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.
BROWSE THE SHOPBLACKCT DIRECTORY:
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.
BROWSE THE SHOPBLACKCT DIRECTORY:
By Sarah Thompson
Tyshawn “FREEK” Robinson’s life hasn’t always easy. From his father being killed by a police officer when Robinson was just one month old to being arrested later in his young adulthood, his environment didn’t always provide opportunities for him to thrive. But now he’s working to flip the script about what it means to grow up in the inner city through his firearms training business Go Platinum Services in Hartford, Connecticut.
“Where I grew up, there were a lot of men going to jail or ending up dead and I didn’t want to be either,” shared Robinson. “There’s a negative perception of Black men with guns and there’s just not enough of us with gun ownership. Most of our parents didn’t want guns in the house unless you were a police office or something of the sort. So, with the lack of knowledge and the environment with no opportunities, certain people want what other people have and then you put a firearm in their hands and bad things happen. I didn’t want that stigma to continue. Every time someone takes my class, it prevents another person from going to jail from carrying a firearm illegally.”
In addition to his jobs as a bounty hunter and working with youth, Robinson took a gamble and launched his new business in August 2020, right in his hometown of Hartford.
“I chose to specifically keep it in Hartford because I believe that people coming from the inner city need this as much as anybody coming from the suburbs or another city,” he said. He hopes to soon work full-time for himself, which he says won’t be long from now.
Go Platinum Services offers firearms instruction every weekend, which include pistol permit classes and refresher classes. Participants receive specialized instruction and the ability to purchase a firearm upon completion of his courses. Robinson is also available during the week to accommodate participants’ schedules.
"You can come from the inner city and certain environments and you can make it out
“The class isn’t just about the guns. It’s about comfort and confidence when you’re dealing with firearms. I try to bring that comfort level out of people of all walks of life,” shared Robinson. “Whether you’re top in the military or you’re a novice, I want you to be confident and comfortable and most importantly, understand the dangers but enjoy what comes with the knowledge.”
Robinson says that some people take his classes—which are $120—for protection and safety, and some for sport. Some people have no idea about firearms and don’t want to touch them because they think something is going to go wrong.
“In reality that’s not the case,” explained Robinson. “Once you understand the firearm, it takes away all of the jitters and the misunderstanding or lack of information and avoids mistakes from happening.”
In other words, Robinson is helping shift fear to confidence. Go Platinum Services also helps people get their criminal records cleaned.
He also believes it’s important to have the option to be taught by somebody who looks like you.
“Coming from environments that I come from, when you have people that have the top-ranked jobs or they don’t look like us, I thought it was important that people have an option. And I choose to do it my way,” he shared. “I didn’t jump in to do it anyone else’s way. I wasn’t going to pretend who I was. I am who I am. I get it all the time – I’m covered in tattoos, I wear jewelry, but when I go into class, I want people to understand that this is a passion for me. I am all in. We’re going to laugh, we’re going to joke, but more importantly, you’re going to get that education. Leaving with a smile and a gun is not a bad deal—so it works out!”
Robinson’s passion runs deep and he’s bringing positivity to his community.
“I want to keep inspiring people. Kids want to do better things in life and want it now so some will choose the streets,” he explained. “My idea is that you can get all of those things that you dream of and still be 100% legit. You can come from the inner city and certain environments and you can make it out and become something. And you can do it your way. You don’t have to let your circumstance define you. I had a record. I got my record clean. It’s how bad you want it. I’ve been stabbed 11 times because of that ‘life’—so I understand it all and I want to change the stigma. I want to help as many people as I can to change. There is a way, and I can help you – as long as you’re willing to do the work.”
Go Platinum Services is located at 808 Windsor Street in Hartford. Learn more about Go Platinum Services on Instagram and Facebook or call or text 860.897.5195 to inquire about classes.
BROWSE THE SHOPBLACKCT DIRECTORY:
9/18/2020 1 Comment
Connecticut-Based Black Entrepreneur Creates New Employment Opportunity for All Americans
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
BROWSE THE SHOPBLACKCT.COM DIRECTORY:
Photo courtesy of The Key
By Jaclyn Wilson
Inspired by the intimate interactions she had with booksellers as a conference attendee, Hartford, Connecticut resident and UCONN grad Khamani Harrison created The Key Bookstore in 2018. The Key is an Afrocentric mobile and online bookstore with carefully curated book lists focused on African American history, environmentalism, entrepreneurship, and spirituality. Harrison calls these subjects the four pillars of her business, using each as a guide when building a list of books. “Curation,” Harrison explains, “is everything.”
Photo by Angel Thompson Photography
Her booming business and thriving online community prove Harrison knows exactly what readers want. Harrison notes, “Some bookstores are missing the connection to the soul of a book reader.” Armed with that knowledge and dialed into the desires of readers like herself and her friends and neighbors, when she first began bookselling in 2018 Harrison would set up her mobile bookstore at community events, festivals, open mic nights, and pop up events, bringing knowledge right to the community, and providing books intended to enrich their lives.
By building a dynamic, interactive space for online reader discussion, Harrison is filling the void left by traditional brick-and-mortar booksellers—a void that is filled when a reader is able to go online and interact with others who have also just read the same book and want to discuss the book’s content, pose questions, talk about their favorite parts, or get clarification.
Like all businesses, Harrison’s has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting shut down, and is currently operating exclusively online at keybookstore.com. During the pandemic and since Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25, Harrison’s business has “exploded.”
Harrison explains, “People are looking for answers to take action with…the marches have led people to ask themselves ‘what do I need to know, how can I learn it, and where do I get it from?' The answer to that has been Black-owned bookstores like The Key.” Harrison also notes that part of the explosion of orders and subscriptions she’s seen is also due to The Key’s “White Ally Book List” that went viral on Twitter 10 days after George Floyd’s death, and was then picked up by Buzzfeed.
Photo by Angel Thompson Photography
“People are looking for answers to take action…the marches have led people to ask themselves ‘what do I need to know, how can I learn it, and where do I get it from?' The answer to that has been Black-owned bookstores like The Key.”
Photo courtesy of The Key
Harrison includes White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo on the “White Ally Book List” and notes that it is currently her best-selling title. A New York Times bestseller as well, White Fragility explores how the reactions of White people when confronted with issues of race can ultimately serve to maintain racial inequality. Other titles on the “White Ally Book List” include the most lauded and celebrated Black voices of our time, such as The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, Citizen by Claudia Rankine, and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
They Key also offers other insightful book lists about the Black experience, such as Black365, which includes titles like Survival Strategies for Africans in America by Anthony Browder, The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B DuBois, while the Black History 101 book list recommends The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Narrative of the Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, and The African Origin of Civilization by Cheikh Anta Diop, now in its 30th printing.
No matter what readers may set out to learn, the book lists curated by The Key offer readers sophisticated recommendations and a dynamic online community with whom they can discover these books, and perhaps a new perspective on life.
BROWSE THE SHOPBLACKCT DIRECTORY:
By Kerry Kincy
Yes, it’s Capital with an “a” and no, it’s not a spelling error (for all our "Grammarly grammars" out there…LOL). Even though Capital Ice Cream is located on Capitol Avenue and is just two blocks from the state Capitol Building, the owners envisioned opening a place that was reflective of the beauty, positivity and diversity of the people of the capital of Connecticut—Hartford. That said, they take great pride on being affectionately referred to as the “The Happy Place in Hartford”. Chantell Kelly, who co-owns this sweet little magical place with her husband Shane, says she gets asked that question about the spelling a lot. According to Kelly, it was intentional—because when you dream you’re supposed to dream big! We hope to expand throughout the city of Hartford and beyond!
Kelly and her husband are Hartford residents. They saw a need in their community and decided to fill it.
As a Kindergarten teacher, Kelly’s students would always share stories of going to far away places to have ice cream. As a parent, she would also take her own children beyond city lines into West Hartford and other towns for ice cream. Always aspiring to open a community business, she and her husband thought how nice it would be to open an ice cream shop that local children and families could enjoy and be proud of right in their own neighborhood.
Voila! Dreams can come true if you only just believe.
She believes her little shop, with more time and resources, can be recreated in many towns across the state.
On an otherwise invisible strip just beyond the Bushnell Performing Arts Center and before the once famous Capitol Records—another hidden gem that for years stored and sold albums that would delight only the serious of vinyl collectors—this jewel is worth “the dig.” I mean, what’s more exciting than finding a hidden gem? Capital Ice Cream is definitely a treasure—glimmering and sparkling with happiness.
“I love that little brown girls and boys come inside and see someone that looks like them, that I can be a role model...It feels good being able to nourish their ideas of self and help them to see in real time, that they too can achieve anything they put their heart into.”
As soon as I walked up to the building I was taken back to my childhood when the biggest problems in the world were what flavor of ice cream to choose. Although only about 250 square feet of frontage and maybe 250 square feet more inside, the rainbow of colors all over the shop is a feast in and of itself for the eyes. Handmade tulle cones stacked high upon each other in the window complement and offer a preview of what lies ahead and colorful umbrellas and metal stools circle the outdoor tables.
I learned that Kelly enlisted the help of local artists and nearby University of Hartford art students to create the detailed menu artwork on the walls. Capital Ice Cream’s staff only adds to the brightness that emanates from this tiny shop.
The sign on the door instructed that only three customers were allowed inside at a time. However, I think even if current times didn’t require six feet of space, any more than three feet would not provide the space needed to peruse the choices that the colorful menu just above eye level displayed. I was thrilled to be able to take it all in slowly. Just being inside Capital Ice Cream is its own enchanting experience.
As I scanned the menu, my eyes settled in and focused on the Kindness Cones. This gentle reminder in selflessness encapsulates exactly what Kelly’s intentions are and why she chose this particular location for her shop. Customers are invited to purchase a kindness cone at a discounted rate and leave a handwritten note on a paper cut out to “pay it forward.”
“So often children from the neighborhood stop and peek into the shop, sometimes just wanting to say hello, simply curious, and sometimes humbly ask for a cup of water,” shared Kelly. “The cones are for these children and families that come, sometimes ordering two cones for a family of five to share.”
We can all appreciate that not many families have extra income to purchase an ice cream cone. “Pay it forward” kindness spreads and is as delicious as the selection of Capital Ice Cream’s toppings. Of course, a Kindness Cone was included in my order and honestly, made my cone taste even better.
When creating her business model and wanting to offer top quality products, she realized the price point might fall outside the income levels of some families in the neighborhood, and rather than sacrifice quality and continue to maintain a successful business, this was a way to make her amazing ice cream accessible and available to everyone.
For those of us who cannot handle the speed at which this amazing “real” ice cream demands on a hot summer day, the cup and spoon “just in case” was a smart idea. I realized I couldn’t lick and hold another cone—and wear my mask simultaneously—so I quickly rushed outside to hand over my friend’s cone and sit down.
As I enjoyed my sweet treat, I watched as a little boy, maybe all of three years old, held tightly onto his cone as he and his dad were exiting. His eyes were filled with anticipation as he waited patiently to remove his mask to taste. I felt it deep in my heart: this new normal is not feeling normal at all.
Thankfully, Kelly and her sweet shop are helping create a place of comfort and inspiration despite these challenging times.
“I love that little brown girls and boys come inside and see someone that looks like them, that I can be a role model,” she said. “Both children and adults are surprised to learn that a Black woman owns this sweet little place. It feels good being able to nourish their ideas of self and help them to see in real time, that they too can achieve anything they put their heart into.”
Capital Ice Cream
389 Capitol Avenue
Hartford, CT 06016
BROWSE THE SHOPBLACKCT DIRECTORY: