow us to remain poor. Practices such as not granting loans to Black individuals so they can buy property is a barrier. Justifying that Black people don’t qualify for loans because they have minimal wealth is a barrier. Using redlining practices to decide what funding goes into certain communities and if a loan to purchase property in those areas is justifiable is a barrier.
Systemic racism limits access to financial resources that would allow Black people to invest in themselves and their businesses. Once a Black individual is able to acquire the resources needed to start a business, they are then confronted with the numerous barriers linked to maintaining that business. There is not an equal playing field for Black-owned businesses and they often do not have the resources to market and promote their businesses; often their revenue supports the cost of keeping the business open.
Because of systemic racism, there are only a small percentage of Black-owned businesses compared to the total number of businesses in the United States. In fact, only 4.3% of the US’ 22.2 million business owners are Black (Brookings Institute Report, Feb 2020).
Pictured: Your CBD Store Simsbury staff and co-owners, Katonya Hughey and Nakia Kearse. (Photo by Corey Lynn Tucker Photography)
When faced with obstacles such as a pandemic, the impact on Black-owned businesses becomes insurmountable. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on Black-owned businesses. The Bureau of Economic Research reported that 41% of Black-owned businesses closed as a result of the pandemic, as opposed to 17% of white-owned businesses. Wealth matters, and when you have played the “economics of racism Monopoly” for centuries, you do not have the wealth required to start a business and sustain a business through hard times. This is why it is important to support Black-owned businesses, because without additional support, many will struggle to survive.
ShopBlackCT.com was established to infuse support to Black-owned businesses by creating a platform for them to receive free marketing and promotion for their businesses, which in turn will help them reach new clientele, gain more customers and increase their revenue that will allow them to remain viable. Economic stability is crucial to the sustainability of these businesses.
Annette Khodra from Nettie’s Gift Garden stated, “Being posted on ShopBlackCT.com has brought awareness to Black-owned businesses such as mine, which has increased consumer traffic to my site. It is a blessing to have my business being featured on this site. I am grateful for the opportunity to receive free marketing through my connection to ShopBlackCT.com. This site is truly an asset for my business.”
Annette’s statement exemplifies why ShopBlackCT.com is critical and a much needed boost for Black-owned businesses. All small businesses matter, but when you look at the history of oppression the Black community has experienced and the lack of generational wealth as a result of that history, there should never be a debate about why there is a need to support Black-owned businesses.
Pictured: A delicious meal from My Wife Didn't Cook (Photo by Gary Pope, GDA Weddings)
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Pictured: A Sweet Equations candy cake. (Photo courtesy of Sweet Equations)
By Allison Reynolds
After impressing New Year’s Eve party guests with a homemade candy cake several years ago, Sade Owoye took the nudges from her friends and family to start a bakery and, along with her mother Vanessa Owoye, Sweet Equations was born.
“Growing up, I always loved baking and making my own candy,” shared Vanessa. “With Sweet Equations, I can combine both of my passions, while sharing the gift of sweet treats with our customers.”
Nestled on Route 4, within The Farmington Inn & Suites at 827 Farmington Avenue in Farmington, this hidden gem is the only bakery in Connecticut specializing in candy cakes.
Pictured: Co-owners of Sweet Equations, Vanessa and Sade Owoye. (Photo courtesy of Sweet Equations)
"Great customer service is all about providing a warm and welcoming experience to each customer. We enjoy seeing them and hearing their stories—they have become like family."
Their cakes are a superior dessert experience made with the freshest ingredients, and their customer experience exceeds expectations—everyone who walks through their doors is treated like family. Quality, attention to detail, care and love are the bonus ingredients put in every cake they make.
I know this to be true, because I recently needed a cake to help celebrate my Dad’s new home—and satisfy his major sweet tooth. We ordered the Nutty Buddy and we’re still licking our lips. It was absolutely delicious and a heavenly mix of chocolate and peanut butter!
One of their most popular items, Sweet Equations candy cakes are built to order—and perfectly topped off with a bow!
“Great customer service is all about providing a warm and welcoming experience to each customer,” shared Vanessa. “We greet and smile at every customer that comes to visit us. We educate them on our products and provide samples. We love getting to know what our customers like and helping them to find it in the store. We enjoy seeing them and hearing their stories—they have become like family.”
Pictured above: Nutty Buddy candy cake by Sweet Equations (Photo: Allison Reynolds)
And, these two know how to take “sweet” to the next level. As a “thank you” for helping others, they have donated to Relay for Life and Komen Foundation and many other local non-profits. They also donate to the local food pantry, schools, and several charities and causes. They even treat their employees with a complimentary cake on their birthdays!
“We look forward to continuing to make an impact in our community,” shared Vanessa.
The pair are reaching out by offering online cake decorating classes, a slight change from their pre-COVID popular (and fun!) in-person classes. Classes include Buttercream 101, Cake Meets Candy (Kat Walk So Special), Baker's Dozen, Let’s Decorate Cookies, My Pretty Unicorn.
“We can still be together even when we’re apart,” explained Sade. “And any experience level is welcome.”
Classes must be booked in advance, and more information is available at this link.
Photo courtesy of Sweet Equations
Favored by locals on Yelp, Sweet Equations is featured this month in “The Top 10 Bakeries Near Farmington, CT.” The bakery offers gift certificates, private pickup times (Saturdays), curbside pick-up and shipping. Visit www.sweetequations for information or to customize your order.
Sade and Vanessa will always ensure that your day ends on a sweet note!
Sweet Equations has been making headlines for years. Learn more at these links:
Cakes Plus Candy Make 'Sweet Equations' (Hartford Courant)
Small Business Spotlight: Sweet Equations (Innovation Hartford)
Photo courtesy of Sweet Equations
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Pictured: Owner of Crab Shack King - A Touch of Soul, Reginald White. (Photo: Brenda De Los Santos Photography)
By Brenda De Los Santos
For Reginald White, opening his Middletown, CT-based food trailer, The Crab Shack King - A Touch of Soul, was the culmination of years of hard work and determination.
Crab Shack King, which officially opened as a food trailer in March, offers seafood with a touch of soul. Some fan favorites on the menu are the deep fried lobster, crab cakes, poboys and his signature “King Sauce.” You can get your seafood fix at 840-900 Washington Street from 11:00am-5:30pm Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 11:00am-7:00pm Fridays and 2:00-9:00pm on Saturdays. Occasionally, White will have a pop-up location in Meriden as well.
Previously a truck driver, White was on vacation with his wife when he got the call that the company he worked for was filing for bankruptcy. Instead of being defeated by it, White, who has a certificate in catering, attended Lincoln Culinary Institute for a time, and has a family who all love to cook, took it as a sign that he had “finally gotten the green light to move forward with cooking.” With previous entrepreneurial experience as the former owner of Knockerball CT, starting his own business serving food “the way he likes to be served” was a natural next step.
“When I get up in the morning knowing that people love our food, it drives me to never go back [to the streets].”
Searching for nine months to find the perfect trailer for his business, White finally met two Black women who owned a marketing firm and were looking to sell their trailer. White says, “they felt his passion,” for creating delicious food and their trailer became Crab Shack King’s new home.
White’s expertise in the culinary arts is paying off—his popular menu of mouth-watering seafood often sells out, and his “King Sauce,” which is dairy-based and features all natural herbs and spices, is on the verge of being sold in local stores. He has experimented with creating a dairy-free version and has also played around with recipes for a vegan “crab” cake. He is continually expanding his knowledge, noting that he also learns from an employee who has been in the business for 30 years.
A self described “military brat” growing up, as a teen the streets called him, and White left home at 15 years of age. A former gang member and drug dealer, he spent time in both state and federal prison. It took determination and help from others for White to turn things around. In 2014, he founded Total Man Inc., which is geared towards providing alternatives for at-risk youth who are subject to the difficulties of gang membership, incarceration and much more. He said that his passion for mentoring comes from his desire to reach young men and women to help prevent them from making the same mistakes he did.
Crab Shack King is more than just a business for him, too. “When I get up in the morning knowing that people love our food,” says White, “it drives me to never go back [to the streets].” He takes pride in serving great food and providing excellent customer service. He likes to engage with his customers, getting them to laugh and feel comfortable. And for him, serving quality food is of the utmost importance; Crab Shack King’s seafood is always fresh, and every bite bursts with flavor as he marinates everything—right down to the crab that goes into the crab cakes.
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Pictured: Owner of The Singing Sliders, James Hanton. (Photo: Corey Lynn Tucker Photography)
By Alexandra Frisbie
On most Wednesday evenings parked outside the Little Red Barn in Winsted, CT, or on other days around lunchtime on South Main Street in Torrington, or in an industrial area on the town line with Harwinton, you will find James Hanton in his silver food trailer, happily cooking sliders and sandwiches for a crowd that may include hungry and tired truck drivers, workers who just want to take a break and enjoy some delicious fresh food, or patrons of the nearby brewery who would like some tasty pulled pork to accompany the beer in their bellies. Depending on how busy he is, Hanton may be singing while he cooks, a nod to his business name and slogan.
A few years ago, after working some jobs that didn’t pan out, Hanton began to dream about launching his own business venture. The idea of being his own boss and having job security was appealing. He thought about cooking, which he enjoys. Having been raised in South Carolina on Southern cooking, Hanton noticed that while there were plenty of Italian and Chinese food options, there were not many places serving fresh BBQ pork and Southern food locally in Connecticut. He and his wife also realized that at the time, there were no food trucks in their area. So they bought books and learned about the food truck business. They visited locations with food trucks, including the Long Wharf in New Haven, to see how they were run. Hanton took the CT Food Safety Management Course and got certified. In October 2018, Hanton and his wife, who co-owns the business, opened The Singing Sliders Food Trailer in Torrington.
According to Hanton, who has worked in restaurants, the big difference with food preparation in a food truck is understanding the difference between what you would like to serve and what you can serve. Despite the limitations, Hanton says he will only cook and serve food that is fresh, not previously frozen. When asked how quality translates in what he offers, Hanton replied “I like to serve food that tastes good, is good quality—fresh, not frozen. I make it with love.”
“I like to serve food that tastes good, is good quality—fresh, not frozen. I make it with love.”
Customer favorites are the BBQ bowl and pork sandwiches and sliders. Hanton explained that the sandwiches are larger than sliders; they are served on larger rolls that are sometimes lightly toasted. These days, he is constantly tweaking and adjusting the menu, entertaining customers’ suggestions and trying out healthy options. Some have requested the return of the orzo bowl with sautéed vegetables. Hanton offers a choice of sauces in which he will sauté the vegetables. If an item becomes popular, he may add it to the menu, at least temporarily. Recently, Hanton’s grandson took a cheeseburger and topped it with the mac and cheese Hanton gave him on the side. An aspiring rapper whose nickname is “OK Nitro,” his grandson topped that with BBQ sauce and raved about it. Hanton dubbed it the “OK Nitro Mac and Cheeseburger” and put it as a special on the menu.
The success in launching his food truck business did not come easy. Hanton recalled a time when he was getting started that things weren’t going well and he almost gave up. He was not confident that he would be able to make his dream a reality. Then it occurred to him that as bad as he felt, many others were much worse off. He felt compelled to help others instead of feeling down on his luck, and began to give away food once a month, no questions asked, from his food truck. He said that when he began to look at things differently, he began to see success—yet he continued to regularly provide free food. Due to COVID-19, he had to suspend this community effort, but he hopes to be able to resume soon.
I had to ask about the name of the business. Did the sliders themselves “sing” somehow, or does Hanton sing? He said that on some days he may be singing while cooking in the truck, but it was really his wife who thought up the name. He says it refers to the food—the sliders are so good they will make you sing! As for the singing sliders on the trailer, Hanton’s daughter drew the art freehand, which was transformed into an image that could be placed on the trailer.
Today, Hanton says what keeps him going is the independence of running his own business and having a job that allows him to interact with people. He says he has many repeat customers and is starting to build a fan base on social media. He likes to use Instagram and Facebook to let his followers know where he is going to be during the week. The three words he said best describe his business are “happy, satisfying and local.”
Hanton has catered for small groups (up to 150 people), including at the Little Red Barn brewery in Winsted, where he parks on Wednesday evenings. He has traveled to Waterbury and New Milford and is willing to bring the trailer to other locations in Connecticut.
One thing is for sure—if you see the silver trailer with Singing Sliders on the side, be sure to stop right away and get a bite. You won’t regret it.
South Main Street, Torrington (at the Harwinton line)
Monday and Thursday: 11:30am-3:00pm
Industrial Park/Altra Industrial Motion, Inc, New Hartford, CT
Tuesday and Friday: 9:00am-1:00pm
At the Little Red Barn, 32 Lake Street, Winsted, CT (www.lrbbrewers.com)
View the WSFB story on The Singing Sliders
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Pictured: Co-owners of Your CBD Store Simsbury, Katonya Hughey and Nakia Kearse. (Photo: Corey Lynn Tucker Photography)
By Sarah Thompson
Nakia Kearse and Katonya Hughey always knew they wanted to go into business together. A friendship that sprouted 14 years ago when they were corporate colleagues has now flourished into a business partnership with proud new roots in Simsbury.
CBD. It’s a buzz word that has been around long enough for many people to know that it has something to do with cannabis, but perhaps not long enough to fully grasp the wide range of benefits it offers. The growth of CBD products has been so immense that industry analysts predict the U.S. CBD market will reach $20 billion in sales by 2024. For Kearse and Hughey, it not only has helped them with friends, family and personal health challenges, it has offered a great way for them to give back and help people in their community improve their lives.
Hughey was born and raised in Bloomfield and has frequented Simsbury since childhood. Kearse, a resident of Simsbury for the past 14 years, has enjoyed raising her children in the town she now calls home. Both have a deep affinity for Simsbury, which is why it made perfect sense to set up their business right in the heart of the Farmington Valley town, on Hopmeadow Street.
“As I thought about my community, I reflected on the number of stories I’ve heard over the years about friends and their loved ones with health concerns or just looking for something to help them feel better. And after not finding many options locally to seek out these natural alternatives— like CBD—in a place with people you could trust and who cared—that is what we set out to create. A neighborhood store, with high-quality products and a strong community connection,” explained Kearse.
Because one-size-doesn’t-fit-all for using CBD products to address ailments, Kearse and Hughey take customized approaches to each person who
With education, consultation and community at the heart of their business model, the pair work hard to ensure that all who come into their store feel comfortable and informed.
“We strive to be consultative,” shared Hughey. “We put a premium on listening to our customers’ concerns in order to provide appropriate solutions.”
According to Project CBD, cannabis has a rich history as a medicine going back thousands of years. CBD is one of more than a hundred phytocannabinoids unique to cannabis. These cannabinoids endow the plant with its robust therapeutic profile. Cannabinoids interact with the body's Endocannabinoid System. The Endocannabinoid System is a system of receptors responsible for regulating many vital processes within the body including immune response, communication between cells, appetite, metabolism, memory, and more. CBD binds with these receptors to help your body achieve homeostasis—a state of stability, balance or equilibrium within a cell or the body.
“We make sure that customers understand that it is an alternative to traditional pharmaceutical drugs,” explained Hughey. “We talk through all the benefits and the different ways of ingestion. CBD is a natural anti-inflammatory. Each product works differently and can impact each person in a different way. We explain the whole process to them.”
Because one-size-doesn’t-fit-all, Kearse and Hughey take a customized approach to each person who walks through their doors—something they have dubbed “helping one neighbor at a time.”
“Our goal is to help,” shared Kearse. “We’re not here to sell something that doesn’t work. We want to help people discover what works best for them, their routine and their goals.”
This promise is even backed by a 30-day refund guarantee on all their products—including their most popular—Topical Creams, Oil Tinctures and delicious edible treats like and Peach and Watermelon Rings.
Kearse and Hughey also stay on the cutting edge of new developments in the market. Because the store is part of a larger footprint of stores, they are connected to regulations and how the market is evolving.
“We are excited about some of the new science exploring other powerful cannabinoids and the use of other natural ingredients to target specific needs,” Kearse explained. “Like our new CBNPlus tincture that is infused with lavender and valerian root, to help relax and calm before bed. It has CBD, but also a higher concentration of CBN, another cannabinoid found in cannabis. Or our Maxine+Morgan capsule that is includes CBD and other natural ingredients like fennel, tumeric, ginger, cramp bark and valerian root. This products helps women suffering with premenstrual and menstrual symptoms.”
After having opened their doors in February of this year, the pair was full steam ahead with doing in-store sampling and offering high-touch in-person demos to showcase the power of their high-quality CBD products. They could easily point out the unique QR codes that are on each product that link directly to third party lab reports, ensuring a consistent quality process and transparency all the way through.
And then boom—COVID.
Just one month into their new business, they were forced to shift gears. But, finding solutions is what Kearse and Hughey do best, so in a matter of weeks they launched a new website with an online store, virtual consultations, curbside pickup and even delivery.
What has catapulted them into a more grassroots effort has kept student athletes with aches and pains and people with arthritis, gout, sleep issues or anxiety reaching out for help.
And beyond helping customers find relief, Kearse and Hughey have supported first responders in Simsbury and Bloomfield with CBD care packages and are working to develop a forum that will allow community members to discuss racial injustice, bias and inclusion in a safe space.
“We both have a history in diversity and inclusion,” shared Kearse. “As we see the level of unrest, a lot of the times people just don’t know how to have the conversations and they want to help, but don’t know how. They have questions but don’t have a safe place to discuss what’s on their mind. Many may not have close relationships with people of color, so they are left looking at TV or reading something in the news as opposed to having real-life interactions.”
“We can begin to have some of these conversations that are deeply meaningful for us as a country, so this is simply not a movement for a day, but something that can have a long-lasting effect on the way we interact and live. Our goal was to be a neighborhood store, to understand the needs of the community and try to serve them not only with CBD but with other things, and this was a gap that I think we were uniquely positioned to try to help fill,” she added.
The store is also partnering with Signs Plus of East Granby to benefit Simsbury A Better Chance (ABC)—a non-profit organization making a difference in the lives of academically talented young men of color from underserved communities. Black Lives Matter signs and t-shirts printed by Signs Plus are being sold at Your CBD Store Simsbury, and $5 of the sign and shirt proceeds plus an additional 5% of CBD sales from customers who buy a sign or shirt will be donated to ABC.
Now that their store is fully operational, Kearse and Hughey are experiencing the joy of helping one neighbor at a time have health without the “high”—benefiting from the therapeutic properties of cannabis without the psychoactive effects.
“We always had a desire to do something different—something where we could truly give back and help,” said Kearse.
In just a few short months, they are fulfilling their dream of building strong, lasting relationships with their neighbors and offering high-quality service and products for a better community.
Your CBD Store, at 1243 Hopmeadow Street in Simsbury, is open Monday-Friday from 11:00am-6:00pm, Saturday 11:00-5:00pm and Sunday, 11:00am-4:00pm. Visit their online store at ycbdsimsbury.com, find them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Your CBD Store offers 10% off for new customers (use code "neighbor); is hold a Fourth of July sale (July 1-5) with 25% off entire orders; and a Shop Black special on 7/7 - buy one get one 50% off.
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Kim, Charles and Kerry Kincy (Photo courtesy of Kerry Kincy)
By Kerry Kincy
Inspired by my father a Black entrepreneur, and by the Black Lives Matter movement in Connecticut and across the country, I set out to learn more about the experience of being a Black business owner and the importance of community support.
What I discovered revealed a familiar and sometimes uncomfortable truth.
My father was a Black inventor, a reader and a dreamer. Charles Kincy's best ideas came during the day, driving in a brown truck, in a brown uniform and delivering brown packages. He was an entrepreneur and created small Black-owned businesses in his community his entire life. For one of those businesses, Antiklectables, he purchased and sold Black art and Black memorabilia and it continues to operate today, nine years after his passing in June 2011.
He was a successful businessman and a major contributor to the Black economy locally and beyond. A sense of agency—the intentionality for which he instilled the importance of supporting Black-owned business—was paramount to him. Ownership was always echoed in his conversations. “Owning” your history, your craft, your knowledge, your successes, and passing on your motivation to move forward in the direction of your Black ideas and dreams--those were his legacies.
Charles was adamant, standing firm on the importance of reading, and was generous with reminders to pay attention to who had paid for those books to be written. It was important for him. He understood that racism was real and that it was often hidden beneath layers of narratives, disguised as nonfiction. Charles believed that despite being enveloped in racism, it was essential to know your own value and how your value contributed to the environment around you.
I recently took to my neighborhood to explore other Black entrepreneurs in my community, to learn and discover more about the experience of being a Black business owner and the importance of community support.
Bobby Perry, my neighbor, friend and pseudo-surrogate dad was my first source. Mr. Perry, now retired, and his wife, Olivia, have owned several businesses over the years. Mrs. Perry continues to provide custom tailoring services and Mr. Perry’s food truck was one of my favorites. We chatted in his garden, like we do most summer mornings while watering his collards.
“Back in the day, I had so many people supporting me. Whenever there was something going on in town, the schools, the police events, anywhere, there was a need for good food, I would get a call. Larry McHugh, from the Chamber, was really good to me over the years and always made sure I was there. The biggest support came mostly from the white community,” he shared.
I wondered why the majority of his support came from white folks more than folks that looked like us. He said, “There were a lot of good Black customers too, but sometimes people are threatened by someone else’s successes, and don't know how to act if they think you’re getting ahead faster.” That old saying about crabs in a bucket came to mind and sadly not particular to just Black folks.
I later called to pose the question to Jessica, the Perrys’ daughter. Jessica grew up watching her parents work hard and create business opportunities that could provide for their family.
“Growing up with parents as entrepreneurs, Perry’s Groceries, Perry’s Ice Cream, Excellent Designs by Olivia (a tailoring business) and Perry’s Hot food trucks, in addition to their full-time jobs, was simply a way of life and deeply rooted in us. Being your own boss while creating a good, quality product was and is our continued focus,” Jessica said with pride.
Jessica and her daughters have followed in business, opening Queendom's Luxury Eyelash Extension line design in 2018, and later relocating to Central Florida. The business, which Jessica runs with her daughters, has grown exponentially over the last two years. She has also just recently started another business, Purpose Partners, which was launched in May and, despite the pandemic, has been well-received by the community.
For business owner Jerome Mountcastle, the risk of entrepreneurship was like stepping into the unknown. Jerome was a troubled teen, and worked for a local car dealership detailing cars. He supplemented his income, “hustling drugs in the streets” to provide for himself and keep on top of child support payments that took most, if not all, of his paycheck most weeks.
He decided to open his own detailing business, and although his first season was successful, when winter came and business dried up, he explained that he had to go back to the dealership.
“I wasn’t aware of any business resources that could help me understand how to stay in business during slow seasons, and fell short in my financial responsibilities,” he said. But he kept at it, using the skills he acquired “hustli'n’”—quality goods, customer service, dependability, loyalty and word of mouth to build his business model.
It was clear to him those same strategies could be helpful in creating a solid business plan. “I found a way to create a life for my family doing what I love to do. I had come from nothing and now my children get to see and learn about working hard, about taking positive risks, about responsibility to self and about staying humble in all of it,” he said.
Most of Jerome’s clients are between 50 and 70 years old and “mostly white people,” he laughed. I asked him why he thought his business had more support from whites in the community and he replied emphatically, “People are envious. They come work with you, see the money and think it’s easy. They quit and try and take your clients, never realizing that what I was doing was making a space for everyone to learn and feel successful. It was never just about me.”
Jerome reminded me of my dad, who has worked full-time delivering packages for UPS and spent the rest of his time creating business ideas and making them real like the shoeshine stand he built and leased to other Black men in the community to exercise their entrepreneurial dreams. Charles also designed and created underwear for men and used the nonsensical stereotypes about Black men being more endowed to boost sales. He was brilliant at taking what he saw as oppressive and racist, rethinking it in a way that gave the power back to himself and other like-minded Black and brown dreamers.
In part, I believe the paucity of witnessing and being exposed to successes in Black communities prevents Black folks from ever getting past the dream stage. We all have a dream, however the opportunities to see, learn, be exposed to and have access to Black successes are limited. The tools needed to continue to make those dreams a reality are learned and a muscle that must be exercised often.
Environment is everything and access to programs and resources to help make real, entrepreneurial dreams come true are needed now more than ever in our Black communities.
What I did discover is a common thread in my exploration of the experience of Black entrepreneurship. When asked who were their biggest supporters, the Black business people I talked to agreed that more whites than Blacks were to account for their repeat business. As a Black woman in business, I myself found the same to be true and only ever mentioned it in close company. But why?
I wanted to dig deeper and understand some of the root causes and found these two interesting reads.
Looking Beyond the Numbers: The Struggles of Black Businesses to Survive: A Qualitative Approach is a research study that aimed to use qualitative measures rather than quantitative to understand the barriers Blacks face in Black communities to be successful and sustainable.
I found a copy of a conversation that was published in Essence Magazine in 1984 between civil rights activists Audre Lorde and James Baldwin that gave me a different perspective and helped me to understand a little bit better. The conversation provides insight into the cultural structures where Blacks are already embattled in their own attempts within Black culture to escape being trapped into an Americans dream that systematically is set up to be unattainable.
In an excerpt from “Revolutionary Hope: A Conversation Between James Baldwin and Audre Lorde” the two discuss race and business.
The structures that naturally form in a culture where you're indentured in someone else’s idea of who you are, what you can be and offer the world are crumbling. The invisible biases that accompany Blacks in business are being exposed and remedying with a renewed sense of altruism. Allies are continuing to seek ways to support our Black entrepreneurs in creative ways. It’s driving positive changes across communities here and beyond. The substance of hope and faith have been evident in this new light of collective and cohesive strength the Black Lives Matter movement provides all of us.
Today, I see the biggest shift in our young people. Recent events have provided a space for healing together and a place for young Black and brown people to come together in ways that force us to look at how we fight oppression and amplify our value together.
“Seven million young people of color will have turned 18 since the last election,” wrote Dr. Melanye Price, a professor of political science at Prairie View A&M University in Texas, in her op-ed in the New York Times.
“These newly eligible voters are primed for political participation after having consumed a steady diet of videos of racially motivated shootings and stories about the kidnapping of immigrant children. But their interest in politics is also thanks to the activism of groups like Black Lives Matter. There’s much more compelling evidence that we can motivate these young people to vote,” she wrote.
Change is indeed coming and young people have created a shift in all of our perspectives on how to be more supportive for the greater good.
As kids, my sister and I would rather clean and cut greens all day, than listen to our dad’s oratories about value, ownership and power. We would begrudgingly repeat back his words and subsequently remember it in our bones: “You are royalty. Your ancestors come from royalty and you must continue to honor and uphold these truths of who we are and carry on the legacy.”
At the time, as fascinated as I was with the idea of coming from a royal family somewhere deep in the roots of our family tree, I found it hard to reconcile, since so many exchanges we shared as a family in our community and the world proved to be less than royal.
My dad went to the extent of coming up with a code word for us to say when something or someone challenged our ideas of self, our value and our truth: “Kinciditia.” It was the signal that our truth would overpower any negativity that came at us; a sort of Kryptonite for our arsenal when dealing with racism in our everyday lives.
As a kid, I never really understood why a sign that said “No Blacks, No dogs, No niggers,” would be important for his collection. I never understood his attraction to underground lithographs, prints and posters that depict Black folks as animals, in ugly blackface cartoons and always, always less-than. Today, I understand how deeply he felt about his Black experience, the experiences of Blacks in history, of how we as Black people were portrayed and how hard he worked his entire life to dismantle it. He worked equally hard his entire life to instill in us that we were valuable beyond any measure then what others set for us, and for me that has made all the difference.
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CONGRATULATIONS TO THE WINNER: MELANIE S.!!
To celebrate the launch of www.shopblackct.com, we're giving away a self-care gift basket packed with great items from Black-owned businesses listed on this site!
INCLUDED IN THE GIFT BASKET:
Lavender Mint Massaging Soap Bar (Heavenly Bodied)
King Me Loofah Soap (Heavenly Bodied)
The King's Butter (Heavenly Bodied)
A Kingly Scrub (Heavenly Bodied)
Earrings (Shanta's Vintage Boutique)
Necklace (Shanta's Vintage Boutique)
Shea Lip Butter (Royal House Products)
Sea Moss Face Masque (Royal House Products)
"Love" Clip (Clouded Boutique)
Sativa Seed Lip Oil (Clouded Boutique)
Coconut Lip Gloss (Clouded Boutique)
"The Penthouse" Gold Paparazzi Necklace and Earrings (Jewels Exclusive $5 Bling)
Whipped Unscented Shea Butter (Ray of Sol)
Soap Tray (Ray of Sol)
Handmade Body Soap (Ray of Sol)
CBD Bath Bombs (Your CBD Store - Simsbury)
Pure Uncut Egyptian Musk Oil for Body and Burning (Royal House Products)
Retail value: $210+
HERE's HOW TO ENTER:
1. Comment in the blog comment section with your name and which item you are most excited about winning!
2. Follow SHOPBLACKCT.com on Facebook (CLICK HERE) and Instagram (CLICK HERE).
3. Share this giveaway page on your social media.
4. Complete the form below.
The winner will be chosen at random on July 8, 2020 and will be contacted by email and announced on SHOPBLACKCT.com social media.
The gift basket items will be shipped to the winner. Open to US residents only. No purchase necessary.