It all began in early-eighties Brooklyn at a flea market booth rented by my immigrant parents who were fresh off the boat from Guyana, South America. A 10×10 enclosed booth called “Lovely Lady Hosiery & Lingerie” was my early adolescent entrepreneurial birthing ground. I was responsible for cashing out the register (counting down to every penny), straightening up the inventory (in chronological order by size), arranging all hangers to face the same direction and staying out of trouble—no disappearing at the PAC Man arcade. At the time, I think my parent’s primary intentions were to keep me occupied after school and save on babysitting costs while they strived to make ends meet in the glorious land of opportunity. Little did they know that they were laying a strong foundation of hands-on learning, business acumen and social equity disposition that would become the passion that fueled my present-day work.
Cultural diversity, creativity, business grit and innovation surrounded us as booth after booth featured other immigrants (and some migrant) families—African, Asian, Indian, Caribbean, African American and the like—demonstrating their greatest wares and brilliant ideas. Neighbors held up one another’s booths whenever they needed a break or if an urgent matter arose. We all became one flea market family. Their problems became our problems; ours became theirs. Even though we had our cultural and racial differences, we stood in solidarity knowing that we were all, in essence, the same…outsiders…often unwelcome and overlooked marginalized outsiders.
Fast forward thirty years, and it’s still disappointing to see that while we have made advancements, we still have so far to go when it comes to racial and gender equity. I remembered being that young immigrant girl who couldn’t quite find her place in society, so I had to create it myself. My contribution to become the change that I needed to see was birthed in 2013 when I founded Girls With Knowledge, Inc. (GWK). GWK initially started as an afterschool program that provided a temporary safe space to young girls in New York City who would’ve otherwise gotten lost in society. We helped to build platforms that created voice and choice to demonstrate to them that they do have a place in this world and that they matter.
Resolve for social issues can’t happen without being able to see both sides of the problem, a perspective other than your own.
As the interest and demand for the GWK programming grew, so did my vision. The same cultural diversity, creativity, business grit and innovation for overlooked and marginalized outsiders that I witnessed in my childhood is what inspired the vision for the House of GWK; a youth incubator space of mentorship, knowledge sharing and a collaboration platform for young entrepreneurs and social activists. House of GWK is their space to create, collaborate and innovate. My responsibility is to see them, hear them and provide resources of empowerment to support them. Starting in New York City in the spring of 2020, the goal is to have Houses of GWK all over the world.
The House of GWK will serve as the catalysts to gathering a global collective of young people working together to fight social injustice. GWK students have the opportunity to identify a specific problem that affects society and create a solution to solve it. This will be each student’s opportunity to really connect with a social issue and combat it; social justice starts with empathy. Further this by taking the students out of their own environment and creating the opportunity for them to travel to an international destination where they can connect and work with other like-minded young people. This is the strategy that, when executed, will create the beginning of social change.
Ultimately, I aim to inspire, and that can be for anyone who has ever felt that their voice or place in this world didn’t matter as much as the majority. I am here to tell them that they do matter and that they are the catalysts of change who will create a positive impact for future generations.
The world needs more leaders that are dedicated to creating social change. Where better to begin than the next generation? When I dissect the words “social change,” I think of society’s struggle with oppression and how it affects the most marginalized groups, not only in America but globally. My work is rooted in combating this oppression. Whether it’s introducing them to financial literacy, helping them to start a business or produce a television platform to express their views, my heart is primarily inclined to help youth from underserved communities and empower women that have experienced inequality. Women are natural born leaders, and I believe we are vital for any business to thrive. I want youth to see empowered women now so that as they grow, their generations can maximize our present efforts at creating an equal playing ground for all people.
The Power in Discovering your CORE, COMPLEMENT and PURPOSE
You Are Your Most Important Bill
This is what we teach our students in our program GWK G.LA.M. (Girls Learning About Money). A lot of times as entrepreneurs, we spend money on everything else and don’t turn around and invest in ourselves as the most important stakeholders of our business. An example would be taking a percentage of your earnings to go into a savings account that you can utilize for future investments or for sabbaticals to reconstruct and refocus yourself.
Find Your Complement, Not Your Carbon Copy
We perpetuate and encourage diversity throughout our programs. Embrace a diversified perspective and a 360-degree approach to doing business so that it is well rounded and representative of inclusion. Eliminate the “yessers” and find people who will diversify your mindset by challenging you to think beyond your own capabilities.
Your Core Must Match Your Shell
Integrity in business is a principle I teach my students all the time. Your brand messaging initially might not match what you’re presenting. You have to live up to the brand expectations from inside or else your messaging will just be hollow.
Find Purpose In Your Passion
Ask yourself, “How does my business create any social impact?” There can always be a cause attached to your business that will contribute to solving the world’s problems.