Photo courtesy of CIO.com
By Damon Carter
Editor's note: This article is the first in a four-part series on how IT leaders can effectively address systemic racism in their organizations and was originally published on CIO.com.
In response to ongoing protests across the United States (and globally) denouncing the institution of systemic racism that has plagued the black community for more than 400 years, many corporations have publicly announced their full support for social justice reform, anti-racism tactics, and “allyship” in various ways.
Since technology directly shapes how business is conducted globally and given the political capital IT leaders have earned through their progressive leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic, CIOs are well positioned to play an integral role in helping to eradicate systemic racism in their organizations. To do this, they must strategically employ a systemic solution. This special series will cover recommended actions that IT leaders can begin employing today to drive this dynamic shift into the future...
Click here to continue reading.
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9/18/2020 1 Comment
By Barry Alexander, Founder & CEO of Aquiline Drones
As businesses and individuals struggle with an uncertain coronavirus-tainted future, Barry Alexander has a clear vision for success. The Black entrepreneur has always been on the cusp of innovation, mainly in aviation, despite seemingly insurmountable odds. Now through his company Aquiline Drones (AD), the experienced pilot is offering others the chance to set a course for their future by offering a unique drone pilot training and small business start-up program called “Flight to the Future.”
“From the very beginning, as a person of color and native of St. Lucia in the Caribbean, I decided to determine my own destiny by becoming a pilot and pioneering a crucial air ambulance service called ‘Aquiline Air Ambulance’ that was designed to fly patients and medical resources to specialized hospitals across the Caribbean and into the US,” explained Alexander, CEO and Founder of Aquiline Drones. “Self-actualization is a necessity in combatting adversity, and is the most appropriate gift that gives hope, empowerment, self-worth and balance where financial uncertainty looms over our economy.”
As part of Alexander’s latest endeavor, Aquiline Drones (AD) - a progressive drone enterprise and cloud technology company (AD Cloud) based in Hartford, Connecticut, the new online Flight to the Future training course prepares a participant to become a fully licensed drone pilot and business operator by using advanced technology to create high-paying jobs to help transform the current unemployment landscape.
Alexander notes that Aquiline Drones’ Flight to the Future system utilizes the most sophisticated technological platform to achieve its goals, including AD’s proprietary digital agent named ‘Spartacus’, that provides feedback throughout a participant’s curriculum and training. Spartacus then becomes a job advisor once the individual establishes his or her business by forwarding lists of requests for actual drone job opportunities. This advanced Drone On Demand (DoD) job aggregation system actually matches newly certified drone service providers (DSP) with real jobs and missions in their respective areas.
“Self-actualization is a necessity in combatting adversity, and is the most appropriate gift that gives hope, empowerment, self-worth and balance where financial uncertainty looms over our economy.”
The first wave of classes began on September 15, 2020 with new semesters occurring every eight (8) weeks. The Flight to the Future program ranges in cost from $799 for licensed pilots to $999 for the general public.
The four steps of the Flight to the Future course offers participants:
According to a recent report by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment in America has reached an all-time high of 23.9% - primarily because of the coronavirus pandemic and efforts to contain it. But unlike our predecessors during the Great Depression, today’s 40 million jobless individuals have more options than ever before to quickly reboot their careers in our post-COVID world – and AD is on a mission to help Americans regain financial independence. The full-service, drone and cloud technology company has spent years conceptualizing and incubating this innovative new online drone pilot business training program for seasoned aviators, drone enthusiasts and the general public.
“As one of four drone airline companies in America and privately owned by professional aviators, we have witnessed a massive amount of our fellow pilots lose their positions and border on bankruptcy as a result of this detrimental pandemic,” said Alexander. “At the most basic level, drones are miniature aircraft and thus, a natural transition for commercial pilots. However, we’ve created a simple and tangible training program that appeals to the masses as well. Our powerful drone pilot training program is a chance to get out of unemployment, leave the present behind and reinvent oneself for the high-tech future.”
Interested candidates may register at www.aquilinedrones.com/flight-to-the-future.
About Aquiline Drones
Aquiline Drones is an independent, Black owned, American drone company founded by highly experienced aviators, systems engineers and IT gurus. With a customer-centric model, US-based manufacturing and supply chain and world-class MRO services, the company offers innovative and successful ways for using drones in commercial activities.
Supported by a dedicated UAV cloud and real-time OS, autonomous drone operations with real-time control and dynamic in-field decision making capabilities, Aquiline Drones’ full-spectrum of technological solutions provide a more expansive and deeper applicability across countless industries and environments by delivering real-time data insights. Aerospace-compliant processes for software, hardware manufacturing and systems integration, along with best-in-class mission capabilities are being planned and designed as the company continues to create strategic partnerships with Federal, State and private organizations in an effort to develop and launch new drone system applications in a collaborative manner. Visit www.AquilineDrones.com for more information.
All photos courtesy of Aqualine Drones
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By Patrina Dixon, Owner/Author/Speaker, P. Dixon Consulting, LLC
In today's world, there are many ways you can give back to your community or those in need. A small encouragement or support from your end may make a lasting impression on someone else's life. Also, as the saying goes, if others' generosity has blessed you in your past, you are obliged to pay it forward to keep the good karma going. There is nothing more fulfilling in life than helping someone else without expecting anything in return.
I was recently a part of many of Experian’s #CreditChat panels and shared my views on paying it forward and giving back.
As a personal finance expert, international speaker, host of the podcast The Money Exchange and an award-winning author of the financial journal book series, It'$ My Money™, I have been asked several times by Experian to share my views and this one is near and dear to my heart.
For me, the primary benefit of giving back and paying it forward is just the joy that comes with the act of helping someone else succeed. The fulfillment which comes with that act far exceeds any tangible benefits. The causes that I support are the ones that align closely with my own beliefs. Some include United Way, YWCA, and my church.
The act of giving back doesn't necessarily have to be monetary. Even some simple acts of kindness and thoughtful gestures can make a significant impact. The action can be as small as asking someone how they are doing at the start of the day, sending a kind note to your colleagues, friends, or family and just inquiring about their well-being or just reminding them that you are thinking of them. I find that I give back in time and labor more than anything monetary. Sometimes all that someone needs is for someone to listen to them and that's enough to brighten their day.
You can give back directly for charitable causes without breaking the bank. If you would like to be generous, there are multiple ways you can do it, even if you are on a tight budget. You can create or build something that you can then give out to those in need. An example during the COVID-19 time would be creating masks and donating them to the organizations where you can make a maximum impact. Another way would be to help provide food for people experiencing homelessness in your neighborhood, which again provides a significant effect on person in need without having to spend a lot. These are charitable activities that can be done on a low budget and without a lot of pre-planning.
The act of giving back doesn't necessarily have to be monetary. Even some simple acts of kindness and thoughtful gestures can make a significant impact.
I have spent a significant portion of time raising awareness in shaping the spending and saving behaviors of my clients to guide them toward financial independence. I believe whatever the cause is, the best way to raise awareness is by using social media platforms, especially video-based platforms like YouTube. That is where the audience who will be supportive of your cause is hanging out, and you reach them where they spend most of their time. COVID-19 has also put most of the conventional ways of supporting and helping your community on pause or moved to unconventional ways. This doesn’t mean it is not possible, you just have to be safe and social distance and wear masks.
Many people are out of jobs, and many small local business owners are trying to save their business. You can help them stay open by buying local and support the jobless in finding new jobs, hire them or contribute to train them.
As with anything positive within human endeavors, we also have negative aspects like fraudulent charities and organizations that pop up. The best way to determine if a charity is legit is to search their track record by researching on Google or the Better Business Bureau website to see their business rating. You can also check who the team members are running the charity and read their financial statements to understand what percentage of your charity goes to the cause and what percentage goes to administrative expenses.
Sometimes acts of kindness are a complete surprise and come out of the blue without any warning. The most memorable act of kindness I received was when my husband and I went out for dinner for our anniversary. We had a beautiful evening and thoroughly enjoyed our delicious four-course meal. When we completed our dinner and asked the waiter for the bill, we were pleasantly surprised. The waiter told us the gentleman seated at the table next to us had paid the entire bill and taken care of the tip as well. It was such an unexpected but beautiful gesture, especially coming on the day of our anniversary. The gentleman that paid asked the waiter not to tell us and he was gone when we found out.
One of the areas I focus on is finding ways to help inspire kids to be generous. I spend a lot of time working with kids on educating them in developing better financial prudence for their future. On my website, there is a free It'$ My Money™ and Sammy Rabbit Coloring Book that is perfect for kids to have fun while learning that saving is a great habit. In my experience working with kids, I believe that the best way to teach them about giving back is to show them acts of kindness instead of telling them to be kind.
The best way to give back and pay it forward is always to be kind, spread love and joy, tip the essential and demonstrate these actions in front of kids regularly.
By Cassandra McKenna
We Shine Apparel and Accessories (We Shine) is an online store run by two young entrepreneurs, Bryson and Justin, with a little help from their parents and some outside resources. The store offers clothing and other products that feature uplifting and encouraging messages with the hope of inspiring others to believe the good things about themselves and to help promote kindness and positivity. In the immediate future, the young duo plans on expanding their business to offer canvas wall art, long sleeve shirts, sweatshirts and more accessories.
While they have been generating ideas for their business since 2016, the boys first formally named, promoted and launched We Shine in November 2019 while preparing to participate in an upcoming Kids Pop-Up Market in their community.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, they did experience some setbacks.
Their plans to attend every weekend craft fair and sales event within a one-hundred-mile radius had to be put on hold along with their pending offers from local coffee shops and stores to showcase their items and expand their market.
In lieu of not being able to physically attend sales opportunities, their mother Jaclyn began to learn more about social media group sales. “It’s been quite the learning curve,” she shared, “but we are trying our best to let the world know what they are offering and why it matters!”
We Shine truly is a family business.
“As Co-CEOs, both Bryson and Justin are heavily involved in creative designs and operations,” Jaclyn shared. “They both have shirt designs that they alone created. Bryson often wakes up with ideas for new designs and Justin always wakes up asking about orders to fill for the day. He is the taskmaster that ensures orders are prepared and shipped out swiftly. Mom is essentially a COO, keeping operations and fulfillment running smoothly, and Dad has been the primary investor and constant source of support and inspiration.”
When Bryson was seven years old and Justin was three, the boys came up with the idea for their business while they were out shopping for new clothes for the upcoming school year. Shortly into their shopping experience, Bryson quickly noticed that none of the shirts represented who they were. Most of the commercial inventory featured messages such as “lazy but brilliant” and other statements like “addicted to video games” and “talk to the hand”. He had no interest in wearing apparel that did not represent who he was and even said that “Mom wouldn’t buy these anyway.”
The boys were mobilized by the fact that there is a gap that exists within children’s apparel to uplift and encourage, which ultimately inspired them to move forward with their idea.
He was right. The boys were raised in a home where they were taught to encourage and uplift others—so their mom challenged them with one simple question: “What are you going to do about it?” Bryson thought about the question and decided they should make their own shirts that say what they want them to say. The boys discussed the idea and Justin enthusiastically agreed that it was a great idea.
According to Jaclyn, the boys were mobilized by the fact that there is a gap that exists within children’s apparel to uplift and encourage, which ultimately inspired them to move forward with their idea. From that day forward, Bryson and Justin began calling for family meetings where they would work together to compile positive phrases that they used at home on a daily basis. They did this with the hopes that one day they would be able to share these uplifting messages with the world.
“Over the last three years, we built a list of approximately 70 phrases and words that are design possibilities,” Jaclyn shared. “Bryson and Justin believed that the affirmations we utilize every day would be helpful for people outside of our home to use. So, they focused on building a list with positive and encouraging messages that would help people feel good about themselves.”
Whenever Jaclyn talks about her sons and the accomplishments they’ve made at such a young age, you can tell how proud she is. “Any time a five year-old and a ten year-old—their ages when they made the decision to move forward with We Shine—feel compelled to put themselves out there solely for the purpose of making the world a nicer place, you know that there is something special happening.”
The boys happily invest a lot of their free time into their business They work together to come up with designs, often engaging with design support and offering critiques and suggestions on iterations of their visions. Bryson checks the We Shine email throughout the day to monitor inquiries or incoming customer communications. He personally answers 75% of the email traffic himself, always responsibly cc’ing his mom on the exchanges.
Justin happily owns order fulfillment. Every day, without fail, he wants to know what orders came in overnight, what orders are outstanding (and why), and leads the charge for weighing outgoing shipments, printing packing slips and shipping labels. He is also the lead salesman. His insistence to share information about their business with anyone who will listen has garnered a lot of business over the last few months!
The pair also include personalized notes of appreciation with each order.
“The boys are grateful for every order and every person who supports their business. They write thank you notes—using their absolute neatest handwriting—to express their appreciation for everyone who chooses to spread love and positivity.”
Originally starting out as a way to inspire kids through positive messages, their business has grown into so much more. Wise beyond their years, they also acknowledged that adults need encouragement too, so they insisted on expanding their items to meet this need. According to Jaclyn, their hearts are what make We Shine unique.
Their most popular items? the Amazing Bracelet (click here), The ABCs of Me Journal (click here), and the "Smart, Kind, Strong, Awesome" t-shirt (click here) top the list.
We Shine focuses on long-lasting and high-quality products. “It was really important to all of us to put high quality messages on high quality materials,” Jaclyn explained. “We didn’t want to dilute the brand by choosing the cheapest shirts available and sacrificing the integrity and confidence that We Shine represents.”
The shirts are long-lasting and are made with very high-quality fibers, which is why they are so soft and comfortable. Many customers also express how much they love the bracelets due to their durability. Jaclyn described the experience that customers have with the business as being genuine, positive and heartfelt.
I know all of this to be true because I recently purchased a few items through their site including a t-shirt that featured the phrase “Be the Nice Kid,” which has a comfortable fit and feel. I also purchased a journal and a bracelet off of their site and I was very happy with the quality of each item and the excellent customer service. I especially loved the personalized handwritten note from the boys that was included with my purchase.
Jaclyn discussed the some of the ways in which their business offers great customer service. “Communication is key,” she said. She emphasized the importance of keeping customers informed of order updates or delays.
The boys are also actively involved with social media, creating their own posts about We Shine and interacting with customers on those platforms. Jaclyn discussed the importance of paying attention to detail as she talked about how their entire team strives to make sure that things are done properly or are promptly corrected when required.
We Shine is rooted in their community by using local vendors and suppliers, as opposed to using less expensive online options, and they partnered with various support systems during their launch and growth process.
Jaclyn mentioned the importance of patronizing other local businesses—two organizations in particular have really stepped up to assist them, Big Thunk in West Hartford and Budget Printers in Hartford. “We sincerely appreciate everyone on our team and have made great strides with everyone’s support,” she shared.
Sometimes, the We Shine team seeks professional graphic design guidance to lend creative perspective to the typography designs, but at other times Bryson and Justin have a clear vision for a design that they want to execute. The boys are actively working on gaining skills that will help them continue to build onto their business in the future.
“Bryson is currently enrolled in a graphic design course, so that he can learn the art of taking ideas and making them aesthetically pleasing images,” shared Jaclyn. “Justin hopes to also learn that skillset eventually and, by then, the two boys will be unstoppable.”
“As their parents, we hope that the pride and sense of self that they are cultivating lasts a lifetime,” she added. “We also want them to see how impactful their efforts to improve the world can be! They are so proud of themselves and truly believe that they are uplifting people and inspiring others to be better and do better. They want to help people and they also want to be successful businessmen.”
The boys hope that they will be the catalyst for a shift in how people treat each other and how they regard themselves.
“They often vocalize that they want to make the world a nicer place because people can be really harsh,” shared Jaclyn. “Who can argue with that? And who wouldn’t support two little boys in wanting to change the world from where they sit? We keep going, because telling them they can’t do it is not an option.”
At a time when kindness and positivity is most needed, it is refreshing to see children leading the way in reminding all of us to encourage and lift each other up, and to be a light in the world that continues to shine.
Visit We Shine online at www.weshine.shop or on their social media pages on Facebook and Instagram.
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Photos courtesy of Caleb Roseme
By Caleb Roseme, Co-owner and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Assured Quality Homecare
I am a 35-year-old Black man, and I was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts. As a child, my parents regularly warned me that I would be treated differently because of my skin color.
I never wanted to believe them because living in a predominantly Haitian community, I was protected from experiencing racism. I loved my country and could not believe that I would be treated differently because of my skin color. When I was 11 years old, all of that changed when my father was assaulted and arrested in front of his family at the annual Brockton Fair in Massachusetts.
That week, my parents made a promise to take us to the Brockton Fair, and we were excited. My three siblings, four cousins, and I spent the entire week planning, anticipating, and imagining the amount of fun we were going to have at the fair.
When we arrived at around 3 PM that day, we went to the ticket booth to purchase tickets. My father started to ask the woman selling the tickets, who was caucasian, questions about which package would be the best for the family. My dad has a master’s degree in education and was pastor of a congregation of 56. Those who know him know that he loves to ask questions. But those questions started to annoy the woman selling tickets.
After several questions, she became more aggravated, told my dad to piss off (in much harsher language), and refused to sell him tickets. After a minute of going back and forth with my father, the woman called over nearby police officers.
The police immediately grabbed my father and slammed him against the fence. My father told the police that he had done nothing wrong, but they yelled at him to shut his mouth. My siblings, cousins, and I all started crying hysterically, and my mom begged my dad not to say a word. My father again asked what he had done wrong. He told the officers he had rights and that they were treating him unjustly. That’s when two of the officers pulled out their batons. As the two police officers were about to hit my father, a third officer assisting with the process saw us children. He realized that they were about to beat my father in front of his children and stopped them. The officers promptly threw my father in the police car and hauled him off to the police station -- car keys, money, and all.
In those days, there were no cell phones, and we had no way to get in touch with my father to know what happened to him. We were in a different town, with no friends and family nearby. All we knew was that he was at the police station, which was two and a half miles away, and the only way to get to him was by walking. So we walked...
That was the longest two and a half-mile walk in my life...
"I am a 35-year-old, married black man, with three kids, a degree in mechanical engineering, with no criminal record, a volunteer at my church, and my wife and I are business owners and I still experience racism living here in New London County."
When we arrived at the police station, we found my dad waiting for us there. The police accused him of disturbing the peace, a charge that was eventually thrown out. By the time we returned home that night, I was asleep from the emotional and physical drain of that night. However, my sister was still awake and witnessed for the first and only time in her life my father break down and cry at the dining room table. We have never seen him cry since then, even though he is now 68 years old and has since lost both his parents and a brother and sister.
The story I described to you was the earth-shattering moment in my life when I realized that I was not safe and would never be truly safe because of my skin color. Since then, I have been pulled over and yelled and screamed at profusely by police, had objects thrown at me by Caucasians driving by me as I was jogging, worked around openly racist coworkers, been prevented from entering peoples home because they did not want black people on their homes, had a police officer put his hand on his gun when I approached him for directions, and much more. I moved to New London County at the age of 22 when I graduated from college to work as a mechanical engineer, and many of the events that I described to you happened to me while I’ve lived here, some as recently as 2019.
The experiences that I share with you today are not unique, and in all honesty, I am fortunate to have only suffered those “minor” experiences. It could have been worse, I could have been beaten, I could have been jailed, I could be dead. Even now, it is still not over for me. I walk around daily knowing that if I am in the wrong place at the right time, I could easily find myself -- a married man, father of three, engineer, and business owner in Norwich -- in my father’s shoes.
Photos courtesy of Assured Quality Homecare
The racism buck did not stop at my father’s generation, and it has not stopped at mine. Since my daughter was four years old (she is now 8), I have had to console and explain to her why some of her classmates and in other cases, kids in her children’s ministry class, didn’t want to play with her because she has “brown skin.”
If I were to invite you to a family gathering and you were to speak with my relatives and ask them about their experience, you could write several books. If racism and police brutality against my family is not dead and we live in New England, how much more is happening in the other parts of the country where whole communities and elected officials are openly racist?
I am a 35-year-old, married black man, with three kids, a degree in mechanical engineering, with no criminal record, a volunteer at my church, and my wife and I are business owners and I still experience racism living here in New London County.
Racism is real and ever-present. Until we are willing to accept that truth, we will not be able to bring the change and healing that our black community and this country needs to move forward. I hope that by reading this letter, it will help you see the reality of what our black American community across the country, including New London County, faces so that you can join the much-needed conversations to bring change in our country and communities.
Click here to learn more about Assured Quality Homecare.
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By Elijah Manning
As our nation continues to grapple with sins of the past, and finds ways to change our future for the better, there is one specific area that needs attention on a national level, but can start locally. I’m not talking policing, or equal housing, or so many other issues that have rightfully given us pause. To me, it starts with one important piece, and this is most important for children in the Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities. It starts with inclusive truth in education.
When Black Lives Matter again took center stage, inequities, and inequalities that have been rampant in these communities were highlighted. The statement that has resonated the most, and became commonplace with many people was, “I never learned about that.” This statement came from many learned people, who began to realize they were missing very important pieces of their education. The missing pieces usually involved the learning about BIPOC, woman, and many other “minority” groups.
Why are so many people missing something that should be taught regularly? Perhaps there is no singular, simplistic answer, but can be summed up in the words of spoken word poet, Regie Gibson, speaking on America’s relationship with its past. He said, “I think our problem as Americans is that we actually hate history, so we can’t really connect the dots. What we love is nostalgia. We love to remember things exactly the way they didn’t happen. History itself is often an indictment. And people? We hate to be indicted.”
In communities around our country and even the world, we started to realize how much we missed. How much we relied on our friends in said “minority” groups to give the education completion that many never sought. For example, Christopher Columbus. We are taught the glorified version of who he was, but history leaves out the terrible things he did. That leaves us incomplete. It leaves us with half truths, and when we acquire new information from new sources, and new perspectives, we are left wondering why we were not given the full story.
It breeds within us a discontentment that may never be reversed, due to our mistrust of the system that was set up to teach us, but hid the truth.
This is the tip of the iceberg. We are awake to Juneteenth, and the story of what actually happened in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Anger over Aunt Jemima, the stereotype on the pancake and syrup label for years, no longer there. Some searched the history of minstrel shows and “Mammy” and learned about Nancy Green. If they had been taught who she was they would have realized why the label should have been changed years ago.
Instead some fought about it and fought about Columbus statues, or Confederate general statues and flags, and many other things. This goes back to one crucial piece of information — we are not taught all the many perspectives of American history.
"People have decided to say 'I don’t see color,' and while this may have the best intentions, it does more harm. If you don’t see my color then you don’t see all of me. You are missing parts of what make me unique and what makes me, me. You are missing an opportunity to learn from me and allow my life to help yours and denying me the opportunity in reverse."
We have opportunities to grow as a nation by not limiting what we teach. We grow individually, but not always collectively. By not learning about all the accomplishments of the variety of people who have contributed positively to this country, we do a disservice to the work they did, and it limits our understandings of one another.
If we expanded our curricula to be more inclusive and teach all “minority” achievements, it may help to cross our divides as people. And limit fear of each other. We are more than us vs. them. We are a collection of differences, our experiences. A collection of our ancestors, and our communities. As we all have differences, learning those differences allows us to realize what makes us different makes us great.
People have decided to say “I don’t see color,” and while this may have the best intentions, it does more harm. If you don’t see my color then you don’t see all of me. You are missing parts of what make me unique and what makes me, me. You are missing an opportunity to learn from me and allow my life to help yours and denying me the opportunity in reverse.
This is no different than missing parts of our history. If you aren’t taught the reason for the Civil War was majority slavery, or that George Washington had teeth in his mouth that used to be the teeth of slaves. Or you’ve never read “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”, by Frederick Douglass, or haven’t learned the important work of Investigative Journalist Ida B. Wells. And learning about space and NASA is incomplete if Valerie Johnson isn’t discussed.
We need to teach the advancements of minorities, as well as the setbacks faced. The importance of landmark Supreme Court Decisions, such as Brown v. Board of Education, Mendez v. Westminster, and the legislation that was passed as a result. Teach the Trail of Tears, teach about Japanese Internment Camps, The Fugitive Slave Act, The Tuskegee Experiment, and so many others.
I could fill an overwhelming number of pages giving full accounts of all the African Americans, Latinx, women, Natives, and other minorities that have made significant contributions to the America we all know and love. Because we love it, it is our responsibility to do justice to the people who have come before and have made advancements, or positive changes. That have invented and solved, explored and written, ran from slavery, or ran for office, have challenged our thinking, and taught us new ways to think. Have fought for freedom, or helped save a life.
I believe so much in this that I, along with others in the state, have founded a Facebook group that is dedicated to making these changes come about in our school systems. It is called the “CT Coalition for Educational Justice and a Culturally Responsive Curriculum.” We have members from all over the state as well as people from outside of our state looking to help us and themselves. We organize our information so it is readily available, we have resources dedicated to teaching, and training, and learning.
We have a “Roll Call” where you can say what school system you are part of, and we have people willing to help consolidate resources to best share. We are looking to add more things community based, and communications based within the near future. If you would like to be a part, or learn more, find us on Facebook.
It is up to us, all of us, too change things as they are currently, and make a better way forward for all. History, in particular, isn’t about teaching only positives. It is equally important to teach negatives. This gives us a complete picture. With that complete picture, we are granted the opportunity to make a decision how we feel about certain individuals, certain time periods, certain laws, certain cultures, and more.
I will sum up with two important quotes from Frederick Douglass. The first is about slaves: “Knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave.” The second quote pertains to teaching children: “It is easier to build strong children, than to repair broken men.” If we teach our children a more inclusive education today, they will lead all of us to a better tomorrow.
Click here to find Black-owned bookstores in Connecticut.
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By Meghan Brennan, Connecticut Small Business Development Center
The Connecticut Small Business Development Center (CTSBDC) provides no-cost business advising to small business owners and entrepreneurs to start, grow and thrive in Connecticut.
Our professional staff of 18 Business Advisors offers confidential and expert business advising to small business owners and entrepreneurs to overcome challenges and reach their goals.
From the entrepreneur looking for help developing their business plan, to the experienced business owner who is perhaps looking to pivot their business at this time, CTSBDC Business Advisors have the expertise you can count on.
Our business advising includes not only an assessment of business plans, but access to resources and tools to grow business, such as:
“Working with my advisor was easy, fun, and a great experience. For other small business owners considering working with the CTSBDC, it will be one of the smartest things you do.”
Through our connections with various traditional and non-traditional lending institutions, we help business owners get access to capital when it is needed most.
Registering for advising services is at no-cost to small business owners. After submitting an initial inquiry, business owners will be connected with a Business Advisor who will work closely with them to understand their business. We want to help ensure business owners have all the tools they need to make sure their business succeeds.
We understand that small businesses may be facing unprecedented challenges at this time and we are here to help.
The CTSBDC is located at 222 Pitkin St, East Hartford, CT 06108. Learn more by clicking here, watching this video or on Facebook by clicking here.
The Connecticut Small Business Development Center exists as a partnership between the US Small Business Administration, Connecticut’s Department of Economic and Community Development, and UCONN’s School of Business.
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By Brenda De Los Santos
When Tiffany Shultz’s son was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis (MG), an incurable neurological autoimmune disease in 2016, she had no idea that it would lead her to opening her incredibly popular new Pawcatuck, Connecicut vegan cupcake and ice cream shop, Dutch’s.
In 2018, Shultz, who has followed a vegan diet for over eight years, was fundraising for MG, and decided to offer vegan cupcakes in exchange for donations. People loved them, and Shultz, who always dreamed of opening a restaurant, decided to pursue her own business selling her vegan confections. She named it Dutch’s, which is her son Jake’s nickname.
Featuring classic cupcake flavors like chocolate and vanilla, a rotating monthly menu that has included strawberry shortcake, Biscoff Boston cream, and lavender Earl Grey cupcakes as well as vegan soft serve ice cream, Dutch’s, which opened it’s brick and mortar location in July of this year, has proven to be a success. Their bakery case sells out regularly, and their vegan soft serve has been an unexpected hit as well. “It was kind of meant to be a side item and not a main menu item,” says Shultz, "but there are a lot of people that want that and it’s been super popular.”
Initially, Shultz would burn the midnight oil baking her cupcakes overnight after working a shift at her full time job as an 911 dispatcher, and sold her cupcakes at local farmers markets. Then, she started offering them at the now-closed Cafe Otis in Norwich, and La Belle Aurore in Niantic. Online orders followed, thanks to La Belle Aurore, who also gave her use of their kitchen to bake in, offering their location as a pickup point for her customers.
In December 2019, Shultz didn’t know what kind of future Dutch’s had, as her son faced a health crisis and her business was put on hold while he was hospitalized. By February, he was back home and doing well, and Shultz was gearing up to finally open a brick and mortar shop in Groton with the help of an SBA loan. However, the March day she signed the lease for her new location was the same day that the state of Connecticut announced shut downs due to COVID-19. With the SBA not fulfilling loans during the initial uncertainty that the pandemic brought, Shultz’s plans were brought to a dead stop. Shultz explains, “We didn’t know anything about COVID. Moving forward they didn’t know how an SBA loan would work, so I went back to work [as a dispatcher] full time in New London.”
But then in May, her business advisor called her and let her know her deal was still on the table, if she wanted it. She started her search for locations anew, and stumbled onto a Facebook Marketplace listing for a location in Pawcatuck with a commercial kitchen, equipment included. Shultz says, that it “seemed like scam,” but she went to look at it anyway. “I thought it wouldn’t be anything, but there was a full kitchen, I just had to bring in furniture and mixers.” Feeling more comfortable about taking the risk of opening a new location in the midst of a pandemic, she initially thought it would be used as a kitchen only, but as she moved forward, it spun into storefront for her cupcakes. And, feeling the supportive and friendly vibe of the neighborhood, she thought, what if we did ice cream here too?
Having had her eye on the certified vegan gourmet ice cream cones made by woman-owned and Brooklyn-based The Konery for some time, Dutch’s serves soy-based vegan soft-serve that is as, if not more, delicious than it’s dairy-based counterparts. Cones are served with unlimited toppings, and they also offer floats, milkshakes, and a secret menu that social media followers are privy to.
Shultz credits the universal appeal of cupcakes with helping her to spread the word that vegan food is delicious. While many of her customers have plant-based diets and are so excited to have a place to go where they can walk in and choose anything on the menu, there are also plenty who are not vegan. “I’ve seen every demographic from every walk of life come in here and they all have a different reason for doing it,” she says, “[Vegan food] can be delicious and fun and photo worthy.”
Even despite that, Shultz has been blown away by the neighborhood support she has seen, including a philanthropic community member who introduced her to the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, and even bought her a new oven when the oven in the shop broke a day before their grand opening. Support from customers has been overwhelming too, with Shultz saying she was not mentally prepared for how busy they would be. “If there’s a dope place that has good vegan food, I’ll drive an hour, but it’s insane to me that people will come an hour to come see us — it’s absolutely insane,” she says, “I thought there was a need for it but I didn’t know what the demand was.”
“Living out my dream is not something I thought people like me did. I’ve taken a little from every place I’ve worked and every boss I had that I enjoyed and put that into Dutch’s. I want it to be the best cupcake and ice cream you’ve ever had.”
With vegan diets becoming increasingly popular in the U.S., Shultz is part of an ever-growing cohort for whom the environment, animal rights and health are at the forefront of their decisions to follow a plant-based diet. Shultz explains “From what I’ve seen, I don’t believe our bodies are meant to ingest dairy or animal products. As somebody who has cut those things out you feel the difference. Something is better when you start eating more fruits and vegetables.” With that ethos, she focuses on quality ingredients, like high-quality vegan dark chocolate, plant butter, house made sauces and fresh fruits. She spends the time needed to whip frosting and batter so the final product is light and cakes are super fluffy.
When asked about how people see Dutch’s, she thinks that customers may be surprised, either because they are vegan and haven’t been able to find great vegan desserts locally or because they are not vegan and were expecting to not like it. She says they will be elated to have have somewhere to come in and not have to modify every order, and they will feel welcome. Shultz tries to greet every customer who walks into the shop, and strives to treat them like guests in her home and wants her customers to constantly feel appreciated.
When thinking about the future of her business, Shultz looks back to it’s beginnings as a fundraiser for myasthenia gravis. “It all started for MG,” she says, “and I still regularly donate to them personally.” She wants to start doing fundraisers, with something on the horizon next year in June, which is Myasthenia Gravis Awareness Month. She also hopes to be able to support local hospitals, who have made an impact on her family as well.
“Living out my dream is not something I thought people like me did,” Shultz says. “I’ve taken a little from every place I’ve worked and every boss I had that I enjoyed and put that into Dutch’s. I want it to be the best cupcake and ice cream you’ve ever had.”
Dutch's is located at 2 Prospect Street, Pawcatuck, CT. Their hours are 12:00-8:00pm, Thursday through Saturday. Learn more on their website, Facebook or Instagram.
By Sarah Thompson
It’s been quite a “season” for Lillard Royal Lewis, Jr.
Also known as “Chef Jay,” Lewis is a world-renowned chef, an insightful food philosopher, a published author and a philanthropist. He applies his philosophy and global vision of food sustainability and health disparities, plant-based economics and corporate responsibility to his Connecticut-based business, which is 100% Black-owned. His many products, which include the Baby J’s Spice label, are all driven toward two central philosophical pillars of his corporate structure: sustainability and diversity in education.
While his gourmet spice line has launched him into a class all his own, his journey started as a private chef to the stars, preparing meals for R&B legends and performers including Carl Thomas, K. Michelle, Smokey Robinson, Al B. Sure!, Styles P and Gregory Osbourne. Over the years, some clients turned into significant friends and mentors—including legendary actor and comedian John Witherspoon and business icon Curtis Robinson. Both have provided Lewis with invaluable professional guidance.
“Some of the first people to try my spices before they were even labeled were Smokey Robinson, John Witherspoon and Soledad O’Brien,” he shared. “They tasted my food, sampled the original spice blends and they were like wow, you’ve got to bottle this!”
Lewis knew early on that what would set his business apart was research and development of proprietary intellectual property. He wanted to own components and raw resources used to create in his industry.
“In the culinary world, spices and spice blends are to the culinarian as gold is to the watchmaker or platinum is to the jeweler,” he explained. “Spices are immutable commodities in my profession. Unlike raw material commodities, spice blends can be created and for the creative mind—opportunities will always abound.”
Inspired by stories of spice traders throughout Africa and Asia, Lewis began to create various herb and seasoning blends—almost daily! Eventually, he created an array of reliably delicious spice blends that were hit when used for exclusive dishes for his private clients.
"I take my products around the world, around the country and around the state and use our resources to educate on social and corporate responsibility as well as feed hungry people."
What followed was the incorporation of his business, Fūd, Inc. Built completely from the ground up and self-funded, Lewis specifically chose to incorporate his business in Connecticut because he believed in how positive the future could look.
“This is our state,” he shared. “We must invest in ourselves and in our children’s future.”
And it has always been his two young boys, Jayden and Jameson, who have been by his side as his builds his company.
“Ever since I’ve started this business, they’ve been there every step of the way,” he said. “They taste-tested and helped develop the spices. I remember bringing them to the Secretary of the State’s office, meeting Denise Merrill while I was trying to set up my business, and being there when I closed the deal with Geissler’s—they were right there with their pens and papers, with their hands raised. I think it’s a phenomenal way to teach my sons what it means to be a Black-owned business.”
Lewis and his boys are delivering some phenomenal products to people all across Connecticut and beyond. Now featured at grocery stores across Connecticut and Massachusetts, Baby J’s Errr-Thang Spice—which, according to Lewis’s sons, goes great on steak and chicken—has become a household hit.
Photo courtesy of Chef Jay
Geissler’s Supermarket, a New England-based family-owned chain founded in 1923, saw value in partnering with Lewis’ brand right away.
“We took this last year as an opportunity with Geissler’s—who has been an amazing business partner with us—to understand how retail works, how having a product in grocery stores works,” explained Lewis. “It’s a field rife with challenges but enormous benefits if one is willing to put in the time, gather and listen to advisors and work toward excellence. I wanted my sons to see this process up close and appreciate what it takes to be an entrepreneur.”
Following a logistics and strategy meeting with Rob Rybrick, co-owner of Geissler’s, Lewis’s son shared that he was “going to grow up to be a genius just like Daddy.” Soon after, Baby J’s Errr-Thang Spice arrived on Geissler’s shelves in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
“The response from the community has been enormous. We’ve been getting calls for product all the way from Texas to Colorado and we’ve even shipped to California,” he said. “We have a couple of cases going overseas. We’ve gotten a really good response.” While Lewis is grateful for this uptick in business, he doesn’t want to simply benefit from the moment.
“It’s a good opportunity to fundraise,” he explained. “If we are going to get this influx in new customers and revenue streams, I think that it’s a socially responsible and corporately responsible thing to do to take some of that and reinvest it in the community so that my sons have some more tools than I did.”
Lewis has already given to his son’s schools and is currently forming an initiative that focuses on diversity in education, inside and outside the classroom.
Every bottle of Baby J’s says, “of food and philosophy,” which mirrors the heart behind Lewis’s business and the transition he’s making from the catering world to retail, business consultation and social justice education.
“In my most recent trip to Ghana, I lectured at Webster University about sustainability and corporate responsibility to a group of undergraduate and grad students,” he shared. “That’s where the company is going. I take my products around the world, around the country, around the state, and use our resources to educate on social and corporate responsibility as well feed hungry people.”
Lewis, who has a degree in Philosophy and African American Studies from Central Connecticut State University, stresses the importance of “balancing the scales” when it comes to business leadership and decision-making.
“Everything has been so data driven lately, but what we’re seeing in real time is how data-driven solutions are not necessarily the best solutions for the times,” he said. “What we need in board rooms across America is more wisdom, we need more social sciences and philosophy. Students with Liberal Arts degrees are, in my opinion, where the leaders of the future are going to be coming from. Today’s corporations, large and small, need more empathy, maturity and to be more social justice-minded.”
Lewis believes that the best way to start the day is with positivity. Often, that positivity comes from his sons, who he refers to as “living life coaches.”
“My sons have been such a phenomenal source of positivity first thing in the morning,” he shared. “When you start off with your sons believing in you—believing in themselves—and having their own ideas for the business, that’s a help!”
And, Lewis says he feels like a genius when he sees his boys wanting to start their own businesses.
What’s next? You guessed it—a new Baby J’s spice blend called Genius, which will feature young boys and girls of color on the bottles. Lewis will also feature the youth on the bottles in blog posts, sharing why they are geniuses, ultimately benefiting a charity as well.
One thing is for sure, with the next generation following in his footsteps, the Baby J’s brand is going to be just one of many great businesses to come from the Lewis family.
Find bottles of Baby J’s at Geissler’s Supermarkets across Connecticut and Massachusetts. Find locations here. Click here to connect with Chef Jay on Facebook and here on Instagram. A website featuring Baby J's Spices with purchase options will be available soon.
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