The DesiConnect

headshot_saba2Saba Nasser

Senior Communications Coordinator

Saba, 24, was raised in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, the city of gold and shopping festivals. She graduated from University of Illinois, at Chicago with a Bachelors degree in Finance. Currently, she works full-time with KPMG in their Risk Advisory practice.

In her spare time, Saba enjoys planning her next trip, and coordinates volunteer projects for the Plan Fund, a Dallas-based microcredit non-profit that develops small business entrepreneurs. She has an enthusiasm for international affairs, global economics, microfinance, and the Dallas Mavericks. Her latest passion is learning to sand board.

She currently resides in Dallas, Texas.

headshot_ranjitRanjit Souri

Staff Writer

Ranjit is a columnist for India Currents magazine, and his essays have also appeared in AIM, ByLine, Case, and Khabar, and been featured on Chicago Public Radio. He is also a comedy writer whose work has been produced on stages throughout the USA. He has co-written numerous comedy shows for the stage with Cupid Players, Stir-Friday Night!, and Paper Monkeys.

Ranjit holds a B.S. in Accounting from Case Western Reserve University and an MBA from Columbia University. He teaches at The Second City Training Center, StoryStudio Chicago, The Academic Approach, and Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development.

Editorial

headshot_sheenaSheena Singh

Editorial & HR Manager

Sheena, 22, graduated from New York University with a degree in Psychology. She is currently working for Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and also owns a jewelry store on Long Island.

Sheena is interested in travel, pop culture trivia, classic Bollywood films, being a New Yorker, and building a Desi diaspora that works toward social justice.

headshot_sulaimanSulaiman Rahman

Editorial Tech Manager

Sulaiman, 25, was born in Connecticut and has spent time in Massachusetts, Illinois, New York, and North Carolina. He is a Pakistani-American that graduated with a degree in Economics from UNC – Charlotte. Recently, he moved to the Bay Area and started work at LiveOps, a leader in distributed call center technology and services.

In his free time, he enjoys playing sports (bowling, basketball, golf), traveling, photography, and playing video games.

headshot_valerie2Valerie Enriquez

Copy Editor

Valerie Enriquez, 22, graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign with a degree in English and Creative Writing in 2006. During her time there, she served as a treasurer for student ACLU and co-president/treasurer for the Asian American Artists’ Collective. She writes for Innocent Words Magazine along with whatever freelance writing and editing gigs turn up.

headshot_preetiPreeti Aroon

Creative Writer and Staff Blogger

Preeti works as an editor, writer, and researcher in Washington, DC. Previously, she was a copy editor for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Preeti holds a master’s degree in public policy from Duke University, where she worked for the University’s newspaper.

Preeti’s other interests include marathon running and trying to figure out how to save the world.

headshot_saraSara Ortega

Creative Writer

Sara Ortega, 26, graduated from George Washington University, went on to complete an MSW at UC Berkeley, and currently lives in San Francisco. She works in healthcare in fundraising and special events.

Her major accomplishments include studying in Europe, traveling in Central America, and working in Asia. She enjoys writing, spending time with friends, and eating as much Mexican food as the city can offer!

headshot_sabineSabine Alam

Copy Editor and Creative Writer

Sabine Alam, 23, graduated from UC Berkeley with degrees in English and Economics. She is currently working as a financial analyst at Cisco Systems.

In her free time she likes planning her next vacation, reading and writing in her trusty moleskin journal.

Management

headshot_sumaya7Sumaya Kazi

Executive Director and Founder

Sumaya, 25, serves as the Executive Director and Editor-in-Chief at The CulturalConnect. She has been recognized by BusinessWeek Magazine as one of America’s ‘Top 10 Entrepreneurs Under 25′, CNN as a ‘Young Person Who Rocks’, and has also been recognized as a 2007 Who’s Who of Global Emerging Leaders. She frequently keynotes at Universities and business conferences across the U.S. on topics of entrepreneurship, community-building and bridging the non-profit community with other industries.

In her spare time, Sumaya works full-time as a Marketing Manager for the Global Communications Group at Sun Microsystems, the youngest in her division. Additionally, she serves as a high school entrepreneur adviser and mentor for BUILD, a social venture that empowers under-resourced students to excel in education and succeed professionally.

Her interests include connecting young professionals with each other, traveling, technology and International human rights.

Sumaya graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in Marketing & Strategic Planning. She is a Bangladeshi-American residing in the San Francisco Bay Area.

headshot_sheenaSheena Singh

Editorial & HR Manager

Sheena, 22, graduated from New York University with a degree in Psychology. She is currently working for Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and also owns a jewelry store on Long Island.

Sheena is interested in travel, pop culture trivia, classic Bollywood films, being a New Yorker, and building a Desi diaspora that works toward social justice.

headshot_monicaMonica Appelbe

Public Relations Manager

Monica, 21, is currently a full time student at the University of California, Berkeley, majoring in Development Studies. In addition to contributing to The CulturalConnect, she works part-time for LEWIS PR, a hi-tech marketing agency.

Her interests include world poverty, politics and art. She is half Japanese and part Irish and Slovenian. She resides in Berkeley, CA.

headshot_sulaimanSulaiman Rahman

Editorial Tech Manager

Sulaiman, 25, was born in Connecticut and has spent time in Massachusetts, Illinois, New York, and North Carolina. He is a Pakistani-American that graduated with a degree in Economics from UNC – Charlotte. Recently, he moved to the Bay Area and started work at LiveOps, a leader in distributed call center technology and services.

In his free time, he enjoys playing sports (bowling, basketball, golf), traveling, photography, and playing video games.

headshot_colin2Colin Wright

Art and Design Manager

Colin, 22, has a Dual Major BFA in Graphic Design and Illustration from Missouri State University. He has worked in positions dealing with all aspects of design and related fields, and is currently employed as a Creative at Clear-Media in Los Angeles.

Colin’s hobbies and interests include writing, playing guitar, music, fine art, photography and reading as much as possible about as many things as possible. You can see his personal work at 2and2is5.com, and Stim, a culture magazine he runs on the side.

Skin & Hair Is Where He Cares: CEO Bobby Earles

headshotThe majority of skin and hair care products are created for the general market, but Bobby Earles’s company sells products specifically designed for the unique dermatological needs of Black consumers. His company, Dr. Earles, manufactures a line of skin and hair care products that includes acne wash, dandruff shampoo, conditioner, hydrating cream, and razor bump treatment. These personal care products were all developed by Bobby’s father, dermatologist R. Martin Earles, M.D., with the unique dermatological needs of Black customers specifically kept in mind. Bobby, 28, manages the entire company as CEO, working to get Dr. Earles products distributed in as many markets as possible in an effort to turn Dr. Earles into a household name. To learn more about Bobby and what he’s doing to meet the unique skin and hair care needs of Black consumers, check out this week’s Young & Professional Profile.

About the company

Our company, Dr. Earles, LLC, manufactures hair and skin care products developed by renowned dermatologist, R. Martin Earles, MD. All of our products are specifically tailored towards the dermatological needs of ethnic skin, especially African-American skin. A lot of times, people ask me, “What’s the difference between your products and ProActiv or Neutrogena?” and I normally respond by saying that our products are developed specifically for Black consumers.

The vast majority of personal care products were developed for the general market, but then attempt to expand to ethnic audiences with celebrities/sponsoring Black events/etc. Our company takes the opposite approach. Black hair and skin care is all we do and we take that mission very seriously. The dermatological conditions faced by customers of pigmented skin are so unique and so complex, we believe they deserve our undivided attention. The safe, effective and elegant treatment of those issues is the basis upon which Dr. Earles, my fathe, staked his entire career. Our company has done the same.

What are your day-to-day responsibilities?

In my role as the CEO, I oversee the entire operation Dr. Earles, LLC. Five years ago, when we were just starting out, I pretty much did everything, which is the usual story with most start-up businesses. It was exhausting work, but I was just 22 years old, so it wasn’t really a big deal. As the business has grown, we have been able to bring in a few more people – some full-time, some part-time – which has allowed me to focus my attention on going after new accounts and position the business for more long-term expansion.

These days, I spend a good part of my day making sure that our Sales Manager, Distribution Manager and Marketing Director have the tools and information they need to push our business forward. I also talk with our accountant and banker on a daily basis, making sure the internal controls of our business (payables, receivables, cash flow, inventory, compliance, etc.) are where they are supposed to be. Finally, I spend a certain amount of time–usually during the evening–bouncing ideas off my Chief Operating Officer and going over our pro forma financial projections.

Most notable milestones

The first salon I ever sold a product to was Julia’s Studio East in December 2001. It was the first check our business ever got. I think it was for about $100. In mid-2005, my sister Andi came to work for us and sales started climbing. Later that year, when our Sales Manager, Sidy Sankhare came aboard, things really started picking up. But our big break was in June of 2006 when I got a call from the Supplier Diversity Manager of Walgreens. I almost dropped the phone.

What’s the niche?

  • Our products are developed by and staked on the knowledge, expertise and reputation of one of the country’s best-known physicians.
  • We are totally focused on the needs of African-American hair and skin care.
  • The products we make do exactly what we say they will do. They are based on clinical, medical research and we spend very little time on unproven ingredients. We make no false claims. A lot of companies do, but that’s not what we’re about.

What’s the biggest challenge as a young African American male in corporate America?

Patience. I’m not used to working my way through the politics and hierarchical structures of our new corporate customers. Beauty salons don’t have a “buying cycle” or “supply chain strategy.” Most of our customers reach into their register – or their purse – and pay us. It’s that simple. If they don’t want our products, they tell us right there. There’s no waiting involved.

Working with a big, blue-chip customer is totally different. In a lot of circumstances, the person who I pitch to does not actually have the authority to buy anything from me. Walgreens, interestingly enough, is different in that way, because even very junior-level people have a lot of responsibility. Other retailers, however, don’t take the same approach. Sometimes it can take months (and I’m talking 6-9 months) just for someone to say, “Sorry, but we’re not interested.” The amount of time a large organization can keep a small business strung along can be frustrating to me. A lot of times, I want to say, “Look, if you want me to do something different, or you’re not interested, just say it. We don’t need to have a meeting about it.”

However, it’s important to spend time with your customers/suppliers, even if it doesn’t initially result in an order. Building relationships in business takes time (often, a long time) and that process is not something that I, as a young African-American man, have much experience with.

Now that Dr. Earles has national distribution, what’s next?

In the personal care business, people tend to say, “It’s one thing to get your products on the shelf, but it’s something totally different to get ‘em off the shelf.” And this is totally true. We’ve had some good success gaining regional, and even some national distribution. You can find Dr. Earles products in an ever-increasing amount of locations.

However, my job is doing whatever is necessary to get our target customer to go into those locations and actually pick our products up. Distribution is only the first part of the equation…and really, the easy part, at that. For our business to reach the goals I am setting for it, Dr. Earles will eventually need to become a household name. In the coming year, I will focus on how to push our distribution into more markets, locking down the markets we’re already in and learning more about what it takes to build a brand through this channel.

Are there any companies or people you would like to work with?

Great question. Whenever anyone asks me who my entrepreneurial role model is, I always mention the rapper Nas’s former manager, Steve Stout. I’ve never met him personally, but I’ve followed his career extensively. The way the guy has been able to simultaneously tap into contemporary, urban culture and put it into action on the corporate level is totally unprecedented. He brokered Jay-Z’s shoe deal with Reebok, Gwen Stefani’s clothing line, Justin Timberlake and McDonald’s. The guy is just phenomenal.

Also, I’m a big fan of Howard Schulz, founder and CEO of Starbucks. He’s built a business that is now a truly iconic brand. People refuse to buy coffee from anywhere else. Also, he’s created a company where it’s employees love to work there. That’s an enormous achievement.

In terms of brands, I love the company Aveda. Their concept is so powerful, I have to acknowledge it. I don’t think any other companies in our category do a better job making products that look, feel, smell and work the way they do.

What are some of the challenges you face being a male in an industry dominated by females?

The challenges are significant. I am a man who owns a business selling products to women. My personal habits, routines and needs are totally different than those of my primary customers.

However, I think we have begun to turn those challenges into innate opportunities. Because I don’t have a latent understanding of what my customer wants, I have to ask her directly. This translates into us creating products that address the needs the customer specifically asked for. If I was more in tune with the natural needs of my customer, I might tend to fall in love with my own great ideas.

Because the situation is the way it is, I am able to step away from my own ideas about what women want and actually just ask. It works pretty well. In the future, more of the management roles in our business will be filled by women, and not just in the marketing areas. I look forward to hiring engineers, scientists, bankers and other professionals into areas of our business where women – especially women of color – are traditionally underrepresented.

Best way to keep a competitive edge

Listen to exactly what your customer is saying to you. If they’re not being clear enough, ask them to be. Say to them, “If I provided you with ________ product or _______ service, would that solve your problem? And would you buy it from me?” I like doing that better than relying on my own “great ideas.”

There is no such thing as being over-prepared.

They tell you to “Think win-win,” but I always think that’s a little cheesy. I figure that you’re either going to buy my products or you’re going to buy someone else’s. I’m trying to get you to buy mine and if that happens, I win and they lose. And that’s how it’s gotta be.

Guiding principle in life

I have no use for the words “should,” “would” or “could.”

I absolutely do not care what anyone thinks about me.

When I ask you how you’re doing, don’t say, “I’m fine.” I actually do want to know how you’re doing, because then I can understand where you’re coming from.

Yardstick of success

How much I love my job.

How much the people who work for me love their jobs.

Not worrying about meeting payroll.

That’s it.

Goal yet to be achieved

Getting Dr. Earles on Oprah.

Best practical advice

“This is business and in business, everybody you deal with should be about making money. Anyone who says that they want to help you because it makes them feel good is probably scheming on how to take advantage of you later.”
–Anonymous

“The best use of your time is going out and getting some more business. Every minute you spend doing something else is a minute our business loses.”
–Brian Johnson

“Buy your own drinks…especially if someone thinks you’ve got money. Always buy your own drinks.”
–Anonymous

Supportive words from a family member or friend on your venture

“Mr. Earles, I think you are certainly an adequate person to do this job.”
–Stan Culp, CEO, Packaging Plus

“I like the way you do business.”
–Phillip Kim, CEO, Mid-K Beauty Supply

“That boy is better than money in the bank.” –R. Martin Earles, MD, my Dad

Mentors?

Kali Evans-Raoul, The Image Studios: a totally outstanding entrepreneur.

Stuart Taylor, The Taylor Group: one of the most respected investors in the Chicago business community.

John Foster, The Foster Group: for showing me that people can both respect you and fear you at the same time.

Dr. Phillip Fanara, Howard University: for showing me the importance of doing things exactly right.

Anthony Overton, Overton Hygenic Co. & my great-great grandfather: for not being afraid.

What motivated you to get started?

My father’s passion to address Black peoples’ needs.

The possibility of creating a business that could set a new standard in its industry.

It was incredibly hard to do.

Like best about what you do?

I like employing people. I like cutting their checks. I love the idea that they are able to pay their bills, buy clothes for their kids, pay tuition, etc. based on the work they do for our business.

Like least about what you do?

It can be kind of lonely.

At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A scientist.

What was your first job?

Alphabetizing folders in my Dad’s practice. I was about five years old.

Biggest pastime outside of work

Tennis.

Person most interested in meeting?

Whoever I end up marrying, for obvious reasons.

Leader in business most interested in meeting?

Steve Stout. He seems to be able to almost able to see the future.

Three interesting facts about yourself

  1. I am the publisher of an independent, counter-culture newspaper.
  2. I am a pretty good singer.
  3. I’ve got this weird thing where I can’t really tell left from right, especially when I’m driving.

Three characteristics that describe you

  1. Committed
  2. Open
  3. Hungry

Three greatest passions

  1. The way people treat each other on a day-to-day basis.
  2. Doing the things I say I will do.
  3. Writing. My second career will be creative writing.

Favorite book

“The Big Sea,” Langston Hughes’s autobiography.

Favorite cause

Anyone starting a business.

Serving South Africa, the Ithemba Foundation

hs10 (2)Based in Washington D.C. with philanthropic efforts in South Africa, the Ithemba Foundation exists for the sole purpose to nourish children in body, spirit, and mind. Laurie Scott, age 34 and Executive Director, founded this non-profit in 2002 and, since then, has expanded the agency to include four primary avenues of support: a computer training program, leadership camps, school meals, and karate classes. The Ithemba Foundation has fed more than 400 children and strives to do more through helping donors realize that physically nourishing an impoverished child only addresses one aspect of larger social issues. Laurie is grateful for an all-volunteer Board of Directors and says that without their tireless efforts Ithemba could not have garnered all of its successes to date. For more information on the Ithemba Foundation and how to help shape the lives of thousands of South Africa’s under-served children, read on to learn more in this week’s Non-Profit Spotlight .

About the non-profit

The Ithemba Foundation was chartered in 2002 after several Board Members visited South Africa and personally saw the ravaging effects of Apartheid. The name, Ithemba, was chosen because it means hope in Xhosa and Zulu, which are two of South Africa’s official languages. Thus, the foundation serves to instill Hope by exposing under-privileged youth to empowering programs. The foundation underwrites its mission via resources provided by institutional and private donors.

Our Vision is to play an integral role in producing South Africa’s future Leaders and Professionals by accomplishing the following three objectives via our programs:

  • Integration of children from different racial, language and cultural backgrounds.
  • Create opportunities for children to build self-worth, leadership, interpersonal and technical skills.
  • Develop youth into role models of hope and encouragement for others in their communities.

What are your day-to-day responsibilities?

As the Executive Director and Principal Founder, my day-to-day responsibilities include the following:

  • Reviewing grant applications submitted by the foundation’s financial officer and/or director of marketing; and writing applicable executive summaries.
  • Strengthening partnerships with donors and supporters of Ithemba, by calling or e-mailing them regarding opportunities to do more to help South African youth.
  • Working closely with the South African Embassy to ensure they are aware that our programs are filling a critical void.

Most notable milestones

We have fed more than 400 kids through our feeding scheme program.

Two participants in Ithemba’s Karate Program were selected for South Africa’s National Karate Team and competed at the World Karate Championship in Helsinki, Finland. The two participants, Anele Ntaga, age 16, and Beauton Fountin, age 17, won gold and silver medals respectively.

We have increased the computer IQ of more than 150 students via our Computer Training Program.

We have broke down cultural and racial barriers and empowered more than 200 South African youth via our Bi-annual Leadership Camp.

What’s the niche?

We are an all-volunteer board of compassionate and committed young professionals. None of us get a dime for our efforts, and most of us give both resources and time. Additionally, we focus on raising funds via awareness of youth issues in South Africa. We firmly believe that once people are aware of the uphill battle many youth in South Africa face daily, they will support our vision.

What’s the biggest challenge?

Similar to other non-profits – raising funds is always a challenge. We have two South African board members in South Africa who depend on us to provide the funds to support the empowering programs they are coordinating and facilitating on that side.

What’s in store for the future?

In February 2007, we partnered with the Inimba group to extend its’ School Meals Program to children living in a community profoundly affected by HIV/AIDS.

We are working with the South African Embassy to take a delegation of 15 supporters to South Africa to see first-hand what we saw in 2002 that sparked us to create Ithemba. The trip is scheduled for November 2007.

Our annual fundraising event, “Taste of South Africa” , is scheduled for August 18, 2007. This event is held in conjunction with the South African Embassy in Washington, DC.

Best way to keep a competitive edge

Recognize the strength and weaknesses of your board members and ensure each board member is there for the organization’s vision, not just having a title on their resume.

Guiding principle in life

Begin with the end in mind.

Yardstick of success

How many lives you have touched…in a positive way?

Goal yet to be achieved

Spending 100% of my time working to expand Ithemba’s vision.

Best practical advice

In most cases, it’s better to be happier than right. People focus too much on being right about all things, even at the destructions of others, which generally sacrifice their happiness…if they have a heart.

Supportive words from a family member or friend on your venture

Top many to list…

Mentors?

My mother, Mary Scott, through her commitment to our church and community while raising four children.

My college mentors, Dr. Judy Rashid, Dr. Faranak Miraftab and Mrs. Mary Griffin, through their love for education and service to South Africa and other countries.

My professional mentors, Vice Admiral Michael Loose and Captain Bret Muilenburg, through their commitment to equality and service to our great Nation; my personal friend, South Africa Deputy Chief of Mission to the United States, Mr. Derick Moyo, by helping me gain a comprehensive understanding of global issues and humility

What motivated you to get started?

Going to South Africa and personally seeing the ravaging effects of Apartheid on SA youth.

Like best about what you do?

The opportunity to serve others and do my small part to shape their opinions about American people. Even if they don’t agree with our policies, they understand that the people care about their struggle.

Like least about what you do?

Having to convince funders that they should support us financially. It’s naïve to assume that people will give based on the fact that you can clearly articulate your vision. It’s hard work.

At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A rapper/break dancer!

What was your first job?

Dishwasher at a local diner in Allentown, PA.

Biggest pastime outside of work

Biking or hiking – I love the outdoors.

Person most interested in meeting?

Barack Obama, he is a visionary when it comes to global humanitarian issues. He’s not perfect, but he’s striving to be like the rest of us.

Theodore Roosevelt is a close second.

Leader in business most interested in meeting?

Bill Gates, to understand his strategy and vision for making Microsoft the brand that it is today.

Three interesting facts about yourself

  1. I hate reading fiction books.
  2. I’m a health nut.
  3. I rarely watch TV or movies.

Three characteristics that describe you

  1. Outgoing and happy with my place in the world.
  2. Mostly laid back, but can be intense when it matters most.
  3. Serious work-a-holic

Three greatest passions

  1. Anything outdoors.
  2. Experiencing different cultures.
  3. Talking about real-world issues in small groups

Favorite book

“7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey

Favorite cause

South African Youth Issues.

Who would you like to be contacted by?

Anyone who is interested in supporting a grassroots effort to help South African youth.

Ending Violence Against Women: Hotline Coordinator Vickie Sides

Violence against women is an unfortunate reality in most parts of the world, but Vickie Sides is doing all she can to eliminate it. She has served as Coordinator of the Chicago Rape Crisis Hotline, a program of the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, since it first began. The hotline operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, providing crisis intervention over the phone and offering information and referrals to survivors of sexual assault. For the past 10 years, Vickie, 38, has grown the program from one staff person (herself) to seven. But not only does she seek to help survivors, but she also seeks to challenge the conditions that make violence against women a reality . Through her work at the YWCA, she is active in promoting equity and eliminating oppression, in keeping with her belief that rape exists because patriarchy exists. To learn more about Vickie and the Chicago Rape Crisis Hotline, check out this week’s Nonprofit Spotlight.

About the non-profit

The YWCA is the oldest women-focused social service organization in Chicago. Our services are focused in the areas of sexual violence and support services, economic empowerment and early childhood services. Our mission to eliminate racism and empower women is actualized through all of our programs and services. The YWCA officially incorporated “the elimination of racism” into our mission statement thirty years ago, when we recognized that we could not achieve the empowerment of women without working for equality for all women, regardless of their color or creed.

What are your day-to-day responsibilities?

As Coordinator of the Chicago Rape Crisis Hotline (since its inception) and the initial (and only) staff of the original program, I have managed program growth and development over the past ten years. I supervise a staff of seven tough, brilliant, politicized, kick-ass women.

I organize and coordinate 24-hour/seven-day coverage for the hotline utilizing staff and volunteers. I train hotline staff and volunteers to provide telephone crisis intervention and information and referral service to survivors of sexual assault and their significant others. I get to work in collaboration with other rape crisis centers in and around the city. I work hard to ensure proficiency and quality of program and services and accountability to the community.

I do trainings and presentations for almost anybody who asks. This is all the fun stuff and why I love my job.

The not-so-fun stuff: I collect, record and maintain statistical data. Maintain program files. Provide professional training and institutional advocacy to medical, law enforcement, educational and social service personnel. Promote visibility of the hotline and raise awareness of sexual assault issues through public speaking engagements, presentations and training, and the use of informational materials. I give important support to hotline staff and peripheral support to program volunteers.

Most notable milestones

Watching the program grow from one staff person to seven!

Getting to work with the most awesome and amazing group of women ever assembled during the life of the program!

Working with these women to develop the best 56-hour volunteer training program ever!

Being part of an organization whose mission is the “empowerment of women and the elimination of racism” and who not only articulates that mission but works hard to ensure that it is evident in all aspects of programming!

What’s the niche?

At the Hotline, what makes us unique is the way we approach our work. We do not simply seek to bandage the wounded, we seek to challenge they very circumstances that make violence against women routine and acceptable in our society.

We believe that rape exists because patriarchy exists.

We also believe that in order to eliminate violence against women, we need to understand and eliminate oppression and inequity. We have not yet accomplished this in through our day-to-day work but we do provide an analysis of the systems and a space for interested parties to become part of a movement. It is our hope that this space will provide the impetus for the use of collective action to eliminate rape. My former co-worker Rachel Caidor used to say that our goal is to “work ourselves right out of a job.”

What’s the biggest challenge?

Our biggest challenges are limited resources available for women’s programming, such as ours.

In recent years, government priorities have shifted and funds that previously went to social programs have been redirected.

This means that we have no resources to grow our programs, even though the epidemic of violence against women continues to grow. In addition, we are challenged with very limited language capabilities on the hotline. In a city as large and diverse as Chicago, it is frustrating not to be able to serve all of its citizens.

What’s in store for the future?

Expanding our language capabilities.

Becoming more visible (and a greater resource) for the entire Chicagoland community.

Incorporating more content on working with sex workers and with transgender communities into our training and programming.

Best way to keep a competitive edge

The best way to keep a competitive edge is to consistently focus on the quality of the services you are providing. I am much less concerned with volume than I am with quality. When we work to “improve” our services, we are not just talking about increasing the numbers of people we serve; we are also talking about how well we are serving our clients/community.

Guiding principle in life

I have several but I would say that one important guiding principle that is most evident in my life is:

“Don’t sweat the small stuff.” I cannot remember the name of the author I first heard this from several years ago but it is pretty much the way I chose to live. There are far too many “big” things to consume our time and energy. Why use yourself up and wear yourself out worrying about the small stuff?

Yardstick of success

My yardstick of success is the degree of personal satisfaction I feel in my life. I know it sounds corny and cliché but I really do feel like that is the most important thing. This personal satisfaction is derived from several areas and measured holistically. It’s not just about my job, although it is important to me that I do good work and do it well. It’s also about my family and relationships, my feeling spiritually connected, my physical health, my emotional well-being, my finances, and yes, even my wardrobe and my appearance. I am not high-maintenance by any stretch of the imagination, but I do like to feel good about how I look

Goal yet to be achieved

Getting a Ph.D. and reading all the books out there that I am afraid of dying before I get a chance to read them.

Best practical advice

Women should always act as smart as they are. The thing that ruffles my feathers most in life is when I encounter/observe smart women who do not use what they know to make decisions about relationships, money, education, their professions and any other areas of their lives. I often find myself saying to friends, relatives, co-workers, etc… “Act like you know what you know!”

When women fail to do this, they ALWAYS live to regret it.

Supportive words from a family member or friend on your venture

My partner on grad school: “You can do it. It is simply a matter of perseverance. All of these people around you everyday are no smarter than you; they have simply decided to stick it out through the process. If they can do it, you can do it too.”

Mentor?

Dr. Esther Jenkins, Professor of Psychology at Chicago State University, my undergraduate alma mater. Esther is a brilliant, grounded, well-rounded woman who does not sweat the small stuff! When I stepped tentatively into her office several years ago to tell her “I think I want to get a Ph.D.,” she simply said “Well, there is absolutely no reason you shouldn’t have one. All the rest of us are walking around here with one.” That simple statement helped to demystify the process for me and allowed me to see that a life in academia is something that I can have access to.

What motivated you to get started?

Actually, I came to this work quite accidentally 10 years ago. I was looking for a job and there was a position at the YWCA that looked interesting. It wasn’t until I showed up for the interview and the woman interviewing me explained how this could be my opportunity to “become part of a movement to end violence against women” that I began to see the significance of getting involved in this work. In the interview, I remember her trying to convince me that it would be a good move for me. She said some important things about the potential to affect people’s lives in important ways through this work. By the time I got off the train going home, I had decided to take the plunge and the rest, as they say, is history.

Like best about what you do?

Teaching and training, raising awareness, seeing new people come to this movement either as students doing internships, graduates seeking jobs, volunteers, people changing careers, etc. I love to see passion for a cause sparked in people.

Like least about what you do?

Restrictions imposed by working within a 501C3 structure, limited human and financial resources, the way statistics and data are sometimes used and accountability to funding entities.

At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A schoolteacher or a superstar!

What was your first job?

As kids, we were often paid by family members and neighbors to do little chores for them. I think this motivated us and taught us that our labor was worth something. My first job outside the house was working for Kentucky Fried Chicken at age 16. It was short-lived because my grades went down halfway through the school-year and my mother decided a job was not more important than school!

Biggest pastime outside of work

Hands down – eating! I love food, maybe even a little too much. I love trying new foods and new restaurants and sharing that experience with family and friends. I also love to travel and will likely do more of that in the future when I am making the big bucks!

Person most interested in meeting?

Bell Hooks. Because she is a brilliant theorist on race, class and gender and I want to know how and how much that translates to her everyday life. I also want to ask her why issues of sexuality are conspicuously absent from her work.

Leader in business most interested in meeting?

Oprah Winfrey. She is obviously a brilliant businesswoman and I want to hear more about how she built her empire because that happened after she found “success” in journalism, news reporting, acting and hosting a talk show. I want to know about her journey in building the media dynasty over which she presides.

Three interesting facts about yourself

  1. My knees can pop completely out of their sockets.
  2. I was adopted by my great-aunt, which made my mother younger than my grandmother. Try having a 10-year old explain that to people!
  3. I have a very bad memory but an uncanny ability to remember numeric sequences. I know my credit card number by heart. I remember the license plate of my first boyfriend’s car and I still remember the telephone number of my two best friends in high school, event though I have not seen either of them in about 15 years!

Three characteristics that describe you

  1. I am fiercely loyal.
  2. I am driven by the desire to see equity and justice in the world.
  3. I am a “classic” middle child.

Three greatest passions

  1. Reading political theory
  2. Learning new things
  3. Giving people the tools to think more critically about the world in which they live.

Favorite book

“Killing Rage” by Bell Hooks
Anything by Audre Lorde

Favorite cause

The spiritual reconciliation of the Black church to Black LGBT people, whose gifts and monies have been used by the church but who have been excluded from full participation in the life of the church. More importantly, if they are never reconciled to the organized church, I want them to (in the words of Dr. Yvette Flunder) “Go and get your God back.”

Who would you like to be contacted by?

Ira Glass and the Radio Show “This American Life” or maybe Oprah!

 

Successful Writer, Radio Commentator & Entrepreneur Kenji Jasper

At age 10 not only did Kenji Jasper know he was going to be a Writer, he also began his career. He worked as an anchorman at a local television show. At 12, he began interning at the Washington Informer. Not many people can claim the same, but then again, 31-year-old Kenji is not just anyone. He has worked for NPR as a radio commentator, taught in the classroom and written several novels. His first novel, “Dark,” made both the Washington Post and New York Times’ best seller lists, and was just optioned to be made into a film by Fox Searchlight Pictures. He also Founded his own company, Words Lines and Phrases, an editorial services firm that works with clients ranging from magazines and websites to individuals. Although he has excelled in many fields, writing still remains his passion. His love of story telling is the common thread that connects all of his endeavors. Learn more about Kenji and his many projects as we feature him in this week’s Young & Professional Profile.

About the company

Words Lines and Phrases is an editorial services firm that works with clients ranging from magazines and websites to individual clients. We provide services in article writing, editing, screen and television writing, coaching, ghostwriting, photography and desktop publishing

What are your day-to-day responsibilities?

I acquire clients and serve as the lead executor of all writing services, occasionally hiring contractors for additional work that I can’t perform due to my schedule as an author.

I head the editorial and creative services company. I also wrote press-kit materials and artist biographies for LaFace Records and Rawkus Records. I drafted articles and reviews for various publications including: The Village Voice, Essence, Newsday, VIBE, XXL, Savoy, KING and Amazon.com

Most notable milestones

My first novel, “Dark” made the Washington Post and New York Times Bestsellers lists.

Essence magazine noted me as a writer to watch

My first novel, “Dark,” was optioned to be made into a film for Fox Searchlight Pictures

What’s the niche?

I consider myself to be one of the only authors who has come out of the hip hop generation that knows how to represent urban reality in literature in a way that is palatable to both those who exist within the culture as well as those outside of it.

What’s the biggest challenge?

Well, working as a writer becomes more and more challenging as we live in a society that is more conscious of images than the works behind them. The reading public continues to diminish as the number of cable channels, online outlets and interactive entities increase. So you have to find new ways to work within this revolution while maintaining the strength of your craft in all that you do.

What’s in store for the future?

I hope to adapt all of my novels: “Dark,” “Dakota Grand,” “Seeking Salamanca Mitchell” and “Snow” for the screen. I also plan to focus my creative efforts into selling a few television pilots in hopes that one or two might become successful television shows. I would also like to expand my ghostwriting business. So if there’s anyone out there who needs a book written, or needs help getting their book or other project written, Words Lines and Phrases is here for you. We’ve most recently been contacted about working on a memoir that centers around the life of the late Anna Nicole Smith.

What are examples of some of the things you’ve done as a writer or as an instructor?

As an author, I have written three novels: “Dark,” an LA Times and Washington Post bestseller (2001), “Dakota Grand” (2002), “Seeking Salamanca Mitchell” (2004), the memoir, “The House on Childress Street” (January 2006), the novella “Snow” (February 2007) and “Beats, Rhymes and Life,” a forthcoming anthology of nonfiction writings on hip-hop culture(May 2007).

At the Bedford-Stuyvesant “I Have a Dream” Program and the Banneker High School writing center, I assisted high school students with assignments relating to the English language, prepared students for the college application process, and taught writing skills.

Also, as an instructor, I teach classes and workshops on a variety of topics ranging from software applications to creative writing. I have been contracted by Spelman College and The Katharine Gibbs School among others.

As a Radio Commentator on NPR, I regularly wrote and contributed personal essays and commentaries to both “All Things Considered: Morning Edition” and “The Tavis Smiley Show,” two key programs on National Public Radio. I also serve as guest host for WNYC’s “The Leonard Lopate Show”

At Urban Box Office, I composed daily news briefs, assigned and edited articles, established relationships with record label and film company publicity departments and contributed feature articles for site content.

Best way to keep a competitive edge

Know your market. If you keep constant tabs on what your clients are looking for and how to meet their needs then you know how to speak their language. Speaking their language makes them feel at home with you. And we all know that when it comes to this life there’s no place like home.

Guiding principle in life

I believe in having faith, honor and determination. If you really want to hit the mark with your life’s aspirations you also need to trust your gut every step of the way.

Yardstick of success

My yardstick for success is my reputation. Both clients and readers look to me as someone that will give them work that is both well-crafted and seductive in nature. That’s what I’ve always wanted to achieve with my writing and thus I consider myself a success.

Goal yet to be achieved

I have yet to see something I’ve written appear on the big or small screen, but I’m working on it:)

Best practical advice

If you’re looking for it to happen overnight, stop looking altogether.

Supportive words from a family member or friend on your venture

My father once told me to stop asking myself what was wrong with me, and to ask “What’s wrong with them?” instead.

Mentors?

Nick Tosches
Richard Wright
James Baldwin
Alice Walker
Ralph Ellison

These writers tell their own truths through their words and investigations, and that is all that I have ever wanted to do with my own work.

What motivated you to get started?

I always loved stories. So I couldn’t wait to tell my own. The first time I put pen to paper I was eight years old. I read that story to my class and they loved it. They kept asking me when I was going to write another one. I was sold on writing from there on in.

Like best about what you do?

I make my own hours. I get to work in my shorts and a t-shirt. And I take a vacation whenever I want.

Like least about what you do?

Finding enough work to take care of myself and my staff. But I’ve been blessed to have fewer problems than most writers I know.

Why you love writing?

I love writing because no matter how simple or complex, it always tells a story. And I love to tell stories.

At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A writer.

What was your first job?

My first job was as an intern for The Washington Informer newspaper when I was 12 years old. I wrote them a letter and they told me that I could work there for a summer. I worked as hard as I could and I really impressed them. Three years later, I worked for a national magazine called YSB.

Biggest pastime outside of work

Movies. I love going to them. I love watching them at home. My friends and I quote our favorites constantly. I also enjoy photography, shooting pool, all kinds of music, and traveling whenever I can.

Person most interested in meeting?

I’m very interested in meeting John Ridley, who is a novelist and writer in Hollywood, who has in many way managed to avoid being pigeonholed as a “black” writer. Though I don’t agree with his politics he has a pretty impressive resume and we’ve always been two degrees apart, which is odd considering our age difference.

Leader in business most interested in meeting?

James Lassiter has an enormous amount of power as Will Smith’s business half. I would also like to talk to Sean Carter about the early days of Roc-A-Fella Records as I think there are some serious marketing lessons to be learned from that little label’s early successes.

Three interesting facts about yourself

  1. I began my career in journalism at 10 when I was an anchorperson on a local television show called Newsbag.
  2. I cook an Brazillian shrimp stew that is amazing.
  3. I am a “Sopranos” and “Lost” fanatic.

Three characteristics that describe you

  1. Determined
  2. Intuitive
  3. Strategic

Three greatest passions

  1. Writing
  2. Conversation
  3. Love in its many forms

Favorite books

“Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison
“Cut Numbers” by Nick Tosches
“The Fire Next Time” by James Baldwin
“The Rum Diary” by Hunter S. Thompson

Favorite cause

Freeing minds from The Matrix.

Who would you like to be contacted by?

I would love to be contacted by my fans, potential clients, and those who might be interested in bringing to their hometown to deliver a lecture or a creative writing workshop.

Sponsoring African Growth in Technology and Entrepreneurship: The African Network

hs9Sade Sobande, 27, and her colleagues were in search of a place to develop as African entrepreneurs when they realized that place didn’t exist. Instead of giving up they took action and created The African Network, an organization whose purpose is to foster the growth of entrepreneurship and technology in Africa and the African diaspora. Their organization has managed to both develop individual entrepreneurs here in the Silicon Valley as well as to develop the future of Africa. Not only have they held a successfulconference, in which they discussed the future of science and technology in Africa, they have also held networking events that enable members to interact and learn from speakers from the worlds of technology, business, government, and academia. One of their largest accomplishments has been the development of The TAN Empowerment Program, which in 2006 donated computers to needy schools in Sierra Leone. For more information on The African Network and how you can get involved, read on in this week’s Non-Profit Spotlight.

About the non-profit

The African Network (TAN), is a not-for-profit organization founded in Silicon Valley with the sole mandate of fostering the growth of entrepreneurship and technology in Africa and amongst her children in the diaspora worldwide through networking, education and mentoring.

Part of TAN’s mission is to showcase Africa to the world as the next viable economic center and one of the fastest growing emerging markets beyond China and India, with the intention of generating interests and investments in science and technology.

At TAN, we believe that the best way to tackle poverty is not to give aid, but to empower people to stand on their own feet.

Vision – To leverage all available resources for the technological and entrepreneurial advancement of Africa, Africans and and people of African descent.

Mission – To present Africa to the world as one of the fastest growing economic centers and thus attract investments in science, technology and enterprise. To foster unprecedented positive cooperation amongst members thus creating value to all.

TAN’s Values:

  • Integrity
  • Honesty
  • Selflessness
  • Empathy
  • Confidentiality
  • Mutual respect
  • Trust
  • No racial, tribal, ethnic, sexual or religious bias


TAN has three major programs which help achieve its mission and vision. 

1. TAN Conference (TANCon): This is an annual conference held in Silicon Valley showcasing Africa’s technological and entrepreneurial potential to the venture capital ecosystem and the world at large. The premier conference, held at the Four Season’s Hotel, Palo Alto, attracted over 100 attendees, including students, business leaders, people from the academia, African entrepreneurs within the United States and from Africa. The video recording for the duration of the conference is now posted on our website at here. Our goal is to make TANCon 2007 a better conference than 2006. 

2. TAN Empowerment Program (TEP): This encourages and coordinates the giving back of educational and empowerment resources to needy progressive communities in Africa. The purpose of this program is to stimulate Africa’s future science and technology talent pool. Last year, the premier TEP program was conducted in Sierra Leone. A TAN member, whose business is primarily based in Sierra Leone organized computer software training for local residents. In addition, personal computers were donated to some schools in Sierra Leone that needed them for their students. For this year and subsequent years, in addition to helping to stimulate Africa’s future in science and technology, we will also do the same within needy African – American communities in the United States. 

3. TAN Monthly Networking Events (MNE): The MNEs are an opportunity for TAN members to interact and listen to accomplished speakers from the world of technology, business, government and academia.

What are your day-to-day responsibilities?

As the TANCon 2007 chair my main goal is to ensure the success of the conference. On an ongoing basis, I work with all functional committees which are marketing/ticket sales, finance/fundraising, venue/catering and speakers.

Most notable milestones

TANCon – TAN had its first conference last year, TANCon 2006. The conference was a success with about 100 attendees. The video of TANCon 2006 can be found here.

TEP – Last year, the premier TEP program was conducted in Sierra Leone. A TAN member, whose business is primarily based in Sierra Leone organized computer software training for local residents. In addition, personal computers were donated to some schools in Sierra Leone that needed them for their students.

What’s the niche?

TAN is the sole organization that focuses on fostering entrepreneurship among Africans in the diaspora.

What’s the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge TAN face is making contacts with other entrepreneurs. We need to be able to build the network faster and to do that, we need to build a strong base of entrepreneurs. With a good base of entrepreneurs in the organization, we would have more people in leadership roles.

What’s in store for the future?

TANCon – TAN is having its second annual conference, TANCon 2007, which will be held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Palo Alto on Saturday October 13. The theme for TANCon 2007 is “Roadmap to Entrepreneurship”, to provide future and current entrepreneurs the tools needed to establish and develop successful companies. Distinguished speakers will deliver and answer questions on various entrepreneurship topics. Please visit www.tanconf.org to learn more about the conference and register.

TEP – Obtain 501c3 status for the organization. For this year and subsequent years, in addition to helping to stimulate Africans future in science and technology, the plan is to do same within needy African – American communities in the United States.

MNE – We will continue to provide networking opportunities to our members and future members. TAN will also be having its first annual TAN dinner. The dinner is an opportunity to present the organization and its potentials to corporate and organization leaders in the area.

Best way to keep a competitive edge

As a non-profit organization, we do not actually compete against other organizations however, we do have guiding principles to guide our actions and expansion process such that the mission and vision of the organization is preserved as we expand.

Yardstick of success

I will be happy when TAN has expand beyond just Silicon Valley, and we have implemented sustainable education programs in various African countries and here in the US.

Goal yet to be achieved

Short-term goals: TANCon – Host a successful TANCon 2007.

Medium-term goals:
TEP – obtain 501C3 certification.
Partner with other African charities to expand on the programs started with Sierra visions last year to educate Africans in the area of technology
MNE – plan and execute the first annual TAN dinner

Long-term goals:
Move beyond Silicon Valley and develop chapters in major cities such as Atlanta, New York, Houston, Chicago, London and other cities worldwide.
Develop sustainable educational programs in various African cities.

Best practical advice

Keep your eyes on the prize.

Supportive words from a family member or friend on your venture

Focus on your goals and remain true to yourself.

What motivated you to get started?

As individual Africans, set of us searched for organizations we can join to develop as entrepreneurs but couldn’t find any focus on us. We thought it would be useful to create an organization that will provide a support structure not only for each other but for future entrepreneurs as well. We want to build a foundation such that in 5-10 years others can come in and not have to struggle in getting their business off the ground.

Like best about what you do?

I enjoy knowing that I am part of an organization that will make a significant impact in Africa. Thou we’re still ways from achieving that goal, we have no doubt it will happen.

At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be an engineer solely because I thought my uncle was one. As I grew older, I realized that my uncle was actually not an engineer but I somehow I maintained my fix on engineering and ended up becoming one.

What was your first job?

I had my very first job when I was in high school as a cashier at Taco Bell. Taco Bell was the only fast food place I would eat at in high school and it was pretty much all students from my high school that worked there. I actually truly enjoyed working there. I got to learn a lot about dealing with customers at an early age.

Biggest pastime outside of work

I love working out; various forms of workout. I enjoy dancing, watching great movies, enjoying the company of my family and friends, and many more. I am a very open-minded person and enjoy living life to the fullest.

Person most interested in meeting

Nelson Mandela – For everything he is and everything he represents.

Leader in business most interested in meeting and why?

Oprah Winfrey – learn how TAN can partner with her mission in South Africa in order to leverage it across other African countries.

Three interesting facts about yourself

1.I speak 3.5 languages
2. I have lived in 3 continents
3. I have a catering business with 2 partners

Three characteristics that describe you

1. Dedicated
2. Outgoing
3. Caring

Three greatest passions

1. Religion (Christianity)
2. Cooking
3. Working out

Favorite cause

Securing the economic growth of Africa.

Who would you like to be contacted by?

Every organization and person that support our goals and anyone interested in becoming an entrepreneur.

From Finance to Interior Design, Award-Winning Angela Page Shows Us How It’s Done

angela_headshotAngela Page, 33, took her finance degree and her love of design and turned them into a successful business. Stepping outside the box, she chose to leave the security of a corporate job and pursue her dream. The result? Le Creatif Designs, LLC., a successful interior design consulting firm launched in 2000. In 2007 Angela will open Le Creatif Design Gallery, which will offer quality, fashionable and unique furniture to the sophisticated client. Angela’s success is due in large part to her outlook on life, “Your dreams will inspire you but your goals will keep you moving in the right direction.” This belief has carried her through the many challenges of a small business owner. In 2005, she was awarded the Miller Urban Entrepreneur Series Business Plan Contest, which enabled her to invest more in her business. Angela’s accomplishments have not gone unnoticed, in 2007 she was nominated Black Enterprise Magazine’s Rising Star of the year. To learn more about Angela and how she turned her dreams into a successful business, read on in this week’s Young & Professional Profile.

About the company

Le Creatif Designs, LLC, is one of metro Atlanta’s most progressive interior design consulting firms. Launching my business in 2000, I believe I have made an indelible mark in the interior design industry. After more than seven years of success, Le Creatif Designs is expanding its services to further include retail sales with Le Creatif Design Gallery. The design gallery will offer high quality, fashionable, and unique furniture and home accessory pieces sure to please the sophisticated client with a discerning palette for creative design.

What are your day-to-day responsibilities?

As Le Creatif Designs expands to include Le Creatif Design Gallery, it presents new daily challenges. In addition to customer and vendor contacts, networking with business professionals and organizations, creating design layouts, and sourcing product to complete the designs I am so involved in setting up the gallery location from the design aspect as well as establishing all of the systems necessary to run the facility. I am also interviewing for various positions for the gallery.

Most notable milestones

Transitioning from the corporate world to entrepreneurship. It takes a lot to step away from the “security” that comes with a guaranteed paycheck. But when you notice your dreams and goals are one and the same when it comes to your career, you have to seriously look into yourself for the strength and faith to follow it.

What’s the niche?

I have a unique blend of business acumen and creativity which makes owning a design firm a perfect fit for me. I love the idea of creating an empire that is basically limitless. I can continue to build the dream and open new galleries where the demographics work. Or I can build a firm here in Atlanta that encompasses every aspect of design or just one. Whatever the dream, I can make it come true because I understand how the business of design works. I know what drives the numbers and what creates new opportunities. And at the end of the day, I know what’s hot when it comes to design.

What’s the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge for me right now is financial. It is a difficult challenge to actually get small business financing from the traditional banks. Having the opportunity to be a grant award recipient of the Miller Urban Entrepreneurs Series Business Planning Contest in 2005 was a unique opportunity to assist me in financing my business. However, most small business owners do not have that opportunity. I put everything I have into this business because I believe in it and I know where its going. Having a bank to feel the same way would allow my more immediate goals to supersede anything this industry could imagine!

What’s in store for the future?

In the very near future Le Creatif Design Gallery will open for business! The grand opening is scheduled for September. The gallery will feature furniture, accessories, and art. Some of which will be created by local artisans and craftsmen. Le Creatif Design Gallery is making a mark in the industry. We are going to make it our business to create a path of success for other entrepreneurs to follow.

Best way to keep a competitive edge

Always stay on top of your education and your industry. That doesn’t mean you have to keep going back to earn more degrees, but it is necessary to subscribe to industry publications, read books on your industry, find a mentor and/or be one. You’d be amazed what you will learn from teaching others. Challenge yourself to do it bigger, better and faster the next time you do it. You should never be satisfied with the status quo and you should never feel like you know it all. There is always something else to learn.

Guiding principle in life

Have dreams and have goals. But know enough to understand the difference. Your dreams will inspire you but your goals will keep you moving in the right direction.

Yardstick of success

Being able to give something back to those who are in the position you were in when you started. I look at those who contact me in regards to being “trapped” in corporate with a desire to follow their dreams and I try to make sure I give them the road map to success I followed and also offer words of advice. I look at the little girl in a class room with the world telling her she has to follow the math or science discipline in order to be successful and I offer her an opportunity to see the world of design through my eyes. At the end of the day, it’s not about success. It’s about significance. What significant difference have I made in someone’s life.

Goal yet to be achieved

I would like to get the store opened. It is going to be a great accomplishment to actually close on the retail space and an even greater accomplishment to open the doors to the public.

Best practical advice

Be planful in your business ventures. Set small goals that will get you to your larger goals.

Mentor?

My dad because he is a realist. He keeps me grounded in my thought processes. At the end of the day we have completely different tolerances for risk taking. But I need to hear his conservative views in order to be sure I thought of all of the possible outcomes before I take a chance. He is a brilliant mind and a visionary, and just a little cautious!

What motivated you to get started?

I had a desire to be creative. I loved to express emotions through design ever since I could remember. I would invoke a feeling from a person when they entered my space before I ever knew what that meant. I knew if I had that kind of influence over people with my designs, I should do it more often and on a bigger scale to see what natural talents I could unleash.

Like best about what you do?

I like being able to take a space like a lump of molding clay and create a work of art. I love to look at the before shot and the after shot of a room and see the difference I have brought into the clients space.

Like least about what you do?

The thing I like least about what I do is that I can’t do it all. I know I have an analytical part of me that wants to control every aspect of Le Creatif Design. It has been a great challenge for me to understand that in order to create a successful and sustainable business, you have to allow the work to distributed in a productive manner. Also, the business should be able to run without me when need be. The only way to do that is bring in competent individuals to assist in the growth and development of the business.

At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was 10 I believe I said I wanted to be a psychiatrist. My dad majored in Psychology and I just wanted to be like my daddy. I had no idea what it meant to be a psychiatrist. I just knew my dad had a job and most other dads in my neighborhood did not. So he must have been smart! He told me to look towards a business degree if I wanted stability. All the while I was sewing doll clothes, painting, drawing and redecorating my bedroom every chance I had.

What was your first job?

My first job was in a bakery decorating cakes. I was the best high school student decorator! I loved it. It did not pay much but I could draw on cakes and work with people.

Biggest pastime outside of work

As a small business owner, I do not have time that is designated “outside of work.” But when I am in a designated “down time” per friends and loved ones, I love to spend time at the movies and trying out some of Atlanta’s great restaurants. If I said shopping, I would have to admit it was for furniture and home accessories. If I said traveling, I would have to admit it was to look for unique pieces for the store. If I said reading, I would have to say I read books about building small business, interior design principles, how-to books on crafts and design. That is just what I enjoy doing all day everyday!

Three interesting facts about yourself

  1. In 2007, I was nominated Black Enterprise Magazine’s Rising Star of the year.
  2. In 2005, I was a winner of the Miller Urban Entrepreneur Series Business Plan Contest.
  3. I used to dance on TV as a preteen on a local dance television show!

Three characteristics that describe you

  1. I am a self-motivated individual with the tenacity to achieve my goals of entrepreneurial success.
  2. I am a spiritual, God-fearing person. I believe everything that is happening to me in terms of business was set in my path long before I knew anything about it. My faith has me where I am today.
  3. I have a silly personality! Most people are shocked by how silly I am when they get to know me.

Three greatest passions

  1. My passion to design and create beautiful spaces that represent my clients’ personalities is what keeps me going.
  2. Creating a business legacy for my family to build on.
  3. Establishing a foundation to allow other young minorities the opportunity to express themselves creatively as a career.

Favorite book

Right now, its “The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It” by Michael E. Gerber. This is my second time reading it and it sheds so much light on what small business owners think they know about business and how to keep from falling into the trap many business owners have in the past.

Favorite cause

Diabetes awareness. My sister died at 33 with four children from this disease. She was diagnosed at eight and lived a very difficult life as a result of it. Even after her death, I still have family members being diagnosed with the disease as well as millions of other Americans. The disease they have is from our lack of knowledge around what we eat and how we live. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Who would you like to be contacted by?

It has always been a dream of mine to be on the Oprah Winfrey Show and/or in the Oprah Winfrey O Home Magazine. I believe she has done what it is I think all business owners should strive to do: market the person as the brand. After that the future business opportunities are limitless. On a more personal level, I would love to be included in her network of people in order for me to learn from her and even have a roundtable discussion with her on subjects like business, dreams and aspirations, books and recipes. I just want to prove that great minds do think alike. :-)

Driven by Faith: Jacques Bahati and His Mission for Africa

“I have, therefore we have,” is the concept that drives 35-year-old Jacques Bahati. He is a Policy Analyst for the Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN), which brings the concerns of the people of Africa, especially the impoverished majority, to policy makers. AFJN is a member of the Executive Committee of Congo Global Action Coalition, an organization that is especially important to Jacques because he grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo. His involvement in DR Congo goes beyond AFJN; he has alsoCo-Founded Healthy Congo, INC, an organization that strives to bring HIV awareness in the rural Congo. In addition he works with his home parish in the DR Congo to improve education and health. Jacques involvement in all these organizations comes from his strong desire to help others. He guides his life by the principles of the Bible and holds a masters degree in theology. To learn more about Jacques and the many organizations he is involved in, read on in this week’s Non-Profit Spotlight.

About the non-profit

Africa Faith and Justice Network is an Africa-advocacy organization that works to promote a more responsible US foreign policy in Africa. For the past 25 years, AFJN has been engaged in high-level advocacy in Washington, DC to bring about a shift in American policy and mentality. As a Catholic-based organization, we work with Catholic communities and other on the ground in Africa and in the United States to promote our message of peace and justice transformation.

Inspired by the Gospel and informed by Catholic Social Teaching, AFJN has conducted policy analysis and advocacy on issues such as hunger, conflict resolution, international debt, trade, and food security. Currently, AFJN is focusing its energies on three new areas of concern:

  • Promoting restorative justice as an element of conflict resolution,
  • Opposing the harmful goals of the new US-Africa military command (AFRICOM)
  • Preparing for the 2009 African Synod.

As a member of the Executive Committee of Congo Global Action Coalition, AFJN has also committed itself to urging the US government to end the war in Democratic Republic of Congo. AFJN works to bring information to policy makers that will enable them to make decisions respecting the concerns of the people of Africa, especially the impoverished majority. For that, we are called at times to lobby members of Congress in Washington and in the districts. Other times it means writing letters, marching in the streets or organizing activities in schools and parishes. At all times it means praying for wisdom, strength and moral courage for those both in and out of power in our world. 

Members of AFJN receive regular newsletters geared to inform and to stimulate reflection and action in solidarity with the people of Africa. The members also bring their own experience from Africa to the network and to the policy makers. The AFJN website offers updated information on our activities and on urgent African issues concerning human rights and justice. In addition, it suggests actions that members can take in the short and in the long term. Annual meetings of members are occasions to meet with like-minded concerned activists to discuss focus topics in workshops and to interact with eminent speakers.

What are your day-to-day responsibilities?

Researching and writing analysis on African issues that AFJN is involved in such as HIV/AIDS, violent conflict prevention, peace, Justice, debt, good governance, restorative justice, trade, water, The catholic Church African synod and much more. As an advocate for African nations to the US government, I attend meetings that are offered on Capitol Hill, the state department and a wide variety of organizations which have the same concerns as AFJN.

I am also a resource person for our membership on the issues that we are working on. I attend African summits organized by communities with a focus on African issues throughout the US. These are either events sponsored by the dioceses or parishes within dioceses, or universities. I attend conferences on different issues to deepen my understanding of different issues for a thorough analysis and personal formation and information gathering. This is also a way to network with other organizations, find other members and create awareness of the African people’s faith, strength, hopes and challenges.

Most notable milestones

From a 10-year-old boy in the countryside of Kazuba in the DR Congo walking to and from school for an hour and half to holding three degrees and several certificates is humbling.

Being married to a loving, caring, great, intelligent and beautiful woman Felicia R. Wells from Chicago, Illinois is a blessing.

Having been a co-founder of (AVA) Association Des Vieullards Abandonnes (Association for Abandoned Elderly) that became a ministry in many of parishes in the Bukavu city is humbling too.

What’s the niche?

AFJN is the only Catholic-based, non-profit, advocacy organization focused on Africa. Though our network is open to people of all faiths and persuasions, much of our support and methods of advocacy stem from the Catholic Church.

What’s the biggest challenge?

To emotionally stay detached from the horrible stories of injustices, oppression, exploitation and other kinds of victimization that African people are subjected to from local and foreign powers is the biggest challenge. At some points I wonder if these people doing harm to others have a heart. My faith that teaches me to be hopeful is my great help in dealing with such frustration.

What’s in store for the future?

I hope that one day, at God’s time to bring people from the margin to the center I will be chosen by him to hold an office that would allow me to be part of this job that God entrusts to many, but they turned their back against him serving themselves and making friends with those in power only.

Also, I am involved with the St. Anne Catholic Parish in Barrington, IL in a partnership with my home parish in the DR Congo. We are focused on education and HIV among the many things. I hope to see the Nkokwe and Kanyabusoro schools building project completed and much more.

In addition, with Steve and Anne Hall, a couple from Connecticut, we are finalizing paperwork on “Healthy Congo, INC” a non profit that is to bring awareness on HIV/AID in the Rural area forgotten by all in the DR Congo. I hope to make this an experiential opportunity for people to go to the Congo for a short or a long term to share their talents, give and receive blessings working with the people of the DR Congo. The end of January 2008, my friend Jackie Griffin, a Registered Nurse who works at the University of Loyola Hospital in Chicago and a member of the St. Anne church project is going to the Congo for a year. A group from St. Anne will be going late April and my wife and I will be going early 2008 to contribute personally on the work on the ground in addition to what we do here.

Finally, I will submit my paperwork to be certified as a chaplain with the National Association of Catholic Chaplains (NACC) to be certified as a chaplain.

Please go into more detail about your other non-profit organizations

Association des Vieullards Abandones is an organization born to respond to the growing number of elderly bagging on the streets of Bukavu as a result of the war in the D.R. Congo that begun in 1996.

Anowin Center is a Native American Catholic Church community in Chicago.

South West Chicago PADS is a homeless shelter in Chicago.

Best way to keep a competitive edge

The best way to keep competitive in the domain of working for justice and peace is to “have the information” for a better understanding of what is going on and take appropriate action in opposing and exposing the evil of oppression, corruption, self-service, war, injustice and much more. It is also to have faith that there is a future for those who survive the victimization. From Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I keep these words as a way to help me stay on the battlefield for justice and peace: “The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, but the one of violence is tragic bitterness.”

Also he said that “the privileged group rarely give up their privileges without strong resistance.” At AFJN, we resist any kind of policies that aim to put people of Africa down. For example, many African leaders want to be eternal leaders even if they are not helpful in any way. When they finish their mandates, they change the constitution to continue to enjoy the privilege that comes with their position. Nations such as the US supported many of these behaviors for their interest. Our goal is to do all that is in our power to change such ways of government.

Guiding principle in life

“Humility is the key to every door.” With this I am able to relate and find my place among the poor and the weak in our society as well among the rich, the powerful and the influential.

Yardstick of success

The number of people who benefit from what I do is my yardstick. For me it is unacceptable that wealth is in the hands of a few. In the DR Congo, my county of origin, the rich, the powerful, the influential even want to take what little that the poor have. This is why bringing about equality is key to my work and mission. Some people suffer as a result of others. I know that we can do better than this. At AFJN, as we draw our inspiration from the Gospel.

This is why in my best guide in my work is Matthew 25: 35b-36 “… I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” This for me is success, not the money you make a year. I have an example from my other nonprofit organization activities.

My friend Jackie Griffin an RN working at the University of Chicago Hospitals is leaving the big money she makes to go to the DR Congo work on our school and health care project. She will volunteer to live on the minimum amount possible to pay her health care insurance, food and be able to go back home once a year to reconnect with her family. The good news is that the number of people she will touch is greater than the money she would make. At AFJN, I make no much money, but the impact I make in advocating for people whose voice has been ignored is exceptional.

Goal yet to be achieved

To be a peacemaker by negotiating peace where there is violent or possible violent conflict. I believe that God had blessed me with a forgiving heart that cares and that through my work and me he can bring peace where there is war and conflict.

Best practical advice

Time heals. In serious matters please take time to think before you speak and be slow to anger. I learned this from my transformational book, The Bible. One who follows this advice puts first values instead of might, mercy instead of revenge, love instead of hate, hope instead of fear, converses instead of shouts, is moderate instead of extremist, is humble instead of proud, listens instead of being indifferent and helps instead of hurts.

Supportive words from a family member or friend on your venture

My father, Ntamabyaliro Maheshe Edouard, always said “providing you with education is my obligation. Take it seriously and you will never be anyone’s slave, refused it and you will even be a servant of your brothers.”

From my professor at Catholic Theological Union Dawn Northwehr, O.S.F, after reading a paper I wrote, she said “You should enroll in the Master’s in Ethics program. You have good ideas.” She nurtured me and what she saw in me happened.

From my mother, the day I was moving from the Congo to Cameroon, she took me aside, said a prayer of blessing and said: “Just do good and you will find your family everywhere you go” It has been true and on my wedding day, many were surprised the number of people I knew who attended.

Mentors?

My parents for being hospitable to who ever came to us from anywhere, for whatever reason. My father would wave debts of some people because they were not able to pay.

Rev. Georgio Agustini, a Xaverian Missionary who was my formation director when I was in the seminary in Bukavu. For him, life can happen if we make it easy for those we live with and those we encounter or work with. He lead our effort to bring relief, bring the wounded to the hospital, feed the hungry, provide shelter to weak and the poor during the war in the DR Congo in 1996. He is a model of being and lives a positive life for me.

Finally, my father for loving my mother who was ill for most of her life. He never left her even under pressure of many of his associates to find a healthy wife, but he took her to the best doctors we could afford in Uganda, in the Congo etc. Today we are a family, happy and all together.

What motivated you to get started?

I am involved in so many things that I do not know what to speak about. I co-started many things namely the Association for Abandoned Elderly in the Congo, networked with the St. Anne parish in Barrington which led to the school building and health care project in my home parish, on the way is “Healthy Congo, INC” to bring HIV awareness in the rural Congo. The motivation is my passion for the poor. I would summarize this motivation in these words: “I have, therefore we have” I will never feel fully happy if there still people who are poor, under served, fearful and marginalized because of injustice, greed or militarism, tribalism, and all the -isms.

Like best about what you do?

Letting the world know other people’s struggles through my writings and advocating for change on their behalf. Also, when people get help as a result of my networking and advocacy, I feel happy.

Like least about what you do?

The editing work before publishing is my disliking. I have ideas, but I am not the best writer. However, the good news is that the world needs people with ideas as well as those with best writing skills.

At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a teacher like my father. Later I wanted to be a priest. I went to the seminary for 10 years. A year before I was to be ordained, I decided to take the road of a lay minister involved in social justice.

What was your first job?

I worked at the Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, IL as a chaplain Resident. My interest in medical ethics and my passion for ministry lead me to doing chaplaincy. It was a humbling experience in addition to learning skills in clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). I supported people in different situations and their families. Those who suggest to not take life for granted are right. I saw the limitations of our bodies and the power of our spirits. How can one be so much in pain and with no hope for quality of life and still find meaning to life? Many gave up, but some held on. The people I served are in my memory for ever to be remembered.

Biggest pastime outside of work

Watching documentaries, talking to friends on the phone, networking, listening to music.

Person most interested in meeting?

Bill Gates, I would like him to fund some projects that I am involved in.

Leader in business most interested in meeting?

The CNN television channel director so that I can ask them to dedicate some time in covering African stories.

Three interesting facts about yourself

  1. Peacemaker and fighter for justice
  2. Charitable
  3. Family person

Three characteristics that describe you

  1. People person
  2. Forgiving
  3. Hopeful in all things

Three greatest passions

  1. Religion
  2. Reading to educate myself on any subject
  3. Traveling to network

Favorite book

First, the Holy Bible for personal transformation and second among many I like “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paulo Freire. Like The Bible, books and other resources are empowering for me in getting the information for my intellectual and some times human formation. With a book like “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” I am inspired and become creative as I build up my personal opinion and approach. This becomes my contribution to all kinds of oppression that is going on in the world. It allows me to expose what some people are hiding and oppose and confront them to the truth not for myself, but for the common good (Justice and peace for all).

One of my favorite quotes from this book is “… the oppressed must not, in seeking to regain their humanity…, become in turn oppressors of the oppressors, but rather restorers of the humanity of both.” (p 44)

Favorite cause

The rule of law, justice, peace and end of corruption in leadership in Africa.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Eternal thanks for asking me to be part of this great initiative.

Who would you like to be contacted by?

Senator Barack Obama so that we can talk about common interests and US foreign policy, justice, and peace.