By Lajeune Hollis
MGI Fire-Arms—which stands for “Mr. Gibson Instructs”—is the result of two things Ricardo Gibson loves: firearms and teaching.
For eight years, Gibson has been teaching children in Waterbury—his hometown—in grades Pre-K through eight. And, he even coaches intramural sports and women’s flag football in his community. The first in his family to graduate college, his aspirations continue to soar as he hopes to become a Waterbury school principal.
Six years ago, although he was “anti-gun” growing up, Gibson took a seat in his first pistol training class. He enjoyed it so much that he pursued his Connecticut gun license and soon after, began posting instructional videos on social media. People took notice and the likes, comments and shares began to increase, as did the inquiries for when he was going to start his own pistol instruction business.
Gibson heeded his fans’ advice and, with just five students in his first class in June 2020, he launched MGI Fire-Arms during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. His online class attendee numbers quickly grew beyond 200 from his popularity on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, and through word of mouth and his loyalty card referral program.
My love for teaching has led me to become a Licensed NRA Instructor,” shared Gibson. “Being an elementary school teacher has led to me keeping the same principles when teaching my pistol course—patience, differentiation and high expectations.”
Gibson’s courses include Pistol Permit Certification, CT Basic Permit Certification, and Shooting Refinement for advanced learners. He is also in the process of offering a Massachusetts License to Carry Certification Course. One of his most popular courses is the Utah Pistol Permit Course which covers more than 30 states. He partners with venues like The Gun Store in Connecticut to host it and everything is provided in the classroom, including fingerprints, passport photos, documentation and envelopes to mail everything off. The cost for this course is $130 and is limited to the first 10 people who sign up.
“One of my primary goals is for my students to leave the class feeling comfortable and learning something new."
All of Gibson’s instructional sessions generally last 30 minutes and he meets course participants at their chosen gun range, provides ammunitions, targets and a variety of guns to try. Following classes, if a student wants to get their CT gun license they may need to exercise some added patience. Normally it takes up to eight weeks but due to the pandemic in can take up to six months.
“One of my primary goals is for my students to leave the class feeling comfortable and learning something new,” he shared. “I want them to know that they can always use me as a resource and I’m available by phone or text.”
One of the many reasons Gibson’s classes are successful is because of his contagious enthusiasm and he recognizes that people learn differently, so he caters to each person accordingly. He has found that some people learn by seeing (visual), some by hearing (aural), some by touching (physical), some by logics (mathematical), some by Interpersonal means (social) and some by Intrapersonal means (solitary). His teaching style adapts to all learning styles.
Gibson’s students rave about his classes, sharing that their “only regret is that [they] didn’t take the class sooner,” that they “loved the class—[it’s] informative yet personal, and to the point,” and encourage that “If you’re looking for an instructor to make you feel at home, relate with you and make sure you have a great time, Ricardo is your guy!”
Most of the people who take Gibson’s courses have never even seen a firearm.
One student shared, “I brought someone with me who was unknowingly fearful and by the end of our session Ricardo educated her and got her over her fear.”
Gibson says that he is blessed but recognizes that timing is everything. During the last year, learning how to use a gun safely was high on many people’s list after witnessing disturbing national news stories like George Floyd’s death.
MGI Fire-Arms is proof that 2020 wasn’t all bad after all.
“The only way to do great work is to love what you,” shares Gibson. According to his words of wisdom, he certainly is doing great work, in many ways.
Find MGI Fire-Arms on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or on their website. Class participants must be 18 years or older and 21 years or older to obtain a Connecticut conceal permit license.
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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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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 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 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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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 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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Kim, Charles and Kerry Kincy (Photo courtesy of Kerry Kincy)
By Kerry Kincy
Inspired by my father a Black entrepreneur, and by the Black Lives Matter movement in Connecticut and across the country, I set out to learn more about the experience of being a Black business owner and the importance of community support.
What I discovered revealed a familiar and sometimes uncomfortable truth.
My father was a Black inventor, a reader and a dreamer. Charles Kincy's best ideas came during the day, driving in a brown truck, in a brown uniform and delivering brown packages. He was an entrepreneur and created small Black-owned businesses in his community his entire life. For one of those businesses, Antiklectables, he purchased and sold Black art and Black memorabilia and it continues to operate today, nine years after his passing in June 2011.
He was a successful businessman and a major contributor to the Black economy locally and beyond. A sense of agency—the intentionality for which he instilled the importance of supporting Black-owned business—was paramount to him. Ownership was always echoed in his conversations. “Owning” your history, your craft, your knowledge, your successes, and passing on your motivation to move forward in the direction of your Black ideas and dreams--those were his legacies.
Charles was adamant, standing firm on the importance of reading, and was generous with reminders to pay attention to who had paid for those books to be written. It was important for him. He understood that racism was real and that it was often hidden beneath layers of narratives, disguised as nonfiction. Charles believed that despite being enveloped in racism, it was essential to know your own value and how your value contributed to the environment around you.
I recently took to my neighborhood to explore other Black entrepreneurs in my community, to learn and discover more about the experience of being a Black business owner and the importance of community support.
Bobby Perry, my neighbor, friend and pseudo-surrogate dad was my first source. Mr. Perry, now retired, and his wife, Olivia, have owned several businesses over the years. Mrs. Perry continues to provide custom tailoring services and Mr. Perry’s food truck was one of my favorites. We chatted in his garden, like we do most summer mornings while watering his collards.
“Back in the day, I had so many people supporting me. Whenever there was something going on in town, the schools, the police events, anywhere, there was a need for good food, I would get a call. Larry McHugh, from the Chamber, was really good to me over the years and always made sure I was there. The biggest support came mostly from the white community,” he shared.
I wondered why the majority of his support came from white folks more than folks that looked like us. He said, “There were a lot of good Black customers too, but sometimes people are threatened by someone else’s successes, and don't know how to act if they think you’re getting ahead faster.” That old saying about crabs in a bucket came to mind and sadly not particular to just Black folks.
I later called to pose the question to Jessica, the Perrys’ daughter. Jessica grew up watching her parents work hard and create business opportunities that could provide for their family.
“Growing up with parents as entrepreneurs, Perry’s Groceries, Perry’s Ice Cream, Excellent Designs by Olivia (a tailoring business) and Perry’s Hot food trucks, in addition to their full-time jobs, was simply a way of life and deeply rooted in us. Being your own boss while creating a good, quality product was and is our continued focus,” Jessica said with pride.
Jessica and her daughters have followed in business, opening Queendom's Luxury Eyelash Extension line design in 2018, and later relocating to Central Florida. The business, which Jessica runs with her daughters, has grown exponentially over the last two years. She has also just recently started another business, Purpose Partners, which was launched in May and, despite the pandemic, has been well-received by the community.
For business owner Jerome Mountcastle, the risk of entrepreneurship was like stepping into the unknown. Jerome was a troubled teen, and worked for a local car dealership detailing cars. He supplemented his income, “hustling drugs in the streets” to provide for himself and keep on top of child support payments that took most, if not all, of his paycheck most weeks.
He decided to open his own detailing business, and although his first season was successful, when winter came and business dried up, he explained that he had to go back to the dealership.
“I wasn’t aware of any business resources that could help me understand how to stay in business during slow seasons, and fell short in my financial responsibilities,” he said. But he kept at it, using the skills he acquired “hustli'n’”—quality goods, customer service, dependability, loyalty and word of mouth to build his business model.
It was clear to him those same strategies could be helpful in creating a solid business plan. “I found a way to create a life for my family doing what I love to do. I had come from nothing and now my children get to see and learn about working hard, about taking positive risks, about responsibility to self and about staying humble in all of it,” he said.
Most of Jerome’s clients are between 50 and 70 years old and “mostly white people,” he laughed. I asked him why he thought his business had more support from whites in the community and he replied emphatically, “People are envious. They come work with you, see the money and think it’s easy. They quit and try and take your clients, never realizing that what I was doing was making a space for everyone to learn and feel successful. It was never just about me.”
Jerome reminded me of my dad, who has worked full-time delivering packages for UPS and spent the rest of his time creating business ideas and making them real like the shoeshine stand he built and leased to other Black men in the community to exercise their entrepreneurial dreams. Charles also designed and created underwear for men and used the nonsensical stereotypes about Black men being more endowed to boost sales. He was brilliant at taking what he saw as oppressive and racist, rethinking it in a way that gave the power back to himself and other like-minded Black and brown dreamers.
In part, I believe the paucity of witnessing and being exposed to successes in Black communities prevents Black folks from ever getting past the dream stage. We all have a dream, however the opportunities to see, learn, be exposed to and have access to Black successes are limited. The tools needed to continue to make those dreams a reality are learned and a muscle that must be exercised often.
Environment is everything and access to programs and resources to help make real, entrepreneurial dreams come true are needed now more than ever in our Black communities.
What I did discover is a common thread in my exploration of the experience of Black entrepreneurship. When asked who were their biggest supporters, the Black business people I talked to agreed that more whites than Blacks were to account for their repeat business. As a Black woman in business, I myself found the same to be true and only ever mentioned it in close company. But why?
I wanted to dig deeper and understand some of the root causes and found these two interesting reads.
Looking Beyond the Numbers: The Struggles of Black Businesses to Survive: A Qualitative Approach is a research study that aimed to use qualitative measures rather than quantitative to understand the barriers Blacks face in Black communities to be successful and sustainable.
I found a copy of a conversation that was published in Essence Magazine in 1984 between civil rights activists Audre Lorde and James Baldwin that gave me a different perspective and helped me to understand a little bit better. The conversation provides insight into the cultural structures where Blacks are already embattled in their own attempts within Black culture to escape being trapped into an Americans dream that systematically is set up to be unattainable.
In an excerpt from “Revolutionary Hope: A Conversation Between James Baldwin and Audre Lorde” the two discuss race and business.
The structures that naturally form in a culture where you're indentured in someone else’s idea of who you are, what you can be and offer the world are crumbling. The invisible biases that accompany Blacks in business are being exposed and remedying with a renewed sense of altruism. Allies are continuing to seek ways to support our Black entrepreneurs in creative ways. It’s driving positive changes across communities here and beyond. The substance of hope and faith have been evident in this new light of collective and cohesive strength the Black Lives Matter movement provides all of us.
Today, I see the biggest shift in our young people. Recent events have provided a space for healing together and a place for young Black and brown people to come together in ways that force us to look at how we fight oppression and amplify our value together.
“Seven million young people of color will have turned 18 since the last election,” wrote Dr. Melanye Price, a professor of political science at Prairie View A&M University in Texas, in her op-ed in the New York Times.
“These newly eligible voters are primed for political participation after having consumed a steady diet of videos of racially motivated shootings and stories about the kidnapping of immigrant children. But their interest in politics is also thanks to the activism of groups like Black Lives Matter. There’s much more compelling evidence that we can motivate these young people to vote,” she wrote.
Change is indeed coming and young people have created a shift in all of our perspectives on how to be more supportive for the greater good.
As kids, my sister and I would rather clean and cut greens all day, than listen to our dad’s oratories about value, ownership and power. We would begrudgingly repeat back his words and subsequently remember it in our bones: “You are royalty. Your ancestors come from royalty and you must continue to honor and uphold these truths of who we are and carry on the legacy.”
At the time, as fascinated as I was with the idea of coming from a royal family somewhere deep in the roots of our family tree, I found it hard to reconcile, since so many exchanges we shared as a family in our community and the world proved to be less than royal.
My dad went to the extent of coming up with a code word for us to say when something or someone challenged our ideas of self, our value and our truth: “Kinciditia.” It was the signal that our truth would overpower any negativity that came at us; a sort of Kryptonite for our arsenal when dealing with racism in our everyday lives.
As a kid, I never really understood why a sign that said “No Blacks, No dogs, No niggers,” would be important for his collection. I never understood his attraction to underground lithographs, prints and posters that depict Black folks as animals, in ugly blackface cartoons and always, always less-than. Today, I understand how deeply he felt about his Black experience, the experiences of Blacks in history, of how we as Black people were portrayed and how hard he worked his entire life to dismantle it. He worked equally hard his entire life to instill in us that we were valuable beyond any measure then what others set for us, and for me that has made all the difference.
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