Align Your Assignment With God
There Are No If, Ands, Or Buts About It!
Your assignment is not the assignment of everyone else. Once I learned what those nine words truly meant, my focus on life changed. Of course, I have been told that God gives His toughest battles to His strongest warriors, but that memo didn’t include details of when the battles would end. Instead of sticking my chest out during my victories and hanging my head during the moments of defeat, I’ve decided to learn from each circumstance, and by doing so, I am prepared for the next battle with each new day.A Letter from the Editor
What if tomorrow didn’t arrive? All of your plans, hopes and dreams wouldn’t have a street to park on. What if everything that you decided to put off until tomorrow never happened? There would be no reason to save for a rainy day, and you could spare someone the trouble of making promises. What if your last opportunity seemingly expired today? What would you do?
The best advice I have ever given myself is to be satisfied in my attempts to be better. When I first launched Huami Magazine, I was presented with a situation that adversely impacted the quality of my relatively new publication. I was frustrated, but I also knew what had occurred and why it happened. The idea of quitting never came into my mind, even while I sat motionless, staring at the balled-up copy in reference. I didn’t know then, but God was preparing me for something greater.
In November of this year, we will begin our seventeenthanniversary celebration of the birth of Huami Magazine. When I think about all of the layouts, the photo shoots, the interviews, and the distributions that have taken place, all I can say is God has been faithful and continues to keep His promise.
I’ve been told that I often seem like I do too much. Honestly, I feel like I am not doing enough and I’m a firm believer in knowing that God wouldn’t put anything on me that I couldn’t handle. I sometimes wonder how life would be if I chose to sit idle and accept what it presented to me. I have found that to be very boring. In my opinion, opportunity is a blessing that isn’t afforded to everyone. A challenge to me is an adventure. What is the worst that can happen? If I do nothing, I fail, and if I try I don’t, but instead learn something new about myself. Relinquish your pride and in return acquire life.
Had I given up in the beginning, the stories and testimonies of countless individuals may have never been published. Had I given in to the pressure of operating in the unknown, my mother would have never been able to mail magazines to her friends. Had I not decided to pour everything I have in me into producing something my community would celebrate, the hope that others have in God doing a great work for them may not exist.
The best advice ever given to me happened when someone told me to make my tomorrow happen today. In doing so I have pressed my way through doors with a key that only hope provided. I have also learned the difference between what God blesses me with and what life can burden me with as well. I compare it to knowing when to be confident and when to be quiet, because someone may get it confused with being arrogant.
All of my assignments have come with a lot of responsibility. What is more interesting is that the same set of instructions has accompanied them all: to seek God first and operate according to His plans. My assignment is not everyone else’s, and I know everything I desire is connected to how it aligns with God’s plan. Learn your assignment and align it with God. He will handle the rest for you.Terry L. Watson Editor/Founder
Terry L. Watson
Make you tomorrow happen today, but most importantly make it count. Life is but a whisper and we must put ourselves in a position to hear what it is telling us.
With the growing demand of personal birth services, this young entrepreneur has built her business to serve during the entire experience.
Who knows what she will do next? Learn more about how she has excelled in all facets of her life, including business, with the love of God.
Broken Men FoundationBy Terry L. Watson
Ellery Lundy is the President and Founder of The Broken Men Foundation. His nonprofit organization is designed to help men deal with trauma from various life situations, whether it be divorce, separation, drug abuse, gun safety, gun prevention, and more.
A native of Richmond, VA, Ellery says that just because someone is broken, it doesn’t mean they should stay broken. “We want to teach men through our program how to take back the community and lead in a positive way. We also want to extend our hands to the youth and raise boys to become men,” Ellery says. “Men have a tendency not to communicate. We act out in different fashions, sometimes resulting in domestic violence, becoming abusive parents, or worse. Men must understand they aren’t alone in this journey, and it is okay to talk about the past and move forward.”
In 2014, the Academy began with only three participants. Since then, its focus has specialized on mentoring young men between the ages of 12-18 and offering a 16-week curriculum covering a variety of topics aimed at better understanding adolescent behavior to allow our mentors to teach problem-solving skills.
Ellery shares his organization is deeply rooted in academic achievement, the establishment of social skills, self-esteem and responsibility, citizenship, and community involvement. “Our ultimate goal is to make young men accountable for their actions, thus enabling them to become productive members of our community.” As of 2023, they have graduated over 500 men.
Ellery has been certified in the Fatherhood Initiative program for fragile families through the Virginia Department of State Social Services and Certified in Crisis Intervention. He has coached various sports in the community, from girl’s basketball to little league football, and has also officiated numerous games from little league, high school, and even semi-pro.
The Broken Men Foundation gives back to its community with its outreach program. In September, they conducted a back-to-school supply event. In October, they will conduct a breast cancer walk to raise cancer awareness, and in November, they will conduct a Thanksgiving food drive and give food to families in need. Additionally, they will partner with other organizations in December to give away toys to families.
Ellery shares that what he loves most about his foundation is dealing with the unknown. “When we have young men into our program, we may not always know what they are dealing with. We began by letting our mentees know that we love them. We want them to know that none of us are perfect, and we are all in this thing together,” he says.
Ellery acknowledges his mother, Lydia Lundy, for instilling sound values into him and his siblings. “She always told me as a young man that I was no less than any other man. My mother told me whenever I needed to tell a man something, to look into his eyes and tell it. She taught us to be respectful and confident,” he says.
Of course, Ellery couldn’t do all that he does alone. A stellar group of individuals, such as Steve Clarke, the Executive Director and Vice President of the organization, surrounds him. There is also James Fobbs, Keith Adams, Pastor Calvin Harris, Shawn Hobbs, Troy Mithcell, James Jones, Charles Johnson, Chris McNeil, Ray Smith, Rickey Brown, William Simmons, and Leroy Terry Cain, Jr. Some additional assistance comes by way of Doreen Lundy, Joe Lajoie, and Rachel Fenton.
When asked if he would change anything about his journey with the organization, Ellery says he wishes he would leave his job sooner. “Other than that, there is nothing I would change. I believe we are where we are supposed to be in life. I appreciate every part of the journey,” he says.
Looking ahead, Ellery hopes to take his organization to higher heights. “I want to make our organization bigger than organizations like ours. I want to secure more grants and help our organization to be bigger than the Boys & Girls Club and the YMCA. Those are both great organizations, and we have the opportunity to reach even more young men. I want to secure a building and buses to transport our group to events outside Richmond. I want to ensure they are exposed to the things that will help them continue to succeed.
To learn more about the Broken Men Foundation, please visit their website.
Our ultimate goal is to make young men accountable for their actions, thus enabling them to become productive members of our community.”
Memphis Shelby Police Activities League
“A Little Can Go A Long Way”By Monica Montgomery Photos Provided by Craig Littles
Over the years, stories of youth growing up in crimeinfested areas have become increasingly common. Craig Littles, a military veteran and former law enforcement officer from North Memphis, Tennessee, has a similar story. But instead of giving in to the pull of the role models in his community, Mr. Littles took a different path with the help of his mother and sports coaches. Grateful for the opportunities and help he was blessed to have, Craig has built a community that helps kids like him find a different path. Today, he is the founder and Executive Director of the Sheriffs and Police Activities Leagues. The Memphis Shelby Police Activity League, or PAL, has been a life-altering organization for the youth of North Memphis for over thirty years.
In addition to being the founder of the Memphis Shelby County PAL, Craig is the National PAL Vice President. Nationally, PAL serves 1.5 million youth, over three hundred chapters, and seven international chapters. Locally, Memphis PALs serve over two thousand youth annually.
Craig’s passion for being an advocate and resource for the youth in his community comes from a deep sense of gratitude and respect for God and those people he believes God sent to help him beat the odds.
“Growing up in an impoverished neighborhood in Memphis, my role models were gang bangers and dope dealers,” Craig explains. “I started this program thirty years ago to be a better role model than our kids see in the community every day.”
Craig, a single parent to three, now adult children understand the importance of good examples outside and in the home. He and his brother, John Littles were raised by a single mother, Carolyn Willis who made sure they were surrounded by strong male mentors who could give them good guidance and sound advice when needed. “My brother and I are a year apart, and our mother ensured we were always involved in something positive. We were really good at sports, so that’s where we focused our energy,” Craig shares. “It made our mother happy because it kept us busy, in school, and away from influences that would distract us.”
A star athlete, Craig, and a fellow teammate were being heavily recruited to play college football. Going to college and getting a degree, all while doing something you enjoy would be ideal for anyone working to change their circumstances. Craig was no different, but he had to look at the bigger picture.
“I wanted to go to college, but I needed to get out of Memphis. One weekend, a teammate and I were scheduled to be picked up for a college visit. We waited, and they never came. The entire weekend passed, they didn’t come, and no one called. We found out later the coach and the staff of the college’s program were fired,” Craig shares.
Feeling like the college option was closed to him, he did what a lot of young men do. He went to the military. “When the college tour fell through, I signed up for the Army as soon as I was able to. College was my first choice, but in the end, I had to get out of my neighborhood. I saw the military as the fast way to do that at the time.”
After four years in the Army, one spent in the Dessert Storm campaign, Craig came home with a purpose. “While in Dessert Storm, I prayed to God. I told him if he got us home safely, I would do whatever He told me to do! I had no idea of what that would be. I didn’t know if I would be a minister, a teacher, or a chef! It didn’t matter. If God got me out of the foxhole and home safely, I would dedicate my life to doing what he directed me to do,” He shares pointedly. “When I returned home, I kept my promise. I went with what I knew and what had worked for me and my brother as children. Sports.”
In 1996, Craig started the first youth sports program. “When I got out of the Army, God led me to start a youth organization. I gathered several of my high school buddies, and we started with twenty-five football players and five cheerleaders and started our youth football cheer program called Memphis Bears Inc.”
Craig returned home in 1991 and joined the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office in the jail division; later, he became a Memphis Police Officer. “Law enforcement felt like a natural progression for me but not for the reasons you may think,” Craig starts to explain. “I’ve always felt the call to help people. For that reason, I find myself drawn to the jobs and situations nobody wants to do.”
Growing up in an impoverished neighborhood in Memphis, my role models were gang bangers and dope dealers.... I started this program thirty years ago to be a better role model than our kids see in the community every day.”
In the thirty years since starting their first sports program, Craig and his team have been strategic and hyper-focused on creating programs that benefit the youth and the community. Continuing to draw from his own childhood, Craig wanted to channel the group’s efforts toward mentorship. “Again, growing up without a father in the home, my mother tried to ensure my brother and I were exposed to good male role models. Whether it was our uncles, the pastor, or our coaches. She positioned us in a space where we had positive examples to help shape and mold us into the men we are today. Our coaches held us accountable and gave us goals. Those things kept us out of trouble. That is what we set out to do for the kids in our community. We wanted to give them good role models to emulate because that is what worked for us,” Craig explained.
Because of the overwhelming response to their initial project, new programs and initiatives Trezevant were started. “We started with the twenty-five football players and five cheerleaders, and we immediately saw the positive impact that it made in our community. As a result, the program grew. We started a track program, a summer program, and on the academic side, we have tutoring and homework assistance,” Littles shared with enthusiasm. “There was such a need; students and families were hungry for the opportunities our programs have brought to this community.”
In the years since Craig gathered a few high school buddies to honor his promise to God, they have not had a shortage of support from the community. “We have a strong volunteer base and partners who provide financial support. We have thirty staff members and over two hundred volunteers that span all programs. Our volunteers include the advisors, coaches, tutors, board members, and booster club.”
Because Memphis Shelby PAL is an independent non-profit, the program relies on financial support from sponsors and partners. “We have been so blessed to have so many people and companies who believe in us and what we are doing here,” Craig explains. “The programs that we create are not based on what I think is needed. We listen to the community and create programs based on their needs. Whether the need is nutrition, mentorship, or help with academics. We work to find a partner that helps us meet that need.” Craig shares. “If a parent says they need intervention for their child, we’ve partnered with the Ford Foundation and the juvenile court. In some cases, in lieu of being arrested, those students attend my training. There are a plethora of avenues that we can access to support our families at Littles or no cost to them.”
The success of the programs that MSC PAL has instituted has been evident in the students who graduate from it. “We have students who go on to complete college and trade school successfully. We have students who come back and volunteer, and we’ve had students come back and teach or join the police department in their community,” Craig said with pride. “That is why our program is so successful. We focus on
where the need is. For those reasons, the people of the community respect what we do, and we get to see the success stories that make this all worthwhile.”
If you haven’t caught on yet, Craig Littles loves his community and the people that live there. So, it was only fitting that the program be housed at his alma mater. “The best part is that we were able to host the program at our alma mater, Trezevant High School. That’s where it started for us. Now, thirty years later, we are still there and have been blessed to open an after-school program inside of the school. Trezevant High School and Memphis Shelby County Schools donated a wing inside of Trezevant. With a $300,000.000 renovation, Memphis Shelby County PAL was able to start after-school, summer, and extended learning programs,” Craig said proudly.
Over the years, Craig has been recognized for his labor of love. Craig has received numerous awards, such as the Meritorious Community Service Award by former Mayor W. W. Herenton, Outstanding Community Service by former Congressman Harold Ford Jr., River City Gala, Community Man of The Year, and Community Service Award, Memphis Police Department, just to name a few.
Staying true to his original vision to give kids in the North Memphis community something to emulate, make them proud of themselves, and stand a Littles taller, Craig’s current project is to give the local schools a stadium to hold their sports events.
“Right now, the schools must leave the area to participate in sporting events. They don’t have a place in their community built for them,” Craig explained. “The Field of Dreams Project is a state-of-the-art sports stadium where local schools can host sporting events and activities,” he shares passionately.
JohnsonBy Terry L. Watson Photos Provided by Nycole Johnson
So many words and adjectives can describe Nycole Johnson. Imaginative, inventive, and servant are appropriate, yet there is more to her story. First and most importantly, she is a lover of God and professes that she wouldn’t be where she is today without God.
The East Chicago, IN, native and current Indianapolis is the youngest of three sisters of her mother’s children and the youngest of seven children of her father’s. Her adult son, Xavyon, is her only child, and the village she relies on for support consists of many family and friends.
At the age of 18, Nycole moved to Indianapolis to attend IUPUI. She initially pursued a degree in communication but was intrigued by the world of Technology and what it had to offer. She would eventually pivot and change her major and become the first African American female to obtain an Associate’s Degree in New Media. Next, she got her Bachelor’s degree in General Studies and would later work for the Indianapolis Urban League as their IT Coordinator. While there, she started an initiative to encourage young minority females to pursue careers in various areas of Technology and entrepreneurship and led high schoolers in programming to assist with closing the digital divide within their communities. To date, she has provided instruction and mentorship to over 300 youth and countless others.
Everything Nycole had accomplished up to then was already impressive. Still, there was more for her to do.
Nycole returned to school and obtained her Masters in Business and Administration, focusing on Leadership Development from Indiana Wesleyan University. She has worked in IT for over 25 years for the profit and nonprofit sectors.
Today, Nycole owns Rose of Sharon All Naturals LLC (ROS), a health and wellness e-commerce store. Rose of Sharon All Naturals is named after her late mother, who pushed Nycole to help make the world a better place. “I learned early on as a child that making a difference in my community was imperative. My mother taught me what it truly meant to give back and stand up for what was right,” she says.
Her company offers a variety of sea moss and functional mushroom-based products, some being consumable and others intended to be applied to the skin. “My products are designed for individuals seeking alternative methods to experience healthier lifestyles. They are intended for those who seek natural, life-changing results minus the artificial preservatives and colors. They are primarily vegan-based, but the face mask uses raw honey,” Nycole explains.
With Rose of Sharon All Naturals, there is something for everyone. “We have six Sea Moss flavored gels that are a true delight for your taste buds. The flavors are pineapple, strawberry, peach, green apple, not your ordinary lime, and original. Not only are they delicious, but they are packed with the incredible nutritional benefits of sea moss. Sea moss is known to boost immunity, improve digestion, promote healthy skin and nails, and much more,” she says.
Nycole also has four sea moss splash drinks. Made with coconut water and infused with the delightful flavors of strawberry lemon, peach mango, watermelon, and pineapple, these drinks are the perfect way to quench someone’s thirst. Not only do they taste amazing, but they are also rich in essential vitamins and minerals to keep her clients energized throughout the day.
For those looking for a quick and invigorating health shot, Nycole offers pineapple ginger sea moss shots to boost their wellness journey. “These shots are loaded with antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, and immune-boosting benefits and combine the power of sea moss, fresh cold-pressed ginger, pineapple, lemon, aloe, and coconut water. Say goodbye to fatigue and hello to a revitalized body,” Nycole says.
The Chaga Tea is a delightful blend that tastes like sweet peach tea and comes in a plain variant, and the Lion’s Mane Lavender Tea with a hint of lavender. This unique blend combines the brain-boosting benefits of lions’ mane mushrooms with lavender’s anti-inflammatory yet calming properties.
With her skincare line, Nycoles offers a sea moss face mask, of which she describes as a powerhouse combination of sea moss, aloe, and raw honey, specifically designed to tackle acne, dry skin, and problem skin. This face mask is a natural and effective solution to achieve clearer and healthier-looking skin.
There is the Sea Moss Body Butter, available in four delightful scents: Baby Powder, Lavender, Mango, and Plain. There is also the ROS’s Pain Kicker cream. This unique formula combines sea moss with essential oils, which aims to relieve minor inflammation and pain.
I learned early on as a child that making a difference in my community was imperative. My mother taught me what it truly meant to give back and stand up for what was right.”
Nycole says the vision for her company came from her stumbling on the ideal while trying to find alternative ways to cope with some issues she was dealing with. These were pre-covid conditions, heavy weight gain, loss of hair, and much physical pain resulting from a car accident in 2013. “I tried many western world medical remedies that did nothing but made me feel worse. Someone recommended sea moss, and I initially hesitated to try it. I eventually accepted the challenge but under one condition: I would have to tolerate the taste easily. I figured out a way to gain the wonderful benefits of sea moss and made sure it was naturally flavored.,” she said. The word quickly spread among Nycole’s family and friends about the transformation of her weight loss and improved health, and requests began to pour in for her sea moss. This is how Rose of Sharon All Naturals was born.
Nycole says what she loves most about her company is seeing the surprising look once someone tries her sea moss for the first time. She also appreciates the feedback and testimonials from her clients.
The journey of an entrepreneur can be very challenging. However, Nycole is a “Solopreneur,” which makes her business experience even more daunting. She shares, ‘I realize I can’t be everything to everybody at all times. I am not an expert in every aspect of what my business needs. Though I do most of it myself, I still have to contract certain aspects of the business needs, such as social media and marketing tasks, finance, and accounting. I also have a few mentors who offer sound advice and valuable resources.”
Funding has also posed a challenge for Nycole with her business. She has relied on her personal funds to build her brand without seeking assistance from any other source. Fortunately, she applied for grants and was awarded one earlier this year. “That funding has been a tremendous blessing and supported my business as sales continue to increase.”
As her future happens for Nycole, she is positioning her brand to be very successful on all stages. She shares, “ROS is steadily gaining momentum and is on track to be a go-to company for wellness needs. We are working hard to improve our brand and product offerings. Currently, we are working on rebranding, styling, launching a new name to trademark, and enhancing products. ROS will be known for its healthy and great-tasting natural sea moss and for being a wellness brand.:
Please visit their website to learn more about Rose of Sharon All Naturals.
Victoria HartBy Terry L. Watson Photos Provided by Victoria Hart
According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, the definition of a doula is a person trained to provide advice, information, emotional support, and physical comfort to a mother before, during, and just after childbirth. This definition accurately describes Victoria Hart.
The Mississippi Gulfport resident owns Doula & Nanny, LLC. Her company offers various levels of support, such as physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. With her nanny services, Victoria provided exceptional childcare as well. “My services are designed for all but mainly for those who need that extra hand,” she shares.
At just 27, Victoria has already accomplished a lot. She has enjoyed four years of marriage with her husband, Jarell, and besides being an aspiring entrepreneur, she has a bachelor’s degree in Natural Science. Even more, Victoria was on the road to obtaining her BSN but God said otherwise. More touching is how she describes motherhood. “I am an Angel Mom to five Angel Babies. My time will come when God says that I am ready.”
Victoria launched her business in October 2021 after Victoria’s cousin, who was expecting her second child, asked her to be her doula. “My cousin’s first birth experience was the opposite of how she planned it. She researched that having a doula by her side might empower her to take control of her birth. Once she asked me, I immediately fell in love with everything a doula stands for. In January 2022, her VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean) was extremely successful. That experience hugely impacted my doula business, and as a result, it flourished. Currently, I have 25 Doula Babies,” she says.
While Victoria started her nanny business in April 2022, she has served as a nanny since she was 19. “It was basically a summer job while on break from college. However, I have always loved watching kids, even as a kid myself,” she says. Victoria now has 45 “Nanny Babies”.
When asked what inspires her the most about her business, Victoria shared that, regarding being a doula, seeing how black women were mistreated during pregnancy and even childbirth made her realize how much of an impact she could make in their lives. “I have been discriminated against in the medical field concerning infertility issues, so I know firsthand what that can feel like.” In response to the same question pertaining to being a nanny, she says, “In this day and age, it is hard to trust people with your kids because you never know their true intentions. With me, on the other hand, my intentions are pure from the start, and my parents can tell. I desire to be the extra help they need when they cannot find it anywhere else.”
Victoria says she really loves what she does. She shares that hearing how her attendance during the birthing experience or watching her client’s children changed their lives for the better makes it all worth it. “I just do what I love. I have been told numerous times that I inspire other people to follow their passions. The fact that I followed my passion and can help families in need and still pay my bills is all that I need.”
Growing both businesses has proven to be a little challenging, but fortunately for Victoria, the assistance of social media has helped in many ways. Additionally, finding ways to fund her businesses has been a learning experience. Victoria says she wished she had obtained funding before jumping into entrepreneurship. “I just jumped in, head and HART first, no questions asked,” she says.
In the future, Victoria hopes to open a birthing center in her area. Currently, there isn’t one, and she says doctors are afraid to open one due to liability issues. She also hopes to open a postpartum care center to provide care for the first few weeks after birth, which can sometimes be rough with the transition into being a newborn mom. Victoria has plans in the works for a daycare center with afterhour options.h
Brown Sugar Baking CompanyBy Terry L. Watson
Her sweetness is as infectious as her smile, and her cookies aren’t too bad either.
Nickie Davis’s life has consisted of dreams, resilience, and creativity. Currently residing in Huntsville, AL, Nickie was born in Arizona but raised by a single mom in Georgia. From an early age, she has harbored an insatiable passion for learning. Her determination to rise above her circumstances, setbacks, and obstacles helped her escape the small-town box. She wanted more, and that drive still exists with her today.
At 28, Nickie owns Brown Sugar Baking, a cottage law licensed home bakery nestled in Harvest, AL. Her company offers a delightful spectrum of scratch-made delicacies, including various cookies— from drop cookies to custom-decorated masterpieces like cinnamon rolls, cakes, brownies, and blondies. “Traditional flavors tug at my heartstrings. They’re my link to those who walked before me,” she says. Take her pound cakes, for example. The recipe is a hushed family secret passed down from her great-grandmother. Then there’s her chocolate chip cookies, jazzed up with a hint of cinnamon and packed with hand-pressed chocolate chips. Nickie says she finds her greatest joy when combining popular flavors with unlikely sweets. A current customer favorite is her Strawberry Lemonade Cinnamon Roll. It’s a flakey strawberry dough with crushed lemon Oreos, harmonized by a drizzle of lemon glaze.
Nickie and Brown Sugar Baking are often spotted at vending events and community markets. Not in the Harvest area, no problem. Her online ordering option is here to help; however, due to local laws, some restrictions may apply. Additionally, she teaches cookie decorating classes and shares her love for the art with others. “I find joy in guiding others as they unleash their creativity on delectable canvases to create edible masterpieces,” Nickie says.
Without question, Nickie knows a lot about baking; still, she says it’s not just about the treats; it’s about crafting experiences that transport you to moments of indulgence and delight. Growing up, she always baked treats for her friends, earning her the affectionate nickname ‘Nickie Crocker’. She quickly became the go-to person for bake sales in high school. Nickie’s love for baking would continue to follow her throughout life.
She officially started Brown Sugar Baking in February 2022, but the roots of her business venture stretch back through the generations of Nickie’s family’s baking legacy. She shares, “Baking has been in my blood for as long as I can remember. My grandmother’s locally famous cakes captivated my imagination as a child. I was fortunate to learn from her, and she passed down the knowledge acquired from her mother as we spent numerous hours in the kitchen. The seeds of my baking journey were sown by my mother, who had a passion for baking that she had yet to fully pursue. Her encouragement and the rich heritage of family recipes fueled my desire to create and share culinary delights.”
“Traditional flavors tug at my heartstrings. They’re my link to those who walked before me.”Photos Provided by Nickie Davis
Having been taught by the best, the challenge of creating a business from it all would be her next challenge. Nickie says that during the COVID-19 pandemic, like many others, she found herself limited by what she could do. While giving birth to two children, she also spent a lot of time baking. During her second pregnancy, she developed an intense craving for blueberry muffins. After recovering from a traumatic cesarean, she decided to make her own scratch-made version of them. This pursuit quickly evolved into a two-week-long fascination with various muffin recipes. She shared her creations with friends, family, and her husband’s coworkers, and they welcomed them with open arms and eager taste buds. As the world slowly reopened, encouragement from those who tasted her creations nudged her towards a new path. With a limited menu and even fewer orders, Brown Sugar Baking came to life.
Choosing a name for a new business can be difficult. As for Nickie, she says it was important for her to represent not just the products she offers but also the essence of the experience. “I wanted the name to honor my black heritage while echoing my personality. So, I decided on Brown Sugar Baking. Brown Sugar Baking encompasses both who I am and what I aspire to convey through my baked creations. It’s a name that resonates with the sweetness, warmth, and hospitality. When you indulge in Brown Sugar Baking, you savor a slice of my journey, heritage, and commitment to bringing sweetness to life.”
Art and creativity have always been a part of Nickie’s life. She began as a percussionist in the sixth grade, jumping into theater and marching band soon after. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in Animal Science from Auburn University. In 2023, she was nominated for the Queenpreneur’s Plan Dare2Dream Award in the Culinary Arts category, a recognition of her innovation in the kitchen, work as a black female entrepreneur, and involvement in her community.
When asked what she loves most about what she does, Nickie’s response aligns with her love for serving others. “Brown Sugar Baking isn’t just about culinary artistry—it’s a celebration of community and connection and a heartfelt invitation to savor the flavor of life’s sweetest moments. I don’t create these delights solely for financial gain; it’s a genuine love language wrapped in care that encapsulates my spirit, values, and dedication to crafting joy-filled experiences through the art of baking,” she says.
Nickie shares she draws inspiration from the constant learning that takes place while running her business and the connections she is able to make with her clients. “Witnessing the smiles, hearing stories, and sharing moments with people who enjoy my creations brings an immeasurable sense of fulfillment and a constant reminder that I’m walking in my purpose,” she shared. Additionally, Nickie is inspired by her family and the opportunity she has to encourage others to chase their dreams, take leaps of faith, and believe in themselves.
While most business owners face various challenges, Nickie has produced positives from those she’s encountered. “Dealing with ADHD, depression, and anxiety has been a rollercoaster. To keep my energy and spirits up, I take regular baking breaks, connect with my family, and enjoy the small moments that recharge me. I’ve also taken proactive steps like therapy and medication, which have allowed me to thrive. Honestly, having a neurodivergent brain is my superpower. It allows me to harness my curiosity and channel it creatively into the culinary realm,” she says. Nickie is also a stay-at-home mom to two rambunctious boys just over a year apart, one of whom has autism. This experience, she says, is a dynamic that requires her to wear many hats.
Brown Sugar Baking has brought Nickie many joys, and she shares the only thing she would change about her journey is to start sooner than she did. “At the beginning, I was sure my path led to becoming a veterinarian; it was a dream I had since childhood. To me, any deviation from that goal was a form of failure, so I didn’t allow myself the opportunity to explore other avenues. I want others to know that shifting your focus and deviating from the plan isn’t a sign of failure. It signifies evolving, maturing, and discovering what truly matters to you. Also, don’t wait for the perfect moment— just start. Your journey will unfold in its unique way. Perfection isn’t a prerequisite for starting something meaningful.”
What does the future look like for Nickie and Brown Sugar Baking? She shares she is embarking on a slight pivot with the business, fine-tuning her ideas to determine the best direction. “Slowly but surely, I’m wading into the world of catering and crafting delightful party treats. My clients have expressed interest for a while, and I’m preparing to take the plunge.” Additionally, online classes are also on the horizon. “With each step, my goal is to keep embracing change and innovation, all while staying true to the heart and soul of Brown Sugar Baking,” Nickie said.
To learn more about Brown Sugar Baking, please visit their website.
Ashton HairstonThe son of Shannon Hairston
Artist Visual Arts StudioBy Dr. Marrissa Dick Photos Provided by Suzzanne Snuggs Photography
Do you remember when you took art classes in elementary school or dabbled in art while at your afterschool program? Do you remember making Play-Doh figures and gluing them onto a paper plate, tracing your fingers to form a turkey figure, and then placing different colored pieces of construction paper on them to resemble feathers? Remember rushing home to present your artwork to your parents so they could hang it on the refrigerator with a magnet? Now, parents, tell the truth and shame the devil. Did you ever look at that artwork and ask, “Now baby, what is this supposed to be?” How about the response didn’t match the picture or, better yet, the picture didn’t resemble you? Nonetheless, your child designed and glued that picture just for you, so you hung it up anyway. Now that many of us are parents and grandparents, we most likely have our children’s or grandchildren’s artwork dawning our refrigerators.
Parents, have you ever asked your child how they came up with that design or what they were thinking about when creating their unique art piece? Art is a conceptual idea. It’s an expression of the imagination in a visual form. Some art forms are more intricate than others, such as Batik art. Let me help you connect with this 2000-year-old type of art.
Do you remember melting crayons onto paper and using that melted, colorful wax to create an abstract image? Without your knowledge, you were in the infancy stages of Batik art. It’s one of those artmaking processes requiring much preparation and skill. Batik means wax painting and is a technique of using wax-resist dyeing applied to whole cloth. Batik is made by drawing dots and lines of the resist with a spouted tool called a canting or by printing the resist with a copper stamp called a cap. The applied wax resists dyes, allowing the artisan to color selectively by soaking the muslin cloth in one color, removing the wax with boiling water, and repeating that process if multiple colors are desired. This tradition is cultivated in Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nigeria. However, the Island of Java, Indonesia, is the most famous country for this type of art. One of the most famous Batik artists lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, and his name is Henry E. Sumpter.
Born in Myrtle Beach, SC, Henry is a Contemporary Batik Painting Master. Those who have viewed his artwork believe he is a hybrid of Picasso, DaVinci, and Raphael. They also believe his talent for creating Batik should have propelled him to greatness long ago, except Henry wasn’t ready to grace the world; instead, he chose to remain in his shell. “I’m a very simple sort of guy. And at 77, I’m still naïve. That’s the thing that helps me to create – my naivete.”
So, where exactly does Henry’s inspiration come from? He says, “God gives me visions in my dreams when it’s time for me to create. I’ll give you one example. One night, I heard this voice talking in my room. When I woke up, I thought it was Satan, so I said Satan, get away from me, and I went back to sleep. When I went back to sleep, I picked back up on the same dream, and here comes this voice again. So, I said, Hey, Satan, you can’t talk to me! This time, the voice spoke back and said This is not Satan; this is God, so I got up and began painting the vision He was showing me in my dream.”
As Sumpter grew up, he knew he was different from his peers. At an early age, he could hold conversations with his elders, which is one of the reasons his mother dubbed him with the nickname of ‘Fessor short for professor. Henry recalls, “I was a different type of kid on the beach. At seven and eight years old, I wandered everywhere. I would roam almost three or four miles away from home at night just to get on the Air Force base to speak to the airmen/pilots and get all the information I could from them about their travels, thinking I was a kid on base, they would talk to me. Even during that time, it was really dangerous for me to be alone, but I didn’t have any fear or ever thought about anyone hurting me, especially because I had a big white German Shepherd who would accompany me when I sneaked away from home. I feel like that was God protecting and guiding me. He went everywhere with me; I know now it was God. I’m just as curious now as when I was a child. Sometimes, with flashlight pressed against my hand at night, I’m still amazed at the bright blood running through my fingers. I get up daily, look at the sun, and marvel at how photosynthesis makes the flowers grow. I’ve even asked my doctors why I am still that way, and they just say that it’s a part of my DNA.”
Another piece of Henry’s DNA is his ability to draw. As a child, he couldn’t draw anything more than stick figures while his family members were able to surpass him. “I couldn’t always draw. It wasn’t until I started working in the country clubs and cleaning floors, and working in white people’s homes cleaning their floors that I could connect the dots. The folk I worked for never understood why I enjoyed doing the floors, but I did that so I could look at the pictures hanging on the walls. I would be working and looking at the details. Even though they thought I was strange because I received enjoyment while hand polishing their floors, nobody would stop a black man from that type of work, especially since I had the best floors wherever I worked. Nobody knew that I was steadily waxing, studying, and developing my technique. When I was 13 years old, I just woke up one morning and could draw, and that’s how that happened.”
Painting on opposite page: Hidden Treasures
I get up daily, look at the sun, and marvel at how photosynthesis makes the flowers grow. I’ve even asked my doctors why I am still that way, and they just say that it’s a part of my DNA.”
Painting on opposite page: Red Skies Over Tamara
Sumpter has a rich history of working as a protégé of some of the greatest contemporary drawing artists, such as Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts (Charlie Brown and Snoopy), and Leo Twiggs, a professor at South Carolina State University and Claflin University Alum, and who is also an acclaimed Batik master. Sumpter recalls, “I attended Claflin as a freshman. Professor Twiggs took me over to his place, and I watched him doing this weird stuff with wax and dyes, and I said Sir, who taught you this? He didn’t answer that question; instead, he said Son, you’ll never be able to do this. He said that I wouldn’t have the intellect to do it and that I wouldn’t have the initiative or the desire to do it. He said Batik was beyond me. He should have never said that to me because those words were the impetus that caused me to want to prove him wrong. After that, I began experimenting with the art on my own, and the rest is history. I became enamored with this process; you must understand what the finished painting will look like before you start painting and also understand color.” The process of Batik art is time-consuming. These artists spend countless hours consumed with this craft. Sumpter has attested to working on one piece of art for nine years. Leo is still the best.
One may ask why drawing and painting one picture would take so long. Henry says, “I have some pieces that I’ve worked on for nine or more years perfecting. You see, my artwork is different because I have designed it using a three-D effect. You can see my effect up close, and you can see it just as well far away. For someone working with a hot wax tool, my hand speed is like Mohammad Ali’s. My hand speed is so fast the cameras can’t catch it. This is a time-consuming process where you can lose yourself and lose track of time. The tools needed are a process by itself. First, you have to envision your picture and see the colors. I’ve mastered the capability to make any color on the spectrum to paint. I literally get lost because I become intoxicated with the process from the beginning. I must use the perfect fabric or Muslin, my dyes, brushes, beeswax, hot plate, and pot to melt the wax. I then lay down the fabric, draw my vision, and apply the first wax layer. It’s the wax that provides the resistance. Then, I actually create my own dye colors; then, I have to remove the wax with a hot iron and newspaper. The whole process is very timeconsuming, but to me, the days are more like seconds,” he shares.
During the Vietnam War, Henry was drafted into the US Army, where he was assigned to the material performance branch in a craft shop, perfecting his art. After his tour in the Army, Henry began exhibiting his art and winning recognition. Several of his pieces can be found in New York, Atlanta, and London. Often, people are not recognized as great in their hometowns. However, Henry wants his artistry to stand the test of time long after he is gone. He shares, “I want the world to know that I have worked for over 40 years to create a unique body of work that will be aweinspiring and historical and archival work that will last for about 1,000 years.”
If you want to learn more about Henry E. Sumpter and purchase his works, visit https://visualdesignsstudio.com
Astylux Notary & Courier ServicesBy Terry L. Watson
Hailing from Catawba County, NC, particularly Hickory, NC, T. Alexis Byrd is deeply connected to her roots. However, her upbringing carries a unique twist due to her family’s military background spanning an impressive five generations. Her legacy was further enriched by formative years spent in Germany, a testament to the enduring commitment of her family to serve. Alexis says those diverse experiences have shaped her.
In 2001, Alexis embarked on a new journey with the United States Air Force as a dedicated Logistician. In her role, she gained invaluable skills, exhibited a strong sense of discipline and duty, and enjoyed a career lasting 20 years. Having concluded this illustrious chapter, Alexis now resides alongside her teenage son in Wayne County, NC. Wayne County, she says, has become her cherished home, a place where she is forging a fresh path as an entrepreneur, driven by the values and principles instilled by her family’s rich military history.
Throughout her career, Alexis has had the privilege of shouldering diverse responsibilities within the intricate supply chain process. These roles ranged from offering indispensable customer support to military personnel and civilians to orchestrating management of
issuance, storage, order requests, transportation logistics, inventory upkeep, real-time tracking, security protocols, repairs, and addressing general inquiries regarding an extensive assortment of supplies and invaluable hazardous equipment. Alexis was also entrusted with safeguarding Personally Identifiable Information (PII), reinforcing the importance of data security and privacy. Furthermore, Alexis acquired valuable skill sets that she still utilizes today.
Alexis also holds the distinction of being an Iraq veteran, having undertaken a deployment to the region. This experience bolstered her expertise and honed her ability to navigate complex and challenging situations. Over the course of her Air Force career, she achieved significant academic milestones and earned an Associate’s Degree of Applied Science in Logistics from the Community College of the Air Force. She also attained a Bachelor’s Degree of Arts in Social & Criminal Justice with Magna Cum Laude honors from the University of Arizona Global Campus, formally Ashford University.Photos Provided by T. Alexis Byrd
Today, Alexis owns Astylux, LLC, a diverse notary company based in Wayne County. Their services include Notarizations, Mobile Notary Services, Electronic Notarization, In-Person Electronic Notarization (IPEN), I-9 Employment Verification Forms, Efficient Courier Services, Comprehensive Administrative Support, Notary Signing Agent, Witnessing Services, and Apostille Agent Services.
“Our services come to you,” Alexis says. “We utilize our extended knowledge of the federal and state laws, immeasurable customer service skills, leadership, and compassion to ensure essential documents of community patrons are legally authenticated, protected, and transported safely with the utmost confidentiality and care.” Convenience is provided at your doorstep with exceptional Mobile Notary Services. “Our team brings the notarization process to you. Whether it’s your residence, business, or place of employment, we are committed to making notarization hassle-free and accessible,” she says. Astylux was recently aligned with the EscrowTab platform to integrate IPEN Services. “We expertly fuse in-person and electronic processes,” Alexis says, “redefining notarization for enhanced efficiency, real-time updates, and advanced encryption techniques.”
As a Notary Signing Agent, Alexis partners with various Title Companies, Lenders, Borrowers, Sellers, Escrow Officers, Loan Officers, Attorneys, Settlement Agents, Real Estate Agents and various Signing Agencies. “We ensure a seamless process, acting as impartial witnesses and ensuring swift communication with lenders.” Providing Apostille Agent Services ensures her client’s documents are properly authenticated by the Secretary of State for international use. Whether it’s a vital record, legal document, or business agreement, her company navigates the complexities of the apostille process.
So how did Alexis start her company? She says, nearly five years prior to her retirement from the U.S. Air Force, a journey unfolded that would shape her into a business owner. She learned the role of a notary held the potential to greatly enrich and uplift her community. Her vision went beyond the conventional, encompassing the creation of a meticulously tailored mobile notary service to meet the unique needs of Wayne County and its neighboring regions. She emphasizes, “While our services are finely tuned for this specific region, it’s crucial to note that they are designed to benefit everyone, regardless of location or background. We aim to reach a wide, diverse audience, ensuring that quality assistance is accessible to all.”
Drawing on her expertise as a Logistician and her educational background in Social & Criminal Justice, Alexis developed an integrated notary and courier service that aligned with the convenience-driven ethos of the community. She also aimed to create opportunities for employment and mentorship, nurturing local talents in business and notarial domains. She immersed herself in over twenty Small Business Association courses, both in physical and virtual spaces. She served as an Apostille Agent, an I-9 Employment Verification Authorized Representative, a Notary Signing Agent, and even a Courier. Alexis enrolled in the Notary class at Wayne Community College and the Electronic Notary course at Wake Tech Community College. By August 2021, she proudly became a Commissioned Notary. She was then
certified as a Notary Signing Agent in March 2022. She obtained her courier license in June 2022. On February 14, 2022, Astylux LLC was formed. The grand inauguration of Astylux Notary & Courier Services on July 1, 2022, marked the beginning of a significant chapter devoted to redefining notarial and courier services in her community.
Alexis says she appreciates the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to her community. “Every day brings the chance to connect with diverse individuals, expanding my network while keeping stress at bay. The continuous learning, whether it’s about business dynamics, local insights, or new regulations, keeps me engaged and educated. This knowledge is a gift I’m eager to share, allowing me to teach others along the way.”
Alexis appreciates the individuals who have had a significant influence in making her the accomplished woman she is today. One is Reverend James N. Holloway, her grandfather. He pastored while concurrently owning a highly regarded janitorial service in Hickory, NC. Alongside him, she credits her grandmother, Nettie G. Liles-Holloway, who served as a dedicated first lady and a missionary, deeply involved in community outreach.
Alexis also acknowledges the support of her customers. “Each time they reach out, or I arrive at their location, their genuine gratitude and sense of relief leave a lasting impact. Their overwhelmingly positive reviews are uplifting and serve as a driving force, propelling me to push forward and consistently enhance the services I offer,” she says.
Looking ahead, Alexis shares her plans involve a steadfast dedication to continuous learning as a notary and business owner. “ I’m committed to elevating my brand’s presence by acquiring innovative skills, enabling me to effectively engage with a broader audience. In summary, my vision includes a continuous journey of self-improvement, expanding my brand’s influence through innovative skills, and extending my impact beyond local boundaries,” she concludes.
To learn more about Astylux, LLC and the services they offer, please visit their website.