Friday
Jun302017

Tasha Brown: Overcoming and Giving Back with Style

Tasha Brown, master stylist, has been in the beauty industry for 15 years. Tasha Brown, master stylist and owner of Lovely Hair Designs in Aurora, Colorado, understands that when her clients walk into her salon, or any salon, for that matter, they expect to walk out looking beautiful. She expects more for them.

Her efforts to achieve more than skin-deep results is evident in the design of her salon, which is accented with images of beauty, flowers and words of strength, such as, “You are brave. You are strong. You are fierce.”

This stream of thought wasn’t always the case for Brown, who earned her license at 19, and has worked in the industry for 15 years, with the last three as head of her own shop. Early in her career she experienced a domestic violence situation. Fortunately, her faith pulled her out of it, and now as a wife, mother and entrepreneur, she is lending a helping hand to other women working to do the same. She started working on the vision and mission for her nonprofit in 2015, officially establishing it in February 2016.

Lovely Beginnings is a faith-based community support system that aims to inspire success through leadership training, personal counseling, image consulting, education, and scholarships. The fact that teamwork is a necessity to entrepreneurial success is not lost on the graduate of Eagle Crest High School and Emily Griffith Opportunity School. The same goes for her efforts to fulfill the mission of her non-profit. 

As with any great leader, she is committed to using her experience to help others, but because she is wearing so many hats, she is seeking an experienced board of directors to help meet the nonprofit’s mission through grant writing, community outreach, event planning and administrative support.

To date, word of mouth has been successful at bringing in donations that she, in turn, distributes at various shelters across the metro area. Earlier this spring, I had the opportunity to meet her on one of her deliveries. It was almost like Christmas. She and her assistant arrived with loads of donations including food, toiletries, and clothes, the latter of which many need to help them look and feel presentable on job interviews. Eventually they set up a mini salon and began another level of donation in the midst of some very delicate conversations. While getting their eyebrows and hair done, the women talked about where they were at emotionally.   

Some of the women were generations into the aftermath of domestic violence, and taking steps to make sure the pattern didn’t continue in the children who witnessed the abuse decades earlier. Others were in a state of wondering how to co-parent their children with their abuser without getting sucked back in to a violent relationship with them. Then there were those who wanted to go back out on the dating scene, but were questioning their judgement when it came to selecting the right person to date.

In combination with sharing her own obstacles and triumphs during these visits, she is collaborating with counselors for single mothers to help them address these questions. “We want to help them build their confidence and give them encouragement that they can also overcome their obstacles,” says Brown, who in the future also wants to work with men and women in detention facilities. 

To learn more, visit http://www.lovelyhairdesignsinc.com/index.html

“Black Women: Celebrating the Road Less Traveled” is an online series published by Canady’s Corner to honor Black women who are making a mark in the world in their very own way. 

Saturday
Nov262016

Edith Okupa: Helping Survivors of a Dark Reality to Dream Again

Edith Okupa, founder of Restoration Project International, LLC, conducted research to help legislators while working on her master's degree.When she escaped to the U.S. from a domestic violence situation in Nigeria more than 15 years ago, little did she know that she would one day stand with legislators at the state capitol to watch the governor of Colorado sign a bill into law to protect women and children. It was a bill that she helped to research, and a milestone in her personal mission to make a difference. 
Early in her career Edith Okupa set her sights on being a lawyer, helping women who were in similar situations as hers, but the first college she attended in the Maryland area only offered criminal justice classes. She took those classes and continued on that path, eventually moving to Colorado where she completed a master’s at the University of Colorado-Denver in public administration with an emphasis in domestic violence, project management and policy development.

She worked as a non-paid, public policy intern for the Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence for her master's capstone project, which required her to identify an information problem in a real-world setting and develop the means to address it. This is when she connected with Sen. Morgan Carroll (D-29), lending her academic research to support legislation, namely the passage of SB 13-227, which protects children conceived in rape from contact with the father and which protects women from their rapist. 

"My ultimate goal was to research laws. Most states had laws to protect women and children, but Colorado didn’t have comprehensive laws," says Okupa, who explains that when these women go to ask for public assistance they must provide proof of a crime, ideally a conviction of the rapist. This can be difficult as many of the rapists are family members or known acquaintances.
She adds, “The women are reluctant to tell."

The bill, Termination of Parental Rights of the Rapist, was co-sponsored by Sen. Carroll, Sen. Evie Hudak (D-19), and State Rep. Lois Landgraf (D-21). In 2014, Sen. Carroll confirmed the bill was taken a step further with HB 1162, which protects rape victims when a child is conceived.Sen. Morgan Carroll and Edith Okupa in 2014 at a Restoration Project International, LLC event. Photo. Canady's Corner.

The subject of co-parenting with your rapist was addressed November 20, 2016 on This is Life with Lisa Ling on CNN.

Venture into Another Dark Reality
Through her studies she also began to learn about the sex and human trafficking industry, eventually creating Restoration Project International, LLC in 2013 to empower survivors to aspire for better life through education and to also raise awareness of the impacts of sexual exploitation. It’s a dark reality that many won't let seep into their minds. But it is a reality.

The International Labour Organization reports that human trafficking is a $32 billion per year industry and is tied with drugs for the most profitable criminal endeavor, having passed illegal weapons. According to the U.S. State Department, 300,000 to 600,000 children and women are subjected to commercial sexual exploitation in the United States. Ninety eight percent of commercial sex slaves worldwide are females. The average age of entry into the industry is 12-14.

The numbers speak volumes, but the RPI founder and executive director says if it can happen to one girl, it can happen to any girl. Though programs exist to help those under 18, little exist for those over that age. That's where this nonprofit picks up. In collaboration with other organizations and agencies, and with the help of contributions from donors, RPI provides scholarship opportunities for survivors who aspire for college education. 

The organization works with women in transitional homes, namely those leaving the sex-trade industry, addictions and other destructive lifestyles. It's a tense environment as it is also a recruitment ground for traffickers. It’s one of the reasons the non-profit is working to establish Restoration Housing Project where survivors can have the opportunity for healing over a 12-24 month period. The goal is for the housing to be a place for survivors to move past traumatic experiences to dream again, pursue education, and gradually integrate into society for sustainable restoration. Those interested in supporting can visit the Global Giving Foundation for more information, and also make a donation on Giving Tuesday, November 29, 2016. 

Seeing the Signs of Trafficking
According to Okupa, a lot of women don't believe they are being trafficked because their pimps make them believe they are in a girlfriend-boyfriend relationship. Yet, they are being alienated from family and friends. They don't have control over the money they make or their time. 

From the outside, she says the visual signs can be witnessed in a woman’s provocative attire, possession of multiple cell phones and hotel keychain/key cards, as well as expensive purses, which stands out if they are from low-income households. She adds that many will have scars or their pimp's name tattooed on their body.

Restoration Project International focuses on women who want to come out of that lifestyle, but don't know how. The perception that they are prostitutes does not help, according to Okupa. "They are not prostitutes,” she says. “They're trafficking victims. They need our help."

Perception is something the RPI representatives face when delivering public presentations. A lot of people downplay the industry's relevance to them, believing it's happening somewhere else or only when major conventions, such as the Democratic National Convention or the Republican National Convention, come to the city. For example, she says that religious institutions can sometimes be skeptical of the warning signs. This is interesting to note because a lot of trafficking survivors don't go to these institutions because they are ridiculed or may run into a client.   

Making the public aware of the impact of this industry on individuals, families and society as a whole is a full-time job for Okupa, who also attends monthly and bi-monthly taskforce meetings with various organizations, including the Front Range Anti-Trafficking Coalition (FRAC), Jefferson County Human Trafficking Sub-Committee, and Colorado-Based Human Traffic Council, a nonprofit that facilitates multidisciplinary collaborations, including law enforcement, child welfare, victim advocates, exist through the Colorado Human Trafficking Council.

“When I came to this country, I came for better opportunities and because I saw better human rights protections in place,” says Okupa, whose daughter is a lawyer. “Choosing to work against trafficking— an area that a lot of people choose to sweep under the rug— is a calling that I respect every day."

“Black Women: Celebrating the Road Less Traveled” is an online series published by Canady’s Corner to honor Black women who are making a mark in the world in their very own way. 

 

Sunday
Oct302016

Angelia McGowan: In Honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month

A view of the Atlantic Ocean. Photo: Angelia McGowan/Canady's Corner. A self portrait...

Shortly before my birthday in August 2015 I felt a hard marble-size lump on the outside of one of my breasts. I called my doctor's office almost immediately to make an appointment, and it took forever (a couple of weeks) to get on their schedule. Leading up to that appointment I kept feeling myself. I couldn't stop touching my breasts. I wondered if there were more lumps? Strangers probably thought I was being obscene.  

While I waited I spent way too much precious time searching the Internet trying to diagnose myself. I agonized over whether I should be gearing up for a fight or saying goodbye to loved ones and checking off my bucket list, which would include one more time on an Atlantic beach. By the time I walked into the doctor's office the lump had grown to the size of a lemon, and pain was shooting down my side all the way to my legs. My brain was exhausted from it all.
 
During the few years leading up to this experience, I had endured a modern-day odyssey where the Gods truly had to take the wheel.  My faith did not fail me. To mark how far I had come, I proudly proclaimed Whitney Houston's "I Didn't Know My Own Strength" as my theme song.  But when this possible health issue revealed itself, I questioned whether the real battle was behind me or ahead of me. I thought, "Now this? Really? This, on top of stuff, on top of stuff, on top of stuff! Is it really going to go down like this?"

 
I finally made it to the doctor and received a stone-faced response after she touched the area.  She said, "remarkable." My response: "What does that mean?" She said little and sent me straight to get a mammogram. They had to do it twice, squeezing the paddles tighter and tighter on an already sensitive area. Each time I felt myself rolling my eyes back as far as I could and taking deep breaths, and holding it when instructed. 

Both mammograms were non-definitive. Next up that morning was ultrasound. The radiologist was perplexed. I kept pointing and saying it's right here, but I gathered that they needed to see it the way they needed to see it. She stepped out of the room then came back in with the second doctor of the morning. He said I should make an appointment to come back for a biopsy, specifically a needle aspiration. Almost immediately, he dismissed what he said, and offered to do it "right now" if I had time. 

Well Yeah!
 
The first shot was a local anesthetic.  Finally, the needle aspiration. For the record I felt both. They determined it was a cyst and there were no issues. Relief, so I thought. After the area was drained, the physical pain was gone. Then I was informed that it's common for them to return in a few weeks, and if it did that would require more attention. Wow, I thought, this just keeps going and going. Days leading up to my birthday I went home and prayed it did not return. It did not. 

My orders were to return in a year for a mammogram, and not to hesitate to call before then if I had any questions. 

In the Meantime
During the "waiting" year I started working on a number of rewarding programs and writing projects, two of which are published by my company, Canady's Corner. Through "Black Women: Celebrating the Road Less Traveled" I've enjoyed shining the light on African American women who are walking their unique paths with no apologies. Many thanks to the following women who were open to sharing a bit of their journey in this inaugural year of the series: Lea L. Porter, Dr. Allison Cotton, Donna Mejia, Phaedra High, Rev. Dawn Riley Duval, Patricia Houston's EspeciallyMe, Gabrielle Bryant, Phoenix Jackson and Emem Horton
 
A special thanks to Jackson, co-founder of Phoenix Affect, Inc, for helping me to gain some traction with my website, Creative Auto Reviews by Canady's Corner.  Yes, I'm a woman celebrating the road less traveled by combining my love for creative writing with car reviews. 
 
...So my birthday comes around in August 2016. Time to set the appointment. My mind starts to worry and wonder. Within two weeks (forever), I stood in the same place getting another mammogram. I only had to do it once this time. I was given the usual verbiage of if there's bad news, we'll call you; if there's good news, we'll send a letter. That's not exactly what they said. But that was my takeaway. 
#PinkBeetle has made its mark in breast cancer awareness. Photo: Volkswagen of America, IncThankfully, I had an automotive press event for Creative Auto Reviews to attend that same month where I would have my choice of dozens of new cars to test drive in the Colorado mountains. I welcomed the scenic distraction. 

As fate would have it, during one of the presentations a representative for Volkswagen of America introduced the first U.S. limited-edition 2017 Volkswagen #PinkBeetle and the auction of it for FAB-U-WISH and The Pink Agenda to raise money for breast cancer research and care, including granting wishes to women undergoing breast cancer treatment and increasing awareness of the disease among young professionals. The exclusive run, available in coupe and convertible configurations and offered in a unique shade of Fresh Fuchsia Metallic paint, is the first factory-offered shade of pink in the Beetle’s history and the first-ever vehicle officially named as its own hashtag. 
Lesson learned. Running away from the subject was not an option. During this presentation I found myself at a certain level of peace, taking note of the fact that countless individuals and organizations across the globe are working to support those fighting this disease. 
Angelia McGowan on the beach in the rain. Photo: Angelia McGowan/Canady's Corner
Mid-September
I received the letter. I was in the clear. That same week I flew to Texas to attend a family member's beautiful wedding, followed that up with a last-minute road trip with a cousin that detoured through the French Quarter of New Orleans (a bucket list item finally met) and ended on the Atlantic coast of Florida. I knew I would only have one morning to get to the beach before returning to Colorado. Thunderstorms were forecast, but when I woke up and looked out from the balcony, the sun was shining brilliantly. Perfect. 

By the time I began to strike my signature I-finally-made-it-to-the-beach pose, the clouds came rolling in, the rain started to spit in my face and then it just started to come straight down. I could have said, "Really? Now?" I chose to embrace the moment knowing that the next is never promised. Being a good sport, my cousin braved the wind and the downpour to capture images of a Black woman on the beach in the rain... feelin' herself.
“Black Women: Celebrating the Road Less Traveled” is an online series published by Canady’s Corner to honor Black women who are making a mark in the world in their very own way

 

Friday
Sep302016

Emem Horton: Let's Talk About Money

Bank executive Emem Horton attributes her life and career successes to her Nigerian-born parents.When this bank executive walks up to greet customers, the exchange stirs emotions that customers can't quite keep to themselves. 
"Being a young Black woman within the banking industry, I've gotten interesting comments," says Emem Horton, who has steadily advanced in the industry from teller to personal banker to assistant branch manager, and now branch manager. "Some customers have questioned my authority. I have also been celebrated by customers who tell me they are proud of me for managing a bank."

Whatever their reactions, Horton's intentions are the same, and that is to help customers. She is responsible for all of the functions of a branch office, including hiring employees, approving loans and lines of credit, marketing the branch, building a rapport with the community and assisting customers with account problems. It's a powerful position for someone who initially had no longterm goals for a career in the banking industry. 

"I initially thought I would work for the bank for only about six months, but nine years later I am still in banking and loving it more and more each day," says Horton, a branch manager for Colorado-based Public Service Credit Union. "We are all about helping members afford life and showing them how to restructure debt to capitalize on their monthly income." 
 
She has been tempted by other careers that also could have positioned her to make a difference in the lives of others. Prior to her banking career, she earned a sociology degree with an emphasis on women and gender studies and race relations from the University of Colorado Boulder. The former president of CU Black Student Alliance wanted to be a consultant and sociology expert in court cases and legal affairs. But she says, "God had a different plan, revealing a different path" and the banking industry stuck with her. 

A few years into her banking career, she earned a master's degree in higher education leadership from Argosy University, Denver with the expectation that she would direct her career to academia as a dean or provost and venture outside of the state of Colorado. But, her desire to transform lives daily by providing financial education, advice and guidance to the community far outweighed the prospect of a new career. And the desire was planted early by an education-oriented family.  

Horton attributes her life and career successes to the influences and guidance from her Nigerian-born parents who moved to the United States to attend college and raise a family. Her mother is a nurse specializing in elderly care and her father is a Petroleum engineer. “My parents have always stressed that education is the key to success. Furthering our education was always presented to my sisters and I as a priority, a must -- not an option.” 

Furthermore, when she was a teenager, one of Horton’s two older sisters and role models worked for a bank. Both sisters helped her to set up her own first bank account and taught her how to properly use a debit card when she was only fourteen. From the casual visits to the bank to hearing about the daily ins and outs of working within the financial industry, the conversations about finances flowed naturally into the home. While many tend to stray away from financial conversations, Horton addresses them head on every day when interacting with her bank members. "The interactions are personalized and catered towards my members’ needs," she says.
Emem Horton, who holds a sociology degree, says, “Ignoring your credit will not fix your credit. You need to fully examine it and find the root of the problem."
Her ability to help extends beyond the walls of a bank building.

"When I realized that many of my family and friends, the people I love were as unaware of finances in general and how my knowledge positively impact their financial picture, I knew God had revealed my calling," says the Colorado native, wife and mother of a 1-year-old son. "This is when I realized that financial literacy is the key to success and true financial freedom. Using my education, work and personal experiences to educate my community is something I strive to do. It is important to me to utilize my gifts and resources to reach back and help lift my community as those before me have done.”  

The Financial Basics
For Horton, the education process begins with explaining the basics of saving, budgeting and understanding your credit score. She says people need to prioritize their savings and make sure to pay themselves just as they would their light bill, rent or mortgage. She notes that little things add up, so it's important to create a budget and to know where your money is going.  

She adds, “Often times you can cut out small expenses and restructure your spending to use your financial resources to benefit your family and fund your future plans."  

She warns people not to ignore their credit score, particularly if it is not in good condition. “Ignoring your credit will not fix your credit. You need to fully examine it and find the root of the problem. Don’t allow negative items to ferment, rot or potentially decompose your financial profile."  

If people face their financial health head on and actively work to correct issues, it can take anywhere from three months to a year to see fruitful and significant changes. If you're working towards buying a home, that's not a long time to prepare. 

To increase financial literacy, Horton recently started her own consulting firm, E&H Consulting, and has conducted presentations, seminars and workshops for community organizations, namely women's groups.
"It is rewarding to see women open up about their goals and dreams, and also to be in a position to direct and guide them on how to reach their financial goals," she says.
 
To learn more about E&H Consulting, contact Horton at emem.horton@gmail.com

 “Black Women: Celebrating the Road Less Traveled”
is an online series published by Canady’s Corner to honor Black women who are making a mark in the world in their very own way. 

 

Monday
May302016

Phoenix Jackson: A Marketing Expert's Message

Listening to your intuition is good business, according to Phoenix Jackson, owner of Phoenix Affect, Inc. Photo: Shanae Simmons. Turning those dime-a-dozen business ideas into competitive ventures in the marketplace requires more than a business plan and funding. It requires that entrepreneurs also be open to listening to their intuition, according to longtime business owner and marketing expert, Phoenix Jackson. 

"Money is not enough of a reason to pursue a business," says the owner of Phoenix Affect, Inc., a marketing and project management firm that she co-founded 11 years ago while earning a business degree at the University of Denver. "You need to know why you are in business.

"Your enthusiasm and aspirations will be necessary to see you through the ups and down of operating a business."

Through her company, formerly known as Nation Marketing Group, Jackson has helped to create the brand and public face of more than 100 individuals and businesses including celebrities, professional athletes, and small and large organizations. The company's services include business consulting, marketing and brand development, website development and event planning. 

Best practices from her career are detailed in her upcoming book, "Spirit of Business." Scheduled for release in the fall, the book offers tactical tools and worksheets on how business professionals can achieve what they want to manifest. 

Just turning the corner into her 30s, when she stands in front of an audience speaking about her upcoming book or marketing services, her successes all appear to have come easy. That perception would be the furthest thing from the truth for the woman who started practicing meditation and yoga at the age of 19. "I work hard to protect my peace and set aside time to listen to my intuition," says the self-proclaimed optimist, who tends to "feel that something good is always about to happen."

Raised by a single father from the age of eight, she experienced a lot of coming of age issues without her mother's guidance. Her father was a blessing, but she did miss a mother's touch. The Arkansas native moved around a bit with her father, who was in the military, and lived in Kentucky before arriving to Denver at the age of 12.  Later in her academic life, she juggled being a mother, a wife, student and entrepreneur. When she experienced divorce and became a single mom she had to adjust her lifestyle while staying on track with her life goals. 

The 2004 Daniels Fund Scholar earned the 2008 Daniels College of Business' Entrepreneur of the Year award for her efforts to start her own marketing firm with a new-born son at the time. Not long after graduating, she used her spare time and a grant from the Denver Foundation to spearhead a dance health initiative - building on African dance -- for women in northeast Denver that included daycare services. Her alma mater noticed and asked her to bring her curriculum to campus. Soon, at the age of 26, she was an adjunct faculty member at the DU Colorado Women's College. 

"Teaching was so fulfilling," says Jackson, who has since served as a guest lecturer at various colleges and universities in the state, and as a speaker at national events outside of academia. "I enjoyed teaching adults to nurture themselves and to love themselves. At the end of each quarter, women were crying about how much they had learned about themselves and their power over their bodies and their mind. I learned at that time that I'm happiest when I'm teaching."

Phoenix Jackson, the director of client relations for Phoenix Affect, Inc., tells women to understand the "why" of their business goals. Photo: Courtesy of Phoenix Jackson.Her teaching experiences have provided a taste of her end-goal to be a professor or professional lecturer, but for now she continues to make strides in the business world. In 2014, she was nominated for Denver Business Journal's Forty Under 40. The prior year, she was nominated for DBJ's Outstanding Business Women Award. These recognitions, among many others, speak to the personal touch she invests in her work with her clients. 

For five years, she has provided marketing services to Carson J Spencer Foundation, a Denver-based organization that works to prevent suicide using innovative methods to address root causes of suicide in schools, homes and businesses. Her company has produced the foundation's promotional collateral and developed their website, helping the organization grow within its brand. Now the organization is international including Australia and Europe.

She has also received mental health certifications to better inform her guiding role as a volunteer educator within the organization and as a board member, formerly serving as its chair of marketing and public relations.
 
Her marketing work with another client, the annual Helping Boys Thrive Summit, is two-fold, educating her as a single mom and informing leaders who work with youth. The annual event, scheduled to happen in Denver on June 9 at Regis High School, is tailored toward adults teaching adults how to deal with young men and boys of all races and socioeconomic level from the classroom to the playground.  

A Void in the Market
Jackson has combined her marketing expertise with her continuing desire to see women healthy internally and externally. In 2014, she created Phitnus, a fitness series offering dance classes led by certified instructors. The series also offers DVDs and multivitamins. With the latter, she specifically honed in on the void in the market as it relates to African American women.

"The market was saturated with soaps and lotions, but there were little to no vitamin bottles with black women on them," says Jackson, who worked with a vitamin company in California to develop ingredients for her products. She began shipping in 2015, and has clients as far as West Africa.

Today, like many women who are starting a new product business, her dining room table has become a mini-factory. The bottles are already full and secure when they come to her, but she likes to put her own special touch on the packaging before shipping them out to customers. Like many entrepreneurs, she says, "At the beginning you are investing more than what you are getting back." 

But she keeps going, because she focuses on her "why."

"I always tell women to seek that inspiration. Look at the why," she says. "Ask yourself 'What do I want?' and be prepared to work towards your goal one step at a time."

Learn more about Jackson's work at Phoenix Affect.