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 simply doing what needed to be done 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 the life of my second daughter.
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 myself up out of my pit of despair. when I hit rock bottom it was actually my children who were my light, they help dig me out. And since feeling the cold hard ground upon my skin it’s 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.
This is why 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 in spite of my mistakes and were not concerned if I hit a bump in the road.
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, promised to not make the same mistakes as I did. 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! All of 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 and 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 an amazing job and have inspired me to push to find more outlets, sponsors and hopefully our own 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 crazy and kept my legs closed she would not have suffered throughout her life, especially coming into this life suffering. My womb would not hold her beyond 28 weeks and her premature 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 it, but simply not applying for anything but Medicaid after a horrible encounter with a doctor at Charity Hospital. I was 16 years old and alone waiting at my daughter’s crib side for her 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 things to add. 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 spoke he seemed to forget not only my name, but 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. It was 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 to not just 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
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 own 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 and so on. 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 little 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 the heads of women 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 of flowers. I used to think my Daddy rubbed money on him because he smelled just like it. It could have been that 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 memories with my Daddy 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 the conversation of 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 be taught to always start with clean hands and a clean kitchen and to clean the kitchen afterward. I remember 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 be able to 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 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. One thing I remember was being happy that it did not taste like the powder egg, and it actually 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.
My Mama and Daddy aren’t the only ones who contributed to my entrepreneurial spirit. I actually 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 a musician or band to play and pass the hat to raise money to pay their rent. Now you need to have knowledge of 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 in advance, 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 so on to 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 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.
As early as the 1800s free women of color made pralines and sold them as they walked down the streets in the French Quarter as well as many other areas in New Orleans. These black women would make their treats in their kitchen and then sell them on the streets or from home to make extra money. And in just about every black New Orleans family a ” Praline Lady” or some type of “Lady” in their family that sold something out of their homes as a means to make a few extra dollars. She could be the “Cala Lady, Coffe Lady, Praline “pray-lean” Lady, Candy Lady or Frozen Cup Lady” we all knew one.
Take a trip back in time to Old New Orleans through JoAnn ‘s lifelike African American character doll collection. Imagine the Vieux Carre’ of long ago and hear the cadences of the street vendors, “Sweet Delicious Pralines for Sale”, “Vegetables, Fresh Vegetables”, and “Bels calas, bels calas, tout chauds”. Feel the intrigue aroused by the beautiful women of color, learn about the fate of the New Orleans Quadroons, The Tignon Law of 1786 in which the Governor of New Orleans attempted to label these beautiful African American Women, and experience the mystery that surrounded Marie Laveau, the New Orleans Voodoo Queen of 1815.
Read this Harper’s Monthly Magazine article, “NEW ORLEANS”
BY CHARLES DUDLEY WARNER, get a glimpse of New Orleans and it’s people in the year 1887.
My Great Auntie & Cousins
And we had a few ” Lady’s” in my family, but the main one was my Great Auntie. She worked as the first black secretary for a major corporation in the CBD making nice money, but for some reason, she continued the tradition. And I’m happy she did because she passed it on to my older cousins who in turn passed it on to me and my sister. My sister and I would spend our summers across the river with them, so my Mama could work. I started making pralines, pecan candy when I was about six or seven years old and I can remember my Mama warning me about being careful, stating ” You need to stir slow and steady, always with a wooden spoon and oven mitt until you are old enough to make it by yourself because this candy will burn a hold in your hand.” I love ” pralines” pecan candy so much I refused to let her comment scare me, because if she sensed it my days of making candy were over. Visiting with my Great Auntie and cousins I was taught how to make all kinds of treats, the correct ratio of sugar to water to syrup for frozen cups and I learned how to attract the most important customer, children. Lol. With my newfound sales skills by the time summer came to an end I was promoted to sell pecan candy at school. My Great Auntie or cousins would make big batches of “pralines” pecan, coconut and pecan-coconut pecan candy and would give me some to sell. The pralines sold for $1 and for each one I sold I made fifty cents, a quarter went to my Auntie for-profit and the other quarter was for more products. As I think about it I had my own Lil side hustle when I was ten years old!
By the time I was in middle school I was making and selling my own candy and took advantage of my Daddy’s shop. You can’t go wrong bring any type of food and sweets into a beauty salon. My best sales were at the salon, even as an adult. For one the stylist is there all day and most of them, if not all eat take out. The women customers are sitting around waiting from checking in to the washbowl to the dryer and finally to the stage chair and all that waiting requires at least a snack and I had my Lil basket of pralines waiting for them. I could barely keep up with the need, but sadly boys came into play and I didn’t feel like standing over no stove stirring candy.