By Alicia Brown
Khaiim Kelly, better known as RapOet, does it all—he is a creativity and culture teacher, poet, artist, inspirational public speaker and even Hartford’s first city troubadour. In all he does, his community-minded spirit and exceptional talent leads the way.
Originally from New York City but now with deep roots in Hartford, Connecticut, Kelly is an international Hip-Hop artist known as Self Suffice. He has performed around the world with Pulitzer Prize poet Alice Walker and Grammy-winning MC Common and his positive use of rap music has been recognized by former President Obama’s Champions of Change, The New York Times, NPR and others.
The arts have always been a central part of Kelly’s life. As a child, he rapped in a way that he self-describes as “just sounds and noises” that eventually became words, then sentences that flowed into structure, timing and something more. This evolution of using words as powerful tools for learning in new ways has fueled Kelly’s mission. He loves making the mundane interesting, and helping his students transform challenges into understandable, consumable art.
“It isn’t the conscious, it’s the subconscious that makes it interesting,” he shared. “I take something people should know about and make it fun.”
Kelly fights for peace with words and lyrics and brings that passion to the classroom at colleges including Yale, Trinity and other arts programs across the globe. In a welcomed yet somewhat unconventional way, Kelly uses Hip-Hop to help students grasp concepts in a fun and engaging way. Central to his highly in-demand RapOetry Workshop and Rap ‘n Rhythmetic lessons “are alignment, access, and integration,” as he puts it. In other words, when the RapOet is invited to instruct or perform, participants can expect to be enlightened.
“It isn’t the conscious, it’s the subconscious that makes it interesting. I take something people should know about and make it fun.”
He teaches with his whole body and soul—something that’s evident to anyone who has had a chance to sit in on a class or be in his audience.
RapOet’s MIFT program—which stands for “Making it Full Time” helps artists and creatives get that “extra fuel for their rocket” as he describes, to remind them of the power of art in and of itself. A coaching program built for artists by artists, it focuses on turning “what you love to do into what you actually do for work”—words Kelly certainly lives by.
Among the many creative talents he shares with the world, Kelly also designs clothing and merchandise, which are available on his website. His favorite? Not surprisingly, his “Black history is the root of all history” gear.
In all he does, Kelly leaves an impressionable mark. While he could have chosen many paths and taken opportunities presented to him that would further his personal success at the expense of pushing positive rap aside, he has dedicated his life to bettering the world through the art of positive rap and poetry—he’s a true change-maker.
Find RapOet on Instagram, Facebook or his website. Kelly is available for speaking engagements, performances and workshops.
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By Alicia Brown
Latasha Townes, founder, director and owner of 501(c)3 non-profit Hartford Lending Hands, is on a mission to help families during the holidays and beyond—especially those who cannot afford to purchase toys, groceries or clothing.
In 2013, Townes experienced a low during the Christmas season. She had signed up for a program to receive items for her son but was surprised at the lack of care for the items children and families received. While she appreciated the program, she was disappointed.
“I knew there were other people who felt the way I did. I wanted to do something for them,” she shared. From there, Townes and her husband started to create, cultivate and grow Hartford Lending Hands in order to give back to their community in ways other charities can’t provide.
“Christmas Help for Needy Families” is one of the biggest programs Hartford Lending Hands now runs, but the organization provides assistance year-round for people who are going through hard times. Townes also hosts an “Autism & Me” group for parents who need or want information and support on working with their children, and a youth group for teens age 13 and up called “Kick the Truth” where they can come relax and enjoy being teenagers.
“Feeding Connecticut” is a new project in the works for Hartford Lending Hands. The program will provide healthy meals for those who need it most.
It’s important to Townes that the people who come to her organization for help experience respect and that their dignity is preserved. She has an immensely warm heart and many wonderful ideas for how to make a difference. Whether people are donating or asking for help, Townes is passionate about creating personal relationships with them. She doesn’t sacrifice quality when it comes to helping and taking care of others.
“We still have so much work to do for our community. But with the help of our amazing volunteers I know we can make it happen."
Hartford Lending Hands has been operating out of Townes’ parents’ home but she’s looking to find new, expanded space in Hartford. Wherever she lands, she’s sure to keep the personal connections that have been established through her organization alive and thriving.
With all Townes has created through Hartford Lending Hands, it’s clear to see that her heart is bigger than Connecticut. And she’s got her eyes set on even more.
“We still have so much work to do for our community. But with the help of our amazing volunteers I know we can make it happen. I would love to expand in the future,” said Townes. “I have so many big dreams for this!”
Hartford Lending Hands is self-funded and relies on financial support from generous donors. Click here to donate. Find Hartford Lending Hands on Facebook, Instagram, or visit their website by clicking here.
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Photos provided by Hartford Lending Hands.
By Alicia Brown
It’s that time of year again, to look for the perfect gifts to give friends, family and coworkers. Keiwana Hanley, owner of lash extension, brow tinting and beauty product business High Kei Beauty, reminds everyone to also put themselves on their gift list in the midst of the busy holiday season. After all, self-care is the greatest gift out there.
Hanley is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to boosting esteem—“konfidence” as she calls it—for people of all ages. Her motto is “accessorize with confidence” but she makes it clear that the items she sells and services she provides aren’t intended to give the confidence, but the other way around—the wearers give the items confidence. She reminds customers to never to rely on clothing or accessories give them beauty, because they are simply there to accent the beauty that already exists in the person wearing them.
Having learned how to braid hair at the age of eight from her cousin, Hanley would often give back to her community by teaching young girls how to do their own hair. Doing this helped her see how girls were gaining confidence, power and self-esteem through the knowledge she was sharing. It served as an inspiration to launch High Kei Beauty.
After struggling with what to name her business, she asked her late father for assistance.
“With his help, I woke up with a completely different name. I didn’t choose any of the options I had. My dad is Keith, and his name is scrambled through my name. That’s when I knew it was perfect.”
Having learned how to braid hair at the age of eight from her cousin, Hanley would often give back to her community by teaching young girls how to do their own hair.
Since she earned her official lash tech certification from Lash Snob in 2019, Hanley has been kicking up the glam one girl at a time. Hanley takes the time to get to know her customers and provide them with quality products with unmatched detail.
But launching High Kei Beauty wasn’t an easy path. When Hanley relocated to Connecticut in 2009 from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, college credits weren’t transferred, which caused a setback. And when she officially made Connecticut her home, she struggled to find a place that would allow her to run her business due to certification requirements. But through it all, she was determined to start a business that would spread confidence and help women look and feel their best.
High Kei Beauty provides a plethora of accessories, including hair bows for young girls, wig caps with different hairstyles, mink lashes and so much more. Seasonal items include Christmas wreaths. One of her popular products are her money catchers—adorable bags for going out on the town or for a date night. Hanley will be adding more items and bundles to her online shop for the holiday season, including double-lined beanie hats for winter. She also offers in-home beauty appointments, which can be schedule through her website.
One thing’s for sure—Hanley is here to help women keeping up with their “konfidence” this season!
Find High Kei Beauty on Facebook, Instagram or on their website. Appointments can be made through social media or by phone at (203) 802-5817.
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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 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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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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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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