Black entrepreneurs raise awareness as they look to the future

More On:

at work

Businesses that rely on relationships are booming
amid pandemic

Can I tell my micromanaging boss to back off?

Don’t give up Super Bowl 2021 squares: Why workplace rituals are important

This could be the perfect time for your career Plan B

During Black History Month, a time to honor pivotal moments large and small, these local, prominent entrepreneurs reflect on how they forge their successful paths.

Create dialogue

Peloton riders need no introduction to Chelsea resident Ally Love. The wildly popular indoor-cycling instructor is also the in-arena host of the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center. Her passion for empowering women, nonbinary and gender-fluid individuals led her to create the motivational Web site Love Squad, “a space where real conversations and real change can occur through moderated panels and open discussions.”

“Change comes through conversation,” said Love.

Much of her inspiration comes from American abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth, whom she learned about as a girl in school. “I remember telling my mother, ‘I want to be Sojourner Truth,’ ” she said. Truth’s perseverance in fighting for racial equality and women’s rights were especially alluring. “She symbolized everything I thought a woman was,” said Love.

Since then, Love has sought to align herself with organizations whose thinking lines up with her own, such as Peloton, which donated $500,000 to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund last year in support of their racial justice initiatives. Not only that, “at Peloton, we celebrate diversity in the music we choose, in the faces of our instructors and in our thoughts,” Love said.

It’s the kind of thing that she believes will extend elsewhere. “In 2020, we began to recognize systemic injustice. As more internal work is done, we will begin to have epiphanies and realize that the system is broken and needs to be rebuilt.”

Don’t take no for an answer

When Sunny Anderson has a good idea, be prepared to open a door, come along for the ride, or move out of the way.

Aside from co-starring in Food Network’s Emmy-nominated show “The Kitchen,” the host was a senior airman in the US Air Force, a radio personality, a caterer, a best-selling cookbook author, inventor of the Infladium inflatable snack stadium featured at Party City, and will soon be master of ceremonies on Food Network’s “Easter Basket Challenge.” All by age 45.
Anderson doesn’t let the color of her skin be a barrier.

“When you’re a black female, you have to deal with stereotypes, whether you’re pitching an idea or you’re the first black woman someone has ever worked for,” she said. If someone puts up an obstacle, “it’s hard to know if it’s because they don’t like you, your idea, or if it’s something else.” Her advice? Don’t take no for an answer, and “keep walking back into the room.”

This is something Anderson saw her father do. He was one of two black students in his medical school class, and in the minority again years later when he decided to become a radiologist.

“I did my homework sitting beside my dad as he did his homework. It was empowering,” she said. “The reason that I can get so many things done is that I saw it happening in my family. But, if I had seen a black woman become vice president of the United States when I was younger, just imagine.”

Have a voice

Ali Thomas comes from a family of firsts. His grandfather, Franklin A. Thomas, was the first African-American to captain an Ivy League basketball team at Columbia University, and the first black president of the Ford Foundation. Ali followed in the family footsteps as the first New York City resident and the first black player on the University of Notre Dame’s hockey team.

Thomas said he never felt uncomfortable in a white world. “My parents taught me to be comfortable everywhere,” he said.

Now 26, Thomas is the co-founder of Hampton Water, the wine company he started with Jesse Bongiovi, Jon Bon Jovi’s son. They produce a blend of rosé using French grapes, which Wine Spectator called a standout.

However, it wasn’t until the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis last May that Thomas realized he had been “numb” to some of the prejudices and injustices that people of color encounter all too frequently. “I had always let things slide,” he said.

He began to look more closely at the harmful things that were happening. The realization led to soul-searching and deep conversations with his family as they marched together in Black Lives Matter protests.

“I now know how important it is for the voices of all black and brown people to be heard. They can no longer be ignored,” he said.

Document your world

Brooklyn resident Dominick Lewis has always been passionate about photography. Documenting the world around him through a camera lens brings him alive, but walking into camera stores often hurt his soul. “Blacks are mostly not welcome in them. [Store employees] give you crazy looks, they follow you around, there’s no space to ask questions. They want you to buy something or leave,” said the 26-year-old.

Lewis figured that the best way to make a change was to open a store that catered to the next generation of photographers, so in 2015, he set up shop in Florida. But the business failed after eight months. “Being an artist doesn’t make you a businessman,” he said.

Lewis went back to taking pictures and making Web sites to pay his bills, while Brooklyn, Lewis’ birthplace, called out to him.

“I feel so connected to this place, and it’s changing now. I want to document it while it’s still here,” he said. Lewis relocated and landed a job in a camera shop.

Last summer, he decided to try opening a camera shop again. He created a GoFundMe campaign, raising $25,000, and four months ago, he opened Photodom in Bushwick.

Currently, as he maintains social-distancing in the store, there are often more than 100 people waiting to walk through the door. Lewis appreciates that, not only because it’s key to running a sustainable business, but also because it provides his customers with the products and services they need to tell their stories.

Reflecting on Black History Month, Lewis quoted photographer Gordon Parks, one of his heroes, who said: “I picked up a camera because it was my choice of weapon against what I hated most about the universe: racism, intolerance, poverty. I could have just as easily picked up a knife or a gun, like many of my childhood friends did . . . but I chose not to go that way.”

Share this article:

Source: Read Full Article