Huami Magazine Cleveland Feb./March 2024

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Love Is What Makes Black History Important

It’s Black History Month, and Huami Magazine has produced a gallery of artistic portraits to honor 29 individuals who’ve helped us enjoy many opportunities. Follow our social media pages to enjoy the productions, and please feel free to share and include someone who belongs and is worthy to be celebrated also.

In recent years, the argument has been that Black History should be celebrated 365 days per year. I agree. I am also aware there needs to be more emphasis on an annual year-round celebration of our Black history. Let’s get the conversation started, and let’s talk about what needs to be discussed.

While producing the gallery for this year, I enjoyed learning more about the individuals that are showcased. These include George Washington Carver, Elijah McCoy, W.E.B. DuBois, Carter G. Woodson, Hiram Rhodes Revels, Sarah Boone, Garrett Morgan, and others. It’s fascinating to learn how their perspectives on social issues of their time resonate with the present day. As Black people, we still face similar challenges, and it appears that we are still fighting the same fights of decades ago. I ask the question, what has changed?

What are we doing as a people to create better living opportunities for our race and the world as a whole? Tearing each other apart with our words, actions, and slander on social media doesn’t solve our problems. We need unity instead. We need to love one another a whole lot more. How do we do that?

I believe it begins with us genuinely supporting each other’s efforts, whether in business or our communities. We must love and pray for our neighbors and truly desire to see everyone succeed. Let’s not be too concerned by what the other person has and what we may lack; instead, let’s find ways to collaborate and level the playing field for us all. That is real love.

One’s skin color doesn’t define real love. Real love encompasses culture, race, and religion. When we get to a place where we care more about the welfare and survival of our neighbors just as much as we do for ourselves, real love will already be waiting for us there.

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Christina McNeal Simply You Salon LLC FEB.MARCH 2024 CLEVELAND CONTENTS 6 On The Cover Also Featured 10 22 Crystal Hemphill-Hayes Meet the face and founder of Too Rise Up Inc. Her organization is committed to enriching lives of others. Los Angeles, CA Zaneta Johns She is regarded as one of the best poets of today. Learn more about her and her literary works. Denver, CO 26 Roberta Lea It’s all about music, life, and, love. Learn more about this soulful songstress and the journey she has taken in music. Norfolk, VA Premier Flooring Company Thomas C. Deans III My Natural Butter Temprance Bell 14 18 Huami Magazine Cutest Baby Mecca Causey 36 32 Literacy In The H.O.O.D. Chrishawndra Matthews

McNeal Simply You Salon LLC

Christina Holloway of Cleveland, OH, is someone who loves sharing the knowledge and education she has obtained with others, all to help them along their journey. She says, “My mission is to ensure customer service is number one. I find joy in giving back because it truly makes my heart feel good.”

Today, Christina is an entrepreneur and the sole owner of Simply You Salon, LLC. Her company offers manicures and pedicures. On the retail side, she offers handmade body blend oil, body creams, clothing, and accessories. “We help recreate our client’s hands and feet using various techniques. We also offer travel services in which we visit clients who are unable to come to the salon. Additionally, we offer children’s services with a kiddy corner and small business shelf spaces for other businesses to showcase their products and services. For the most part, we offer services that are designed for everyone and anyone. Our motto is “Everyone is welcome to simply you”.

Christina is also a single mother of one son who currently attends DePaul University, following in her footsteps. She attended Cleveland State University and graduated in 2019 with her BA, with a minor in Criminology and Research. She recalls, “At that time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my degree. I’ve always had a passion for natural nails, and in 2012, along with faith and support, I attended Inner State Beauty School Manicuring Class. I passed the coursework and was licensed by the Ohio State Board of Cosmetology that same year, and I decided that my passion needed practice to build my future business.”

Christina began working for Lolita Salon, and for three years, the owner allowed Christina the opportunity for growth, development, and knowledge of how to build a business. “I followed through with what she said and eventually opened my own salon in 2016. In addition to managing her salon, she works as an Administrative Officer for Veterans Affairs, an opportunity she has to serve our nation’s heroes.

Christina says her mother has impacted her life and career more than anyone. “After losing my mother suddenly in 1998 while in high school, I was totally unaware of how she had taught me throughout my life to allow your faith to guide you. I’ve used both of them to get me through the toughest and greatest days of my life. I have learned to believe in myself despite the challenges,” she says.

After losing my mother suddenly in 1998 while in high school, I was totally unaware of how she had taught me throughout my life to allow your faith to guide you.

Like most businesses, both big and small, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted how they were operated. Many were even forced to close their doors or shut down; however, Christina persevered and managed to find her way through that storm. She says, “I became stronger at understanding that things are bound to happen, and when they do, never give up. Stand, pray, and manage the challenge because once it gets the best of you, it’s hard to come back.” Another challenge Christina faced was dealing with having to find a location for her business with little notice. Still, she persevered. “My mental health was put in the forefront, and when things started to unfold, I realized that I was not as strong as I thought and was, or as I was telling others. I got depressed, fought anxiety, and many other things. No one knew but my son. I stayed, prayed, motivated, and determined; I got myself together! Then, one day, I heard from a friend who was transitioning, and she told me not to give up. I said, “OK”. I won! I fought depression, and I got the help I needed, and I have not stopped moving along on this journey. Even more, my energy is back at full throttle.”

Christina is excited about what is coming next for her. She is anticipating magazine covers and articles about black business owners. She is also planning to write a book that will include her quotes and the affirmations she spoke about herself during her difficult times. “I plan to travel and speak to other entrepreneurs. The term “what’s next” is like the saying, “life is like a box of chocolate. You never know what you will get, see, or know,” she says. h Cleveland - Feb./March 2024 8

Premier Flooring Group

Information and Photos

The story of Thomas C. Dean III is a classic American story of overcoming adversity through hard work, determination, and guts. But this story comes with some very unusual twists and turns that make Thomas uniquely qualified to inspire others through his gifts as a community leader and public speaker.

New Orleans, LA, native Thomas C. Deans III was born to a large Creole family. At age 17, Thomas’ mother gave birth to him with the help of her “village,” which included Thomas’ maternal grandparents, his paternal grandmother, his uncle, and five aunts, she raised him. His mother worked a lot to provide for him, a quality Thomas also observed in his Grandfather as he held down three jobs while providing for his family. Witnessing his family’s hard work implanted sound values and work ethics in him, qualities that he continues to carry even today.

Throughout his childhood, Thomas’ Grandfather was a revered “Indian Chief” in the 2nd Line Mardi Gras tradition in New Orleans. From the age of five, Thomas’ Grandfather and uncle began to teach him the art of costume making and indoctrinated him into the traditions of the Mardi Gras culture as a young Indian. This would become a defining part of Thomas’ life as he grew older.

At the age of 11, Thomas was forced by his Grandfather into his first public speaking engagements. He was commissioned to speak at 28 public schools throughout New Orleans on the traditions and history of the Mardi Gras Indians. At 13, Thomas began working in the French Quarter as a busboy. Money was tight in the family, and part of earning your status in New Orleans as a young man meant dressing to impress. Thomas recalls, “We were a poor community. The only thing guys in the neighborhood had was their appearance, so dressing sharp and staying well groomed was a priority to gain respect and status.”

Growing up in New Orleans also meant that Thomas would have to learn how to survive, and knowing how to fight was a necessity if you wanted to go to the playground. “To make it in the neighborhood and gain the respect of your peers, you had to be able to stand your ground and learn to scrap, and that’s what I did,” says Thomas.

While Thomas worked a job and even played football in Middle School, academics were more important to his mother, specifically for Thomas to maintain good grades. “My mother’s rule was that I had to maintain at least a B average if I wanted to work during school,” he says. Following his mother’s instruction, Thomas excelled and became captain of the football team, even holding the office of Student Body President.

In high school, Thomas continued to hone his public speaking and leadership skills. He was part of the speech and debate club, and in his Senior year, he was class president. As a Senior, Thomas earned a nomination through the Louisiana House of Representatives, gaining him a full scholarship to the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Thomas experienced a few ups and downs while adjusting as a young cadet with the U.S. Air Force Academy. Things didn’t go as planned, and at 22 years of age, he returned home to New Orleans and dove directly into his work creating Mardi Gras costumes with his Grandfather and uncle. His uncle had since graduated to become the 2nd generation Indian Chief, following Thomas’ Grandfather, who remained the patriarch. His uncle had fallen ill and was forced to pass the Chief’s stick on to another member of their Tribe. Fortunately, Thomas had developed a formidable self-confidence and was prepared to answer the call of his family’s legacy.

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He rejoined the family processions and, that year, created his own costume. While participating in the event, Thomas’s costume and presence in the “2nd Line” procession caught the attention of the community, and people began whispering about how Thomas had outshone the new chief of their tribe. Thomas had created a bright yellow costume, and people said Thomas was the “prettier” one of the two of them. This was unusual, particularly as Thomas was quite young at the time, and this ended up creating a certain degree of jealousy and friction with the new Big Chief.

The following year, when Thomas was 23, his Grandfather stepped in to resolve the matter. He determined that between the two of them, Thomas possessed the greater charisma and leadership abilities. So he anointed Thomas to the role of Big Chief and handed him the ceremonial stick. Thomas was given the name “Big Chief Bo”.

Something else happened upon Thomas’s return to New Orleans: he reunited with his girlfriend Enola, whom he’d been dating since he was 17. He and Enola were married that same year, and the following year, their twin sons Thomas and Tony were born.

In the years to follow, Thomas worked for MCI as a salesperson and at a restaurant at night. When MCI left New Orleans, Thomas moved into a few corporate Sales Management positions, first at Cadillac of Metarie and later with Fairfield Resorts, while continuing to work nights in the restaurant business. His next career venture would be in the flooring business, where he learned the trade and worked doing sales and installations. He also opened a dry cleaners around this time.

In 2003, he decided to open his own flooring store and installation business in New Orleans, Premier Flooring Group. Things were going well, but then Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and turned his business upside down. The impact of the storm was too severe, and Thomas and Enola decided to pack their bags and relocate with their children to Atlanta, GA. What was supposed to be a temporary move became a permanent stay.

In Atlanta, Thomas took a position as a sales manager in the flooring business to support his family until his sons graduated high school. A few years would pass while he worked as a salesperson in Atlanta, and Thomas knew there was more that his family needed. Obediently, he opened his heart and asked God to please lead him to something that would provide more financial stability to his family. God was listening. Cleveland - Feb./March 2024 16
Elona and Thomas C. Dean

While attending a meeting at his place of employment, he got a call from his wife, Enola, telling him their home was in flames. Everyone was safe, but the entire house was burning down. All of their belongings, including any family photos that survived Katrina, were taken in the fire. When the fire department arrived, and the scene was investigated, it was determined that a shoe-shining device that Thomas used had shorted and created the spark that ignited the fire. By the grace of God, Thomas had recently restructured his home insurance policy to cover everything. From that tragedy grew a blessing, and Thomas was able to use some seed funding to open his own flooring business.

Thomas and his family moved from Stone Mountain to Conyers, GA, and purchased a new home. In 2017, Thomas founded the Premier Flooring Group, the same name as the fledgling company he’d started in New Orleans before Katrina hit. In Conyers, Thomas worked as a community leader, helping in local political campaigns with the Splost Committee, as an Ambassador/Chair in the Rockdale/Conyers Chamber of Commerce, and as a teacher for the Entrepreneurs Academy at the Chamber. In 2019, he graduated from the “Leadership Rockdale” program, and he currently speaks as a mentor for two different organizations: the 100 Black Men of Atlanta, a national group as well as The Hills Academy representing “The Man’s Cave”, a Rockdale County-based mentoring organization that has adopted Hills Academy for its mentoring program.

Premier Flooring Group has grown to become a successful business, which Thomas runs today with his two sons, Thomas and Tony. He has 15 teams of installers in the field who run a range of commercial and residential projects ranging from flooring to staircases, kitchen and bath remodeling, and basement renovation throughout the greater Atlanta area. In 2021, Premier Flooring Group was named the #1 business partner for education by the Rockdale/Conyers Chamber of Commerce and Rockdale County Schools.

In 2023, Thomas founded the Premier Business Network, a 501c3 and thriving weekly Business Development Organization of entrepreneurs who meet to network, exchange ideas, and help members grow their businesses. He speaks regularly at meetings and does a range of public speaking engagements in and around the Atlanta community, focusing on the power of relationships in building a successful business career.

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Big “Cheif” Bo
The Conyers Chamber of Commerce

My Natural Butter LLC

Temprance Bell describes herself as a sunshine-loving soul who loves gardening, meditation, and spending quality time with her family.

Originally from the vibrant city of Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Temprance says life has always been an exciting journey. She is happily married and blessed with four wonderful children who keep her world spinning. When the military called for her husband’s service, they found themselves in the charming embrace of Gulfport, MS. “Life in Gulfport has brought a new chapter of joy, and the slower pace and warm-hearted people here have stolen my heart, and I am eager to share the love,” she says.

With a passion for making a difference in people’s lives, Temprance has dedicated the past 20 years to a fulfilling career in healthcare. In 2016, she earned a bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Science with a concentration in Pharmacy. Today, she is the face and founder of My Natural Butter LLC.

Unveiled in 2021, My Natural Butter strives to empower women of diverse ethnicities, hair textures, and skin types on their journey of self-discovery and embracing their inner Divine Goddess. Temprance says, “It all began as a solution to the everyday hair care and skin care needs of my family. Combining my academic background and the hands-on experience I gained as a salon apprentice with my mother during my younger days, I discovered a harmonious way to blend science and practicality. The vision for My Natural Butter was born out of a desire to provide natural, nourishing hydration to all hair and skin types without compromising on quality and effectiveness. Our products cater to individuals seeking to cultivate and sustain a holistic hair, skin, and self-care routine that enhances their physical beauty and nurtures the soul.”

Seeing her brand evolve Temprance vividly compares to watching a dream take flight. It’s an extension of herself and exudes her stance and perspective on promoting self-confidence and celebrating one’s inherent beauty that nature offers.

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My Natural Beauty’s product line comprises a curated range of natural beauty and wellness products. Temprance shares, “Envision a collection meticulously designed to cater to your hair, skin, and overall well-being. The shining stars are the Triple Whipped Body Butter, moisturizing hair, and skin oils, each crafted with precision to deliver the pure goodness of nature. Whether it’s quenching your hair’s thirst or indulging your skin, every item reflects the perfect fusion of quality and effectiveness.”

Yet, Temprance says it’s more than just a product line; it’s a journey, an immersive self-care experience. Her focus is to inspire confidence, self-love, and sheer joy, and her commitment reaches beyond the confines of bottles and jars. Temprance is dedicated to procuring the overall well-being of her clients. “I love the incredible opportunity to blend my passion for natural beauty and wellness with the joy of helping others embrace their unique beauty. Crafting nourishing products isn’t just a job; it’s a fulfilling journey of self-discovery and empowerment. Witnessing my products’ positive impact on individuals brings me immense joy,” she says.

Operating a company such as My Natural Butter requires an adequate support system. She says that without the love of her family, she couldn’t do all that she does. “My family is my greatest inspiration and the heartbeat of my journey. They infuse every step with love, support, and motivation. Witnessing their resilience, kindness, and unwavering unity inspires me to be the best version of myself. Their encouragement fuels my drive, and the shared moments of joy and growth shape my aspirations,” Temprance professes.

Embarking on her entrepreneurial journey has been incredibly rewarding, but Temprance says it hasn’t come without challenges. Like any venture, she’s encountered the usual hurdles, from navigating the intricacies of production and distribution to building brand awareness in a competitive market. “Balancing the demands of running a business with family life is difficult, but it’s a delicate dance that I’m learning to master,” she says. Additionally, staying true to the values of natural, quality products while keeping up with industry trends is a different challenge, but Temprance remains determined to succeed. “Each challenge has been a learning opportunity. By maintaining a resilient mindset and viewing challenges not as roadblocks but as opportunities for growth, I have persevered. My challenges have helped to refine my approach and fuel my passion to provide the best for my customers. It’s a dynamic journey, and each obstacle has only fueled my determination to create a business that thrives amidst adversity. It’s all part of the adventure, and I’m grateful for every step of it!” h

So what’s next for My Natural Butter and Temprance? She says exciting things are on the horizon. “I am gearing up for a journey of growth and innovation. The focus remains steadfast on expanding my product line, introducing even more natural and effective solutions for my customer’s beauty and wellness needs. I am also committed to promoting holistic self-care. Stay tuned for exciting launches, partnerships, and experiences beyond traditional beauty offerings. I am working to create the very best experiences for my clients because their beauty and well-being deserve nothing less!” Cleveland - Feb./March 2024 20

Author & Poet

Zaneta Varnado Johns is a woman on fire. Known to her readers as Zan Johns, she is an author and poet featured in over 70 national and international publications. What is even more impressive is that she is only getting started.

At the age of 62, Zan published her first book of poetry. That was in 2020, yet she has been writing since 1979. Zan’s poise and beauty, both inside and out, are reflected in her poetry. Her soothing and comforting voice is saturated with a natural Southern Hospitality.

Zan Johns began writing in her early twenties and was inspired by authors like Maya Angelou and her kindred spirit, Nikki Giovanni, who she reminds me of in a lot of ways. Zan had the pleasure of hearing both celebrated authors speak when they each visited the University of Colorado in the 1970s, but something lit a spark in her when she heard Nikki Giovanni recite the poem “Ego Tripping.” Seeing these black women using their words and doing what they loved to do let Zaneta know that, as a black woman, she could do it, too, and she eventually did.

Although Colorado has been home to Zan for almost 50 years, her roots are traced to Hammond, Louisiana, a town of approximately 21,000 people located 45 miles east of Baton Rouge and 45 miles northwest of New Orleans. She came from a large, loving family of nine, including her hardworking parents, five siblings, and paternal grandmother. She says the nurturing she received from her parents helped her to develop into a confident, caring person. Growing up in a nearly half-black and half-white community at the dawn of integration may have led to her insightfulness. This characteristic is beautifully demonstrated in her body of work.

Writing and poetry were a goto for Zan, and her passion for them followed her throughout her young life. She attended the University of Colorado for three-plus years before leaving the classroom with exceptional critical thinking skills and knowledge. Soon after, she started working in the university’s payroll department before becoming appointed director of human resources. In between that time, Zan married and had two children. In her professional career, which spanned 29 years, she brought a climate of diversity, equity, and inclusion, which again is reflected in her poetry. During that time, Zan continued to write, penning hundreds of poems she only shared with the people closest to her. At the age of 50, Zan retired and focused more on spending time with her family, traveling, staying fit, and, of course, writing.

As time passed on, Zan described getting little nudges from God that she should be doing something with her writing. She says, “Her sister-in-law, an author herself, encouraged me to join the Women Speakers Association. At first, I resisted the idea because I thought of myself as a quiet person. When I worked in Human Resources, of course, I was required to speak, but once I retired, I was more laid back.”

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Zan had no interest in public speaking but later learned that the Women Speakers Association focused not only on empowering women to express themselves but also on empowering women to write to inspire. It published a series of inspiring books, each featuring women who shared their trials and triumphs. Zan’s poetry is also featured in four of them on the dedication page, including “Voices of the 21st Century: Resilient Women Who Rise and Make a Difference”, “Voices of the 21st Century: Conscious, Caring Women Who Make a Difference”, “Voices of the 21st Century: Women Transforming the World”, and “Voices of the 21st Century: Women Empowered Through Passion and Purpose.”

With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020, Zan Johns decided to take her poetry and publish her first book of poetry entitled “Poetic Forecast”. It almost instantly became a #1 Bestseller on Amazon. Zan states, “We were afraid; this was something we’ve never seen in our lifetime; I couldn’t see my family, our grandchildren; we were forced to stay inside and keep still. I looked through my poems, many of which I’ve written years before, sat at my desk, and asked God to give me the words,” she says. The old adage comes to mind, “you have to be careful what you ask God for”, because when she was finished, Zaneta Varnado Johns gave the world Zan Johns, and some of the most intuitive, and compassionate poetry.

What has become her signature piece, “What Matters”, beckons the readers to search their hearts for what really matters, as demonstrated in the lines, “If your eyes met my eyes in the midst of a crisis, would their shape and color concern you? If you felt my hands as they massaged your aching body, would you care about the pigmentation of my skin?” This poem gives readers the message to take inventory of what really matters. Her poem, “One Day” explores how things would be in a perfect world.

Another poem from Poetic Forecast called “Spiritual Reset” captured 2020 and encased it in a nutshell. It described the pandemic, the chaos, the politics, and the racial unrest experienced during that time. If we were to put that poem, “Spiritual Reset” in a time capsule to be opened 100 years from now, the person who found it would be able to read it and know exactly what we were experiencing. Her next book of poetry, “After the Rainbow,” captured her personal experiences about life, family, nature, and her love of diversity. She published the What Matters Journal in July 2023, and her latest book debuted in the fall of 2023.She hadn’t planned on publishing a poetry book in 2023. Urged by friends and family, she birthed “Encore” which features a poem that became my favorite, “Why I Write”.

Zan’s writing has brought her full circle, from listening to Nikki Giovanni speak and writing her ideas on pieces of paper to attending Nikki Giovanni’s latest book signing and presenting the legend with a signed copy of her own book. The things Zan has accomplished in life, even after retirement, prove that it’s never too late to start doing what you love to do, and what Zan loves is “touching the world line by line.”

This year, Zaneta has plans to release another book of poetry. Zaneta Varnado Johns is a woman led by her spirituality. She is a sagacious author and poet who encourages other writers to listen to God’s words. “When God tells you what to do, there is a burning…” Zan Johns is a woman on fire.


To learn more about Zaneta Johns, please visit her website. Cleveland - Feb./March 2024 24

Music. Life. Love

To her fans, Roberta Lea is a rising musical creative ambiguously regarded as a soulful country-neo-pop singer/songwriter. While her style is eclectic, uniquely representing a fusion of musical genres, her familial roles are more precisely defined.

Roberta is the devoted wife of 14 years to her husband, Nick, a retired veteran, and the loving mother to 10-year-old Vanessa and seven-yearold Michael, who seemingly have bustling social calendars of their own. When Huami Magazine caught up with Lea, she was transporting her children to piano practice, a responsibility often shared by Lea’s sister—a wonderful benefit of living within proximity to her family village.

“I am extremely blessed. I have a supportive family with sweet kids, and my husband supports me 100%. We all have dreams that we’re pursuing and supporting one another as best as we can,” she says. For instance, her daughter, Vanessa, is currently participating in a play, “Black Girl Magic,” for which Lea has penned the original music.

Much like her daughter, Lea’s musical journey began in elementary school, where she excelled in both piano and violin. She recalls attending a church concert series where she started exploring other instruments, including the drums. As a teenager, Lea developed a keen interest in songwriting and began crafting original songs for the church band.

“The church is such a great place to incubate talent. It plays a crucial role in talent development. Regardless of your skill level, because you were singing and playing for the Lord, you would receive an ‘Amen’, or someone would tell you that you were great,” she laughed. “It was a space that said, ‘Yes,’” she added.

After high school, Roberta Lea pursued her education at Virginia Wesleyan University in Virginia Beach, graduating in 2008. Following the conventional path, she eventually landed a position as a high school Spanish teacher. She says, “I was following the worn, beaten, and predictable path. You graduate from college, get a 9 to 5 job, retire, and get your pension.”

When the opportunity to pursue music arose, Lea found herself at a crossroads, admitting she had no mental framework for how to navigate the process. “I didn’t know how it worked. I was given two extreme perspectives and not enough conversation about the middle class of musicianship. I was told that either you would be a starving artist or sell your soul in the business.” Preferring neither option, she continued teaching while honing her musical craft, as she describes it, “It was something that I could never not do. It was an itch I needed to scratch.”

I was given two extreme perspectives and not enough conversation about the middle class of musicianship. I was told that either you would be a starving artist or sell your soul in the business.
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With the onset of Covid-19 and the transition to virtual learning, Lea, like many educators, found herself reevaluating her career. “Not all of my students logged on to participate in class discussions, and when they did, they rarely showed their faces on camera, so I didn’t know what most of them looked like. It made me consider this as an opportunity to make a change,” Lea explained.

Toiling over her decision, she grappled with feelings of doubt and questioned if she was too old to pursue music full-time. “I started feeling like I was too old. I was in my 30s.” She silenced her doubts by drawing inspiration from musical icons like Tina Turner, Bill Withers, and Anita Baker, who found success later in life. “I recall figuratively talking to my 80-year-old self who asked if I had at least tried songwriting and music professionally.” Determined to pursue her dream, she shifted into a different posture, what she coined as the “pandemic pivot.”

As part of her preparation, she and her husband, a realtor, devised a financial plan to support her transition to full-time music. “You really have to put yourself in a financial position where you can devote your attention without the weight of needing to make money. Having that distraction definitely interrupts the flow. This gave me the freedom to be wide open to possibilities,” Lea says. A year later, in the summer of 2020, they achieved their financial goals, becoming debt-free.

“The process is called the ‘quantum leap’ because I really do believe that there is power when you finally make a decision and tell God and the universe ‘Yes’. On the very day that I resigned, I went on Twitter and posted, ‘I just resigned from my job so that I could pursue music full-time. Here I go!’ On that same day, Rissi Palmer, host and founder of the Color Me Country radio show, reached out to me and offered me a grant.”

With the grant money, Lea recorded and released several singles. Meanwhile, music journalist Holly G. created the Black Opry, initially as an online blog. To Lea’s surprise, Holly G. posted on her blog, “Yay! Roberta just released her first country record. When I read it, I thought, ‘I did?’” as she laughed. Holly G. included Lea’s profile along with other Black and Brown country artists on the Black Opry Revue’s site. A few months later, the Black Opry creator invited Lea and several others to attend the Americana Music Festival. Cleveland - Feb./March 2024 28
Photo by Laura Schneider
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Photo by Laura Schneider

“I had never been to a music festival and had no idea what the Americana festival was,” she laughed. Despite the uncertainty, Lea made her way to Nashville to assemble with other musical talents. “On the first day, there were four of us. By the second day, there were eight, and by the third day, there were 20 of us. NPR was conducting interviews at the house, and famous artists were stopping by, and suddenly, we were a thing.”

During their time together, the group developed a bond and friendship. Shortly after leaving Nashville, one of the musicians sent out a call for a performer interested in a show in New York. A featured performer had canceled, and the show was six days away. The new friends answered the call. “We did this show at Rockwood Music Hall, and this was the birth of the Black Opry Revue.”

The rest is history. Lea’s career has taken off like wildfire. In addition to touring extensively with the Black Opry Revue, she ended 2022 with a fully funded independent project. In September 2023, Lea launched her debut album, “Too Much of a Woman.” Last year, the musical talent was inducted into CMT’s Next Women of Country. “And I don’t even live in Nashville,” she laughs.

Roberta Lea’s story is one of determination and courage. Exchanging feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, she demonstrates that it is never too late to pursue your passion. With her debut album creating a buzz and continuing to inspire audiences, one thing’s for certain, Roberta Lea’s journey is just beginning. h

Photo by Christal Marshall Photo by Laura Schneider

Chrishawndra Matthews

Literacy in the H.O.O.D.

Information and Photos

Literacy in the H.O.O.D. (Helping Out Our Disenfranchised) is a non-profit organization based in Cleveland, OH. Led by Chrishawndra Matthews, who is also the Executive Director and founder, this organization is dedicated to building a culture of reading in Cleveland’s low-income neighborhoods.

Founded in 2017, Chrishawandra’s goal was to address the needs of her then-three-year-old son, Derrick. She says, “I was angered by the disparities in available reading resources for inner city kids versus kids in the suburbs. I was also bothered by the division in language and educational achievement. Derrick started reading at three, and there were no resources to strengthen his reading in the innercity. The libraries in the suburbs offered a greater experience, and I was determined to get books into the hands of children in Cleveland’s underserved neighborhoods. Our program has now grown into a community-wide project that just keeps growing and growing.”

Literacy In The H.O.O.D. has distributed almost 1,000,000 books to children in need. Chrishawandra’s organization takes a two-generation approach to promoting literacy while distributing books at schools and community events. They also participate in food distributions and other assistance programs to hand out books to families and engage parents. Known throughout her community as “Shawn Literacy,” Chrishawandra reiterates her mission is to get more books into the homes of low-income children and for parents to take an active role in their child’s reading journey.

I was angered by the disparities in available reading resources for inner city kids versus kids in the suburbs. I was also bothered by the division in language and educational achievement.
Cleveland - Feb./March 2024 33

“Our work never ends. I am always searching for opportunities to help our families and children,” she says. “I have helped to establish a children’s reading area in an East Cleveland medical clinic waiting room and assisted with creating a partnership with The Urban Barber Association, which gives books to kids along with free haircuts.”

Understandably, Chrishawandra’s actions are noteworthy, and she has received national media attention because of them. This includes Good Morning America, CNN, The Kelly Clarkson Show, and even Huami Magazine. Chrishawandra received the 2020 Center for Community Solutions’ Anisfield-Wolf Memorial Award, and under her leadership, her program was named the NASW Ohio Statewide 2020 Agency of The Year.

One part of her program is called Boys Do Read. This initiative, funded by Literacy In The H.O.O.D., was created by Derrick Smith. His love of reading inspired him to share that same love with other boys.

Chrishawandra is on a mission to get kids to read and to continue reading. She says, “Kids in more affluent communities will know about 1,800,000 more words than children in the inner city and urban communities. However, I have learned that if a child reads every day for 20 minutes at the end of the school year, they will know 1,800,000 new words. Parents should instruct their children to read for at least 20 minutes a day, every day. Reading will improve their test scores, their vocabulary, their speech, and writing skills.”

To learn more about Literacy in the H.O.O.D and the programs they offer, please visit their website. Cleveland - Feb./March 2024 34

Mecca Causey

The son of Ryan Causey and Nijalon Jackson-Causey
“I am the product of many whose lives have touched mine, from the famous, distinguished, and powerful to the little known and the poor.”

Dorothy Height

Naomi Women of Distinction Luncheon

April 27, 2024, marks a significant date in Cleveland’s calendar as Pinstripes at 111 Park Ave Suite 105, Beachwood, hosts the much-anticipated Naomi: Women & Girls of Distinction Luncheon. This event is more than just a gathering; it’s a powerful movement dedicated to celebrating and empowering the remarkable women and girls who make a difference in our community daily. This gathering, inspired by Cleveland’s need for positive change, as highlighted in a article, underscores the city’s commitment to addressing the challenges women face, particularly women of color.

A Platform for Empowering Voices

Cleveland’s ranking as a challenging place for Black women, as reported by, brings an urgent need for platforms like Naomi: Women & Girls of Distinction. This luncheon aims to celebrate achievements and foster discussions on health, wellness, education, finance, business, faith, and politics, prioritizing issues affecting women of color. The luncheon will feature over 250 women, young adults, and girls from various walks of life, all united in their pursuit of progress and empowerment. The heart of the event lies in its panel of experts, who will delve into pivotal topics like health and wellness, education, finances, business, faith, and politics. A key focus will be on issues affecting women of color, ensuring inclusive and impactful dialogue.

A Celebration of Women’s Contributions

The event will honor the remarkable women and girls making significant strides in Cleveland. It’s a tribute to the women-led organizations, business owners, and community leaders who persist despite the challenges noted in the report. Their stories of resilience and success will be at the forefront of the luncheon.

Fostering Dialogue and Solutions

Attendees can expect an inspiring, sophisticated atmosphere where exchanging ideas and solutions takes center stage. With over 250 attendees, including a panel of experts, the luncheon is set to be a hub for discussing real issues and seeking tangible solutions. The discussions will reflect the concerns raised in the article, focusing on creating a more inclusive environment for women, especially those from minority communities.

A Step Towards Real Solutions

The luncheon is a clarion call to discuss REAL issues and find REAL solutions. It is a unique opportunity for Cleveland’s community to come together, acknowledge, and appreciate the strides made by women and girls in various sectors. The event will facilitate crucial conversations with Cleveland’s experts about the complex challenges impacting women and girls, especially those from minority communities.

Naomi: A Beacon of Change

As we approach the date, the excitement and anticipation for the Naomi: Women & Girls of Distinction Luncheon continue to grow. It’s more than an event; it’s a beacon for change, empowerment, and recognition of the incredible women and girls who shape our community. This luncheon will be a groundbreaking event, paving the way for a future where every woman and girl’s contribution is celebrated and their challenges met with tangible solutions.

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