CAREER & LIFESTYLE MAGAZINE
Profile of Serial Entrepreneur
From Prison to a Palace: The Art of Community Transformation by Montrie Rucker Adams Volume 6 S pecial I ssue 2020
GOING THE DISTANCE
COMMUNITIES. At Dominion Energy Ohio, going the distance for our customers means more than just delivering safe, affordable natural gas. It means being a positive force in the communities we serve. Our EnergyShareÂŽ program has raised $6.8 million and helped more than 70,000 people in Ohio alone. These resources, combined with more than 6,300 volunteer hours from our employees, have benefited organizations as diverse as the American Red Cross, the Boy Scouts of America and the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition.
Pandemic, Trauma, Depression, Isolation, and Our Girls: Letâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Stop Ignoring the Facts by Luciana Gilmore Op-ed about how the pandemic is affecting children, particularly girls.
Western Reserve Grief Services: Here When You Need Us by Karen L. Hatfield Virtual groups can provide a valuable source of support during the pandemic.
11 Book Suggestions
Check out these inspiring books this Winter!
Entrepreneurs Inspiring stories about entrepreneurs Akin Affrica, Diane Linston, Kelli Banks, Yolanda Ramos, Alysha Ellis, Rhonda Sharpley and Kareem George. From Prison to a Palace: The Art of Community Transformation by Montrie Rucker Adams Freshly Rooted & Styles of Imagination Profiles compiled by Jennifer Coiley Dial Culture Traveler by Ruthanne Terrero Permission to reprint this article granted by Luxury Travel Advisor and Questex Media. ON THE COVER:
At home with serial entrepreneur Akin Affrica. SPECIAL ISSUE 2020 | 3
CL Magazine Team Publisher and Chief Editorial Officer Alexandria Johnson Boone Creative Director Jennifer Coiley Dial Senior Copy Editor Michelle E. Urquhart Business Manager Paula T. Newman Assistant to the Publisher Bernadette K. Mayfield Senior Strategist, Subscriber & Community Development Simone E. Swanson Database and Information Coordinator Cheretta Moore For advertising information please contact us at: advertising@CL-Magazine.com Subscribe free online: www.CL-Magazine.com
CLMagazine_ CLMagazine_ CLMagazine C L Magazine is published digitally on a quarterly basis by the Women of Color Foundation (WOCF), a 501 (c) (3), tax-exempt organization, for the benefit of women and girls of all colors. Our offices are located at 4200 Warrensville Center Road, Medical Building A, Suite 353, Cleveland, Ohio 44122. Toll Free Phone number: 866.962-3411 (866.WOCF.411). Copyright ÂŠ 2014-2020. All rights reserved. No portion of this publication may be distributed electronically, reproduced or duplicated in whole or in part, without written permission of the publisher. Readers and advertisers may subscribe for free at: www.CL-Magazine.com Magazine Production: GAP Communications Group
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Career & Lifestyle magazine is getting a new look coming soon!
Publisher’s LETTER Goodbye and Good Riddance to 2020!
Dear Readers, I am hereby officially declaring myself a survivor of 2020. Oh my God! First, a health pandemic, then a racial and social injustice pandemic, followed by the senseless murders of Black men, boys and women; and the ongoing, widespread dismantling and erosion of our democracy, our economy and our humanity to one another as citizens on the planet earth. I honestly can’t remember anything in my life that has stressed me out more than the madness of 2020. (Except for the passing of my mother in 2012, and my father in 2016.) The events of 2020 left me, and so many Americans, feeling lost, isolated, afraid and confused about how to deal with all the cards dealt to us throughout the year. However, the year wasn’t all doom and gloom. Our Foundation was benefited by the Payroll Protection Program (PPP), received a grant from the C.A.R.E.S. Act, and a low interest loan from the SBA EIDL Program. We also benefitted from a ground-breaking grant from the Dominion Energy Foundation to implement the Black Women’s Leadership Project: Developing Leaders, Building Communities! In addition, we moved quickly to re-tool our business from “live” educational and professional development programs and events, to “virtual” events, without missing a beat. And the continued support our corporate sponsors and community partners allowed us to continue our critical services (many offered at no cost), to women and girls of color! So, I am trying to focus on the good things that happened this year too. But my overall feelings remain the same. Hello 2021, hoping you will treat us all better! In the spirit of the greatness in us all,
Alexandria Johnson Boone Publisher/Chief Editorial Officer, CL Magazine Chairwoman/Founder Women of Color Foundation SPECIAL ISSUE 2020 | 5
Pandemic, Trauma, Depression, Isolation, and Our Girls:
Let’s Stop Ignoring the Facts In recent weeks, we have heard more and more conversations about how the pandemic is affecting children, and in particular girls, but the fact of the matter is the effects are as varied as the 24 colors in the Crayola crayon box. How the pandemic has affected society widespread is life changing to all but to some it’s devastating. As school got ready to start, it was asked, “Are you excited about high school?’ “No, I want to go back to middle school. It’s what I know, and it ended suddenly. I don’t feel prepared, and I won’t know anyone. I miss talking with my teachers. A couple of them really liked me. I’m not sure my new teachers will understand me.” The response provided by a 14-year-old girl is reflective of a lot girls, but not just any girl, more precisely a girl who has attended public schooling her entire life, a girl who is being raised by a single mother, a girl who has suffered trauma already in her life including domestic violence, a girl who is a black girl. And just who is this black girl really? She is the girl who is born into circumstances she didn’t ask for. She is the girl who has experienced sex before she knew how to multiply through the act of molestation at the hands of a family member. She is the girl who lives in the housing projects and passes men making inappropriate gestures to her on the way to the bus stop. She is the girl who becomes the parent and feeds her siblings when she returns from the school as her mother works to provide. She is the girl who Luciana Gilmore Founder and CEO Gilmore Girls Greeting Foundation firstname.lastname@example.org
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watches as society paints a picture of the black men she calls, dad, brother, and uncle. She is also the girl who attends school and achieves the honor roll. She is the girl who excels at track. She is the girl who helps the elderly woman with her flower bed and sings in the church choir. She is the black girl who is voiceless and who will succumb to trauma if we do not intervene. Yes, it’s true all adolescent girls experience growing pains. As their bodies change, their emotions become somewhat of an out of body experience, and it seems to them that the world understands none of it. But add an element of trauma to the mix, and you’ve just taken a normal wave of growing pains and added a tsunami where many will drown without the proper guidance, support, and leverage to make it out the storm successfully. The pandemic has added an additional element which either is not of importance or one that many want to stray away from and that is how has the pandemic truly affected the already wounded. How has quarantine life hindered the life of the scarred? While some have found the sanity of being home, there are many where home is a battle ground, home is not safe, home is a constant reminder of the reality that girls try to escape daily as they venture off to school. During the pandemic, there is no escape. There is no alternative to their reality. Girls are not fully engaged in virtual games, or playing single person basketball in the yard, so where is their outlet? As in normal times most girls deal with issues
internally. It takes a while for girls to open up and share concerns with others as a fear of not being understood always looms in the background. During this pandemic, the outcry of our girls has been filtered by the complacency that has always been evident and voiced that children are resilient and will adapt. Well, what if that adaptation has been altered because life experiences have removed the childlike innocence and adapting is not a present vocabulary term but survival is the mode of resiliency being activated. Why aren’t we reaching those who are drowning? Why haven’t we created and executed a plan of help and rescue? Are we even aware that this problem is more prevalent than it is acknowledged? This isn’t as simple as channeling the effects of the pandemic to that of just missing the first semester of sports, our Black girls in particular are suffering, from trauma, depression, and isolation in surging numbers not being addressed. While trauma has long existed among underserved communities, for as long as history has been written and beyond, the added elements of the current conditions of the world has created a new storm that has left many drowning in self and their current realities. Our girls are faced with parenting younger siblings, as single parent households need to continue to work. They are faced with being in the home with their abuser all day. They are faced with figuring out how to fend for themselves. In addition, they are still trying to maneuver through the normal issues they face as being a girl just trying to grow up. Add social media to the mix, and the constant pressure to be more than what you are, and you’ve just created a plan of unrest and anxiety.
So, is there a fix? Is there a way to address, help, support, and guide our black girls so that the tsunami of life does not afford them the front seat of the unproductive generational cycle that is proposed? I would propose there is. While mentorship has been highlighted among notable commentaries as a best practice in guiding and impacting youth, it also serves as a safety net for many who otherwise would have none. Girls, especially black girls who commonly are afflicted with multiple occurrences of trauma need to have mentors, structured guidance and support extended and provided to them. In addition, girls need to have a space that is created just for them. Instagram, TikTok and outlets of such are breeding grounds for more trauma, depression, and low self-esteem. We cannot stand, watch, and hope our girls will grow to be amazing women despite the wounds they carry throughout childhood into adulthood, the cycle must stop. There is a need to address what we can directly influence today. The pandemic has allowed many pockets of people to be helped but we have forgotten about the little black girl who just needs someone to listen, guide and help her to see beyond her circumstances. Our black girls are feeling isolated and depressed because no one is hearing their story. Mentorship for our black girls needs to be strategic, implicit, and motivating. We cannot afford unstructured mentorship, or mentorship that does not directly relate to our girls and their reality. No, it is not as simple as missing the first semester of sports. It’s complicated, it’s sprinkled with pain, and wrapped in bandages of generations. Signed, A Black Girl Who Tore The Bandages Off!
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Western Reserve Grief Services:
Here When You Need Us What a year 2020 has been! Much like grief itself, the reality brought about by COVID-19 has been life-changing and, at times, overwhelming. The moment we start to feel like we understand the “rules” and have a handle on things, something else changes and we’re challenged to adapt once again. For those who have experienced the death of a loved one during this time, assumptions about being together “at the end,” grieving, memorials and supporting one another may have been shattered by the pandemic’s restrictions. Very little of the past year has gone according to our plans. As we enter the winter months, face the approaching holidays and continue our co-existence with COVID-19, I encourage you to be gentle with yourself. Give yourself a break from the hustle and bustle. Take time to notice moments of joy and beauty when they happen – no matter how small. Try one new thing that can offer connection with another person or a moment of peace and restoration. Bundle up for a walk or sit outside to breathe in the crisp air and listen to the quiet of the winter. Try connecting through technology or take a break from it if you’ve had enough by the end of the day. The choice is yours. We continue to offer virtual grief support groups. While we miss being together in person, we are happy we can support you in this way. If you Karen L. Hatfield, MMT, MT-BC, CHPCA Director, Bereavement Center Hospice of the Western Reserve www.hospicewr.org | CL MAGAZINE 8 |8CL MAGAZINE
haven’t attended one and are interested, I encourage you to take a look at the different available groups. It might be helpful to try something new. Virtual groups can provide a valuable source of support during the pandemic. Sometimes, more than one attempt may be necessary to find the group that best meets your needs. Please do not be discouraged; it’s okay to experiment. Regardless of your loss or coping style, remember that you are not alone, and you need not grieve alone. Grief support groups offer a safe place to express emotions and a place to “tell your story.” They provide education about grief and loss that can help you understand the complex swirl of emotions you are experiencing and understand they are a “normal” part of grieving, and that you are not alone. By interacting online with others who also have experienced the death of someone they love, you may discover new ways to problem solve and cope with difficult situations. Western Reserve Grief Services is available to help. Our virtual grief support groups are available at no cost to anyone in the community who is grieving the death of a loved one. For more information, call us at 216.486.6838, or visit our website: hospicewr. org/griefandloss. We look forwarding to welcoming new members. Wishing you peace and comfort in the new year.
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Are you ready to give back to the business community? Now is a great time to give back to the Greater Cleveland business community and help to grow the economy. More than ever, we need mentors to work with and counsel new business startups and growing small businesses. SCORE Cleveland needs volunteers to inspire entrepreneurs and small business owners. SCORE is a professional, valuable expert resource that helps businesses grow at no cost to
our clients. We help entrepreneurs and small business owners by building strong, lifelong relationships through mentoring and expert resources. SCORE mentors help them to bring their ideas to fruition and achieve their dreams. Helping small business owners will help our community. You can help people realize their dreams of small business ownership, and create commerce and jobs in our community. As a volunteer, local business professionals can help small businesses succeed. Local business professionals have a gift and should consider helping their communities by sharing their knowledge with small business owners. If youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re in Cuyahoga, Ashtabula, Lake, Geauga, Lorain, Erie or Huron counties, and at a point in your business career where you want to help others succeed, volunteer your expertise to help small business owners in Northeast Ohio. Volunteering is a way for you to give back, network with business experts, and share your knowledge. To learn more, visit https://cleveland.score.org/volunteer or call 216-503-8160.
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Book Suggestions A Promised Land by Barack Obama In the stirring, highly anticipated first volume of his presidential memoirs, Barack Obama tells the story of his improbable odyssey from young man searching for his identity to leader of the free world, describing in strikingly personal detail both his political education and the landmark moments of the first term of his historic presidency—a time of dramatic transformation and turmoil. Obama takes readers on a compelling journey from his earliest political aspirations to the pivotal Iowa caucus victory that demonstrated the power of grassroots activism to the watershed night of November 4, 2008, when he was elected 44th president of the United States.
Leap Frog by Nathalie Molina Nino Think the most critical factor for becoming a great entrepreneur is grit, risk-taking, or technical skills? Think again. Despite what every other business book might say, historical data show the real secret ingredients to getting ahead in business are being rich, white, and male. Until now. Leapfrog is the decades-overdue startup bible for the rest of us. It’s filled with uncompromising guidance for winning at business, your way. Leapfrog is for entrepreneurs of all stripes who are fed up with status quo advice--the kind that assumes you have rich friends and family and a public relations team. Refreshingly frank and witty, author Nathalie Molina Niño is a serial tech entrepreneur, the founder and CEO of BRAVA Investments, and a proud daughter of Latinx immigrants. For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Politics by Donna Brazile, Yolanda Caraway, Leah Daughtry, Minyon Mooore A sweeping view of American history from the vantage points of four women who have lived and worked behind the scenes in politics for over thirty years a group of women who call themselves The Colored Girls. Like many people who have spent their careers in public service, they view their lives in four-year waves where presidential campaigns and elections have been common threads. For most of the Colored Girls, their story starts with Jesse Jackson’s first campaign for president. They went on to work on the presidential campaigns of Mondale, Dukakis, both Clintons, Gore, and Obama. SPECIAL ISSUE 2020 | 11
Book Suggestions Your Next Level Life by Karen Arrington Channel your black girl magic: If you’re feeling trapped by other people’s expectations of what you can achieve, it’s time to stop playing small and start redefining what success means for you. Karen Arrington founder of the Miss Black USA Pageant and mentor to thousands of confident, successful young black women is your guide to getting your next level life. With the seven simple rules, you’ll learn how to bring your career, income, and lifestyle to that next level. Don’t settle for a life of mediocrity. Set ambitious goals, reach for bigger opportunities, and know that you are brave enough to get what you deserve. 90 Days to CEO by Rochelle Graham-Campbell Like so many of us, Rochelle Graham-Campbell was a broke college student working multiple jobs to make ends meet. From working at a local nursing home to waitressing at Olive Garden by night, her entrepreneurial spirit was alive and well. After Rochelle’s “big chop” in 2008, it was this same spirit that led her to make and sell her own natural hair care products. From a tiny bathroom in her college apartment, Rochelle began filming her haircare journey, soon becoming one of the pioneers of natural hair vlogging on YouTube. With just $100 in tips from a night of waitressing, she bought the ingredients to formulate her own products. These kitchen concoctions soon became Alikay Naturals, Rochelle’s solution to beauty without compromise. Powershift by Daymond John Have you ever wanted to make a big change in your life but weren’t sure where to start? In Powershift, Daymond John shares the answer. To take control of your destiny and drive the change you want to see, you need to lay the groundwork so you’re prepared to seize every opportunity that comes your way. And that means mastering: Influence, Negotiation and Relationships. Through never-before-told stories from his life and career, Daymond shares the lessons that got him to where he is today: from how he remade his public image as he transitioned from clothing mogul to television personality, to how he mastered the negotiation strategies that determine whether deals are won or lost “in the tank.” SPECIAL ISSUE 2020 | 13
Connexions Consulting, Inc. is an organizational development firm dedicated to creating inclusive, culturally competent workplaces. We help organizations achieve their mission, goals, and objectives by optimizing talent, unleashing creative and inclusive environments and enhancing organization’s reputation in the marketplace. At Connexions Consulting, we focus our services on helping our clients to define the end goals. Along the way, we tap into some, or all, of our core services, including:
◉ Customized strategic plan consulting ◉ Inclusion and Diversity strategic plans, audits and assessments ◉ Development and implementation of diversity councils and employee resource groups ◉ Alignment of talent management with diversity ◉ Inclusion and Cultural Competence education and training ◉ Community capacity building facilitation ◉ Human resource compliance Together we can achieve your mission. Find out how: Charmaine Brown President / CEO Connexions Consulting, Inc. 216-970-6740 email@example.com
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ENTREPRE NEURS SPECIAL ISSUE 2020 | 15
Freshly Rooted Freshly Rooted is where food, education, culture, and wellness intersect to amplify wholeness through spirit, mind, and body. No matter the age, race, gender, income level, or zip code everyone should experience health where we work, live, and play. Rethinking community systems In 2015, team members gathered to rethink efforts, approaches, and solutions. Through collaborative work and like-minded values Freshly Rooted was launched to provide the essentials to maintain a healthier lifestyle through food, culture, education, and community. This work led to a strategic partnership with Metro Health Hospital to co-develop and colead community engagement initiatives. Freshly Rooted was able to create transformative sustainability leadership across sectors while also staying true to their beliefs and values. Redesigning access Freshly Rooted partnered with Metro Health Hospital to launch their first ever indoor Farmstand in 2016. This 12-week pilot expanded to nearly 10 months. It is still operating as of today. Even though Freshly Rooted no longer manages this project, they were extremely influential in its success. This success led to launching another Farmstand in partnership with St. Clair Superior Development Corporation. This pilot ran for nearly two years and contributed to community transformation through economic development, food access, and community outreach. Innovative community engagement Freshly Rooted reset and developed innovative strategies to engage community members and other stakeholders in 2017. While maintaining partnerships, the core team committed to empowering residents through a participatory approach to achieve better health outcomes. During this year, they cultivated new partnerships with local community development corporations, Cuyahoga Community College, the City of Cleveland, and others. This reset led Freshly Rooted to build a foundation for its work and future impact and capacity. Life sustaining education In 2018, it became clear that the differentiation factors that Freshly Rooted encompasses is the true gift to personalize life-sustaining education. Rhonda Sharpley and Yolanda Ramos
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Shortly after expanding services to engage corporations through evidence-based models to impact employees health Freshly Rooted extended into surrounding counties. This expansion increased capacity, engagement, and overall led to sustainable results. While growing in new markets Freshly Rooted continued to serve low-resourced communities at times voluntarily. The commitment to empower and support others no matter the social/economic status is a core value. Building resiliency In 2019, Freshly Rooted established integrative solutions to build and teach resiliency to individuals, families, and communities. This approach led to impactful outcomes and cultivated community. At that time, team members engaged, lead, and developed thousands of classes to advance, empower, and teach others. Freshly Rooted believes by building resiliency, it is also building capacity, strength, and ownership. As individuals are empowered and engaged they then can take ownership. Community transformation Freshly Rooted has plans to expand at its forefront, aiming to engage on a national level by offering core services, along with serving at a local level. Investing in one another is not always the easiest thing to do but it is always the right thing to do.
As Freshly Rooted continues to rethink, redesign, innovative, educate, build, and transform, it promises to do so with integrity, love, truth, and peace. freshlyrooted.com
Yolanda Ramos, Owner & Co-Founder Yolanda holds a degree in Applied Business with a focus in Hospitality Management & Culinary Arts. In September, she received a certification as a Health & Lifestyle Coach. She continues to have a large impact in the Latinx community and understanding that in order to make change you must meet people where they are in life. Ramos serves as an instructor for several Freshly Rooted programs and community engagement. Rhonda Sharpley, Health & Lifestyle Coach Coach Sharpley has more than 40 years of experience specializing in personal, groups and community coaching and training. Her role with Freshly Rooted has expanded over the years, and she currently serves as a primary instructor. Alysha Ellis, MBA, Co-Founder Over the years Ms. Ellis has developed innovative business strategies for Freshly Rooted. She has created sustainable practices and principles to advance the business. Currently, she is the lead for Strategic Planning and Sustainability.
Throughout the years mother and daughter Yolanda and Alysha have strengthened their personal relationship and now they are able to empower and support the communities they serve. Check out the video to learn more.
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Special thanks to our special sponsors:
From Prison to a Palace – The Art of Community Transformation at the Carnegie Hotel, a family-owned establishment. She later opened restaurants in other locations: 58th and Euclid, 71st and Carnegie and the most popular, E. 55th and Euclid. “My mother had a restaurant for 20 plus years, but because she never had management experience or formal business knowledge, she never took her business to the next level,” Affrica explains. “Consider buying the real estate instead of getting stuck renting for the long term.”
At home: Akin; his wife Tracy Fowler-Affrica; his mother Angie Jeter (center); and daughter, Akina
Creativity is intelligence having fun. –Albert Einstein Imagine an artist standing before a blank canvas, holding a colorful palette. His vision never once created. He grazes the canvas with varying strokes, short, wide, long…When finished, his ideas are transformed into a masterpiece. Akin Affrica, Greater Cleveland’s premier restaurateur, is an artistic visionary. “I love creating,” says Affrica when asked about the many restaurants and small businesses he’s developed and helped launch. “In 2010 I created a more upscale version of Angie’s called Zanzibar Soul Fusion.” Angie’s is the restaurant his mother established in 1986 after cooking her southern style cuisine
Montrie Rucker Adams, APR Visibility Marketing firstname.lastname@example.org visibilitymarketing.com
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After her retirement in 2008, Affrica rebranded Angie’s Soulfood into Angie’s Soul Cafe, and went on to open multiple locations in Cleveland and Las Vegas. He has maintained the Angie’s brand via licensed agreements. He grew up watching and learning the restaurant ropes at the hotel, which was the second largest African American owned hotel in Cleveland. His mother, the head chef, stirred up and perfected recipes she learned while growing up in Santuck, SC. Affrica worked in the office, shopped for food and other necessary items, washed dishes, served the guests and wrote the checks when the bills were due. There is one thing he didn’t do. Cook. “Before my father passed away, he asked my mother to make sure I learned the business side, so my mother never taught me how to cook,” he recalls.
THE EARLY YEARS Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up. –Pablo Picasso Like many African Americans searching for a better life than they experienced in the south, Affrica’s parents relocated to Cleveland. Affrica describes his father
as a “hustler,” working a traditional job at Ford while also creating multiple streams of income. “My father died when I was 15,” explains Affrica. “He had several after-hour joints, sold booze out of his car, owned the Carnegie Hotel on 68th and Carnegie, was a gambler and loan shark. He owned a lot of properties. All of his businesses were in real estate.” Affrica remembers attending a foreclosure auction where he experienced his father purchasing properties. “I’ve always been interested in real estate. I always knew that was possible for me. It was part of my family.” For Affrica, the road to entrepreneurship had many bumps, potholes, hills and valleys. When his father died, “I rebelled” he said. “I started hanging in the street. I was selling drugs and stealing cars. I was in and out of juvenile facilities until I turned 19. In the streets was where I got re-introduced to real estate from hanging with my peers.” Affrica was 19 when he started buying residential property. He talks of making $40,000 in profit from his first residential sale.
HIGHER ED Learning is movement from moment to moment.
Before turning 20, Affrica found himself in prison serving time on gun-related charges. After incarceration, he sold clothes and accessories out of his car, at beauty salons and barber shops. He often traveled to New York City to purchase merchandise. Within a year, he opened The Urban Closet in two Cleveland-area locations. His stores were experiencing success when one was burglarized. “I ended up catching another case,” he explains. “I caught the guy who broke into my store and caught another gun charge. Once you become a convicted felon in the state of Ohio, you can’t legally own a gun.” While on appeal, he sold both clothing stores and purchased an old night club on Harvard, turning it into Carolina’s Southern Cuisine, the first of his many restaurants. “When I lost the appeals, I had to go back to prison. That was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said. “I got back on my journey of knowledge,” Affrica explains. While in prison, he elevated his business acumen and refined his “hustle” even more. “All I did was read, read, and study,” he said. When asked what books he read, “Anything related to business, investments, real estate. I read books by Warren Buffett, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, The
The Affrica family home, nestled in a gated community, along with a handful of their cars. SPECIAL ISSUE 2020 | 21
Enjoying the home theater.
Millionaire Next Door, The World is Flat, Think and Grow Rich, The Tipping Point, Millions from the Mind… and anything related to restaurants. I read the same marketing and business management books students in college read.” Affrica attended the prison’s college program and remained on the honor roll. He also tutored other students and taught business and real estate classes. Affrica was released in 2008. For the past 12 years, he’s been on a rapid trajectory, creating entrepreneurial masterpieces. PUSHING KNOWLEDGE To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong. –Joseph Chilton Pearce “He continues to push the knowledge,” said Adrian Lindsay, owner of Lyndsay’s Soul Café an Angie’s licensee. Lindsay worked for Affrica when he opened Carolina’s. “He showed me the business side as well as our cultural side. He empowers other people, taking them to the next level. He doesn’t hold
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everything to himself,” he said about Affrica. Affrica explains that over the years, in addition to his own investments, he’s helped open and get off the ground more than 50 businesses and purchased and sold over 150 properties. “He walks the talk,” said Shawn Wynn, owner of The Cleveland Breakfast Club, one of Affrica’s newest business ventures. “I have gotten so much from the pay it forward mentality that he has. He shares positive information with anybody. He does not hoard. You can call him with any question, and he will pass on the information,” he said. According to the Small Business Administration, close to 20 percent of small businesses fail in their first year and 50 percent fail by their fifth year. Only 33 percent make it 10 years. The four top reasons: Lack of funding, inadequate management, ineffective business planning and lack of marketing acumen. Affrica adds to that the lack of knowledge and experience.
THE ENTREPRENEURIAL JOURNEY We learn to do something by doing it. There is no other way. –John Holt Affrica mentions that it is important to know that owning a business is not easy, though you can make it easier by obtaining as much information and experience as you can about the business you want to start before you start. “People don’t realize how important internship is. The best time to start a business is when you are young. I tell people to shadow me. I will tell you everything I know. They don’t want to invest their time learning. They want immediate success,” he adds. “Some of the most famous, popular entertainers were backup singers. DJs and radio personalities started out carrying the equipment. I see people not putting enough emphasis on that. Surround yourself with millionaires. Whatever you want to do in life, surround yourself by that.” Sacrifice is also needed to be successful. “Invest your time and energy. You are gaining knowledge,” said Affrica. “When I had my clothing stores, some days I did not make one sale. On a Friday night my friends would want to go to the club. Who has a clothing store open at 11 at night? Nobody… so I will do it. One store was near The Best Steak and Gyro House which stayed open 24 hours. What I was doing was exposing people to my store. They may not buy anything, but they would learn about my business. I sacrificed hanging out and having fun,” he shares. “Many of us don’t have refined business knowledge. My mother had a restaurant for 20-plus years but
When it is comes to entrepreneurism, it truly runs in the family. A Cleveland area gem, Fashions by Fowler was established in 1988. Founded by sisters Renay and Tracy Fowler, this boutique is nestled in the heart of Shaker Square. The boutique for women features evening gowns and prom dresses, as well as shoes and costume jewelry. It is your “go-to source” for top-of-the-line fashion! Tracy Fowler is the wife of Cleveland serial entrepreneur, investor and real estate mogul, Akin Affrica. However, Tracy and her sister Renay have realized success in their own right. 13119 Shaker Square, Cleveland, Ohio 44120 216-397-0808 SPECIAL ISSUE 2020 | 23
His objective is to inspire others who have made mistakes. “Do not give up on being better,” he says to many of the men he’s encountered. “I have fallen on my face more than a few times, but I decided to keep getting up and pushing forward. I want to help change the narrative for African American men in this country who have made multiple mistakes, but they still have an opportunity for greatness.”
didn’t know how to step it up. Stop renting and own your real estate. Work on your credit. Instead of buying new shoes, you should open a savings account. My parents graduated from high school and moved north. That was it. I didn’t know I could achieve more, until I saw other people doing more.” “He’s one of the most focused and driven individuals that I’ve met,” said Southern Cafe owner, Chef Tony Fortner, about Affrica. “I’ve been in the business for 41 years. I’ve cooked in the Navy, competed all around the world, in places like Italy, Spain, Pakistan and Israel. I’ve met all kinds of people. He is the most focused and driven man that I’ve ever met. I don’t say that lightly. He never seems to be satisfied with whatever achievement he has. He always has to go bigger and better. He is always looking to improve and expand. In real estate, finance, teaching, owning a fullservice restaurant, whatever it may be.” IF I CAN, YOU CAN Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage. –Anais Nin Much like the artist who numbers his paintings so that thousands are exposed to his giftedness, Affrica goes out of his way to share his life story. He lets people know that if they have a story like his, then it’s not the end of the world.
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“It is important to me to encourage others. I realize that I am blessed to have the opportunity to pursue my dreams after everything I have been through,” explains Affrica. “People in Northeast Ohio have supported my businesses every step of the way and I want the opportunity to give back every chance I get. I believe if you are able, you should reinvest back in the communities that support you. Not only financially, but through helping others to pursue their business goals, so they in turn can also reinvest. The net will spread wider for more people to be successful.” Like most artists, Affrica has a keen eye. Amir Foster, who is a Zanzibar licensee along with his brother Ellery Eppinger, waited on Affrica while working at another restaurant. “I was impressed by him and went back and got him,” said Affrica. Adrian Lindsay’s story is similar. “I used to watch him when I visited the restaurant where he worked. He did a great job. He knew what he was doing. He was always very tight. He always had his shirt tucked in,” Affrica says of Lindsay. “He was not your normal employee. I told him that one day I would make him an offer he couldn’t refuse. I asked him what he wanted to do, and he said he wanted to be a restaurant owner. I told him I would do something for him that the person he was working for would never do for him. That man is now an owner.” DEATH DEFYING In a dark time, the eye begins to see.
“It never tainted me. That was one individual,” Affrica says of the incident three years ago when he was shot during a botched robbery. He recalls stepping outside one summer night after closing Zanzibar in Shaker Square. He found himself staring at a masked gunman holding a weapon to his face. “He told me to put my hands up. I resisted and he shot me twice.” His philosophy of hiring and retraining convicted felons almost got him killed. Affrica said 60 percent of his workforce are convicted felons. “My brother is a convicted felon. I believe in second, third and fourth chances. Life is not over after prison.” “We found out months later that the guy who shot me was an ex-employee,” he said. Affrica employed the man with a criminal history of armed robbery behind him. “He couldn’t find a job, so we hired him,” he recounts, adding that the man knew on that day that a young lady was scheduled to close. “He was watching the restaurant and waited until after he thought I left.”
“I have been tremendously blessed,” he says. “I still have my freedom. I have to do something. I can’t rest on the fact that I made it. I was shot three different times. How can I not do something impactful with this extra precious time I’ve been given? I could have been in prison for the rest of my life. For whatever reason, the Creator kept me here with breath in my body. I have to do something impactful. I have to,” Affrica says insistently. PLAYING GAMES WITH REAL MONEY The Universe will reward you for taking risks on its behalf. –Shakti Gawain “My family,” Affrica quickly answers when asked what brings him joy. He is married to Tracy Fowler-Affrica, co-owner of Fashions by Fowler. The clothing and accessories store, which she owns with her sister Renay, has been a staple in Cleveland for more than 30 years. He has two adult sons, Leandre and Mar’que to whom he “handed the keys to the restaurant business” when he was 25.
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Akina, his nine-year-old daughter, is also a budding entrepreneur. “She has a section in her mother’s store where she sells a variety of kids’ accessories… bracelets, masks, sunglasses, scarves…all things related to kids’ fashions,” says Affrica. “She watches construction shows like Flip This House. She is always thinking about selling something.” Author Joseph Chilton Pearce once said, “To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.” Affrica teaches these concepts to his family while playing Monopoly. “I love the game Monopoly. It gives you real strategic tips on investing in real estate. We play with real money. People should get used to winning and losing with real money. The earlier you can get your child started, the better they will be. Many people are afraid of money. They are fearful to take a chance, fearful that they will lose it.” “Everything in life worth getting, there are risks involved. I remember telling my son that I did not care if he failed. I told him failing will be a good thing. It will not kill you. You will recover. Many people love having a guaranteed job. You get connected to it, and it’s easily taken away. I’ve only survived on my hustle,” said Affrica, mentioning that he’s had two “traditional” jobs in his life. “I worked at Geauga Lake [Amusement Park] for six weeks and the Browns stadium for one day. That was when I was 15 and 16-yearsold. This is all I know. People get locked into their comfortable lifestyle. Most are afraid of disruption.” CREATING MORE MASTERPIECES A man who stops advertising to save money, is like a man who stops his clock to save time. –Henry Ford When Yours Truly Restaurant at Shaker Square shuttered after 30 years, Affrica saw an opportunity, even in the middle of a pandemic, to again create something new. “The Cleveland Breakfast Club and Vegan
Club is the first time that two completely different restaurant concepts are under one roof. He explained that in Cleveland, brunch lovers had to wait until the weekend to eat. Not now. The Cleveland Breakfast Club, managed by co-owner Shawn Wynn, is open weekdays from 7:00 am to 3:00 pm, and 8:30 am to 3:00 pm weekends with a full bar and traditional brunch menu. Inside the same location, yet open different hours, is The Vegan Club managed by Chef Porsha. The food is 100 percent vegan plantbased and served daily from 5:00 to 10:00 pm, and until 9:00 pm on Sunday. “Porsha is not your regular vegan chef. She has experience, knowledge and passion for vegan and plant-based food,” said Affrica. “We have 30 items on the menu. No soy products. No Beyond Burgers and Impossible Burgers. She is passionate about real plant-based natural products. I’ve never consistently experienced anything like this.” PUTTING IT ALL ON THE TABLE There is risk you cannot afford to take, [and] there is the risk you cannot afford not to take.
–Peter Drucker Affrica is encouraged by his new ventures. He’s embarking on a project that will have worldwide reach. The vision came to him two years ago to launch Black Table Talks, a video podcast where guests discuss their entrepreneurial journeys, helping others see SPECIAL ISSUE 2020 | 27
Akin Affrica and Shawn Wynn in front of the former Yours Truly Restaurant that they purchased in 2020.
investors, companies that provide business plans, public relations services, attorneys who specialize in real estate, businesses and employee law are on the list. We need to get the information out. Anyone that can help by providing information that makes sense and comes in handy will be on the show.” SUSTAINED ABUNDANCE It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult. ~Seneca
that success is possible. Black Table Talks will be conveniently accessible on YouTube, Facebook TV and Instagram TV. “We will have individuals, entrepreneurs on the show who have a certain level of success. We’ll include companies and organizations that can provide resources to small businesses, entrepreneurs and investors. “There are business owners in this city who don‘t know certain organizations exist. They aren’t aware of the CDC (Community Development Corporation), JumpStart, Cleveland’s Department of Economic Development, The Urban League, or The Presidents’ Council. If you own a restaurant, why would you not be a member of the Ohio Restaurant Association?” asks Affrica. “They didn’t know about it. Whatever neighborhood you are in, whatever community, check out the local resources. See what the local CDC and other organizations have to assist you. Again, it’s the lack of knowledge that holds a lot of businesses back.” “There are a lot of people I have in mind to interview,” adds Affrica. “Real estate
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Now that he’s reached his personal and financial goals, Affrica says he will not only invest in projects that make money, but those that also “do good.” He is personally accomplishing more with investments that help the community. He recently purchased a 62-room motel in Cleveland. It will provide a place to live for men and women transitioning from homeless shelters back into a viable living arrangement. He said it’s hard for most because apartment owners require steady income, proof of prior residency and other qualifications they may not have. “The rooms will be transformed into efficiency suites,” Affrica explains. “The residents will move from a homeless shelter to a converted motel. While they are there, we will help provide them with a stable living environment and employment.” He is working with a non-profit organization to provide a training program for those interested in the restaurant business. “There will be a restaurant on the premises. We will hire the residents to train from four to six months. Once they graduate, we will help them find positions in the restaurant industry. At some point, other vocational training will be provided, but we will start with restaurant positions.” Other new real estate investments include
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purchasing a former Cleveland Heights convent and opening beauty salon lofts. The former convent will be an upscale women’s drug treatment facility. “I am in charge of the construction and design piece. It will mimic a boutique hotel. There will be massage services, a workout facility and gourmet kitchen. It will be one of the nicer boutique establishments in Northeast Ohio,” said Affrica. Beauty industry salons are popular and growing, and Affrica plans to open three. They will be the first in Cleveland, noting that the salons available now are only in the suburbs. His rental salons will attract beauty industry professionals such as barbers, masseurs, nail techs, and people who provide hair and eyebrow services. “It’s the future of the industry,” he explains. “Because of COVID-19, the salon concept makes a lot more sense with everything we have affecting our new normal lives.” Most of Affrica’s real estate investments are commercial properties. His tenants are diverse, however 85 percent are people of color. He leases his restaurant brand, often to individuals he’s trained. Other property investments include boot camp gyms, health and fitness facilities, apartment buildings, beauty salons, barber shops and mechanic shops. Traveling around Cleveland, you are guaranteed to encounter a business that has
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Affrica’s creative imprint. IMPACTFUL HUMILITY The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering. –Bruce Lee In the short 12 years since his final release from prison, the number of lives 48-yearold Affrica has touched is well into the thousands. The hundreds of people he’s fed during the holidays, the hundreds of children who have received free toys and gifts, the many business owners who are succeeding due to his mentoring, they are all included in that number. His philosophy, “It’s not about what you obtain in life, it’s about how you impact others.” Devonna Glen, owner of Devonna’s Detailing, says she appreciates Affrica’s heart. “He’s very humble. Look at all the people he pulls in [entrepreneurship]. He shares his heart, ideas, he is humble enough to share everything with other people. I’ve never met anyone like that before in my life.” “A lot of people don’t like to think about death, but I do,” said Affrica. “We are going to leave this earth one day. Are you going to be the person that only your close family remembers? Or will you be the one people talk about for years to come? People live forever through their lives on earth. I don’t want my life to be minimized by my 70, 80 or 90 years. I want it to exceed that.”
Everyone and everything Affrica touches must be impactful and motivational. “Not just to benefit me,” he notes. “It has to benefit others.” The great philosopher Sophocles said, “Look and you will find it – what is unsought will go undetected.” As the artist’s creativity doesn’t wane, Affrica’s creative expressions via his entrepreneurial visions are eternal. His brush strokes are deep and wide, touching people
everywhere. Creating the future he envisions for himself and others is a canvas bearing his masterpiece. The artist touch is everywhere. Once surrounded by Affrica’s creative imprint on humanity – his sharing, caring and ability to lift up others, showcases those who may be hard for everyone else to find. They just have to look.
What they’re saying about Akin... Adrian Lindsay, Owner, Lyndsay’s Soul Cafe (Angie’s Soul Cafe licensee) “He taught me that it’s about the team. You are as strong as your weakest link. As leaders, you have to put together your right team.” Amir Foster, Owner, Zanzibar (Euclid, Ohio) and Sunshine Cafe “The constant guidance, mentorship and information that we are able to get from him has been a significant value to us in business and in life. I am blessed to have been able to encounter such an individual throughout my personal journey.” Andre Reese, Owner, DR Transportation “He comes from a sincere place. He cares about anybody that cares about themselves. Whether it’s business or personal, if you ask him a question and he doesn’t know, he will find out.” Chef Tony Fortner, Owner, Southern Café “He is a very giving person. He gives anonymously. He sends children to camps, feeds the homeless, passes out gifts to children. Once you break into him, there’s a gem inside that man.” Devonna Glenn, Owner, Devonna’s Detailing “There are so many people who don’t have the heart to help people. He doesn’t need to know why. He’s a hard worker and very giving.” Ellery Eppinger, Owner, Zanzibar (Euclid, Ohio) and Sunshine Cafe “One of the things he used to always tell me was
you will repay me by being successful. He taught me that a lot comes to you by being patient. Do what you have to do now, so you can do what you want to do later.” Kevin Tipper, Angie’s Soul Cafe licensee “He’s been an inspiration to me. He’s a frontrunner. He’s shows people that with hard work, dedication and discipline, it can be done.” Mar’que Jeter, Angie’s Soul Cafe licensee “He’s my father and raised me to have a business mindset. He’s very stern on discipline which is one of the keys to success. He leads by example.” Shawn Wynn, Owner, Cleveland Breakfast Club & The Vegan Club “He helped me grow when I was living a different life. If you decide to do something different, anything and everything is possible. He taught me to be persistent and stay persistent.” Sacheen Dunn-Ford, Owner, Wellness Center “As an achiever, he’s someone that the community can look up to. He’s invested in our community and paved the way for others to do so. What he is doing is monumental.” Talib Hakeem, Owner, U Design, We Paint “He’s a positive example of what one can do when one sets one’s mind to it. He’s demonstrated by example that if you don’t know something, you can learn it. He’s willing to invest in small, black businesses. He’s done a lot for me and my business.” SPECIAL ISSUE 2020 | 31
Styles of Imagination Boutique While many boutiques are closing during this unprecedented time, fashion designer and business owner Diane Linston’s livelihood is thriving. She is an owner of a high-end boutique in Beachwood, Ohio, and a small women’s clothing manufacturing company in Cleveland, Ohio. The manufacturing business and showroom opened in 2015 at 3500 Payne Avenue in Cleveland, and she is the only African American female-owned manufacturing company in the city. In 2019, Styles of Imagination Boutique opened in Beachwood. Her signature line is N.G.U. Design - the acronym standing for “never give up.” Business had been going well, until the pandemic hit the United States hard in March, 2020. “When I had to close my boutique in March, I was very concerned that I would not be able to pay the rent. I lost many sales, and the property management company did not give me a break with any rent,” she says. Her business coach reached out to her in March about making masks. “I don’t make masks; I am a fashionable clothing designer,” she recalls telling him. “You need to consider making masks,” he responded. “This is going to be a way of life.” He was right, of course, and a new business was born. Along with four other investors, Ms. Linston manages a kiosk at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport called “Cleveland Masks and More.” Her masks were in high demand, and her phone started to ring non-stop. “People were calling, texting, and sending inbox messages on Facebook. I made more than $15,000 in just eight days in April.” The second venture has become a business in itself. “To this day, my company is still in high demand for masks.” To her surprise, sales were phenomenal when her boutique reopened in May. “It was like we never missed a beat. Our customers were excited to get out of the house, and wanted to buy jewelry, blouses, or pairs of shoes to feel good, as most had been quarantined in their homes.” The pandemic has changed Ms. Linston’s way of thinking, and allowed her to restructure her business model. She is currently on track to open another boutique inside the Pittsburgh International Airport in February, 2021. “I know we are facing hard times,” she says, “but I advise you to not give up. Now is the time to rethink your life.” Styles of Imagination Boutique, 24331 Chagrin Boulevard, Beachwood, Ohio. stylesofimagination.com Styles of Imagination & Freshly Rooted profiles Jennifer Coiley Dial Creative Director CL magazine coyleemedia.com
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Accomplishments • Participated
in New York Fashion Week
in Harlem Fashion Week (2018) with the daughters of Malcolm X collection
in national and international magazines
line, NGU Collections, garnered national attention with local and national celebrities
fashions at the Cincinnati Jazz festival as opening act for rapper MC Lyte and DJ Jazzy Jeff
fashion designer at the Essence Festival (2019), New Orleans
on New Day Cleveland (Fox 8) and Sunny Side Up (Channel 19)
in 13th anniversary edition of Who’s Who in Black Cleveland in 14th edition of Who’s Who in Black Cleveland & Akron
Styles of Imagination Boutique’s Diane Linston (above); and Kelli Banks, one of the shop coowners, with her products (below).
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Permission to reprint this article granted by Luxury Travel Advisor and Questex Media. 38 | CL MAGAZINE
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