Last week I asked my Nola KidPreneurs to send me their Bio as well as a short story on “Why I became an Entrepreneur.” And it came to me that I never shared my story with them. Well, I shared bits and pieces here and there. I never thought my life experiences were worth sharing, plus I do not feel that I’m there yet. Plus, I never viewed the things I did in life as accomplishments but merely doing what needed to undo the mistakes I have made. To this day, I blame myself for the difficulties my oldest daughter had to endure all of her life and how my choices ended my second daughter’s life.
I never looked back over my life and said, “I made it from being pregnant at 16, then again at 17 and my road to entrepreneurship. I just kept getting up after every time some situation or someone pushed me down. Some times it was harder to get me up out of my pit of despair. When I hit rock bottom, my children were my light, and they helped dig me out. And since feeling the cold hard ground upon my skin, my kids whose words of encouragement keep me from falling back in. There’s nothing like having a tiny human being cheering you on, and I owe so much to them.
I decided long ago to dedicate my life to helping children because of them and the loss of my entire teenage years. It brings comfort to my heart to be a vessel for future generations. After so much pain, I never thought my heart would ever heal, but my children, including those not of my womb but heart, have been my saving grace.
When I lived in Minnesota, I dedicated a wall in my basement for handprints of children who came through my door, I entitled the wall “Auntie Dee’s Kids” and before I moved it filled up the entire wall, 41 handprints. As I think about it, those handprints were the only ones that came into my home over seven years, but there were so many more. I can’t count the number of handprints that touched my heart and soul. These tiny hands loved me despite my mistakes and were not concerned if I hit a road bump.
It took for a social worker to congratulate and thank me for the time and love I invested in children. I was going through a rough time with one of my foster daughters, and as I was crying, she told me that I had a huge heart and that my foster daughter would turn it around because I not only showed her the way, but I shared my life experiences with her. She was right; my foster daughter apologized and promised not to make the same mistakes. Today she’s a 20 years old college student free of responsibility except for studying and work-study. And She’s not the only one. I’m proud to say that in sharing my story of growing up with self-esteem issues, being boy crazy and teen pregnancy that all of my girls, including my daughter (who went to Xavier), broke the cycle! No teen pregnancies and No high School Dropouts! My 90s Babies are in college, and my millennials are in school with plans to attend college!
I have always been involved with children; from working at Children’s Hospital, a church youth leader, foster mom, child advocate, and now founder of a children’s entrepreneurship program. Like most things I find myself getting involved in, I would hear and read negative comments about our children. After heard about the increase in juvenile crime and the summer program cuts in my neighborhood, I decided to challenge the NOLA to see the “Good in Our Youth” by organizing the 1st Annual New Orleans Children’s Business Fair in New Orleans 8th Ward. My Nola KidPreneurs did a fantastic job and have inspired me to push to find more outlets, sponsors, and hopefully, our storefront and classroom!
After giving birth to my first daughter, I was driven to create a better life for us. I struggled with feeling responsible for bringing her into this world. Had I not been, so boy was crazy and kept my legs closed, she would not have suffered throughout her life, especially coming into life suffering. My womb would not hold her beyond 28 weeks, and her early traumatic entry caused a brain hemorrhage and damaging the left side of her brain. Not even minutes old, she was given a 75% chance of survival, and if she made it, she would wear the labels disabled, brain damage, hydrocephalus, cerebral palsy, and blind on some level. I told myself that my decisions were the blame, all the pain, suffering, brain surgeries, the looks, stares, and teasing it was all because of my actions. A few minutes of sex and I ruin my baby’s life is what I believed. I had no clue if I felt passion or anything. I just did it to make the boy happy. I was just too smart to be so stupid I would tell myself. My decision affected her entire life beyond being a baby, and the least I could do was ensure that I provided the best life possible, and that first got my high school diploma and keep it pushing until I had my degree.
There was no welfare for me, not for lack thereof, but simply not applying for anything but Medicaid after a horrible encounter with a Charity Hospital doctor. I was 16 years old and alone waiting at my daughter’s crib side to come back from having her first brain surgery. A doctor who was still his scrubs came over to inform me that the surgery went well, but he had a few more additions. When he approached me, I stood up when he first approached me, not knowing what he would tell me I braced for the worse, mainly because he looked so mean, but he was old. As he spoke, he seemed to forget my name and his as well, but luckily I was very observant and read his badge, he was the head neurosurgeon. In the coldest, heartless voice, he told me that my daughter, if she survived, would be a vegetable, he thought it was in my daughter’s best interest to give her up for adoption because we were doomed for a life of poverty and living off the government. This was the miracle worker who just operated on my daughter’s tiny brain telling me these things.
I guess I was in shock because I stood there looking in his eyes and watching his wrinkled mouth move. I said, thank you. I turned into an emotionless mime until a nurse came over to as asked was I ok. As if her soft for of compassion broke the spell, his words cast on me because the tears flowed like a downpour of rain. Right at that moment, the desire to prove him wrong welled up in my soul. He would not be the only person to bet on my future. I had family members plotting my destiny.
Little did they know that before the boys and sex, many loving souls planted seeds of blessings and favor. They prepared and equipped me with the tools I needed to dig myself out and climb my way up any circumstances I found myself in. My fate was up to me to create, and I was determined not just to be a teen mom turned welfare mom living in the projects that some saw fit for me. At 16 years old, I was not even a “Who.” My poor choices did not determine “What” my future would be. I was simply on the road to life like the rest of the teenagers. I’m just so happy to jump on the bandwagon, as many of us do. While riding, having a good ole time, I fell off. No one noticed that I laid in the middle of the road bloody, bruised, and broken, not even the oncoming cars that rolled over me and knocked me back down when I attempted to get up. I was depressed lost and alone, then I realized I had to crawl, drag, roll, do whatever I needed to do to survive. They wanted to see me down, but I had to figure out if I wanted the same, and that’s when I got up.
I Get It From My Family
My grandmother and her children: my Mama and all of my aunties and uncles all are entrepreneurs[/caption] I’m unsure where my entrepreneurial story began, it could be embedded in my DNA, growing up surrounded by hard-working family members, seeing the pride in the face of small business owners or a burning desire to create my legacy for my children, grandchildren, and generations to come. Should I mention that I’m a very hard-working and highly ambitious Capricorn lol?
I was born into a family full of small business people, entrepreneurs, hustlers, go-getters, etc. My earliest memories consist of someone in my family, creating and selling their goods and services. I can’t pinpoint when it resonated within me to do my own thing, but I believe it started when I was very young.
My Daddy owned several beauty salons, and most of our quality time was spent at the shop. My Mama and Daddy separated when I was about four, and for the most part, he was always working. On Friday’s my Mama would drop my little sister and me off to the shop to spend the weekend with him, and to keep us busy, he gave us small jobs. I was the receptionist’s assistant as soon as I was old enough to say, “Welcome to Raisins and Have a nice day.” At six years old, I worked as the “Towel and Broom Girl” I would stack towels by the shampoo bowl and sweep up hair as it fell from women’s heads getting a haircut. I learned how to count by counting up the earrings for the day. I remember putting money up to my nose as if it was a bouquet. I used to think my Daddy rubbed cash on him because he smelled just like it. His pockets were always filled with a huge roll of money; the beauty industry was good to him. To this day, the smell of money makes me think of my Daddy and makes me feel good.
My Daddy opened my eyes to the entrepreneur world, but he passed on a bad spending habit. Just about all my Daddy memories consist of running a business and spending money. We stayed shopping. I grew up believing that you do just that, buy nothing but the best because it equated to being the best, so I thought. He would pass away, and I would never get to have a conversation about financial security.
My Mama worked in the French Quarter as a cook but was known for hosting the best suppers and card parties, and she well-made wedding dresses, formal wear, and other garments. Today we call it a side hustle, and she hustled hard, especially after she left my Daddy. We had it hard for a while, but she made her we are, had clothes on our backs, and if it happened to be “wear homemade clothes to school” I would wait until she left for work to change. But She stayed busy; worked nights for the most part and would get her hustle on the weekends and in the daytime. My sister and I were her little assistants, but I never mastered the sewing concept. It was something with threading this and that, pressing on the presser foot and holding the fabric that gave me a problem, so no, I do not know how to sew. Well, I know how to sew on my hand, and I’m a pro at selecting patterns and fabric. I have an eye for fashion, and I know the most important rule in fashion is wearing appropriate fitting undergarments.
My talent was in the kitchen, and before I was old and tall enough (I was taller before aging), but I would always watch my Mama and Momo while they were cooking. When I was six years old and tall as a nine-year-old I was given an apron and was shown all there is to know about cooking, the first rule was following directions because one had to listen to be safe with gas, fire and sharp utensils. I would always be taught to clean the kitchen afterward. One Saturday afternoon, my Mom told me if I really wanted to cook, I would have to make something with the shameful commodity products in our pantry. She told me, “If you really love to cook, you would use what you have on hand and make some tasty.” I felt like she was trying to either taunt or punish me; either way, it was cruel. I looked in the pantry staring at the USDA commodity flour, powdered eggs, powdered milk, opened the refrigerator where the big block of government cheese sat in its brown box, and though tasty was the last thing I could make with this crap. I had issues with the “Po People Food” she made us stand in line with her to get. My Mama would make a “Ya Can’t Believe It’s Not Powdered Eggs Omelette” that was about the only thing eaten because she would sauté veggies and add ham or shrimp to it. If you do not know what scrambled powdered eggs with government cheese and onions and bell pepper is, then you haven’t lived yet, or maybe you lived too good.
I found a recipe that was entitled cheese straws on the cheese box and made it. Cheese straws, well ours came tasting sort of like a Cheesy shortbread cookie. I remember being happy that it did not taste like the powder egg, and it tastes pretty good. At nine years old, I successfully transitioned into the Big Girl’s Cooking Club. I made something edible with items deemed unworthy and meant only for the poor. I felt so proud of myself, and my Mama congratulated me, and my gift was free rein over the kitchen. Those “Po People” substitutes would make me appreciate food and make me a better cook and baker, which will come in handy later on.
So many people have contributed to my entrepreneurial spirit in and out my family, but having it run through my bloodline is awesome! I think it’s in our DNA as I think of it now, passed down for generations. As I mentioned, my Mama sold supper plated and held card parties, once known as “Rent Parties.” A rent party is a social occasion where tenants hire musicians or bands to play and pass the hat to raise money to pay their rent. You need to know this thing known as Home Business and Louisiana’s Cottage food law (Act 542) before hosting Suppers or cooking and selling any from out of your home.
This was mostly done when someone had an emergency or to raise funds for an event. My Mama makes the best New Orleans stuffed bell peppers, and people would buy her out before she even cooked. Typically, Suppers were planned, tickets were sold, and on the day of customers would either come to pick up their orders, but someone had the job of delivering orders too. I had to bike it if the delivery was within walking. They would go out into the CBD to the Wharf, construction sites, warehouses, and sell tickets and put up handmade flyers. The day before our kitchen, dining room, and the living room turned into a full pledge restaurant. Imagine being a teenager trying to talk on the phone and barely saying hello, because people were calling in as if we worked in a call center. My Mom would make me get off the phone be we didn’t have a call waiting. To ensure calls came through, our neighbor would bring their house phone over on a long cord so that they could have two phone lines.
Basically, my Mama and many other New Orleans ran a restaurant that offered the Doordash delivery service before it was thought about. And my Mama ran her Side Hustle well. I can see her right now with her composition notebook lined with customer’s names and numbers, price list, a budget, timeline, family, and friend workers, yes she was doing it. As I think about it all, I can feel a sense of pride well up in my heart.