By Lajeune Hollis
Launched in August 2020, ReFramed by Nikki is an eyewear business located in North Haven, Connecticut. Owner Nicole Forbes-Shaw—who goes by “Nikki”—is a nurse by trade who believes that patient care should be a nurse’s first priority.
With an extensive professional background in nursing, Nikki is an Assistant Nurse Manager of the Interventional Immunology Center where she assists in managing two out of six sites that focus on chronic and auto-immune diseases including multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, lupus and other inflammatory disorders. Nikki also attends Western Governors University and is actively working to complete her Masters in Nursing in 2022.
To Nikki, “ReFramed means reframing your visual perspective. Your glasses make your whole visual perspective – clear.” The ReFramed by Nikki eyewear includes a range of styles, from chic and precise, to astute and edgy, with eyewear styles categorized in unique collections, each of which has a significant meaning.
The first collection, “The Collective,” was introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic and was a way of acknowledging the heroic work of close family, friends and colleagues who worked as essential workers – including Nikki herself. Ten percent of the proceeds from eyewear purchased from “The Collective” collection was given to Yale Haven Hospital’s COVID Relief Fund.
“ReFramed means reframing your visual perspective. Your glasses make your whole visual perspective – clear.”
The second collection, launched in October 2020, is the “While Black” collection. It was introduced to increase cultural awareness and knowledge of common stereotypes and issues faced within the Black community.
ReFramed by Nikki is an online-based eyewear business that also offers services such as virtual and in-person consultations. In-person consultations are offered for a ten-dollar fee per person. These consultations offer an opportunity to meet with Nikki or a brand ambassador to try on and purchase frames upfront (depending on availability). To ensure the utmost safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, Nikki and her team adhere to CDC guidelines when meeting in-person. Group consultations require a minimum of five people, with the host receiving their consultation free of charge.
Beginning in Spring 2021, ReFramed by Nikki will offer a new service for clients outside of Connecticut who want to try on or purchase frames. This service will allow clients to select four eyewear styles of their choice and schedule a private Zoom consultation with Nikki or a brand ambassador. The brand will also be expanding to include eyewear for kids, readers and smaller frames for petite faces.
Click here to visit the ReFramed by Nikki website or find ReFramed by Nikki on Instagram or Facebook.
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By Lajeune Hollis
It’s no secret that one of the best ways to gain riches in the United States is to invest in real estate. Sara Kennedy, a small town girl who grew up in Middlefield, Connecticut, learned this lesson early on by reading books about investing in real estate and watching real estate agents in action on HGTV and other television shows.
Her father, who passed away when she was just 23 years old, also prompted Sara to pursue her dreams, often saying to her whatever you do, just be happy. These simple but profound words continue to reverberate in her life even to this day.
After attending college in New York, working for Dell Computers on Fifth Avenue in New York City, heading up communications at Woodstock Academy in Woodstock, Connecticut, working for a non-profit law firm in Hartford, Connecticut and even teaching English in Haiti where her mother runs an orphanage, she finally found her niche and work home at William Raveis Real Estate.
Sara chose William Raveis Real Estate primarily because they are owned and operated by Connecticut residents, so to her it feels like a small family-owned brokerage. Also, she arrived at the firm with no sales experience and her managers connected her with her now business partner, who went above and beyond to train her, which she appreciated.
Sara specializes in helping first-time homebuyers, second-time homebuyers, first-time sellers and relocation sales, all with the motivation to help her clients fulfill the “American Dream.” While she’s not yet a homeowner, she continues to learn through her journey of helping others.
Sara and her partner Santo recently created their own team at William Raveis called Nutmeg Homes. With two administrative assistants on their support staff, one buyers agent, and two incoming agents, they are striving to help as many people as possible, especially people of color who have much less generational wealth. Her biggest goal in life is to change that.
Photo provided by Sara Kennedy
Sara is striving to help as many people as possible, especially people of color who have much less generational wealth. Her biggest goal in life is to change that.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been both a blessing and a curse according to Sara. Because real estate agents are deemed essential workers, but not all were eager to continue working in the field, Sara sees the number of referrals she received as a blessing, and she’s had her best sales year to date. However, her newfound success has poised challenges with her work/life demands and she’s working to adjust for a better overall balance. Taking some day trips throughout Connecticut and practicing yoga is already helping.
What’s next for Sara? She’s looking to build out her sales team with Nutmeg Homes and hopes to expand her design work and real estate portfolio, then purchase multi-family properties to counter some of the negative landlord issues that plague Connecticut cities. Ultimately, she’s looking to help others make their dreams come true, supporting people of color and businesses of color. She might even open a restaurant. After all, if it makes her happy, she’s going to do it, just like her father encouraged her.
Find Sara Kennedy and Nutmeg Homes at nutmeghomes.raveis.com, on Instagram and on Facebook. Sara and her team cover Hartford, Middlesex, Tolland, Windham, New Haven, and Fairfield counties, and are willing to drive anywhere to help their clients.
Photo provided by Sara Kennedy
Photo provided by Sara Kennedy
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Photos courtesy of Fresh Start Cleaning CT.
By Sarah Thompson
DShaun Williams is following in his father’s footsteps, literally.
Born and raised in Hartford, his dad showed him from an early age what hard work and perseverance looked like. Almost every weekend, he would tag along to his father’s second job in commercial cleaning, a job that his dad is still doing 17 years later.
“I was raised solely by my Dad,” shared Williams. “His way of parenting was strict, but now, as a grown man looking back to when he took me to his cleaning accounts on Saturdays when I would rather be outside playing, I’m glad all that took place. He would bring me with him, and I would help out and see what he was doing.”
His father encouraged him along the way, explaining that cleaning businesses can be lucrative.
“That inspired me to go ahead and press go,” said Williams.
Williams met his business partner, Christopher Cho, whom he also refers to as his friend and brother, at a corporate job a few years ago.
“We were working a corporate job together and I was his boss, so it just so happened that we shared an office together,” he explained. “So, we grew close and it worked. I would throw out these crazy ideas and he would go with it and make it work.”
From there, Williams learned organization skills and lived by the mantra “whatever you have to do to make it work, make it work,” earning recognition and achievement awards along the way. "We are so confident in our abilities as a company, we offer our customers the first week of cleaning absolutely free of charge,” he explained.
Soon after, Fresh Start Cleaning CT was launched, in June of 2020. The business, with a team of eight employees, now provides commercial cleaning including dusting, window cleaning, floor buffing and carpet shampooing for large property management companies, medical offices and other facilities.
"All throughout my life I’ve been able to push right through [adversity] and to be honest, we couldn’t have picked a better time to start this endeavor."
“We can handle any aspect of any facility,” explained Williams. “The biggest challenge is the pandemic. People want to work from home, so to be able to provide a very clean and disinfected [work or office] environment is the utmost importance so we all, as a society, can eventually get back to some kind of normalcy.”
Despite COVID, Williams and Cho have seen a steady growth in businesses since their launch just seven months ago.
“When I look back on my life and my upbringing, for me, I like a challenge,” shared Williams. “That’s how I like it to be done. Everybody’s freaking out and people don’t want to come outside but in the turmoil we will rise. Like a phoenix.”
Launching a business isn’t the only new chapter Williams took on last year. He also has a new son who he affectionately named Phoenix.
“All throughout my life I’ve been able to push right through [adversity] and to be honest, we couldn’t have picked a better time to start this endeavor,” he shared.
Just as his father was dedicated to him, he is dedicated to his customers. And it shows.
“My customers know that they can expect from me that if it’s 3 o’clock in the morning and we’ve got to get something done, we’ll jump out of bed and get it done,” explained Williams. “I sent an email at 2 o’clock in the morning recently and we got a response by 9 o’clock that morning asking for a quote. So, just staying on it, not giving up, constantly pushing the limit, that’s my style and it works.”
Fresh Start looks forward to giving back to the community soon, too. “We must give back. It is a requirement,” he explained. “We have to show people that through adversity like the pandemic, they can still reach their goals and push forward towards their dreams.”
As for Williams, he’s always been interested in politics and changing the outlook of places like Hartford.
“One thing I learned coming up as a Black man is to always be ten times better. You have to be,” he shared. “Sometimes there’s this trustworthy factor—like hey, can I trust this guy? Or for a lot of people, their first scope into really having personal or business relationships with a Black person is through the lens that they saw on television. When I deal with people, it’s straight professionalism. I don’t subscribe to what they may have seen. It’s about being better than every other business and providing better service.”
At first glance, Williams and Cho might seem an unlikely pair.
“If you look at Chris and I, it’s what the country needs right now,” shared Williams. “We’re two people from totally different aspects of life, different upbringing, coming together to make something happen. I put a lot of faith in him, he puts a lot of faith in me and we make it work. With everything that’s going on right now, with the pandemic, with the whole cry for social justice, I feel like our story is very important for people to see.”
With each new opportunity to engage with a new or potential client, Fresh Start is inspiring others with their representation of unity.
Williams summed it up: “We represent what America can be…and clean!”
Fresh Start Cleaning CT is located at 304 West Main Street in Avon, with services available throughout Connecticut and New York. Click here to learn more.
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By Alicia Brown
“A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle” is an anonymous quote that seems fitting for Oh D’Luxe Candle + Co., a growing company based in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Oh D’Luxe is owned by Oddette Staple-Brown, an amazing candle making guru.
During the beginning of Covid-19 pandemic, many people seemed to be trying new things. Some found yoga, and some, like Staple-Brown, dabbled in online language courses. But it wasn’t until she remembered that she loved candle making—after all, she has an “utter obsession with all things with amazing scents”—that she was fully inspired to dive deeper into it. She started trying out different waxes, settling on soy-based as her preference.
“I am of the belief that scents play a great role in cultivating a tranquil and elevated state of mind. The candles I would smell in the store did not smell the same once they were taken home and lit,” she explained. “So, I went online and found a whole community of candlemakers."
What Staple-Brown was referring to is the term for how a candle smells in the store compared to when it burns at home: cold throw and hot throw. She claims that “hot throw,” or consistency between both experiences—what you smell before and during a candle burning—is key.
The candle makers group on Facebook, which was very collaborative and open to sharing their ideas, helped her learn all things “wax-in-ating”, like techniques with materials, temperatures and scents. Soon after, she shared her new creations with her friends at church, who fell in love with them!
In September 2020, Oh D’Luxe Candle + Co. was born. With her husband by her side, she knew she’d have some great support as she embarked on her mission to create candles that would satisfy her requirements for quality, appearance and an amazing scent profile.
“Throughout this journey of experiments and discovery I found a love and passion for this whole new world that opened up to me and what started as a hobby has now transcended into Oh D'Luxe Candle Company."
“What makes this work is that my husband loves chemistry,” she explained.
And, that’s what candle-making is all about. It’s not just about pouring wax and calling it a day. Ratios of wax to scented droplets, which wick works best for burn time and many other factors are things Staple-Brown considers when crafting her candles.
“Where my weakness is, that’s his strength,” she said. “And I thank God every day for it.”
Staple-Brown continues to learn and add to the Facebook group, giving back to the online community that was so giving to her. She also looks forward to giving back to her local community by teaching students about the candle making business once the pandemic passes. Oh D'Luxe Candles strongly believes in giving back—they actively donate a percentage of their profits each month to help offer educational opportunities to youth.
“Throughout this journey of experiments and discovery I found a love and passion for this whole new world that opened up to me and what started as a hobby has now transcended into Oh D'Luxe Candle Company,” shared Staple-Brown. “Remembering ‘our why’, we have fittingly employed the mission statement ‘to provide luxurious candles on a budget.’”
Oh D’Luxe Candle + Co was birthed from Staple-Brown’s inherent need to find something interesting to do during the pandemic, and was first supported by friends and family. Thanks to her new endeavor, playing with scents, wicks and waxes has now turned into a business.
“I have so many ideas where I want to see this business go,” she shared. “And I am thankful for everyone who has supported me.”
All Oh D’Luxe candles are hand poured in small batches to ensure that we provide quality products. Their ingredients are 100% American-grown soy wax, phthalate-free fragrance oils complete with lead free wicks to ensure a clean burn and amazing scents while also being non-toxic.
Find Oh D’Luxe Candle + Co. on Facebook and Instagram, or shop online at ohdluxecandles.com.
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By Brenda De Los Santos
Augusta, Georgia native Brittany Curry has taken a winding journey to create Love on You, a Norwich-based business that offers natural hair and body care products, salon services and self-care education.
Today, Love on You serves as a hub for women to pamper themselves with salon services, learn how to care for their hair and scalp, and purchase the products they need to do so. Curry’s line of products includes Butter Love, her signature handmade body butter, sugar scrubs, candles, shampoo, a deep conditioning hair mask and even other products like beard oil and soaps. The shampoo and mask are both vegan. Curry says, “One of the things I wanted to do was create a professional grade product that was clean.” Providing her own line of products has allowed her to share her tried and true system for maintaining hair and scalp health while also educating her clients on what they are putting on themselves. She is motivated because there is a need. “There are marketing tricks that keep people misinformed,” she says of mainstream products for Black hair care.
"I am sowing that seed for them to be able to care for their hair on their own and normalize being able to maintain their hair."
Butter Love, her hair and body balm, is one of her best sellers, along with her “Heal and Seal” package, which includes her shampoo, hair mask and Butter Love. She also carries earrings and other jewelry for sale, and clients can also book makeup services in addition to salon services like silk presses and natural and protective styles.
Curry has been a licensed cosmetologist for twelve years, though her initial plans were to be in the nail industry. “I actually wanted to be a nail tech but the school I went to didn’t have a nail program, so I went to cosmetology.” When her husband, who serves in the US Navy, was stationed at the Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton from 2010 to 2015, Curry took a break from doing hair and instead focused on real estate.
While living in Hawaii in 2017, Curry transitioned back to doing hair. She noticed that many of the Black women she met there as a hairstylist had very dry hair, and she wanted to do something to help. She started experimenting in her kitchen and her line of products was born. Clients asked her about the products she was using and said that they would buy them if she sold them. “That's how it started, women loving on themselves,” she says. She sold her products in a small retail space there until her husband was given new orders to return to Groton.
Once back in Connecticut, Curry noticed her previous clients from Hawaii struggling to maintain their hair health, and with renewed purpose, decided to focus on teaching her clients to care for their scalp and hair in addition to the services and products she already offered so clients can care for their hair in between visits to her salon. She says that seeing this happen with her past clients in Hawaii was a lesson learned. “With this focus, I am sowing that seed for them to be able to care for their hair on their own and normalize being able to maintain their hair,” says Curry.
However, it became clear to her that in order to do this, she needed to open her own salon. “The vision of what I wanted didn’t fit in the culture of places I was in. I felt led. God led me to do it,” says Curry of opening her own full-service salon.
Opening her own space wasn’t without challenges. “I didn’t even have funds,” Curry says. Despite financial obstacles, Curry says that things just aligned, “I called a wholesaler that did fixtures, and they were closing and their fixtures were all marked down. I had passed by this space so often and I didn’t even see it - I finally just peeked inside.” She signed the lease for her space in Norwich in February of 2020. “I just took a leap of faith,” she says.
After renovations, Curry opened Love on You in the midst of the pandemic, and it was worth it. Curry says “I am definitely grateful that I can bring Love on You to this area, this is a very underserved community.” Her goal is to treat people how she would want to be treated and create a welcoming environment. She says, “I aim for people to feel hospitality like from the down South. They are safe here.”
Love on You is located at 460 North Main Street in Norwich, Connecticut and open Wednesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Find or shop at Love on You online at this link or find Love on You on Instagram or Facebook.
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By Alicia Brown
It’s 2021 and some of us still don’t understand how to properly break the cycle—the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle that too many people are familiar with.
Covid-19 made it even harder to juggle finances for some who were living with that paycheck and nothing more, and then suddenly there are layoffs on top of it. For some it was a disaster, for others it became a normal way of life and that is why learning how to balance finances is critical to make surviving this crazy world even easier.
Thankfully, Patrina Dixon, award-winning author, financial education instructor, “dualprenuer” businesswoman of P. Dixon Consulting, LLC has created an It’$ My Money, a business specially designed to help provide clear, helpful pathways to better spending and budgeting.
Dixon is one-of-a-kind. She loves helping people get on the right track and fall in love with saving. In her book, It’$ My Money: Guided Journal, she helps readers understand their relationship with money and encourages her concept of “forget what was”—a motto for brushing aside any guilt for current bad financial habits and instead embracing new, better habits. She emphasizes that it isn’t best to change habits “cold turkey” but instead, embark on a process that embraces nurturing and time—one that Dixon and her book can provide.
From providing tips and advice to taking a deep dive into personal or business financials, Dixon and her team will do it all, with understanding, confidentiality, and patience, through one-on-one classes, virtual finance workshops, and even financial workshops. She helps clients increase their savings and improve their credit scores. She also hosts a podcast called The Money Exchange, where she is joined by special guests to help educate listeners about personal and business finance. What’s more? Dixon has just launched a podcasting workshop for anyone interested in radio blogging or hosting a podcast.
There is almost nothing she won’t do to help her clients break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle.
Among her specialties are helping clients understand how to acquire multiple forms of income, like passive income and stocks, as well as build up their credit score.
“I imagine myself in my client’s shoes and I want to provide a quality experience,” she shared.
Dixon is one-of-a-kind. She loves helping people get on the right track and fall in love with saving.
Dixon started her business in 2016 and, just like the savings accounts of those who take her advice to heart, it has grown. Throughout the years, she’s stayed humble and true to her roots—focusing on why she teaches financial literacy—which is her goal of helping people achieve happiness instead of being stressed over money.
Dixon’s motivation was her own journey through childhood and into her adulthood watching her mother’s financial habits. Dixon’s daughter remains at the center of Dixon’s “why” as she refers to it.
"My 'why' is my daughter, by far,” she explained. “She’s why I do everything that I do but my inspiration was my mom.”
Dixon’s mom showed her that life can still be beautiful and that she could still have fun without having a ton of money, but, according to Dixon, the stress was there. So, she wants to show her daughter the stress-free way of living, even when she might not have a lot of money.
“I want to say, look, roll up your sleeves and do the work. You can do whatever it is that you want to do. You can dream high and make it happen,” said Dixon.
Dixon says she began this journey through learning and experiencing it herself. She wants to help others because she noticed that as people became interested in her expertise she came to realize that many people aren’t being taught financial planning. That is unless they are taking a webinar or conference hosted by Dixon.
“I wasn’t taught this. I wasn’t t taught this at home, I wasn’t taught this at school,” she explained.
Today, she is widely known as the “It’$ My Money Lady” and has traveled the country providing talks and bringing her financial expertise to hundreds of people. It’s no secret that she wants the best for her clients and community. She even provides adults and college students internship opportunities.
Whatever the season, Dixon is ready to help provide advice and guidance toward financial freedom. Click here to find information about It’$ My Money, including classes, workshops, books and more. Find It’$ My Money on Facebook, and join the It'$ My Money Squad Facebook group! Dixon’s only requirement when you join the group is that you remain active, and that’s not hard to do at all!
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3/10/2021 0 Comments
ShopBlackCT.com, Connecticut’s rapidly growing, free online directory of Black-owned businesses has teamed up with YWCA Hartford Region to amplify and elevate local beauty brands and help shoppers grab discounts in celebration of the CROWN Act passing.
ShopBlackCT.com has developed an online CROWN Act Discount Guide to allow consumers to easily connect with CT Black-owned beauty and cosmetics businesses that are offering special discounts through the end of March.
“The CROWN Act has passed in CT making us the eighth state to pass this transformative legislation,” shared Melinda Johnson, Director of Community Engagement and Advocacy for YWCA Hartford Region. “ShopBlackCT’s invitation to celebrate this legislative accomplishment during Women’s History Month with community economic investment is the kind of innovation that bridges legislative progress with community advancement.”
“This is a historic moment for Connecticut, and what better way to celebrate than to help connect consumers with Black-owned businesses that specialize in beauty products,” added Sarah Thompson, ShopBlackCT.com founder.
“The CROWN Act has passed in CT making us the eighth state to pass this transformative legislation. ShopBlackCT’s invitation to celebrate this legislative accomplishment during Women’s History Month with community economic investment is the kind of innovation that bridges legislative progress with community advancement.”
ShopBlackCT.com features more than 150 beauty and cosmetics businesses from 26 cities and town from across Connecticut, plus brands that are exclusively online, and now features more than 1,400 businesses overall in categories including automotive, fitness, contractors, restaurants, salons and many in between. The not-for-profit site is free to browse and free for businesses to list and receive support from.
The volunteer-run platform has helped connect consumers with businesses and businesses with each other. It’s been visited by tens of thousands of people and has grown more than sevenfold since its launch on July 1.
“They have dedicated their time and their resources to create a platform that has been very instrumental in the growth of my business and the growth of many other Black-owned businesses in Connecticut,” shared Shawnee Rochester of Escape Massage & Esthetics Studio in Manchester. “A lot of times us small business owners don’t have the means to get our names out there, but this platform was created to do that. It was so needed.”
Chef Jay Lewis of Fud, Inc. and Baby J’s Spices added, “The positive image, the positivity coming out of ShopBlackCT.com is so powerful and [it’s] such a great movement.”
Visit shopblackct.com/crownact to access a list of CT Black-owned beauty and cosmetics businesses that are offering a discount with promo code "CROWNON" now through the end of March.
By Sarah Thompson
Once Richard Mercer took a Bikram yoga class, he was hooked.
“I was a former Division 1A football player, I frequently experienced tight and sore muscles, and I wasn’t flexible. I knew right away that this yoga would heal me and keep me healthy into old age,” he shared. “After leaving corporate, I went out to Bikram Yoga Teacher Training to learn from Bikram himself and knew that I needed to bring this healing practice to my community.”
And, for 11 years, he’s been offering yoga classes to help provide mental clarity, peace, strength, balance and fitness for hundreds of people.
“We are an inclusive, supportive community welcoming to all, regardless of ability, age or background,” he shared. “We inspire curiosity and innovation while helping people on their path to better, more sustainable physical, mental and spiritual wellness. Your quality of life will be improved with our holistic approach to wellness.”
Tucked away on a side road in the Weatogue section of Simsbury sits Mercer’s yoga studio, which he runs with his wife, Laurie.
“We have a partnership and each work to our strengths to support the common goal,” shared Mercer. “Having a partner you can implicitly trust is priceless, and we work together to make sure the studio is always offering our community the best possible experience.”
The duo offer several different yoga classes, including Bikram, Hot High Intensity, Low Impact Interval Training (HIIT), Flow Yoga and Yin Yoga—each offering their own benefits and styles.
“Our daily lives can lead to a lot of body stress and disconnection. A Bikram Yoga class offsets the external negative influences we regularly encounter. You leave feeling free and grounded,” he explained. “This set sequence class of scientifically designed yoga poses is excellent for beginners and experienced yogis alike. You can easily moderate the intensity level to suit your needs and the exactness of the instruction always offers new learning experiences and opportunities for meditation. The hot room provides a detoxifying effect and allows the muscles and joints to relax for a deeper benefit.”
"I am happy that I get to have a job that brings healing to our community every day and allows me to spend my days doing something that I know will sincerely help people.”
HIIT, on the other hand, is set to music in a fun, fast-paced class. Participants build strength in all muscle groups, including upper and lower core, and partake in in cardio fitness.
“It is for all levels of fitness and ability and you will see results very quickly,” explained Mercer.
Flow Yoga is fast-paced and is a series of yoga postures set to music that helps participants lose weight, gain strength and see results quickly.
“It is generally an athletic class done to music that gives you everything you need in a workout: strength, flexibility, and peace,” he said.
Yin Yoga is a beginner’s class held in a warm room, not as hot as Bikram heat, for all levels. It’s a slow-paced style of yoga, incorporating principles of traditional Chinese medicine, with postures that are held for longer periods of time than other styles.
“Yin Yoga poses apply moderate stress to the connective tissues of the body—the tendons, fasciae, and ligaments—with the aim of increasing circulation in the joints and improving flexibility,” shared Mercer. “Yin is a very restorative, healing, and peaceful style of yoga.”
When COVID forced Mercer to close his business on March 17, 2020, he quickly pivoted to provide live streamed classes and offered members access to his extensive library of taped Bikram, HIIT and Yin classes.
But, from day one, Mercer planned to have top-notch cleanliness and health in his studio, including NeoFloor carpet, which is antimicrobial, antiviral and antibacterial; radiant heating in the floor; an AtmosAir system that kills bacteria and removes odor; concrete floors in the lobby and bathrooms that prevent bacteria from being absorbed; and a large practice space, now marked with spots at least six feet apart.
“We’ve also added treatment of all surfaces with SD 90, an industrial-grade natural cleaner,” shared Mercer. “And we’re continuously running our diffusers with our Immunity Blend and our Cold, Flu, Allergy, Virus Blend.”
In addition to offering a variety of yoga classes, Simsbury Bikram Yoga offers treats like incense, healthy snacks, organic essential oils and yoga mats.
“Because of our holistic, natural approach, we work to locate effective products that don’t do any harm—no toxic ingredients, no sugars, no harmful chemicals,” shared Mercer. “We always try things on ourselves first, long before we put them on the shelf for sale. Why come in here to get yourself healthy physically, and then go out and put unhealthy things on and in you? We want to expose our community to excellent, healthy, safe alternatives to all the junk that is out there.”
Mercer also hopes that people of all walks of life try yoga.
“The majority of yoga communities are white women. The truth is that being Black and male, I believe we have exposed more men and people of color to yoga than most studios,” he shared. “The opportunity is to make sure that more men and communities of color know that this is a welcoming, diverse place for them to be and feel safe.
Bikram Yoga Simsbury is open 7 days a week for limited hours. Their full schedule can be found at www.bikramyogasimsbury.com where they have their full class schedule listed. New members are offered a special deal of $49 for 21 days of unlimited Yoga/HIIT. Simsbury Bikram Yoga can also be reached at (860) 217-1663 and their studio address is 7 Deer Park Rd, Weatogue, CT, 06089.
“I am very grateful to have found this yoga. We’ve been open 11 years now and plan to be here for the long haul, pandemic or not. I am happy that I get to have a job that brings healing to our community every day and allows me to spend my days doing something that I know will sincerely help people.”
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By Sarah Thompson
Felicia Edwards is a creative. She always had her heart set on becoming a psychologist, but knowing she wanted to go beyond the four walls of a traditional clinical setting and, quite literally, get up and moving while helping people, she began forging her own path during her undergraduate years.
“I knew that I wanted to help people in some capacity that had to do with mental health, but I also knew that my passion was in media,” she shared. “So, I created a curriculum that would incorporate mental health, writing, media, communication sciences and I put it all together as one.”
At the time, telehealth wasn’t as popular as it is now, yet Edwards was ahead of the curve, pursuing a degree that would help break down barriers for people to address their mental health concerns, whether transportation, money or something else, and providing virtual mental health services.
“I wanted to help people through media in the mental health sphere, through helpful videos and publications,” she said.
So, she loaded up her toolbox of knowledge in communications and pursue her Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy to become a psychotherapist. She began creating videos while still working in the clinical field, eventually finding herself in a master’s course called action methods in Marital and family counseling—one that would spark a whole new approach for her.
“They used acting as a therapeutic means to unravel whatever is going on with you,” she shared. “And I thought—this is what I’m going to do!”
The thought of not being bound by some of the rules other practices had, Edwards took steps to open her own practice in Avon in July 2020, backed with certifications in various therapies.
“In other practices I would have to conduct therapy in a certain kind of way,” she explained. “But within my own practice and with the people I bring on, I can say to them that they’re free to do whatever feels comfortable to them, but my main focus is creativity and doing therapy in a non-traditional way.”
Edwards focuses on helping people who are transitioning—whether to a new job, in and out of school or otherwise—and tends to gravitate toward college students and young adults. Edwards moved to the United States from Jamaica when she was a little girl, first living in Florida, then New York and finally settling in Connecticut, so transitions are one she can understand and relate to her clients about.
“I find those transitions hardest because they are life-changing,” she shared. “Sometimes when people are transitioning to ‘the real world’ from college, they have limiting beliefs, like I live this way, or my name sounds like this, and so I’m really afraid to get this job. So, it’s from a cultural perspective. They also have deeply rooted family beliefs that they’ve internalized and subconsciously they’re taking it with them.”
Edwards works to unpack these complexities, to help empower her clients to reframe their believed experiences and create a new narrative so, in her words, they “don’t click away from those job opportunities because they believe a person might turn them down because of who they think they are or what their name sounds like.”
These experiences are ones that Edwards has dealt with, too.
“Therapy is meant to edify you. Recognize it as self-care.
“In the workplace, I have experienced people thinking I’m incompetent or I’ve been in situations where I have received hits at me because I was the only one in my office that looked a certain way,” she shared. “There have been times when I’ve spoken to someone and they said something, but I know they weren’t intentional about it but it’s because they assumed something about me. They might assume I’m a single mother, so some people assume I need assistance.”
Edwards has reached beyond therapy to create a card game that helps people debunk biases based on assumptions on looks.
“I think it’s really important to understand that on a subconscious level that we automatically think something about someone as soon as we see them,” she explained. “The way we see them, until it’s debunked, we carry that bias around with us. I want us to be aware of those things, so we don’t lead the conversation a certain way or make a person feel unintentionally uncomfortable.”
Her game, called Assumptions, was originally created to use during her sessions with clients, but she’s working to re-roll it out in both physical and online versions.
She also likes to specifically work with communities where there are higher instances of stigma attached to mental health care.
“I have a handful of Muslim clients who say I’m getting therapy although this is highly frowned upon,” she shared. “A lot of the time people look to religion, which is fine, but I find that they’re still feeling stuck and they’re not getting the help that they need and that’s why I really wanted to help. It is becoming destigmatized a lot more, but there is still that belief that ‘only crazy people go to therapy.’”
At the top of Edwards’ list is helping encourage people to take the step to get help.
“Therapy doesn’t have to be scary or boring. A lot of times people think therapy is this big, scary ordeal or they should come with only bad news,” she shared. “Therapy is meant to edify you. Recognize it as self-care. You can speak to someone who is unbiased, someone who can give you what you need when you need it. I always say, if you ever have the thought that OK, maybe I should get help, act on it and don’t talk yourself out of it, because that’s what people do. There is no shame in getting help. It just means you need support, and everybody needs support.”
Assurgent Healing is based in Avon and offers online therapy for couples, young adults and women across Connecticut. Find Assurgent Healing, and information on Edwards’ Assumptions game online here. Felicia Edwards is also a creative business coach and owns AchievHer Perfection, helping business owners transform their “boring content marketing strategies into new income generating creative techniques.” Learn more about receiving free creative training for businesses by clicking here.
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Photos courtesy of iTeachCT
By Alicia Brown
Dear parents: is your child struggling with learning? Has the pandemic affected their studies? Have things been stressful for you? Meet Ms. Shardae of iTeachCT--a mother, teacher, leader and advocate for education and student learning who can help keep your student on the right track.
“I’ve learned parents need two things—either helping get their child on a schedule or understanding what their child is learning,” she shared.
There are two reasons that Ms. Shardae has made education her life mission, and one is Ms. Ford, a teacher who did not give up on her.
“Ms. Ford is the one who made time to help me master concepts,” she shared. This is the same guidance that Ms. Shardae wants to provide to all students in her program.
The second reason? She wanted to prove her doctors wrong.
When Ms. Shardae was a young child, her adoptive mother was told that her new daughter may not do well in school and that she might struggle. But she rose to the top of the class and says it’s all because of her mother’s encouragement and dedication to ensuring Ms. Shardae completed all her schoolwork.
"I’ve learned parents need two things—either helping get their child on a schedule or understanding what their child is learning."
“We don't want a student to feel like they are failing just because of their inability to grasp a concept that just needs to be taught differently,” she explained.
ITeachCT, which stands for “Integral, Embracing, Teaching Adolescents Through Challenging Horizons”, exists to help parents and students tackle challenges, and what’s more challenging than a school shutdown in the middle of a pandemic? Ms. Shardae’s Parent Power Hour helps parents gain insight around two concepts their child is learning and provides guidance where it is needed most, including helping parents gain confidence in teaching lessons that they may not have learned in school and breaking down concepts in helpful ways.
She tutors and assists with English, science and other studies for students in kindergarten through eighth grade and offers mathematics support for students in grades kindergarten through twelfth grade.
Ms. Shardae’s business launched in March 2019 but her passion for helping students began after college when she worked in education. Recently, iTeachCT expanded beyond Connecticut for tutoring services, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Accredited by the Better Business Bureau, she has an A rating—a direct reflection of her care for her students. From helping through the struggles of remote learning to navigating daily life and even providing scholarships, her dedication is evident in all she does.
Ms. Shardae loves giving back to her community and in 2020 she provided a $500 scholarship to a student, funded by donations and class purchases. Her scholarship is open to a first-generation college student or a college student from a single-parent home.
While the pandemic won’t last forever, virtual teaching will still remain popular for many years to come, and iTeachCT will be there to help students become the best they can be!
To sponsor a student, donate to the iTeachCT scholarship or to learn about available services and classes, visit iteachct.org or find iTeachCT on Facebook.
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By Camila Vallejo
When you think of your typical family-owned restaurant, you tend to imagine a business brought complete from the ground up — name, menu, space, etc. But sometimes success isn’t a matter of creating but instead reinventing. That was the case for Vinith and Cassandra Keola, the current co-owners of 50 West in Plainville.
Running for about six years under a previous owner, the restaurant had undergone several concept changes. From fine dining to a noodle bar, 50 West had tried it all with little long-lasting success. But for the Keolas it provided a foundation and following. All it needed was their special touch.
In March of 2019, they took over and developed a menu that would cater to all palettes and pockets.
“We offer high-end dishes, but without the high-end prices. We just want full bellies and full smiles,” Cassandra Keola says.
The Keolas describe their food as American comfort with an Asian flair. Some fan favorites include buffalo bleu wings with bacon crumble ($11- $20), drunken noodles with pappardelle pasta ($14) and sauteed clams in a wine sauce with chorizo ($14) — just to name a few. The menu also offers other classics like burgers, salads, flatbreads and, of course, crafted cocktails.
Vinith is the mastermind behind the menu with over 20 years of experience in the industry.
Prior to 50 West, he owned a catering business and a restaurant in West Hartford which he conceptualized on his own. The West Hartford locale eventually closed because he says he went “too big too fast,” an experience he now keeps in mind when making business decisions.
Today, his focus is not so much on the big picture, but instead on the little things that contribute to a great restaurant, Vinith says, like ingredients, flavor and customer satisfaction. He shops locally for produce two to three times a week and 90% of the food is made from scratch.
“My food is my art and my pan is my canvas. I love taking a simple dish, deconstructing it, and making it into something I would eat myself,” Vinith adds.
While Cassandra works a full-time job at UConn Health, she can attest to Vinith’s passion by just the looks of the kitchen on a daily basis. She says the amount of fresh vegetables and spices makes it seem like Vinith goes foraging in the backyard.
“We offer high-end dishes, but without the high-end prices. We just want full bellies and full smiles.”
“There are so many different spices in the world that people don't know about. We like to highlight them in our dishes. America is so used to starches and salty food that people are often forgetting about pungent, bitter, savory and spicy flavors. When you take a bite, you should taste one part and in the other bite, another.”
Good food and hospitality are in their blood, says the husband-and-wife duo. Vinith migrated to the U.S. from Laos in 1980 with his family. While his parents worked, Vinith took care of his older brother and learned his way around the kitchen. He may not have a formal culinary education, but he knows cooking is all about trial and error.
Cassandra’s mother is Scottish and Native American and her father is Barbadian. She says the mix provided her an appreciation for different cultures and, more importantly, cuisines.
Vinith uses their different cultures as inspiration for his dishes. One example is 50 West’s Cubanh Mi — a fusion between a Cubano and Bahn Mi sandwich with grilled marinated pork, Asian slaw and spicy aioli.
While creative dishes are at the center of 50 West, the Keolas pride themselves on customer service above all else.
“You can go to a restaurant every Friday and order the same thing. But, it's different when you're greeted by warm and welcoming staff. You might enjoy your food more, eat a little slower and taste things a little differently, ” Cassandra says. “We create an environment where customers feel like they’re eating with friends whether they’re dining alone or with others.”
Like many others, the COVID pandemic has not been easy for the Keolas. The state-wide shut down and restrictions came at a time where 50 West was just getting started. Nonetheless, the Keolas have been able to attract a regular customer base by providing authentic dishes in a warm and friendly environment. They and their staff of nine hope to see the end of this pandemic soon. And in the meantime, they’ll work towards the future.
“We’d like to see another location one day,” Vinith says. “There are so many things you can do with food and to stick to one location or kind of food it’s just limiting the creativity.”
50 West offers indoor and outdoor seating and catering is now available for family-style packages and special events. COVID hours are Wednesday to Saturday 4:00pm to 9:00pm and happy hour specials are from 4:00pm to 6:30pm.
Find 50 West online at 50westrestaurant.com, on Facebook and on Instagram. 50 West is located at 50 West Main Street, Plainville, Connecticut.
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Photos courtesy of Joy Monroe
By Alicia Brown
Joy Monroe began creating art at the young age of four. She originally pursued a creative career in elegant cuisine as a chef, eventually joining up with a group of artists in 2011 called Connecticut Arts Initiative, where many more of her creative visions were birthed.
In the years that followed, Monroe’s focus on her art became more prominent. She was offered a position as a dancer, where she learned about production work and was introduced to the art of body painting. It was then that she knew she wanted to be involved with big productions by painting and creating something new—creativity was ignited inside of her.
Monroe has since participated in the International Body Art Competition, one of her favorite events.
“What we go through, it’s life. We are the art. We are what we envision.
“Nobody is judging each other, and everyone feels good about their bodies,” she shared. “It’s a room full of artists making art and it’s all about storytelling—I’m a storyteller, period. I love to tell a story through my art. I want people to understand what life is all about.”
Using art as an avenue for storytelling is magical, and Monroe hopes her art helps people paint vivid pictures in their minds, to be inspired by life.
“What we go through, it’s life,” she explained. “We are the art. We are what we envision. Creation is being creative.”
Monroe’s dreams of growing her art career became realized when she was able to purchase her own space. Her business, Joy of Life Creations, was born and is located at 3580 Main Street, Building 11 in Hartford, Connecticut.
And, her dreams continue to grow. Monroe wants to help other artists pursue their dreams by offering studio rental space. She’s working toward this goal by sharing her expertise in body art with local students and providing internship opportunities.
Monroe also focuses on promoting body positivity through her art, giving back to her community by painting murals to support the arts and movements like Black Lives Matter, and holding summer art camps for kids. This past summer, she and students from area schools beautified Bushnell Park by painting trash cans so passers by had something nice to view as they strolled through the park.
She’s also been working hard to put together a calendar to showcase all of her artistic bodywork from the past year.
With everything she does, Monroe wants to challenge people to see the world in a unique way.
“You might see a bottle cap and say, oh wait, I can turn this into an earring,” she shared. “Art is about putting it out there so someone can see something different.”
For Monroe, she simply wants everyone to see the joy in life.
Follow Joy of Life Creations on Facebook or visit her at her studio. She’ll be sure to inspire you with her passion, creativity and innovation with everything she does.
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Break Free Center for Wellness in Manchester, CT
By Rode Bataille
“You don’t wait until your car breaks down to get an oil change, by then it is too late. But we treat our mental health that way. If anybody deserves the gift of therapy, it is us,” explained Sharron Riley-Seymour, a licensed counselor at Break Free Center for Wellness located in Manchester, Connecticut.
According to SAMHSA’s 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, “Sixteen percent (4.8 million) of Black and African American people reported having a mental illness, and 22.4 percent of those (1.1 million people) reported a serious mental illness over the past year.” The challenges of stigma make this statistic even more daunting.
Mental Health America explains that “historical adversity, which includes slavery, sharecropping, and race-based exclusion from health, educational, social, and economic resources translates into socioeconomic disparities experienced by Black and African American people today.” Socioeconomic status, in turn, is linked to mental health: People who are impoverished, homeless, incarcerated, or have substance use problems are at higher risk for poor mental health.
How is it that Black communities suffer at a 20 percent increased rate of mental health setbacks than any other racial group, yet they are one of the racial groups least likely to seek therapy? Disparities fuel the combination of mistrust and access to information about mental health and counseling, which lead to hesitancies around pursuing help for issues around generational trauma, depression, anxiety and other struggles. The percentage of counselors who identify as Black and who can alleviate mistrust, is small.
Along with Riley-Seymour, Hasson Stavis and Yanique Grant are part of that small circle of professional Black therapists in Connecticut. Stavis is a licensed marriage and family therapist at HealThy Soul Clinical Services in Glastonbury and New Britain, Connecticut, and Grant is a licensed clinical social worker and is a clinician/psychotherapist at Courage to Be in Bloomfield, Connecticut.
Riley-Seymour wants Black individuals to know they are needed and that there is no limit to their potential in pursuing a mental health profession. There is a critical need for supporting communities who need a therapist that looks like them and embraces them wholeheartedly.
Stavis knew since he was 7 years old that being a healer was his calling. He decided to be a therapist earlier on and began working in the mental health field while in college, where he completed a co-op at Saint Francis Behavioral Care in Portland.
“Healing from trauma takes time and this might extend beyond the time the trauma itself occurred. Helping clients of color and clients in general heal from their traumas and generations pasts allows the client to truly evolve with a greater sense of purpose and being.” - Hasson Stavis, LMFT
HealThy Soul Services
Grant shared that she chose to pursue a career as a mental health professional because she loves helping people “get to the bottom of who they are, how to manage their stress, and to be that person helping others through their journey.” According to her, she believes every therapist gets into therapy a little bit for themselves, too.
Grant, Riley-Smith and Stavis are all working to help break the stigma that holds many Black individuals back from receiving mental health support.
“Normalize therapy as much as you can,” said Grant.
A first step is to seek therapy by simply browsing online listings—like on PsychologyToday.com or ShopBlackCT.com—to see which therapists are available, reading through profiles and seeing if there is a connection with any through a consultation.
“Consultation is a great entry into therapy to see if you mesh with the therapist,” explained Grant.
And, therapists offer a variety of different treatment methods, which can be a helpful deciding factor.
Stavis’s practice focuses on getting clients to the point where they need without leading or providing them with a direct solution. He allows the solution to organically surface so that clients can own their outcomes for themselves. This practice has a foundation in Internal Family Systems and a few trauma modalities.
Riley-Seymour specializes in Eye Movement and Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR).
“It’s traditionally thought of as a trauma therapeutic model,” she explained. “But it also looks at cognition, our thoughts and core beliefs we have about ourselves, our emotions and body sensations and how these are all interconnected.”
Stavis and Riley-Seymour have noted patterns between clients who also identify as Black.
“Transgenerational trauma and pain go back a lot farther for my Black clients because on top of individual trauma, there are also 400 years of trauma and abuse that they may have to address from slavery,” shared Stavis. “Healing from trauma takes time and this might extend beyond the time the trauma itself occurred. Helping clients of color and clients in general heal from their traumas and generations pasts allows the client to truly evolve with a greater sense of purpose and being.”
Black clients tend to have patterns and core beliefs of feeling undeserving, in addition to dealing with a high rate of imposter syndrome, anxiety, negative internal dialogue, and more.
“Many of my Black clients feel as if they are unable to accept awareness, ownership, and acknowledgment of what has happened to them as a collective people as well as their individual experiences of being black in America,” explained Riley-Seymour.
It is extraordinarily powerful how Black mental health professionals combat racism, racial inequality, and eradicating the broken line between black communities and therapy.
“It’s hard being a human and it’s okay to heal; I think it’s important for clients to understand this,” encouraged Stavis.
“Waking up every morning in this skin, feeling good about who I am, and feeling good about what I do, is an act of resistance,” shared Riley-Seymour. “That is the work—when I show up for clients, the greatest gift that I can give is strengthening them so they can do what they need to do. We are in a society and we are in a culture that has been designed systematically to tear us down.”
Pushing to destigmatize seeking mental health support in the Black community is a necessity. In the end, changing the narrative will help those who need it most.
“There’s a huge deficit in the way society portrays people of color, which is [the belief] that you can go but so far,” said Grant. “contribution is to break down that barrier because it’s a fake narrative and you can absolutely change that narrative and you can go so much further than what society is telling you.”
“Whatever you put your mind to, you are capable of,” added Riley-Seymour. “You have the same amount of time in a day as Oprah, and as anyone else you look up to. All that they can accomplish in their day, so can you—so own your moments. Make and manage choices that include self-love.”
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By Sarah Thompson
Bet on yourself. Invest in yourself. Go all in on yourself. You are your best investment. These are words that Double or Nothing Apparel co-founders and cousins Mike Forrester and Drew Bailey live by, and now they’re sharing this motivation with others through their unisex all-purpose clothing brand.
Their self-described “stylish yet comfortable” brand is popping up all over Connecticut, and even into the New York, Boston and DMV areas. The creators' apparel has reached Florida, Georgia, California, and even internationally in Toronto and Africa. From hats to hoodies, sweat suits and tons in between, the duo is on a mission to spread positivity wherever they—and their brand—goes.
“Our brand represents hard work ethic, dedication and constant elevation, resembling tactics for success,” Forrester explained. “I want someone to put on our apparel and feel proud behind it, what it stands for, what they stand for. We want to unite everyone as one. It’s bigger than just a t-shirt or hat. We want to spread positive energy around the world and try to uplift with any encounter.”
"We want to put out apparel that not only appeals to people, but also inspires them when they put it on. Our brand symbolizes being a go-getter—going after and obtaining your goals with persistence and consistency."
They want to inspire others to go after their goals and dreams.
“Don’t feel like you’re locked into something if you have something [else] you’re passionate about,” said Bailey. “Double down and go all in on what truly inspires you, because you can achieve anything when you focus and put your all into it.”
“No matter who you are—any walk of life, any color, speak your goals into existence,” added Forrester.
The pair took their own advice, and with added encouragement from family and friends, launched Double or Nothing Apparel last June, despite the country being in the middle of a pandemic.
“We believed in ourselves, set benchmarks and focused on staying consistent,” shared Forrester. “It started with a vision, dedication and constant progression.”
Having grown up together in Hartford, Forrester and Bailey always spent time together. In their words, they’ve been “around each other since the sandbox.” And in fact, many of their designs have sentimental significance from their youth.
“With our soccer jerseys, that was my high school number,” shared Forrester. “So, it’s bigger than jerseys – it’s coming from memories. I won the championship with that [jersey] number, so reliving it and seeing the reaction from everyone is just a blessing.”
Their mission to counter negativity takes energy and intentionality, but it’s paying off. Their warm, welcoming family-vibe is putting smiles on many faces.
“Customers tell us they love our energy,” shared Bailey. “They tell us, I was feeling bad today but your positive vibe just switched my whole mood up.”
“Our customers’ feedback means a lot to us,” added Forrester. “It feels like we are growing together.”
They’re also committed to giving back to the community they grew up in and encouraging the next generation. Not too long ago, they were involved in a youth event hosted by the Hartford Lions Soccer Club, an organization they stand by.
“We love to support our community,” shared Forrester, “so it’s a big deal to give back.”
During the first months after they launched their family business they did experience some delays with manufacturing due to COVID-19, but in Double or Nothing style, the pair says they’ve “strived towards our goals,” and sales have continued to grow.
“We believe in our brand,” shared Forrester. “Hard work turns into equity.”
Keeping their designs timeless, they pride themselves on offering a unique variety of colors and unisex styles for men and women, all with excellent quality.
“We focus on having items for everyone to fulfill and satisfy customer needs,” shared Forrester. “We always think about how to expand.” And like their website says, the variety of colors and styles the brand offers resembles the culture around its two creators.
Their current high demand products during these cold months? Sweat suits and hoodies. Their new spring collection includes several must-have items, too. “It’s going to be a great season release,” said Bailey.
“Starting the brand with hats, we created 30 to 40 different styles that some customers request, and we do pre-orders and also custom orders for all items,” explained Forrester. “We focus on building customer engagement.”
With each new season, Forrester and Bailey are committed to working hard, staying positive and being consistent with their mission to inspire.
“Our brand is evidence of growth, and we are blessed to share our art and mission with the world,” said Forrester.
“Just like ‘you are what you eat,’ you are what you put on,” added Bailey. “We want to put out apparel that not only appeals to people, but also inspires them when they put it on. Our brand symbolizes being a go-getter—going after and obtaining your goals with persistence and consistency. So, when you see those words—Double or Nothing— just know those are words that you can live by and stand firm on.”
The Double or Nothing Apparel online store is available at www.doubleornothingapparel.com and based in Greater Hartford. Find Double or Nothing Apparel on Instagram and Facebook. Email inquiries to Doubleornothingunited@gmail.com.
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By Lajeune Hollis
Let’s face it, there is a kid in each and every one of us. The Art Child, a travel- based and online program for kids of all ages, recognizes that. Its mission, according to founder Ms. Alicia Brown, a certified therapeutic art life coach, is “to offer programs to let kids be kids, show their emotions along with helping them control them.”
I wondered, how did this business start? According to Ms. Alicia, her business began as showcase of her art, and she was selling cards, canvases and more.
“I switched when I realized most of my work was targeted to kids and people who enjoyed abstract art,” she shared. At the time, she was in school studying child psychology with art therapy as her career. She got her certification in Therapeutic Art Life Coaching, which combined her love of working with children and her passion for art.
And so, The Art Child was born.
In partnership with Sawyer, an online provider of children’s classes and activities with a mission “to inspire a love of learning through play and exploration,” The Art Child offers programs for children ages two and up, teens and adults. Ms. Alicia tailors each class to the individual person, or collectively for groups. Class fees are per person or by group, and can be made via Cashapp, Venmo, PayPal, Square or Apple Pay.
“It's important to me because there are so many children without creative outlets, and art programs seem to be the first things cut,” she shared. “We are trying to stop that, and showcase that art is extremely important for anyone. If we want well-rounded adults, we need to start with the kids. We need to find ways to give them a sense of self, and expression.”
Residents of Connecticut can hire Ms. Alicia to come directly to their church, home, school or daycare to hold a therapeutic art class. All art supplies and snacks are provided at no extra cost. And, social distancing rules are in place during the pandemic to ensure all attending are safe.
One challenge she has faced is getting The Art Child name out there. “I have a select few promoters and have been working with local businesses to hold art events, but due to COVID-19, the turnouts are always small,” she shared. “Hopefully, going forward, we can change that.”
"If we want well-rounded adults, we need to start with the kids. We need to find ways to give them a sense of self, and expression.”
Because of the pandemic, The Art Child is now also offering online children’s classes for free on Friday and Sunday evenings at 7:00pm. Children from anywhere across the United States can participate from the comfort of their homes.
Once participants sign up for a free class by The Art Child, they will have the option of having art supplies mailed to them, including paint brushes, canvases, construction paper, glitter and more, paying only for shipping. On the day of the one-hour online class, attendees are emailed Zoom login information, and on class night, Ms. Alicia first reads an illustrated story before teaching the actual activity. Children actively participate by following her step- by-step instructions and holding up their artwork as the night progresses. They give a final thumbs up once they finish their “masterpieces.”
In addition to classes, The Art Child also offers face painting at birthday parties, art activity boxes, art commissions, events (see availability on theartchildllc.org), pre-drawn canvases for DIY as well as pre-painted canvases. Ms. Alicia is also certified to work with kids on the spectrum, who are living with Autism, Asperger’s or with social disorders.
As for adults, Ms. Alicia helps them “turn off” their brains during their therapeutic art classes by focusing on the process as opposed to the outcome.
As with anything worthwhile there is a cost. However, The Art Child holds fundraisers on a regular basis to defray business costs, especially for their free programs. Donations are accepted at any time at www.theartchildllc.org.
What’s next for The Art Child?
“I want to reach all 50 states with art boxes, and I’ll be having an event with The Key Bookstore in Hartford, Connecticut on February 19 at 6:00pm,” she shared. “It's a story time and painting event for adults and children. I am also working on a coloring book for all ages.”
Ms. Alicia is getting a jump start on her goal of reaching all 50 states by offering a special Valentine’s Day activity box. She hopes to “spread the love” by offering this special activity for couples that include two canvases and brush sets, two heart notebooks, two pencils, two slimes, two bottles of bubbles, six paints, glitter and a rose quartz from Hippie Love. She explains that the rose quartz, when held, will helps people to relax their minds and will then activate the love inside of them, allowing their hearts to tell them what to paint. Visit www.theartchildllc.org to order one of these special boxes.
Sounds like a good plan.
The Art Child is in Bloomfield, Connecticut, with in-person services available throughout Connecticut and online services available nationwide. Find The Art Child on Facebook, Instagram or learn more at theartchildllc.org.
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Photo courtesy of CIO.com
By Damon Carter
Editor's note: This article is the final installment in a four-part series on how IT leaders can effectively address systemic racism in their organizations. Start reading here or jump to either the first article in the series, which lays the groundwork for effectively addressing systemic racism, the second article in the series, which outlines how IT leaders can begin creating a culture of inclusion and belonging, or the third article in the series, which offers a 5-step approach to building a fair, equitable, and just IT culture.
The decision to take a stand against systemic racism by actively supporting social justice reform can be a difficult and pivotal choice for any organization. In today’s social and political climate, there are increased expectations by both employees and consumers for companies to get actively involved in supporting social justice initiatives moving forward.
According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer report, 64% of survey respondents say they believe that CEOs can create positive changes in prejudice and discrimination, while 54% say that CEOs should speak publicly on controversial political and social issues that employees care about. And 53% of consumers say that every brand has a responsibility to get involved in at least one social issue that does not directly impact its business...
Click here to continue reading.
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By Cassandra McKenna
Every product that Susan Vanriel-Smith offers stems from daily life with her children.
“My biggest inspirations were my first two sons,” she shared. “I was first introduced to the world of autism through my oldest—they are both on the spectrum at completely different levels.”
Vanriel-Smith’s second son has helped her realize how different people are and how important it is to accept those differences. Her son, who is non-verbal and only communicates when given cues and with a talking device, motivates her daily.
The products offered by Gifted One Princes are genuinely from the heart. “I live in this world and I have a lot of experience,” she shared. “There are other companies like mine, but I feel like I take it up a notch. I saw a way that I can help others to get through some tough times.”
Vanriel-Smith runs the exclusively online store—that offers apparel, accessories and other products that feature messages related to autism and other disabilities—with a little help from her family and some outside resources. She hopes to eventually expand to vending at pop-up markets.
Gifted One Princes just recently launched in July. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, they did experience some setbacks.
“There are a lot of people unemployed at the moment and though they may want to support you and make a purchase, they can’t because they are not in a position to do so,” Susan explained.
Because she knows that feeling well but is limited financially because of the pandemic, she tries to find creative ways to support other small businesses, like sharing through social media.
Pre-COVID, Vanriel-Smith and her family participated in many Walks for Autism, including at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. While walking may be on hold for now, she’s continued to support the cause by making donations and spreading awareness. She also donates a percentage of the business’s earning bi-annually to support autism research. Eventually, she’d like to donate to local schools that hold special needs programs.
“I am inspired by everyone who works with special needs," she shared. "I have worked with a lot of people over the years and have a profound respect and love for them. It takes special people with hearts of gold to work with the special needs population. It takes a very different kind of person. It isn’t easy, but they can make it look that way.”
Gifted One Princes is truly a family-operated business. Vanriel-Smith handles the day-to-day operations, her husband assists with technical aspects, her sons model products and her oldest son helps with packaging up orders.
Vanriel-Smith has been able to connect with many different people while wearing her Stolen Hearts t-shirt. “I often get stopped and questioned about it,” she shared. “It feels good to listen or offer some advice to that person about what may work for me that they can try. It opens room for conversation without being judged. It is letting others know they are not alone.”
While she works with various artists and printers to bring her creative ideas to life, Vanriel-Smith comes up with the designs for all of the products and each one represents some part of her life. Her children inspired the logo for Gifted One Princes, with the three crowns representing her three children.
“We know how to laugh and it’s the one thing I cherish the most. It doesn’t matter what we are facing. We are able to hold each other up, lean on each other’s strength and get through it. The one thing that we lean on the most is prayer.”
One of their most popular items is the Be Kind t-shirt (https://giftedoneprinces.com/collections/apparel/products/be-kind). Vanriel-Smith’s oldest son experienced bullying in middle school which inspired the message to show love, be kind and be understanding.
The Loud and Clear t-shirt (https://giftedoneprinces.com/collections/apparel/products/loud-and-clear) was inspired by her oldest son who has always struggled with eye contact. “It is one of the hardest things for him to do and he is very insecure about it,” she shared. “It can take away from his self-confidence.”
The message on the Loud and Clear t-shirt says I may not look at you when you speak but I can hear you clearly. Messages like these help to bring awareness to autism and other disabilities, which is something that Susan plans to continue as the business expands.
“I hope to one day be a motivational speaker for the cause,” she shared.
Vanriel-Smith is originally from rural Jamaica, where resources are lacking for people with disabilities. “I would love to be able to bring more awareness to the island, help to open facilities, and offer therapies and schooling to help children and young adults. There is so much I see in the future for us. We have big dreams and goals.”
She hopes that people from all over the world will become familiar with the name Gifted One Princes.
“My hope is to expand. I hope our products reach the homes of many people all over the world. We are currently shipping to Canada, but soon this will be worldwide.”
Gifted One Princes offers quality products made from fabrics and prints that can hold up after many washes, and Vanriel-Smith pays attention to detail, quickly addressing any issues that might arise.
“Quality means a lot to me,” she shared. “I want my customers to feel the love I have for my business. I meet the expectations of the customers. I ensure that they will get what they pay for.”
She also translates this to her packaging, putting personal touches on each one, with the goal of ensuring each customer is happy.
“I think great customer service is exceeding expectations,” she shared. “A great attitude and being knowledgeable about your business and products is also a plus. Customer satisfaction is one of the most important priorities.”
She also puts a priority on resolving issues in a positive manner and working towards gaining customer loyalty.
I know all of this to be true because I recently purchased some items and was very impressed. My favorite item was their canvas bag. Customer service was excellent and shipping was fast—I placed an order on Sunday and my package arrived by that Tuesday morning!
Gifted One Princes hopes to add more products to their site and are currently working on homemade organic natural skincare and hair products. “We have been working on this for months now, perfecting our formulas and getting everything right before we add the line to the business,” shared Vanriel-Smith.
Despite some setbacks, Vanriel-Smith continues to push forward. Even though they have faced some challenges and hard times, her children continue to give her strength, hope and motivation.
“We know how to laugh and it’s the one thing I cherish the most,” she shared. “It doesn’t matter what we are facing. We are able to hold each other up, lean on each other’s strength and get through it. The one thing that we lean on the most is prayer. We pray together.”
At a time when the world could use more understanding and kindness, it is wonderful to see a business that finds different ways to encourage others while also spreading awareness about autism and special needs.
Visit Gifted One Princes at https://giftedoneprinces.com/ or on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Gifted-One-Princes-LLC-111514053964176) or Instagram (https://giftedoneprinces.com/).
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By Natasha Samuels
Craig Wright is beating the odds. His Vernon restaurant, Craig’s Kitchen, recently celebrated its third anniversary, and despite navigating a global crisis that has had an enormous effect on restaurants, his is on track for continued success.
Why? Wright believes that self-reliance is key to weathering storms like the pandemic.
“I am able to do most of the work myself,” he explained. “And not have to pay other people to do it.”
Like most businesses, Craig’s Kitchen was forced to pivot quickly to survive the pandemic and subsequent economic slowdown. The dine-in area is now closed, and a newly constructed takeout window allows patrons to place and pick up orders with no contact. Wright is also offering a paired down menu and has partnered with mobile food delivery services like Uber Eats and GrubHub.
Wright currently manages all aspects of the restaurant, including whipping up Craig’s Kitchen favorites like fried fish, barbecue ribs, mac n’ cheese and candied yams—recipes that he says he learned from his mom.
“My grandparents were from Alabama,” he shared. “They cooked Southern food and it was passed down from my grandparents to my mother and then passed down to me.”
Despite the challenges of COVID-19, Wright plans to continue with his annual community-based programs. “Every [year] we throw a community Thanksgiving dinner [that] anyone can attend,” he said. This year his Thanksgiving feast will be on Thursday, November 26 from 12:00-3:00pm. All are welcome and COVID guidelines will be in place to keep patrons safe.
Wright sees the Thanksgiving program as his way of giving back, and it has helped him gain press in local print media as well as NBC, ABC and FOX Connecticut affiliate stations. He was also recently invited to appear as a guest on the Kelly Clarkson Show. These features have provided publicity and public relations opportunities that are invaluable and aid the success of his business.
Things are looking up now for the 33-year-old former Detroit native, but he says that his life has been a roller coaster. “I have come from homelessness. I’ve been through all kinds of ups and downs,” he shared.
It’s hard to imagine, but he says that he did not have any long-term goals during his youth and never imagined that he would one day open a restaurant. He says he was in and out of trouble through his early twenties and it continued until he was sentenced to substantial time to a Connecticut prison.
“My grandparents were from Alabama. They cooked Southern food and it was passed down from my grandparents to my mother and then passed down to me.”
“They sentenced me to three and a half years, and I ended up doing three of those years,” he said. “I never thought about the future and that's one thing that changed in me when I went to prison. I stopped and I [decided] that I definitely have to change everything,” he said.
He spent his last 6 months of his sentence living in a halfway house.
“When I was in the halfway house, I ended up getting a job in a restaurant and I worked my way from dishwasher through the ranks, all the way to a sous chef,” he shared. “I worked at different restaurants and it all culminated to this,” he said.
At one point, Wright was even working four jobs at a time.
He learned about the availability of restaurant space in Vernon from an old high school friend. “I had the opportunity to buy the business [and] as soon as the opportunity came, I just took it,” he said proudly.
But he wasn't necessarily prepared for it. “I definitely wasn't financially prepared, and I wasn't mentally prepared for it,” he shared. “I felt that the opportunity was too good to let pass so I just did it and I've been here three years now.”
His advice for anyone who is looking to start a business is to simply go for it.
“There are a lot of naysayers, [but the] bottom line is you go into business to make money. You are going to have to take a shot to do that. You can help someone else make money—that’s the safe route—or you can take a shot and try to do it yourself,” he shared.
The ability to persevere and ingenuity can also take you far, and something that many business owners need. “Everyone [doesn’t] succeed. Owning a business is not easy. Everyone does not own a business. That's for a reason. It's hard work. No one cares about it but you. You have to treat it like a baby. You get out of it what you put into it,” he explained.
As for Wright, he’s putting his all into his business and hungry patrons keep coming back for more.
Craig’s Kitchen is located at 13 West Main Street in Vernon, Connecticut. They are open Monday through Friday 11:00am to 8:00pm and Saturday and Sunday from 8:00am to 9:00pm. Find Craig’s Kitchen online at www.craigssoulfood.com and on Instagram.
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By Alexandra Frisbie
People from all different ages and backgrounds are signing up for Duane Hinkson’s pistol permit classes, the vast majority seeking one thing: safety through self-defense.
A self-described “advocate for reasonable gun laws and protections”, Hinkson—owner and instructor of CT NRA Instructor--understands second amendment rights but also appreciates the need for common sense gun laws.
“Guns shouldn’t be a political issue—everyone has the right to own one,” he explained.
A father to three children, Hinkson believes in responsible gun ownership. “I always make sure my gun safe is locked, out of reach, and the kids were never given the code,” he explained. “After you get a pistol permit, if you can’t buy a gun and gun safe at the same time, buy the safe first, because it is more important that you have a safe place to keep the gun before you actually have one. That is responsible gun ownership.”
“Once people learn how to use a gun and have been carrying for a while, most find that their lives aren’t in as much danger as they thought. Chances are they will never need to use [a] gun and they will discover that having the ability to protect and defend themselves and their family is probably the best thing about gun ownership,” he shared.
Hinkson had no interest in guns until 2007, when the Cheshire home invasion happened. He recalled thinking at the time that things like the Cheshire invasion “aren’t supposed to happen in Connecticut,” especially not in a quiet town like Cheshire. He realized that if it can happen there, it can happen anywhere.
His next step was to get a pistol permit. Once he obtained a permit, he wanted to practice shooting with his friends, but they didn't have their firing permits. So he became an instructor so he can teach them. Hinkson expanded his pistol permit instruction in 2008, when he began renting a classroom space in Bristol. Demand was high—more than 345 people signed up for his class in one day. He was the first instructor in Connecticut to work with Groupon. Because of this, he began offering instruction on the weekends and today he has a permanent space to provide classroom instruction year-round.
“Once people learn how to use a gun and have been carrying for a while, most find that their lives aren’t in as much danger as they thought. Chances are they will never need to use [a] gun and they will discover that having the ability to protect and defend themselves and their family is probably the best thing about gun ownership."
In Connecticut, residents without felonies or misdemeanors have several options to get a pistol permit and learn how to properly use a gun. NRA Basic Pistol Course classes do have a fee, and for those who choose to purchase a gun, the prices do vary. According to Hinkson, the best gun to buy is the gun that is best for you. “It’s the one you’re most comfortable with,” he explained.
During his class, he teaches students the knowledge, skills, and attitude necessary to own a firearm safely. Hinkson prides himself in providing the best instruction possible, limiting his classes to 10 people at a time.
“Some instructors run ‘permit mills’, meaning they try to get as many people permitted and make as much money as possible,” he explained. “But with 30 people in one class, not everyone can ask questions and learn how to properly handle a firearm.”
Hinkson is a member of the National African American Gun owners Association, the Black Gun Owner’s Association and the NRA.
To sign up for a Basic Pistol Permit class with Duane, visit CTNRAInstructor.com. Classes cost $150 and are completed in one day and include a classroom portion and a live firing portion at a nearby gun range. Use promo code SHOPBLACK to take $25 off your registration fee! Hinkson also provides weekend, evening and private instruction.
CT NRA Instructor is located at 171 Market Square Suite 203, Newington, CT 06111. Follow CT NRA Instructor on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
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By Brenda De Los Santos
Gizelle E. Tircuit and her daughter, Janelle Posey-Green, started their New London-based holistic mental health practice, Magnolia Wellness, LLC, in 2016 not only to benefit the community, but to allow them to feel good about what they were doing.
Tircuit is a licensed professional counselor (LPC) with a background in education and is currently at the write up stage for her Ph.D. in Counseling, while Posey-Green is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) who has worked in the non-profit mental health field. They feel that the hearts of big institutions were in the right places when they were smaller, but as they grew they missed the mark. They didn’t want to have to meet a certain quota for how many clients they needed to see in a week.
Being the owners of their own practice allows them to steward Magnolia Wellness LLC in the exact direction they want to be in. They offer programs such as DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy), Positive Parenting, SMART Recovery group therapy, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), CBT (Cognitive behavioral therapy ), sound healing, energy balancing and cleansing, as well as ancestral healing practices and other Holistic treatment approaches.
“We have an eclectic approach,” says Tircuit, “Many times it becomes a combination to find what the client needs.” Posey-Green adds, “One thing that Mom and I are adamant about is finding out if we are the right fit for the person. It’s not just about money. That's one of the things I didn’t like about bigger places. It goes back to ethics, it’s all about what the client needs.” Tircuit maintains her teaching license with a certificiaton in Special Education, so that she can support families with 504 plans and IEPs.
Originally from New Orleans, the mother and daughter pair take much pride in their roots, and have incorporated the magnolia, Louisiana's state flower, as their business namesake. Posey-Green uses her Creole roots as a springboard for teaching her clients practical ways to incorporate indigenous self-care practices into their lives at home. She uses sound bowls and smudge sticks, as well as teaching people to regulate their own energies with fire breathing, dance, and sound. She says that many of her Black clients come for these indigenous practices that don’t necessarily come naturally to them.
After moving to Connecticut from Louisiana, Tircuit says they went from living in a community in Louisiana where her children saw Black adults who were doctors, attorneys and all the other professions in a community made up of different professions and families to Connecticut where there were only two Black families in their community. She didn’t let that deter her and made sure to expose her children to Black professionals. “Janelle [Posey-Green] was exposed to many Black women professional therapists,” says Tircuit, “We are all very close, and she got to see these beautiful Black professional women.”
"One thing that Mom and I are adamant about is finding out if we are the right fit for the person. It’s not just about money. That's one of the things I didn’t like about bigger places. It goes back to ethics, it’s all about what the client needs.”
The impact on Posey-Green was profound. “My mom never stops. There is nothing she can’t do because I’ve seen her do so many different things. As an adult, I know I can because she did.” Tircuit admits she had reservations about opening up a private practice, but she says Posey-Green was her cheerleader. “We motivate each other and we are inspired by each other as a family,” she shared.
Magnolia Wellness also strives to impact their community as a whole. Posey-Green has taken on the role of being a community leader, creating several online communities. After COVID hit, the CT BIPOC Mental Health & Wellness Initiative was created to provide a safe space to openly discuss the impact of the pandemic and racial trauma on Black, Indigenous, people of color. Posey-Green says CT Therapists and Healing Practitioners of Color was created because “we are not all the same, so we deserve options. You shouldn’t have to stick with a professional just because they have the same cultural background as you.” And SECT Naturalistas was created when she was working with teens and found that many did not have role models who looked like them. While Posey-Green takes on being the public face for these communities, Tircuit’s contributions are more in the background.
Although most therapy appointments are currently being done virtually, the mother-daughter pair says that being treated in their practice is an experience. Whether a session is done online or in person with sage burning or an essential oil diffuser going, their clients are treated with dignity and taught stability and endurance. “It all goes back to our roots, our sense of community and culture,” says Tircuit.
Magnolia Wellness is located at 302 State St, New London, CT 06320. Click here to learn more.
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By Barry Alexander, Founder & CEO of Aquiline Drones
After years of continuous development, Connecticut-based Aquiline Drones (AD), the nation’s only Black-owned drone manufacturing and technology company, is now just a few months away from launching the nation’s first true “Aquiline Drone-on-Demand” (ADoD) mobile app.
Akin to Uber and Lyft, individuals and businesses will enjoy the luxury of ordering both private and commercial drone services right from their fingertips!
ADoD will be accessible through all mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets, in which the user may order a variety services including aerial photography, videography, utility inspections (power lines, wind turbines, bridges, tunnels, railroad tracks), outdoor events, home security and beach patrol, search and rescue missions, precision farming and many more.
“AD’s drone-on-demand service is an exciting new product that was designed to lower the threshold of safe and responsible use of drones in society,” said Barry Alexander, CEO, and founder of Aquiline Drones. “It’s a modern-day convenience everyone should have!”
AD’s in-house manufactured drones are equipped with capabilities such as AI-assisted object recognition, 4K video recording, and many other essential features to meet customers’ requests.
Alexander notes that drones are expensive and not very easy to control. One bad move and an amateur pilot could be looking at hundreds or thousands of dollars in damage, or a full drone replacement. ADoD essentially removes the risk of hardware loss and liability from bad or unethical piloting and ensures that all missions will be completed by graduates of AD’s Flight-to-the-Future (F2F) program, an online, drone pilot training course and employment opportunity for anyone 18+, certified by the FAA. Enrollment into the program can be accessed via: ADflight.to/future
In addition, users of the app will have the unique experience of interacting with the drone(s) while performing jobs or missions. App users can also create an AD Cloud account where they will be able to obtain footage of the recorded content in real time, or after the job is completed.
“We envision a world in which drones are constructively and harmoniously incorporated in society, using their real-time control features, autonomy and analytics to reduce costs, optimize business operations, minimize carbon footprints, create new business value and, most importantly, save lives,” concludes Alexander. “Our new ADoD app is another step in making that vision a reality.”
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.
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By Dr. Ceylon Cicero, ND; Natural Practices
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is a necessary body process that is important—if we did not have inflammation, we would not have immunity. It is a necessary part of our immune response—or how our bodies defend themselves—and anti-inflammatory medications can be helpful as well. Congestion, pain and swelling are all signs and symptoms of inflammation, which may result from the presence of foreign pathogens such as harmful bacteria, viruses, fungi, tissue damage of any kind or fevers. Inflammation happens naturally as a necessary process to repair and heal. It can happen any and everywhere in the body--and we need it to.
To maintain optimal functioning, our bodies are constantly changing and balancing. Our bodies like to be balanced and will do whatever it takes to maintain that balance in order for survival—even damaging or injuring another part of the body in the process. Inflammation, while it is a necessary process, can be overdone and cause some damage to the body as well. With the body and with health, a good rule is “anything in moderation” (well almost anything) and that goes for inflammation too. Our bodies can produce an acute inflammatory response or a chronic inflammatory response. Acute inflammation is short lived (minutes to days) which is necessary for repairing. This includes things like a cut finger or a twisted ankle. Chronic inflammation is long lasting (days to months, or even years) and is damaging. It creates imbalances in the body that can lead to hypertension, diabetes, anxiety, depression, fatigue, pain, hair loss or other ailments.
Chronic inflammation can be caused by modern day luxuries and our lifestyle choices, including:
Managing the inflammatory response is how you manage your health. You have a lot of control over your lifestyle choices and helping your body heal itself. “You are what you eat” is not just a saying, but a way of life. If you are eating foods that are causing inflammation in your body, you are then inflamed. Food should work for you, not against you. A very good start to prevent inflammation is to identify your food sensitivities and food allergies!
For follow-up care regarding but not limited to chronic inflammation, schedule an appointment with Dr. Ceylon Cicero at Natural Practices, 10 Crossroads Plaza, West Hartford, CT 860-951-8308. We provide testing for food allergies among many other things. We have seen a great number of patients who have experienced an enhancement in their lives emotionally, physically and mentally—all from discovering their inflammation responses to certain food allergies and more!
Click here to visit Dr. Cicero'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.
Acknowledging that systemic racism exists in our society and recognizing the many different ways it has adversely impacted the Black community, as well as other people of color, is a key first step to successfully addressing systemic racism in the workplace. IT leaders must also condemn systemic racism and make a genuine commitment to cultivating a workplace culture that promotes equality, equity and justice for all employees.
But lasting change does not happen overnight, and it does not take place strictly by proclamation. A critical step in the early stages of preparing the organization for dynamic change includes reimagining a new workplace culture that will transform the employee experience, particularly for those individuals who have been historically disadvantaged by systemic racism...
Click here to continue reading.
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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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