My Dreams Are Windows To My Freedom
I am a self-proclaimed dreamer. Many of the things I possess or may be involved with, at some point, I probably dreamed about it. Being physically fit, I dreamed about losing all the weight I was carrying around while stuffing my face with food. Singing in the church choir, I dreamed about it, while practicing in my car over one of WOW Greatest Gospel productions.
In short words, I will typically act on something if I dare to dream about it. I have used the gift to dream while sinking in some of my lowest moments. I wanted more, and dreaming of something better made it almost feel like I was there. I learned that there is power in what we dream about.
In that same breath, my dreams have been filled with thoughts of hope and sometimes regret. If I could turn back the hands of time, I would. If I could reverse some of the experiences of my life, I would. If I had the ability to reach back into my past and open some of the doors that were shut and close some that I walked through, I would. One might ask me why, and my response is quite direct; I would if I could.
Now, it’s not my intent to sound as if I do not appreciate the life God has blessed me with. My message is quite the opposite. I love my life and all that has helped to make it what it is. Still, I wish I could have avoided some unnecessary experiences. However, I am wise enough to know that everything has been necessary. It is all part of God’s plan for me.
Acknowledging and accepting where and how my life began instills a sense of reality into my heart. Dreaming of places where I wish I could be also encourages me to keep striving for that which is greater.
My message is simple. Life is but a whisper, and I refuse to get lost in the chaos and confusion. There is way too much for me to do, and if I never achieve all that I dream of, I will remain enthusiastic about what tomorrow promises. Tomorrow, if it comes, is provided by God. And when God blesses me with another day to live, He also blesses me with another day to dream and get to work.
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Your Story Financial LLC
Modeling is her first order of business. However, she has found a way to use her gift to help others succeed.
Modeling is her first order of business. However, she has found a way to use her gift to help others succeed.
Her program is designed to help single moms and teens with their parenting needs. Learn more about their eight week course.
Shehara L. Wooten
Your Story Financial LLCBy Terry L. Watson Photos Provided by Shehara L. Wooten
One of the essential ingredients needed to succeed is having goals and a plan to accomplish those goals. Dallas, TX, resident Shehara L. Wooten, CFP®, has made it her business to help others with arranging them both.
She owns two companies, Your Story Financial and Your Story Financial Academy. Your Story Financial focuses on one-on-one, life-centered financial planning for STEM professionals and families. These services also include comprehensive financial planning and investment management.
Your Story Financial Academy’s mission to reach even more professionals to further the movement to close the racial wealth gap. They strive to accomplish this with educational speaking events, a signature online group coaching program, Wealth Gap Closers™️ Method, and Shehara’s book entitled, “In the Meantime: Own Your Financial Narrative”.
Shehara has enjoyed over 17 years of marriage with her husband, Sean. She has two younger sisters and is a proud auntie of her adorable niece and nephews. She also has over 18 years of experience in financial services, a journey that began with earning a B.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Shehara eventually changed careers to pursue her purpose of helping clients achieve financial success. After doing so, and in her first financial services role, Shehara worked with a global financial services company and has never looked back.
“Our virtual firm is based in Dallas, Texas, serving clients all across the United States. Don’t hesitate any longer. A solid financial plan is a sure way to reach those money goals. Get the financial security you and your family need or desire and give wings to your dreams.”
Years later, Shehara says she chose the role of a financial advisor to help people improve their financial position more significantly. “As time progressed, I desired to help people craft amazing financial success stories and close their personal wealth gap,” she says. “As a fee-only CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™️ professional and Financial Life-Planner Strategist, I help STEM professionals gain access to solid financial planning, whether at the beginning of their financial journey or have already begun,”she says.
Another title that Shehara brandishes is that of author. Her production, “In the Meantime: Own Your Financial Narrative”, is an additional tool she utilizes to help her clients obtain financial independence.
Shehara says she loves her chosen career and the opportunities she is afforded to help others build wealth. Her genuine love for serving is rooted in her relationship with Jesus Christ. She also relies on encouragement and support from her husband and parents.
Like most business owners, she has also faced challenges in business. For Shehara, one is understanding her client base. She has countered these challenges by engaging in mastermind sessions within her profession, researching and interviewing potential clients, and utilizing the services of a business strategy coach.
For anyone looking to become a financial professional, specifically a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™️ professional, Shehara offers the following advice. “Find and interview other CFP®️ professionals. Connect with like-minded, ambitious professionals, and hire a business coach. You can also join a group coaching program. Finally, take the time to understand what your purpose and passions are.” To learn more about Shehara L. Wooten and Your Story Financial, please visit their website. h
Model Too ModelBy Terry L. Watson Photos Provided by
The best way to describe Is’Londa Eman is someone full of love and compassion for others. She has always been active in her community. She has played basketball, she’s danced and even modeled.
The Huntsville, AL, resident was born in Mobile, AL, to Stephanie Rodgers and James Knighten. She is a honors midyear graduate of C.F.Vigor High School. Later, she enrolled in the Job Corps in Atlanta, GA, and TCU. There she took up health occupation and received both her CNA and Phlebotomy license and credentials in local transportation.
Today, she is the face and owner of Model Too Model modeling agency. Her company was launched in 2017 under the name Genisis. “It began by supporting local models with model bags that shadow different spectrums and paths of life. I relaunched my business in 2022 and named it Model Too Model,” she says.
Model Too Model is a very diverse business Is’Londa shares. Their goal is to provide each customer with a personalized designer product bag. “We call them “Model Bags”. They contain all the items our clients may need throughout the day based on their career, hobby, or event.”
Is’Londa’s journey of becoming a model began at an early age. One night, at the age of 17, she was scouted by a prestigious director after an annual ballet recital. She was cast to help promote and perform in one of the first tour shows in Mobile with Tan Stephens and Ncheechi Productions. She quickly grew a passion for the runway and for serving others.
As life continued, Is’Londa found her way to Huntsville, AL, and connected with KBoss Models. She was cast for a national pageant, Miss Fashion Global, the first for her.
“My height was a huge problem that affected me for many years, yet I found ways to pull out my torso for longer grace and length and learned how to walk in heels of every inch to increase my chances of being cast.”
Is’Londa enjoys volunteering all over the community of Huntsville, and helps out with Habitats for Humanity, and a summer lunch program with the public school system. She also has been a lead teacher of a local preschool and daycare for over four years.
Between serving and meeting new faces, Is’Londa became very observant of the lifestyles of everyone around her. One thing became obvious; she was depended upon to bring big bags of materials and supplies to share. This level of preparedness spilled over into her modeling career as Is’Londa found herself sharing supplies out of her model bag with other models for shows and shoots. These items included first aid supplies, a pair of heels, tape, and more. Those experiences sparked an idea in her mind. Is’Londa partnered with sponsors on very different career paths and other local and distant models with a similar passion. After only six months, Model Too Model was born.
While she has enjoyed a short professional modeling career, she has faced some challenges and hardships. The major disadvantages for Is’Londa have been her height, hair, and skin complexion. “I am dark skinned with full, thick hair, and I stand at about 5’5” tall, she says. She has witnessed discrimination from different agencies because of her skin tone. She was even told she wasn’t bright enough to sell a product and was denied casting opportunities. “Early in my career, a lot of hairdressers had no idea how to manage full-course hair,” she says. Her height was also a challenge as most runway models are of the average height of 5’7” tall. “My height was a huge problem that affected me for many years, yet I found ways to pull out my torso for longer grace and length and learned how to walk in heels of every inch to increase my chances of being cast. I’ve also taken many workshops to enhance poses, smiling, smizing, and elongated dressing.”
The year 2022 was a very progressive year for Is’Londa and her company. In November, she was cast once again to represent the city of Huntsville in the Miss Fashion Global Pageant. This time, it was for the new Petite category. The event was a huge success for her. Not only was she crowned, she was also honored with an Alumni award from CEO, Terrance Howard. She has also been nominated for the 2023 Miss Humanitarian Award. Moving forward, she plans to expand Model Too Model. She also plans to continue modeling, promoting and volunteering.
In closing, Is’Londa offers a few words to those whose journey may feel and look similar to the one she has traveled. “Always remain true to yourself and your craft, and always stay prepared and do your research. Also, keep an updated portfolio while maintaining the works of modeling and not just the photogenic side because being a model is more than the photos. It involves good character, preparation, and execution,” she says.
To learn more about IsLonda and Model Too Model, please contact her directly or visit her website.
Jay & Jah Films LLCBy Terry L. Watson Photos Provided by Ithiell Yisrael & Shawn Yabui
The easiest way to reach someone at their level is to know what it’s like to be there.
Pensacola, FL, native and resident Jermaine J. Williams is a man full of culture, experience, and determination. He is also someone who has clawed his way from the pits of despair and found a new footing in life by way of helping and serving others.
Jermaine is a Documentary Filmmaker, Author, Executive Producer, and advocate for positive mental health and social change. He owns Jay & Jah Films LLC, a production company producing substance-filled television and film content. His company is currently in talks with a few television networks for Rescue Addiction. This production follows Jermaine as he and his team enter crises to save those faced with addiction. It also works to educate their family/friends to help provide a breakthrough moment for all parties involved. “Our production company’s first project, the documentary “I Had To Change: The Story Of Jermaine J. Williams,” paved the way for Rescue Addiction by winning four awards worldwide in various film festivals,” he says.
In addition to managing his production company, Jermaine works as a Certified Recovery Peer Specialist with the State of Florida. This commitment pulls at Jermaine’s heartstrings because he can relate to the challenges of those he serves. He shares his testimony in an effort to help others understand his purpose.
“It was a Sunday morning, on November 29, 2015. I’ll never forget that date or day. I was on the heels of an all-night binge of cocaine and alcohol. After failed rehab stints years earlier, I had grown tired of having no control over something that had controlled me. I thought of a plan to die by suicide and was ready to execute it. But my only concern was my family finding my lifeless body in my room. So I regrouped my thoughts and exercised my faith in God. Even under the influence of substances, God began to show me that He had had enough of the punishment with which I had afflicted myself. I made it downstairs just in time to catch my family before they departed for church. I told them I had had enough, and I was done. I joined hands with my aunt, mother, and grandmother and
began to pray in complete surrender. I had been invited by a friend to church the Friday before, and I then called and told him I would like to take him up on the invitation. During praise and worship, I sat and sulked, while the rest of the congregation was standing and singing. At that time, I heard a faint but mighty voice say, “If you want to be done with this forever, you have to praise me like you never did before. I jumped to my feet during three consecutive songs and began to lift my hands in complete surrender. I was crying, foaming at the mouth, speaking in tongues with no regard for who was watching me. That was big for me because up until that moment, I had been concerned with how I was perceived. I struggled with a cocaine and alcohol addiction for thirteen years. It was the most challenging fight of my life. That day was seven years ago, and I’ve had no desire for drugs and alcohol and have enjoyed sobriety ever since,” Jermaine shared.
After reaching sobriety, Jermaine realized he had a unique story, and I wanted to tell that story to inspire others. He says from a teenager to early adulthood, he produced music. Along the way, he became a community activist who built a rapport in the political arena with an uncanny ability to speak out for those in his community. He has done this by coordinating campaigns, rallies, and more. Jermaine also wrote a religious thriller, “My Brother, The Devil, & Me.” He has also produced the documentary “I Had To Change: The Story Of Jermaine J. Williams”.
Various life experiences have inspired Jermaine. His father died when he was six years old. A drunk driver took Jermaine says, took his father away from me. Shortly after that, his aunt introduced him to the lifes’ work of Malcolm X, and Malcolm X, Jermaine says, became a father from the grave to him.
Jermaine shares he believes it is essential to help others because everyone will need help with something at one point or another. “I must pay it forward because I know what it feels like to receive support or go without it. It’s a matter of what feeling we want to leave with others. I hope it’s not the latter,” he says.
Jermaine’s work as a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist with Here Tomorrow, a nonprofit based in Jacksonville, FL, is what he loves most about what he does. “At Here Tomorrow, I take calls for 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline and serve as a peer counselor to individuals who suffer from addiction and mental diagnoses. I also facilitate support groups,” he says.
As he looks towards the future, Jermaine says his goal is to engage in transition talks with television networks and finalize contracts for Rescue Addiction. “We are very, very close to that. The pilot episode is completed and receiving rave reviews from industry insiders,” Jermaine says. In addition to the novel he is working on, which includes a feature film segment, Jermaine has four other completed scripts in line. He also plans to lobby the DCF managing entity of his home county of Escambia, to advocate for mental health funding for Pensacola and surrounding areas. Something he will never cease doing is working to break the stigma surrounding mental health in the African American community.
My Brother, The Devil, & Me (Novel) is available on Amazon.
I Had To Change: The Story Of Jermaine J. Williams is available on YouTube.
Girl Talk IncorporatedBy Monica Montgomery Photos Provided by Sonya
Sonya Cooke is a wife, mother, and grandmother. She is also the founder of a non-profit called Girl Talk Incorporated. Girl Talk is a lifeline for young girls in the Indianapolis area, ages ten to eighteen.
“Girl Talk Incorporated is a non-profit organization created to empower and motivate girls to be their best. We provide education and empowerment to young girls in ways that foster independence, build self-esteem, and give them the necessary tools to make good decisions,” Sonya explains.
Born and raised in Indianapolis, Sonya’s inspiration for starting this organization is taken directly from her own life.
“I was a good kid. I was very athletic in school. I was on the track team, volleyball team, and cheerleading squad. I made decent grades and stayed out of trouble,” Sonya explains. “My story is that I didn’t have anyone to help answer the difficult life questions. I had to figure a lot of things out on my own. As a result, I made a lot of bad decisions.”
Sonya was the only daughter of eight children (her mother had two boys, her father had five boys), and her mother was emotionally unavailable. “My mother suffered domestic abuse at the hands of her first husband, and I believe that it made her disconnect. So me not receiving the affirmations needed to build me up left me exposed,” Sonya shares. “My upbringing was very religious, and although there are a lot of women in my family, none of them stepped in to give me the guidance I needed to navigate the firestorm of emotions and confusion that comes with being a teenager. They didn’t talk about periods, sex, or anything about your body.”
At age sixteen, Sonya gave birth to her first child. Her second child was born when she was seventeen—her third at eighteen and her fourth at twenty-one. “My first daughter was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at age two, and my second child, Justin, only lived twelve hours after birth,” Sonya shares. “And still no one snatched me up and said, ‘Let us get her some counseling or support.’ No one stepped in and said, ‘This is not okay. You are better than this! Let me help you get on the right path.’”
Sonya dropped out of high school in her junior year because her daughter needed full-time care. “I may have been a teenager, but I was still a mother. Since I was so young and my daughter needed extensive care and supervision, everyone told me to put her in a home. I said no. I was her mother and didn’t want her to be mistreated. She couldn’t speak for herself. As her mother, I was her voice and advocate.” It’s this passion that propels Girl Talk Incorporated. The organization doesn’t just give the girls a non-judgmental ear; it helps to provide them with a voice.
“My story is that I didn’t have anyone to help answer the difficult life questions. I had to figure a lot of things out on my own. As a result, I made a lot of bad decisions.”
Sonya was twenty-two when her oldest daughter, Amanda, passed away. She was six. Again, Sonya wasn’t given the support needed to process the loss or the position found within. When she was twenty-six, Sonya was a single parent of two, struggling to make ends meet. With no high school diploma or GED, jobs that paid enough to care for her family were hard to come by.
“I didn’t have a role model per se, but I had started to envision the life I wanted. I saw myself as independent and well-put together. I wanted to show my children what was possible for them,” Sonya explains. Sonya saw herself as more than her current situation, but she didn’t know how to get past where she was. Then a door opened.
“A woman I knew from church told me the doctor’s office she worked for needed an admin. She asked me if I wanted a job. I was twenty-eight when I started. I worked that job a total of four years.”
In the twenty-two years Sonya worked in the healthcare field, she earned her GED and her undergraduate degree in business marketing. She has been licensed as a life coach and has a certification in human services.
“I just needed an opportunity. I needed someone willing to take a chance on me. That’s all any of us need, really,” Sonya explained. “Girl Talk Incorporated was birthed out of my wanting to provide for young ladies what was not provided for me. I don’t want them fumbling and stumbling through life, making mistake after mistake, because nobody was willing to have those uncomfortable conversations. As women and mothers, we have to guard our girls. The best way to do that is to inform them.” The preparation of young girls who are coming of age is something Sonya is very passionate about.
It was time to activate her passion, but Sonya needed to do a little research. “Having an organization like Girl Talk was something I always wanted to do. In 2015, I finally found myself in a position to do it,” Sonya explained. “I have nieces who were around that age of curiosity. So I sat down with them and some of their friends to have some simple conversations. We talked about school, boys, sex, and relationships. After that, I felt my idea aligned with our community’s needs.” With the support of her husband and armed with the data from her (family) focus group. Sonya launched Girl Talk Incorporated in April 2015. In July 2022, Sonya retired from her career in healthcare and began working with Girl Talk Inc. fulltime.
Girl Talk is focused on those tough but necessary conversations that inform, educate, and prepare young girls to be mentally, physically, and emotionally healthy.
According to their website, “Girl Talk Inc. focuses on areas such as Health & Wellness, Confidence Building, Coping Skills, College Preparedness, and Sex Education…With these tools available to young girls, our goal is to equip them with life skills that will enable them to make good decisions and achieve their personal and professional goals.”
Now that you know Sonya’s why let’s talk about the how. Girl Talk Inc. has wellorganized mentoring programs that educate and support students ages ten to eighteen.
“The Girl Talk Inc. mentoring program is an 8-week program designed to meet the growing needs of our female youth. Through a staff of volunteers and advisors, we will hold weekly meetings to address various topics and offer strategies and tools to assist the girls in dealing with day-to-day issues. At the end of the program, the girls will participate in a graduation ceremony to celebrate their achievements with parents, caregivers, family, and friends,” Sonya explained.
As a non-profit, Girl Talk Inc. relies heavily upon the gifts of its donors. “My husband is a huge financial supporter of Girl Talk Inc. I am so grateful to him and the other sponsors for their continued support of this vision. The great news is that we have received our first grant in 2022. Funding for our programs is essential to our effectiveness in the community.” In 2021, Girl Talk Inc. was honored with the Jefferson Award for Multiplying Good in the community local television station WRTV Indianapolis.
As the organization grows, the impact of Sonya’s vision for empowering the young women of her community is being felt and acknowledged as an asset. But she’s not finished yet.
On November 19th, 2022, Girl Talk Inc. hosted Conversations for our Daughters: A Mother’s Love Unveiled.” This event was designed to empower mothers to be the light and guide in their children’s lives—especially their daughters.
“A Mothers Love Unveiled is a conversation that mothers and daughters will have regarding the experiences, traumas and triumphs that mothers have had that affect their daughter’s development, both good and bad. When we share the most intimate, private parts of our lives with our daughters, we give them a glimpse of who we really are. Being transparent about our experiences, our highs, and our lows open the door for our daughters to become more self-aware of who they are,” Sonya explains.
Sonya admits she is guilty of raising her children based on her traumas. “I knew what I had experienced, and I promised I would never allow my children to go through that,” she explained. “I had a baring stepfather, so I clashed at first when I married my husband. I had to learn that not all men were like my stepfather.”
Sonya says the future of Girl Talk Inc. is all about giving her students a holistic experience. They work with counselors and social services to get the girls what they need. Most importantly, she realizes that the girls need to be wellequipped, healed, and emotionally sound mothers ready to guide the next generation of women into their future.
“Our focus will always be to empower girls, but we understand that if we help the child then send them back to a toxic environment, it’s like putting water in a bucket with a hole in the bottom. We will have to keep starting over to combat the negative influences that can sometimes be found in the home,” Sonya said. “But by supporting the moms and encouraging them to seek help, find healthy relationships, and build supportive and trusting relationships with their daughters, we can help stop the cycle. It is always good for children to have an outside listening ear, but we want mothers to be the voice their daughters rely on most.”
The most crucial thing Sonya wants to convey to everyone reading this is, “Self-love is power. When you truly love yourself, everything around you changes for the good.”
Simply Celeste’sBy Joy Rogers Photos Provided by Celeste Talley
When it comes to good food, Phoenix, AZ, resident Celeste Talley knows all about it. Celeste is widely recognized as a Celebrity Chef. Her expert cooking skills come into play with her being the owner of Simply Celeste’s Catering, a full-scale catering company based in Phoenix.
Celeste prides herself on her brand promise of providing excellent service that creates a stressfree and memorable event for every one of its clients. Simply Celeste’s specializes in southernstyle cajun cuisine. “My team and I will come to you and prepare your meal onsite, allowing you to experience me in my element. My goal is to relieve the stress of cooking by curating a delicious meal from start to finish,” she says. Celeste’s services are ideal for Birthday Celebrations, Bachelor and Bachelorette Parties, Anniversaries, and other Social Gatherings.
“There is something unique and special about the bonding that goes on when people gather to have a meal,” Celeste says with excitement while speaking of the excitement she experiences when executing her passion for preparing food for others. “
Twelve years ago, Chef Celeste relocated to Arizona, however, her roots trace back to the east coast. She is originally from New Jersey and is the youngest of six children. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in business and communication from Arizona State University. Additionally, she has been married to her husband, John, for eleven years, and they have one seven-month-old daughter, Arielle.
How did her journey in business begin? “I had the idea to open a catering business, yet, I didn’t have any indepth information on how to go about it,” she says. The motivation for starting her business derives from Celeste’s passion for cooking, her love of excellent cuisine, and a tradition of entrepreneurship experienced by her family. She later rented out a shared commercial kitchen facility to bring her dreams to fruition.
Celeste shares she developed a love for cooking at a young age. “My father instilled in me an entrepreneurial mindset and love for cooking. I bonded with him heavily through food. I was always in the kitchen with him as my other siblings did not have the same interest in cooking that I did. He taught me how to cook, and I witnessed him and my mother run their own restaurant in the 90s called “Hearts of Lettuce”. Celeste’s father’s niche was healthy cuisine, including salads, sandwiches, and soups.
After receiving advice from her father, Celeste set her sights on making her dream of owning her own business a reality. She did her research and wrote out recipes, yet unlike her father, her vision wasn’t to set up shop in a brick-and-mortar establishment; instead, her vision involved operating a catering service.
The launch party for Simply Celeste’s occurred during a tasting for her friends and family and continued on from that point. Unfortunately and unexpectedly, her father passed away in 2017. Yet, Celeste has been committed to operating her company in his legacy. “We talked about food every day and that was okay with me. He loved to hear about what I had made for dinner and wanted to know all about my catering events. I was devastated when my father passed, but I wanted to keep his legacy alive. The best way to do that is to honor him through how I live and run my company. I do what I do because of his influence,” she says.
Cooking is something Celeste says she loves to do. “I love to cook in general, it is something I am really passionate about. I love experimenting with different flavors and seasonings, and I also love serving people and putting smiles on their faces,” she says.
Moving forward, Celeste is working towards building out the cheesecake subsidiary portion of her business and making them available for sale in grocery stores and other restaurants. Presently, she is seeking to expand her staff and build a team of permanent employees. This may include a Sioux Chef, several prep cooks, and servers for events. She is also working on building brand awareness for her services through social media and other marketing strategies. “The goal is to drive repeat business through superior customer experiences,” she says.
To learn more about Simply Celeste’s Catering, please visit their website.
TheBeardedOne.By Terry L. Watson Photos Provided by Michael Arnett
The saying goes that when a man looks good, he feels good. Budding entrepreneur Michael Arnett of Charleston, SC, has set his sights on ensuring it becomes a reality for all men who desire it.
The 59-year-old father, husband, caretaker, and retired Police Officer is a native of Harlem, NY, but was raised in the Bronx. Living in a melting pot, Michael saw different nationalities and cultures of people. That experience helped him grow as an individual. He says he was determined to escape his environment and see the world.
His story is that of someone who has persevered despite what his surroundings presented to him. He shares, “I lived in public housing (the PJ’s) for 25 years. I come from a two-parent household, along with two other siblings. We had great examples as parents; my father was a Police Officer, and my mom worked as a Secretary. My parents always told me to work hard, and that anything is possible. My dad told me I could be better than him and that nobody was going to give me anything.”
Michael always loved fashion. After graduating from vocational high school in 1981, he enrolled at a community college. He attended school full-time and worked full-time. His major was graphic arts and advertising. Michael successfully received his associate degree in 1985. “After college, I worked several jobs but wasn’t satisfied. In 1987, I joined the US Air Force, served for five years, and spent time in the Gulf during Desert Storm. After leaving the military, I worked until I became a police officer and was accepted into the academy in 1997. I later retired in 2018 and started on a mission of entrepreneurship, fueled by my love for fashion and to be different,” he says. In 2020, Michael relocated to his current home in Charleston to care for his mom.
Today, Michael is the owner of TheBeardedOne., a clothing apparel company that produces T-shirts, Hats (Bucket and Farmer), and Hoodies. Michael’s clothes are geared toward the Bearded community and cater to individuals with mustaches, goatees, etc.
Michael says TheBeardedOne. began after he grew a beard in late 2017. “I began to think about how to incorporate my beard into my business model. After going back and forth, I figured out how to make it happen in December 2020.”
While he has a genuine love for fashion, Michael says he also finds enjoyment in being different. “Fashion is what you make it! I have made a business out of fashion, and because I am the owner, I can do what I want and not answer to anyone,” he says.
Like most small business owners, TheBeardedOne. has faced its share of challenges. Michael says some have been finding a way to navigate through a saturated T-shirt market and rough economy. He has also had to deal with operating with limited resources. “I have overcome the saturation by offering different and unique clothes of good quality. I have found good quality clothing and still profit from my prices. With limited resources, I have attended more networking workshops and located events that allowed me to vend and showcase my apparel,” he says. Michael is also a member of the cigar club, Good Times Gang. That connection, he says, allows him to network with people from all over the country.
While his journey has been a little challenging, Michael says he wouldn’t change much about the way things have happened. “I would not change anything. The trials and tribulations are a part of life. You can grow from them or fall back and blame everyone else for your misfortunes. My advice to others who may follow in my footsteps is to keep God first in everything you do. You must have a plan, execute, network, and bring the love of what you do to your business. Stay focused and cut back folks that don’t have the same energy as you. And don’t be scared to let the world know you are here,” he says.
Living in New York prepared Michael for life at an early age. Moving forward, he plans to continue to grow his brand. He also hopes to purchase a van and convert it into a mobile store. He also hopes to have a storefront to display his apparel and help out other local fashion-based companies by displaying their apparel in his store.
An Eight Week Course of Education
Week 1 - Introduction of all material over eight weeks. They are adapting with family and friends with a newborn. What are the challenges faced, and how can I overcome them? Healthy Parenting and Relationships (Partnership with Family and Consumer Sciences Professionals). Members will use the whole session to share their experiences and struggles associated with adjusting with pregnancy.
Goal: Members will gain an understanding of their peers and the struggles they each face. Members will begin to assess the challenges associated with parenting with family and friends.
Outcome: Members will begin to develop a relationship with their peers, thus establishing a bond and connecting with one another. Understanding healthy relationships (Family, Partners, and Friendships).
Week 2 - Staying Positive Coping Skills (Mom and Baby)
This session will include role-play, video clips, and class activities to complete about parenting.
Goal: Members will develop coping skills to assist with managing emotions and challenges faced.
Outcome: Members will be more equipped to manage their behavior positively and change their mindset to positive thinking and speaking.
Week 3 - Money Matters (Budgeting, Savings, Credit)
This class will build on the “Budgeting Skills” class. It will also include worksheets and important literature on budgeting and saving money.
Goal: Members will obtain skills to manage money and food stamps.
Outcome: Members will develop budgeting skills, thus reducing the amount of dependence on others. Members will become aware of shopping tips, utilizations of coupons, and resources to help save and budget funds.
Week 4 - Computer Literacy/Interview
Members will participate in role-play and hands-on learning. Staff will cover interview skills and resources related to interview clothing. Staff will require all members to practice skills learned and discussed on the computer.
Goal: Members will become knowledgeable of soft computer skills and learn essential interviewing tips.
Outcome: Members will develop or refresh their computer skills, which are needed to navigate computers and the web. Members will gain the necessary skills as it relates to interviewing preparation.
Week 5 - Parenting and Breastfeeding
A WIC speaker will cover the entire class.
Goal: Members will learn the benefits of breastfeeding and healthy eating.
Objective: Members will take advantage of the learned material and start the process of familiarizing themselves with breastfeeding and other options.
Week 6 - Career and College Readiness (Partnership with Community College and Trade Schools). The speaker for this class will be from a Professional Job/School.
Goal: Educate single moms eligible to work on how to apply for jobs and submit school applications. Teach singles how to write a resume. Somebody will also give College Prep information.
Outcome: Members will be ready for job training interviews.
Week 7 - ADL’s (Activity of Daily Living)
This class will cover Basic ADL’s of caring for self and infant. Self Care and Postpartum Depression.
Goal: Members will learn the importance of personal self-care needs associated with parenting.
Outcome: Members will implement newly learned skills and establish improved self-care to assist with parenting needs. They will also learn about the effectiveness of reducing stress levels during mommy time.
Week 8 - Safe Sex/Pregnancy Prevention
A Health Provider will come in and speak on: Prevention of Teen Pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Birth Control methods and safe sex options.
Goal: Members will learn about the statistics of teen moms. Members will learn about STD’s and the risk of unprotected sex.
Outcome: Members will become more familiar with and aware of risks associated with unprotected sex and pregnancy prevention.
Review/Survey / Where am I now? / Graduation
The first thirty minutes of class will consist of completing a survey of learned material and the usefulness of the course. Staff will use this time to review any material or resources needed. The remaining hour and a half of class will be used for Graduation and to celebrate the completion of the course.
Goal: Members will gain a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment.
Outcome: Members recognize the importance of parenting. They will have a different outlook on life as a single parent with the information they learned over the eight weeks. They will learn how to be better parents to their children.
Dorcas Couture CustomsNadineBy Terry L. Watson Photos Provided by Nadine Gentles
Nadine Gentles is a woman of faith, a lover of life, and someone who enjoys all things creative and beautiful. The Jamaican-born entrepreneur is the daughter of Winston and the late Dorcas Gentles. Nadine migrated to the United States in 2001 and landed in the Gulfport area of Mississippi. Her first three years in the US was spent working odd jobs. She also attended Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and received a degree in Human Services, and pursued a bachelor’s degree in Fashion Merchandising.
Nadine is also the owner of Dorcas Couture Customs. With her company, she offers custom designs from start to finish for events, including Bridal parties and Grooms packages, special events, proms, birthdays, and more. Her pieces are one of a kind and are designed to be budget-friendly. She shares that when her son, Javaughn, a fashion designer who studied at Mississippi State University, wanted to learn how to sew, she knew they were on to something. “It was 2015, and within the first weeks of me teaching him, he grasped it, and that is how Dorcas Couture Customs was formed,” she says.
Nadine shares she would like to think of herself as a more couture designer with an urban flare. “My brand started in 2015 as a tribute to my mom, Dorcas Gentles., who passed away in October 2010. Her love for sewing and the teaching she poured into me as a child prepared me for success.”
So, how did the journey begin for Nadine? She shares, “I started sewing at 16 years old. At first, I hated it; however, my mom encouraged me to continue, and now, I am obsessed.” Nadine first began by sewing an all-African attire. She points out how she loved the vibrant prints and texture of the wax fabric. She offered maxi skirts only for a bit, but as her experience developed, she transitioned to more of a formal esthetic.
“I started sewing at 16 years old. At first, I hated it; however, my mom encouraged me to continue, and now, I am obsessed.”
“Sewing is my comfort and safe space. I love to tell stories with my garments. I also desire to create items for women of all shapes, sizes, colors, and ethnicity,” Nadine says.
With each piece that Nadine creates, there is a message and meaning attached to it. “I believe that every design has energy. The design process comes from a place of worship. It’s a ministry, and I thank God for the gift He has blessed me with. Designing and teaching others the art of sewing is my way of uplifting and empowering others,” she says. Over the years, Nadine has taught more than 100 women and men how to sew, with many of her students using their education to create a stream of income.
As previously mentioned, Nadine’s life has been greatly impacted by her mother. She also credits her son Javaughn for stepping up and assisting her with finding ways to keep her mother’s memory alive. Dorcas was given to Nadine’s mom by her mother, the late Monica Bowen. Dorcas is a biblical name and Nadine says Dorcas’ character describes her mom accurately. “My mom embraced her name and her calling to serve others, and I pray I can do the same.”
When Nadine first started taking orders, her community embraced her. The first prom season was 2016 and she produced items for a wedding party. In her authentic Jamaican accent Nadine describes what that experience was like. “Many times I didn’t know how to create the pieces they ordered. I am very critical so if it’s not looking right, it’s not going out. I would give up, stressed, say my prayers and go to bed. Sometimes I would dream of the piece and how to do it . God brought back to my remembrance what my mom and my teachers taught me back home. I also read and practice a lot. I am always in designer mode and I have thousands of screenshots of designs and looks I want to try. I love challenging myself. I am always learning and I never give up.”
It is evident that Nadine is walking in her calling and enjoying the rewards of doing so. In the previous eight years, Nadine’s designs have graced New Orleans Fashion Week, Georgia Peach Fashion Week, Mobile Fashion Week, Houston Fashion Week, Coastal Fashion Week, London Fashion Week, and Juneteenth Fashion Shows. She has been invited to the Project Runway and won best designer with the Fashion Life Tour. Additionally, she had the opportunity to design a gown for the 75th Tony Awards in New York City.
Her advice is clear for anyone who may follow a path similar to the one she has traveled. “You must be dedicated, find your niche, be true to yourself, know your skill level, and practice, practice. You can learn from everyone. Master your craft. Know your worth. Failure is not an option.”
Looking to the future, Nadine says she plans to open a fashion Design College, and pass on what I have been taught to others. She also plans to continue introducing others to the fashion and design field. h