On July 29, more than 50 community members gathered virtually to listen to local entrepreneurs talk about their experiences running a small business in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement.
The event, co-hosted by the University of Redlands Office of Career and Professional Development (OCPD) and Campus Diversity and Inclusion (CDI), represents efforts to provide programming that speaks to students and the variety of identities they hold.
“Our office recognizes that you can’t separate your identities from your work, whether that be racial identity, sexual identity, gender identity, disability, etc.,” says Kelly Dries, OCPD executive director. “We believe career development plays an integral part in ending the economic disparities that impact certain communities. Black communities are impacted by racism daily and we have and will continue to provide relevant resources to level the inequity unfairly faced by the Black community.”
Johnston Center for Integrative Studies student Elizabeth Beck ’23 posed questions to the three panelists—Jacqueline Carrington, Duan Kellum, and Andrea Russell—and moderated the conversation. Participants spoke about the early days of their ventures, how being a Black business owner has influenced their experiences, and the unique challenges and triumphs they faced.
Carrington, who founded People of Color, a beauty company that specializes in non-toxic, cruelty-free, and vegan nail polishes that compliment an array of brown skin tones, spoke about managing a small business while also meeting the needs of her three small children. While Carrington didn’t grow up wearing nail polish very often, her daughter would often come home from family’s and friend’s homes with her nails painted. After seeing a lack of diverse skin tones in nail polish advertising, Carrington decided to do something about it.
“Growing up, I never really saw nail polish shown on brown hands, so I couldn't really envision different polish colors on me,” she said. “I didn't really have the money or the confidence to go out and buy a bunch of different colors to see what looked nice on me. There are so many different shades of brown—not only within my family, but all over the world. People of Color celebrates a variety of skin tones and has colors to complement them.”
Kellum, a lifelong artist and educator who he said that he never envisioned running a business, revealed that the idea for his venture—Skool Boiz—grew out of his passion for creating. Skool Bois is a community-centric business that allows groups and organizations to participate in producing their own screen-printed designs.
“I have to love what I’m doing,” he said. “There are nights where I’m awake until midnight in my studio working on anything from designs, my website, marketing, or working on products for customers, but I enjoy it. Do what you love—it works.”
For Russell, a final assignment for her bachelor’s degree in management led her to create a business plan for The Cookie Jar, a bakery she operates out of her home that offers over 120 flavors of cookies. Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, she says that the people she loves influence her work. After founding the company with her two sisters, Russell developed a recipe for a peach cobbler cookie that she dedicated to her mother, who always brought the dish to family gatherings.
Being present, looking to the future
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, each participant has pivoted in a different way, exploring new ideas within their realms of expertise. With the closure of nail salons and spas, Carrington saw a large increase in nail polish orders as people pamper themselves at home. Even though Russell had anticipated a decrease in cookie sales, customers have been treating themselves to her sweets because of the low price point. Kellum has been partnering with local organizations to fulfill orders for shirts and accessories, while also helping paint public murals in San Bernardino.
Small business initiatives that have grown out of the Black Lives Matter movement, such as calls on social media platforms to #BuyBlack in order to support Black entrepreneurs, have inspired and motivated the three panelists.
“I am so proud of the Black community,” said Russell. “I see such a rally around supporting each other that I haven't seen during my entire life. It means so much to me to see people who look like me, who want other people who look like us to succeed. Now, I'm always trying to find out if I can support a minority or Black-owned business versus supporting big brands—this is an awakening for me.”
The three panelists agreed it takes discipline, dedication, and customer service skills in order to run a successful business. Looking forward, each entrepreneur outlined plans for growth: Kellum anticipates hosting screen-printing classes; Carrington plans to expand her retail and wholesale partnerships; and Russell aims to open a brick and mortar store before the end of the year.
After the event, panelists and participants expressed their appreciation to OCPD’s Assistant Director of Communication, Marketing, and Events Thomas Guzowski, who said that post-event conversations continued among attendees.
“The virtual space was a welcoming and truthful environment that really encouraged a natural flow of dialogue, not only with the panel and moderator, but among the audience as well,” he said. “People shared resources on other Black businesses they can support and articles on panel members they found. It was great to see such active participation and support.”