Huami Magazine St. Louis Sept./Oct. 2022

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S T. LO U I S

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Sept./Oct. 2022 Volume 1 Issue 10

Side Hustle Honors St. Louis - Sept./Oct. 2022

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God’s Plan Is Greater Than Me A Letter From The Editor

With every ordeal or trying circumstance, there will always be more than one way to handle them. We can face them head-on, or we can turn away and avoid any form of an altercation. No matter what decision is made concerning the matter, the impact or effect of what we chose will most likely be waiting on the other side of our decision. That’s why I believe it’s vital to share our thoughts with God beforehand and confirm His viewpoint because God’s plan is greater than anything I can decide for myself. Like most people, the thrill of victory is generally the reason why I compete or fight. Also, if you are anything like me, I understand that you may hate to lose, regardless of what is at stake. Yet, I am learning that I must do a better job choosing my battles because, for the most part, every battle is not mine to fight. God desires to fight for me, and He expects me to let go and allow Him to do His thing. I’ve learned that the car drives better when He controls the wheel. I recently celebrated my birthday, and to be honest; I celebrated for the entire month. That was my choice because I love birthdays. I also used that time to reflect on where I am in life and where I’ve come from. I wanted to know what I am currently doing to get to where I ultimately want to be. What was revealed is my interests and efforts were possibly pointed in the wrong direction. I learned that while I am blessed, God is more concerned about those individuals He can reach beyond me, and when I don’t allow God to use me, He isn’t able to reach them through me. Being vulnerable and a cooperative vessel are attributes of real greatness; that’s what God spoke to me. Living my life as a Christian and believer in God means that I must trust God. Even during the most difficult moments, if I just show up for the fight and trust God while I am fighting, I will then see Him move on my behalf. The things that I may be dealing with and determined to be unbearable may actually amount to nothing once it’s placed in God’s hand. How will I ever know if I don’t allow God to lead me? God has a plan and purpose for all of us, and His plan is far greater than anything we can imagine or think. I get excited when I think about everything God has prepared for me. His is greater, and all I have to do is trust His process and believe what He tells me.

Terry L. Watson 4

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CONTENTS

SEPT./OCT. 2022

ST. LOUIS

Tolbert Consulting Group

Julius Tolbert

On The Cover

Dr. Maurya Dominica Side Hustle Honors

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AWG Counseling Services

Alice West-Goers

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I Must Succeed

Trudi B. Parson

Huami Magazine Cutest Baby

Laney Williamson

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Also Featured

Dr. Cokethea Hill Meet the face and founder of Blaque KC. She is doing her part to serve her community. Kansas City, MO

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Denaro Cook He spent 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Learn how he uses his experience to help others. Little Rock, AR

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Karen Boulden The challenges that come with broken homes can be devastating. Learn how her company helps to ease the burdens. Greenville, SC

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Side Hustle Honors By Terry L. Watson Photos Provided by Dr. Maurya Dominica Cockrell What is a side hustle? According to a definition taken from the online dictionary of dictionary.com, a side hustle is a job or occupation that brings in extra money beyond one’s regular job and primary source of income. Well, there is an individual who has made it her business to highlight and recognize individuals who’ve been successful as side hustlers. Dr. Maurya Dominica Cockrell is the founder of Side Hustle Honors. Founded in 2015, Side Hustle Honors is an annual intergenerational awards ceremony that celebrates those who balance full-time responsibilities such as a (9 to 5), or school while maintaining their entrepreneurial endeavors. The first awards ceremony was held in St. Louis, MO, in 2018 and has grown every year since, giving over 60 awards to St. Louis, Metro East, Chicago, and Florida areas. Side Hustle Honors launched its Side Hustler Jr. brand in 2022, which celebrates the achievements of young entrepreneurs under the age of 18. It also offers business coaching to individuals looking to start their side hustle. Dr. Cockrell was born and raised in St. Louis, MO. Her mother is from St. Louis, and her father is from East St. Louis. Both were educators for the East St. Louis School District, and she says education was extremely important in her family while growing up. Side hustling runs in Dr. Cockrell’s blood. She is also a third-generation side hustler and entrepreneur, as her maternal grandfather was a full-time contracting and real estate entrepreneur. Her paternal grandfather worked a full-time job and freelanced as an electrician, and her father worked as a band director, played smooth jazz on the weekends with his band, and was the musician for a local church.

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She graduated from Saint Louis University with a B.S. in Health Management and Policy and a Minor in Theological Studies. Dr. Cockrell also received an M.A. in Human Resources Management from Webster University and her Doctorate in Health Professions Education from Logan University. She holds additional certificates and certifications in human resources and career/business coaching. “I’ve been coaching and consulting for over seven years, helping educational institutions, small businesses, and side hustlers,” she says. Dr. Cockrell is also a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Dr. Cockrell says she decided to produce the Side Hustle Honors event because she saw a gap in the awards ceremony market. “There were many events tailored to those who climbed to the C-Suite or generated milliondollar sales, and those that were strictly a popularity contest. I could not find any ceremony that recognized and motivated individuals who were side hustlers,.” she says. One thing led to another, and in 2015, she started coaching individuals. In 2018, her first event was held and has grown ever since. Dr. Cockrell says she genuinely loves celebrating others. “With so much negativity in the world, I’ve tried to carve out a space where those often overlooked are honored, celebrated, and respected for what they do. I love the stories from honorees and that individuals aspire to be award recipients,” she says. Dr. Cockrell is truly inspired by the commitment and involvement of others with her program and shares how she relates to their cause. “My family’s entrepreneurial spirit motivated me to create my dream when I could not find it in a (9 to 5) position. My background in human resources taught me to be an advocate for employees. Seeing the inner workings of organizations motivated me to have a backup plan in case of layoffs or career burnout. Most importantly, I am inspired and driven by my faith.” Hosting an awards event, Dr. Cockrell says, is no easy task. However, she believes it is something God called her to do. “My spiritual gifts are administration and mercy. I genuinely believe I fulfill my calling when hosting the Side Hustle Honors. I can gather and organize individuals, businesses, and sponsors to create an amazing show,” she says. As a business owner, Dr. Cockrell says she has made her fair share of mistakes but wouldn’t change anything about her journey. “Every failure or mishap has taught me a lesson. I now share my mishaps with aspiring business owners so they will have a smoother path than I did.” Dr. Cockrell says she is excited about the future of Side Hustle Honors. She is looking forward to it being hosted in cities across the country and even internationally. Recently, she incorporated a non-profit, Side Hustler Alliance, to provide free workshops to individuals looking to start a side hustle. These underresourced individuals will now gain the knowledge and resources needed to take the first step into entrepreneurship. To learn more about the Side Hustle Honors, please visit their website. h

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Trudi B. Parson

“I Have One Goal...... To Get The Job Done” By DorJae’ McClammey Photos Provided by Luguzy Adkins of L.A. Photography

She is Coach Trudi B. Parson. Marketplace Minister, educator, generational debt eraser, generational wealth builder, business launch coach extraordinaire, CEO and Founder of Fortify | The Business Launch Firm, and International Empowerment Speaker. Trudi B. Parson seamlessly does it all. Coach Trudi has been a business owner for over 24 years and a full-time entrepreneur for eight years. She currently resides in Greensboro, NC, but is a native of the small town of Ramseur, NC. Coach Trudi attended Liberty University and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Religion and Criminal Justice and a Masters in Human Services with a concentration in Marriage and Family Therapy. Now back in school, her goal is to receive her doctorate in Business with a concentration in Organizational Leadership at North Central University. One of Coach Trudi’s brands, Fortify | The Business Launch Firm, was birthed out of the need to help her clients secure a life of abundance via the avenues of business, relationships, spirituality, and politics. “Securing your life from the inside out where external factors don’t determine the kind of life you want to live, I help others understand that you control that,” she says. Each business that Coach Trudi has created has experienced sustainable success. While each company is unique, three of them partner under the umbrella of Fortify | The Business Launch Firm, a strategy she implemented to ensure clients had access to all the resources needed to make their business sustainable. Fortify | The Business Launch Firm is a comprehensive coaching firm offering everything a business owner needs. They provide business tax preparation and planning, and group business coaching, grant discovery and writing, alternative business funding, business conferences, retreats, masterclasses and mastercourses.

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Like many other new businesses, Fortify | The Business Launch Firm officially launched during the Covid pandemic. Coach Trudi shares she became aware of how business owners were panicking due to the pandemic’s effect and impact. In her response, she developed solutions that taught business owners how to remain successful and helped several launch new businesses. “I taught them how to pivot into a continuation of the revenue they normally would make, yet in a different way,” she says. Fortify | The Business Launch Firm also offers five different master classes. One of them, #Buildit, is a 30-day program that helps develop an idea and connect its purpose to serve while creating a high level of monetization simultaneously. #LaunchU is Coach Trudi’s original threeday masterclass filled with foundational information that she believes businesses need when facing the challenges of a “brick wall”. #Fundit is all about the money and focuses on getting businesses adequate funding. This includes helping to find loans, obtain grants, gain government contracts, and more. Finally, the #LaunchU52 component is a year-long coaching subscription for established or aspiring entrepreneurs ready to start or expand their businesses. “When you enroll in #LaunchU 52, I will take you under my wing and teach, advise, and coach you based on what I’ve learned as an entrepreneur,” she says. As previously stated, Coach Trudi believes everyone hits a brick wall, and she is no different. Before starting Fortify, Coach Trudi helped her mother run her tax business. When her mother passed, she took over the company full-time. This was a difficult moment in Coach Trudi’s life. She shares that while everything was going fine, she began to feel like she was settling. “The business had plenty of clients, but times were changing. Realizing that I had hit my wall by failing to pivot the company into a new age, I overcame that struggle by deciding to no longer be stuck and let the growth happen,” she says. More than anything, Coach Trudi loves seeing the success of other people and seeing them take control of their lives. “I love seeing other people create the life that they love,” she says. She also loves knowing that she is a part of helping them take accountability for creating their financial freedom and being ok with accepting the responsibility and courage to do so. Coach Trudi’s shares that she finds inspiration in understanding her purpose in life. “The good, bad, and ugly all work together for my good. Knowing my purpose has kept me from falling into the distraction of disappointment. If you’re not careful, you can let your distraction be your main attraction, and your disappointment will distract you if you settle in it,” she shares. “When you walk in your life’s purpose, sometimes it will cost you everything, but it will be so worth it when you understand that your life is not your own, and what you experience is not for your purpose, it’s for God’s purpose.”

To learn more about Trudi B. Parson, please visit her website.

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In the future, Coach Trudi says she expects to expand internationally as an empowerment speaker and business launch coach and corporate consultant. She shares that these expansions will take place in countries with a lack and need for such services. In addition, she plans to establish global business incubators. As for Fortify, Coach Trudi is looking to start more retreat-based master courses that will minimize time but maximize the monetization of services by engaging more with groups of people, small businesses, and corporate leaders. In 2023, she hopes to share her Fortify strategies for success with churches. Her last piece of advice is aimed at the savvy and determined business owner. “When opportunities fail to present themselves, you must be willing to create your own opportunities.” h


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Tolbert Consulting Group “Falling Forward”

By Monica Montgomery Photos Provided by Julius Tolbert

His journey has had its significant highs and lows, but now he wants to help others fall forward.

Growing up, Julius says his grandparents were his biggest influence. “Being the oldest grandchild, although we all were exposed to that enterprising spirit to some degree, I would say I had a little more first-hand experience.” When Julius was fourteen, he moved in with his grandparents, whom he credits as the center of their family’s business prowess. “My grandparents ran a fully functioning business. My grandfather was also a driver, so he was away often. I spent most of the time with my grandmother, who ran the day-to-day operations that make or break a business,” he says. The expectation was that Julius would grow up and work in the family business, but he had plans of his own. “Watching my grandmother made me realize there was more to being a business owner than selling a product or providing a service. I think that’s why I focus on the behind the scenes work. The business behind the business.” Julius is putting the lessons he learned as a child to good use. He has two consulting companies: Tolbert Consulting Group and Cornbread Consulting Firm and co-founder of Black Economic Mobility Coalition. “Tolbert Consulting Group is a nationally recognized business credit and funding company. We help entrepreneurs that are serious about getting their business started the right way the first time. We help with everything from business coaching, business funding, payroll, and bookkeeping. Our goal is to give business owners the support they need to succeed. Cornbread Consulting Firm work specifically with small business owners that are in the hospitality industry. We assist restaurant, food truck, catering company owners get in business, turnaround existing business, and/ or franchise concepts. Then there is the Black Economic Mobility Coalition which is very similar to a chamber of commerce. Our mission is to identify, address and remove barriers to economic prosperity for black business owners. All three companies were birthed from the experiences and challenges he faced along the way.

Julius has always known who and what he wanted to be in life. He just had to carve his own path. Not one to take the traditional route, Julius decided the military was the best path forward. “After high school, I joined the Navy. During my time, I went through two six-month deployments. I gained knowledge and exposure I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else during my travels. I saw myself and Black America from a different perspective. I have to say it definitely affected me,” he shares. As someone who already had plans, he says his time abroad helped shape and define his vision for the future. “When you live in the same place around the same people all the time, it’s hard to imagine a different kind of life. My time away allowed me to open my mind to the possibilities of what could be.” The unfortunate side of life in black communities is that it may be hard to do anything but worry about surviving. Julius decided he couldn’t live with the status quo. When he returned home, he was full of dreams and plans for the kind of world he wanted to live in and contribute to, but his ideas weren’t met with the excitement and support he was hoping for. He says, “After having the opportunity to experience other cultures and communities, my creative juices were overflowing. I wanted to push the boundaries and show my community that we don’t have to travel the world to experience it. However, I was met with a lot of resistance and close-mindedness. I kept hearing, “Aye, bro, ain’t nobody gonna come to that around here…” Thankfully, Julius wasn’t easily dissuaded.

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Watching my grandmother made me realize there was more to being a business owner than selling a product or providing a service. I think that’s why I focus on the behind the scenes work. The business behind the business.

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For Julius Tolbert, entrepreneurship is in his DNA. As the oldest of four, he grew up in a family of business-minded people. “I come from a family of entrepreneurs. My granddaddy was in the logistics industry. He owned his own trucking company. My mother was an interior designer, my uncle had his own trucking business, and my grandmother was the family bookkeeper. So, I understood from an early age what entrepreneurship meant. Everything wasn’t always peaches and cream. I was exposed to the good, the bad, and the ugly when it came to growing businesses as a minority in the south,” Julius explains. “The most important lesson I learned was that falling is part of succeeding. Just as long as you fall forward.”

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Along with his time in the military, another important factor that pushed him to think about the longevity of a business was the loss of his grandfather. “My grandfather stepped in during a crucial time in my life. He took on the role of father and mentor. He taught me about business etiquette and how to dress and be addressed. He taught me how to conduct myself in professional settings, and even how to talk and handle business in meetings,” Tolbert explains. “He taught me to make sure I do everything in excellence. People will remember you if you take pride in everything you do.” Using his grandfather’s wisdom, Julius went from an entry level position in restaurant all the way to the corporate offices. “It was never my intention to build a career. I wanted to build knowledge. I took advantage of every opportunity to learn a new skill. I worked at several restaurants as I continued to climb the ladder. That’s how I worked my way out of the kitchen to become a corporate manager overseeing a region of restaurants.” Julius was being paid to learn how to flip, manage, and maintain a restaurant successfully. He was learning restaurant hospitality from the inside out. “My first leap into the deep end of entrepreneurship was when a partner and I opened Cornbread to Caviar Catering, which later became a fully operational restaurant,” he says. Like most chain restaurants, the employees seldom met or had a relationship with the owners. Julius and the chef of the restaurant he was overseeing decided they were done training people to become their boss or compete for their jobs, so they struck out on their own and opened Cornbread to Caviar. He shares, “Our concept was a southern-inspired menu presented with a touch of elegance and creativity. So that’s what we did, or at least where we started. We kicked off our catering company with networking events like First Fridays.” These events weren’t just for the locals. Julius and his partner had a targeted audience. “We were intentional with our invitations. We invited corporate department heads, University chairs, and others we knew had influence with their companies. As a result, we were awarded their catering contracts.” From there, Cornbread to Caviar grew into a full-service restaurant, and Julius did well for a while. The restaurant earned Best New Restaurant 2009 and at a tender age of twenty-five, he was part owner and operator of a restaurant making over seven figures per year. Then the effects of the recession hit. We went from doing $1.5 million a year in sales to $750,000, but I was operating as if we were still making $1.5 million. At this point, I realized there were areas of running a business that I didn’t know. I was running way above cost and bleeding money.” In 2008, Julius lost his grandfather and mentor. So, it was a fatality of the economic recession without any guidance on how to make the adjustments needed to keep the restaurant above water. “I struggled with self-doubt and depression when the restaurant closed. That experience taught me a critical lesson. Success isn’t how great the business is doing right now. Real success is how well the business will be doing ten and twenty years down the road.” To say he landed on his feet is an understatement. One of the reasons Julius started his restaurant consulting business that caters to small companies is because, after twenty years in the hospitality industry, he learned what the mom and pops need to know. “I have essentially taken all my years of experience with corporate restaurant chains and made it available to the little man. I share all the processes and tools the big boys use to maintain continued growth with my clients. I never want anyone to find themselves in the position I did.”

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It doesn’t matter what your business is; knowledge is power. Julius and his associates are here to make sure you have the power to live your entrepreneurial dreams successfully. He can’t guarantee you won’t fall, but he will help you use the momentum to fall forward. h

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My Best Is Yet To Come By Monica Montgomery Photos Provided by Denaro Cook

We’ve all heard about the many innocent people who have been victims of inadequate representation. Denaro Cook served eighteen years of a twenty-year sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. I wish I were about to tell a story about how the truth won out in the end, but that was not the case for Denaro.

Since his release in 2017, Denaro has hit the ground running, fueled by the hopes and dreams he never let go of during his eighteen years of incarceration. Music has always been a large part of Denaro’s life, and his time in prison was no different. “The inspiration didn’t stop just because I was locked up. In fact, it happened more often. I have so many songs and lyrics that I have yet to record it ain’t funny.”

The culture that most African-Americans grow up in says that you don’t turn on your family. Denaro heard this a lot as a kid. “My mother used to say all the time, ‘your family is all you got. You should never turn on your brother.’ So, I didn’t. And it cost me eighteen years.”

Growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas, Denaro has always loved country music. One of his songs is titled “I Love Country.” But it’s not the sad, jailhouse blues. What Denaro sings is Joyful Country.

At eighteen, four days after his high school prom and two weeks before graduating, Denaro was arrested and charged with a murder he didn’t commit. “The detective told me if I testified, I would have been cleared of all charges. But the person was my brother, and they already had him in custody. They knew he was the guilty party. They just wanted me to make their case for them. Because I refused to say anything, they charged me as well,” he says. Because Denaro wouldn’t testify against his brother, he was punished and spent eighteen years of his life in jail. “I completed 80% of the sentence I was given. If I’d had the financial means available to me at the time, I wouldn’t have served a day,” Denaro explained. Losing your freedom just as your life is about to begin is a hard pill to take. Especially when you and everyone involved, including the detective and prosecutor, know that your only crime was guilt by association. “I had a public defender, but they were no help. So instead of continuing to fight and get my hopes up, I decided to make peace with the hand I was dealt.” Although Denaro gave up the hope that he would be exonerated, he never gave up on hope.

“I could be bitter, but what would that accomplish? The time I spent in prison caused me to see life differently. I had to learn to forgive. Forgive the people who put me there, forgive myself, and forgive God. Once you do that, you can have peace no matter where you are.” Denaro credits his faith in God for seeing him through the rough times. “I learned to trust and believe God would see me through it all. And he did. Since my release, I’ve seen him work things out for me that I couldn’t do for myself. My dreams are becoming a reality,” he said.

“That’s all you have, really. Life without hope is death.” So Denaro refocused his energy toward the future. When you are locked up, you are at the mercy of someone else. They tell you when to eat, sleep, and control every aspect of your life. The one thing they can’t control is your ability to dream,” Denaro shares. St. Louis - Sept./Oct. 2022

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Denaro is a country music recording artist. He has a talk show called Prison Chronicles. He owns a book publishing company, Cook Book Publishing LLC, and he just started a nonprofit organization called Ones WHO (Ones Who Have Overcome). “These were the things I dreamt about, and I’m watching God put people in my path who can make things happen. That’s why you don’t give up on your dreams. Especially when you are in the darkest of places.” Prison Chronicles is a YouTube web show that gives voice to those affected by the penal system. This platform gives voice to former inmates, current inmates, family members of incarcerated people, and the people who put them there. Denaro has hosted correction workers and even judges. “Everyone on both sides has experienced some form of trauma. I believe it’s essential to understand that. The show allows people to speak their truth and dispel the lies and misconceptions people have about life in prison. It’s not what you see on television. These men and women are still human beings and deserve to be treated as such. These stories not only give them a release, but it also helps others who don’t yet dare to speak out. It’s therapeutic in many ways.” The seventeen episodes of Prison Chronicles have been over three thousand times since the first video podcast aired. “We are in the process of revamping, but there will be new episodes coming soon.” As a recording artist and a talk show host, it’s only natural to have a Cook Book Publishing company. “I never thought about becoming a publisher until my brother and his friend started writing books.” Denaro’s brother, who is currently serving time for the same crime Denaro was convicted of, has written several books. “An inmate who started a publishing company while in jail published one of my brother’s books. When I visited him, he asked why I didn’t do it too. At first, I didn’t think I could, but after some research, I realized it was simple. With just a few steps, I had a legitimate book publishing company.” Cook Book Publishing is a licensed publisher with nine books published under their label and four authors.

taking you to the Goodwill to get clothes. Giving you guidance on where to go to get help for different things.” Denaro admits that he has had a few struggles while making a name for himself as a free man. “Everyone has trauma, and I’m no different. It was painful to endure what I did, knowing I hadn’t done anything wrong. While you are away, life begins, and it ends. People you love pass away, but none tells you, thinking they save you heartache. They don’t understand that it’s more painful to find out years later.” During reentry, everyone has a decision to make about the way forward. For Denaro, that meant losing friends and family. “Inside, I had to make a change of mind and change of heart. When I got out, I had to change my environment to maintain that change. I lost friends and family who didn’t understand that I wasn’t the person I was when I went in. As a man, society has taught us not to show weakness. We have to suppress it and suffer through it. To do that, we have to become detached and inaccessible. It makes having successful relationships hard because you don’t know how to open up without being vulnerable. Thankfully God blessed me with a beautiful daughter who has taught me how to love again. Because of her, I feel myself coming alive again.” It’s been five years since his release, and Denaro has never let go of three things. His faith in God, his love for his family, and the belief that it’s never too late to dream. h

The nonprofit is a recent addition but not a new idea for Denaro. “The nonprofit was just approved, but it’s an idea I planned out while in prison. Originally it was supposed to be called MAID by Us, but the name was taken. Ones WHO is a rehab, recovery, reentry, and disability assistance program for ex-inmates trying to restart their lives.” After release, most former inmates have to adjust to the world they are being released into and come to terms with losing the world they left behind. “You must apply for your social security card, driver’s license, and all kinds of documents that make it legal to walk around. You have to figure out how to function in an alien world. When I went in, technology was nowhere near where it was when I came out. I wasn’t familiar with smartphones, tablets, and things like that. For successful reentry, there needs to be technology training. You have to know how to use computers and the internet to fill out a job application.” Along with the need for help with technological advances, Ones WHO will act as a resource for people who need support during reentry. They will help with everything from basic needs such as clothes and personal care items to mental and emotional support. “You learn to cherish the things most people take for granted. Something as simple as someone

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John Odum D2G ScreenShots

By Terry L. Watson Photos Provided by John Odum Genuine in nature, John Odum has found his footing in the world of entrepreneurship. He is the face and founder of D2G Screenshots, a multifaceted graphic design and creative arts firm based in Memphis, TN. D2G is an acronym that represents “Dreams to Goals” and Screenshots John shares was added to his business model to allow customers to have any shirt design, image, or idea printed directly onto a T-shirt. Some of the additional products and services John offers are customprinted t-shirts and hoodies. “We use a Direct to Garment printing setup, which allows us to create vibrant, high-quality prints with a three to five day turnaround time,” he says. John was born and raised in Memphis and graduated from East High School. In high school, he met his sweetheart, a connection that led to marriage and three children. While his approach to business is calm, he has been assertive in his quest for knowledge. In doing so, he obtained an Associates Degree in Electronic Engineering Technology, a Bachelor’s degree in Information Technology, and a Master’s degree in Information Technology/Cybersecurity. D2GscreenShots came to life in December 2017 as a result of a graduate school assignment John had. He was asked to write a 30-page paper focusing on a new technology. After stumbling upon a printer that printed directly to t-shirts, my interest peaked, and I began to inquire about the technology,” he says. John scored a high grade for his assignment and decided to invest his money into the equipment needed to start the business, and the rest is history.

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“Having a son and creating a legacy is very important to me. My son’s birth motivated me to focus on my dreams of entrepreneurship and education. I want to exemplify to him that anything is possible if you do the work and believe in your dreams.”

John Odum D2G ScreenShots

D2Gscreenshots@gmail.com 901-279-0434

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John says he loves the creative freedom his business offers, as well as being his own boss. He also finds enjoyment in satisfying his customers. Like most business owners, John has also faced some challenges in business. Some of these involve creating a customer base in a fairly new market and setting himself apart from other shirt companies. Another challenge John shares he had was being comfortable with his product’s value and giving his customers the option to go a cheaper route with other Tshirt vendors. He was able to overcome his challenges by utilizing social media as a marketing and promotion tool. “Social media has allowed me to reach thousands of potential customers at little to no cost,” he shares. “I have built relationships with other t-shirt companies simply by referring clients to them for various services.” John says his life and career have mostly been impacted by knowing others depend on his success. “Having a son and creating a legacy is very important to me. My son’s birth motivated me to focus on my dreams of entrepreneurship and education. I want to exemplify to him that anything is possible if you do the work and believe in your dreams,” he says. John’s advice to others who may follow in his footsteps is to dream big. John shares, “Give yourself at least three years to become profitable. You must also research the industry and the competition and prepare yourself to manage taxes, licenses, and budgets. In other words, do your Homework!” There isn’t much that John says he would have changed about his journey in business. Yet, one thing he mentions is that he wishes he would have gone to college earlier to advance his communication skills and increase his exposure to marketing and business strategies. Besides those, he admits the journey has been worthwhile. As John’s future continues to look bright, he plans to expand his business and become a wholesale supplier of blank t-shirts and supply new t-shirt companies. He will also offer consulting, marketing, promotion, and startup packages to companies and help guide them into becoming successful in the t-shirt industry. To learn more about John Odum and D2G ScreenShots, please contact him directly. h


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By Monica Montgomery Photos Provided by Dr. Cokethea Hill

With BLAQUE KC, Dr. Cokethea Hill is giving African-American families a seat at the table within the Kansas City, Missouri, school system. Cokethea grew up in a low-income area of Kansas City. Like most black families in her community, her family didn’t have much money. In the third grade, Cokethea was part of the second wave of the desegregation order for Kansas City Schools. “I went from going to school in my all-black neighborhood and being walked to school by my brothers every day to being bussed outside my community. It was the first time I felt like an “other.” The otherness Cokethea felt was illuminated by the fact that there were very few adults at her new school with whom she could identify. “When I was headed to fourth or fifth grade, I remember wanting Ms. Wesley or Ms. Gibbs because they were the only two black teachers at that school. When I didn’t get them, I was devastated. There was a pronounced feeling of loneliness and isolation. I remember the bullying and constantly being reminded that I didn’t belong there,” she says. Cokethea attended Lincoln College Preparatory Academy for high school. “Originally, it was the only school black kids could attend.” Lincoln College Preparatory school was established in 1865, during the civil war. Lincoln has served Kansas City’s families for over a century. To this day, Lincoln remains a Blue-Ribbon school and continues its legacy of excellence in education. “Because it set very high standards, students who attend Lincoln College Prep go on to be very successful. When you walked into the school, you knew two things for sure. One that you were special. Two, you were going to college.” After her bussing experience, Cokethea finally felt at home. But in her junior year of high school, her father passed. “When I lost my father, everything changed. My parents were forty-two and forty-eight when they had me, so when my dad died, my mother was in her sixties. College was no longer an option because I had to work.” In survival mode, Cokethea focused on helping to care for herself and her mother, but her school counselor helped her refocus. “I had a wonderful counselor named Barbara Ponder. When I told her I couldn’t go to college, she said, ‘Cokethea, this is a college preparatory academy where every student has to take the ACT. Also, you must apply for college.’ I realize now that she understood the more active I was in the college prep process, the more likely I would go.” Ms. Ponder was correct. Cokethea attended Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She later transferred to Central Missouri State, earning her bachelor of psychology. After graduating college, Cokethea started working for the Missouri Division of Youth Services at the Northwest Regional Youth Center. “The facility I worked in was for boys ages thirteen to eighteen. They could have been there for anything from grand theft auto, robbery, rape, and assault,” she shared.

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Cokethea was a youth specialist. Part of her responsibilities was to help the boys with schoolwork. Cokethea noticed a disturbing trend. “Most of them couldn’t read. I knew I’d had more opportunities, but I assumed everyone had the same level of education because they were from the same district. Yet, sixteen-year-olds were reading at a fourth-grade level. There was something terribly wrong there.” Cokethea knew something had to be done. “Most of the kids I worked with had just made a bad decision out of a handful of bad decisions. They didn’t have any good options available to them. That made me want to become a therapist.” At twentyone, she decided to return to school for her master’s degree in psychology.

“Most of the kids I worked with had just made a bad decision out of a handful of bad decisions. They didn’t have any good options available to them. That made me want to become a therapist.”

To figure out why students were being promoted without being able to read, Cokethea needed to be inside the school system. “I had so many questions I needed answers for, so I got a job in the district as a guidance counselor.” It only took three years in the K.C. school district for Cokethea to call it quits. “A new policy was passed reducing the number of credits needed to graduate high school, and I was confused. We already had students who were being passed on without the basics. Now they were lowering the standard even further. I knew the rigor wasn’t there, and they wouldn’t even have enough credits to attend community college. Additionally, many students were taking remedial classes, so they were set up to fail even if they did try to attend college. It was negligent, and I couldn’t be part of that, so I quit. I was young and impulsive, but I felt it was the right thing to do.” Cokethea went on to work for Kauffman Scholars. “Kauffman Scholars is a scholarship program that targets inner city kids in grades sixth- twelfth grade. The program gives selected students additional coaching and wraparound resources until they graduate high school. When they went to college, the program gave the students financial support for their education fees.” At twenty-four, Cokethea was living the life she wanted. She was helping the demographic she felt called to and being paid handsomely. Then she felt a higher calling. “I was in the best place I had ever been in. Then here comes a man named Barack Obama announcing his bid for presidency.” Excited by the change in the air, Cokethea applied to become an Barack Obama Organizing Fellow. This initiative was focused on teaching young people the power of relational organizing at the grassroots level to bring about change in their communities and nationally, by electing the first African American president! “I knew I had to be a part of this movement, this was an opportunity to make democracy real and tangible for myself and my community..” Cokethea was accepted as a fellow, and her life as a community activist was solidified. Passion pushed her to leave her job at Kauffman Scholars to reach a larger population. Cokethea spent the summer organizing her community in housing, voter registration, healthcare, and so much more. “I made so many amazing memories. I learned how to connect with the people of the community, I learned how to listen to them, and understand their needs and desires,” she says.

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After her time as a fellow ended, she was asked to apply for the K.C. school board. “People were like, hey Cokethea; you’re out here talking about change. Why don’t you run for the school board? I said you’re right! I should run for the open seat.” At twenty-eight, Cokethea was appointed to the school board. She sat from 2008 until 2010. She ran for a second term but didn’t win. “I was so disappointed. In the end, I didn’t have what the other candidates had. Money. There was no capital to support the running of my campaign. But I was grateful for the two years I was there. I was honored to be mentored by two amazing black women: Helen Ragsdale, a former teacher, and Marilyn Simmons, a parent advocate. I was young, passionate, and educated but also immature. These women taught me patience, strategy, tact, sophistication, and how to pick my battles. Working alongside them helped shape the person I am today.” Cokethea worked for a few more companies, making good use of her passion for helping her community. She worked for the United Way, the city of KC, and the School Smart KC program. This foundation gave money to help urban schools with much-needed resources. “I believe God orchestrated every step I’ve taken in my life. I worked at the United Way, where I learned to raise money, but School Smart allowed me to dream without limits because they had resources. I was blessed with the ability to travel the country to gain knowledge and learn new and innovative things meant to help the underserved,” she says. But as she looked deeper, Cokethea realized that although well intentioned initiatives seek to improve outcomes for marginalized children and families there are systemic and political forces that make moving the educational needle for Black children extremely difficult. “I would sit in the meetings and look at the presented data, which wasn’t making sense. These programs were supposed to be helping the urban community but looking at the data, the needle wasn’t moving specifically for black children. At that moment, everything came together. I always said if I ever got a seat at the table, I wouldn’t just sit back and let things happen. So I left my job and started a firm that would empower everyday people to challenge, deconstruct, and redesign systems that are harmful to black children in education.” The issue Cokethea struggled with was that the data needed to fix the issues in the black education system was not being shared with that community. “The people the information would help weren’t being made aware of their options. So, they continued to struggle. This was counterproductive.” BLAQUE KC was founded on May 25, 2020. BLAQUE stands for Black Leaders Advancing Quality Urban Education. “The date is burned into my head because the day we signed the paperwork for BLAQUE was the same day George Floyd was murdered,” she explained, tearing up. “God was up to something. It was a horrible time for us all, but now the light was cast on initiatives like ours. People were looking for opportunities to show support to the black community.”

Dr. Cokethea Hill Blaque KC

www.blaquekc.com

The purpose of the BLAQUE Playbook is to support community leaders in their efforts to control the narrative. They help fund the running of local campaigns. They support community advocacy and efficacy. They work to be a bridge between the families and community stakeholders and the educational system so that students receive the quality education they deserve. St. Louis - Sept./Oct. 2022

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AWG Counseling Services By Ellen Richardson Photos Provided by Reyna Jean Photography

If the truth can be told, most people have been through something in their lives that requires some form of healing. The question is, how do we exactly heal? A general answer may be by asking for help. When that option is chosen, finding the right person to help can be difficult. Fortunately, there is someone who has dedicated their life and career to assisting others during such instances. Alice West-Goers of Denver, CO, is a licensed and experienced counselor and change agent who promotes and facilitates emotional healing. She uses her personal story as a tool to connect and assist others. “My story begins with growing up in Guam. I moved to Guam with a relative whom obtained custody of my sister and I when we were removed from our birth mother’s care. My sister left the home due to behavioral concerns and was placed with my later to be adopted family. I was 17 years old when I was adopted. This was life-changing for me and ultimately affected the trajectory of my life,” she says. After two years of being placed with her new adopted family, Alice would run away from home to locate her biological family. Her actions would eventually lead to a downward spiral. She says it also made finishing school difficult. After realizing her life was headed in the wrong direction, she decided to go back home, contacted her adoptive parents, and asked for help. “At the age of 16, I contacted my adopted mother and asked her if I could come back home. I knew this would mean that I would have to go back into a house with rules and structure, but I knew that was something I needed,” she said. The decision to return home would forge a path leading Alice to a brighter future. Along with graduating from high school, Alice could now attend Regis University college. “During my time at Regis I participated in a commitment program for kids who had trouble getting through high school, which helped with my grades,” she says.

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“I moved to Guam with a relative whom obtained custody of my sister and I when we were removed from our birth mother’s care. My sister left the home due to behavioral concerns and was placed with my later to be adopted family. I was 17 years old when I was adopted. This was lifechanging for me and ultimately affected the trajectory of my life.”

Alice West-Goers

AWG Counseling Services www.alicewestgoers.com 720-988-9482

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A new challenge would arise as Alice continued on her road toward a better life. “I got pregnant with my daughter during my sophomore year of college. With the new addition to my life, I decided to transfer to Metropolitan State University (MSU). There I received my bachelors degree in Social Work. I also served as an intern for the County of Denver. That opportunity opened the door for me to work full-time as a social worker following graduation. Life appeared to come back to me full circle. From aging out of the foster care system in Denver County to becoming an intern in the same department where I was once a foster kid, to working alongside my former social worker as a full-time employee,” Alice shares. Following her time with the city and county, Alice would acquire a master’s degree in Clinical Social Work from the University of Denver, with an emphasis in Child Welfare and Trauma. Next, she worked as a childhood therapist within the nonprofit sector and later with the childhood mental health field at Aurora Mental Health Center. She would also serve as an inpatient behavioral health therapist with The Medical Center of Aurora. Though Alice’s life appeared on the right track, her life would come to another fork in the road in 2020. “It was during the Covid-19 pandemic that I decided it was time to focus more on private practice,” she said. Although it would take time to set up this practice, Alice is now celebrating her first anniversary as the owner of AWG Counseling Services. With AWG Counseling Services, Alice practice now offers counseling services, including adult therapy, family counseling, self-esteem, and healthy coping skills to eliminate destructive patterns. There is even a childhood therapist available to assist those who are dealing with social and emotional issues. Alice has also become a member of the Therapist of Color Collaborative, where therapists of color come together to provide mental health services for those who cannot afford these types of services. With her being a therapy liaison for the University of Denver, Alice’s opportunity to connect with graduate students within the social work realm to be a guiding light towards their future is a way that she gives back. Now that she has her own private practice, what is next for this bright beacon of God’s light? Along with obtaining additional training and licensures in various counseling and becoming a licensed addiction counselor, Alice has some interest in joining various coalitions that would allow her to offer services to more of those in need. To find out more about AWG Counseling Services, please visit their website. h


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Nurturing Connections LLC

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By Terry L. Watson Photos Provided by Debra Attaway Photography Karen Bolden of Greenville, SC, has always been interested in helping others. Though her initial area of study in college was criminal justice, her focus changed to Social Work after determining that punishment, not rehabilitation, was the primary focus. Karen has over 20 years of experience working with children and families in need. She is a wife to James Bolden, and mother to Zion and Carter. She was born and raised in Clinton, SC, and graduated from Winthrop University with a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work. She is also a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. After graduating from Winthrop University, she began working with juvenile sex offenders and later with children in group home facilities. She has worked for the South Carolina Department of Social Services for 12 years as a foster care case manager, foster home licensing specialist, and as foster care supervisor. After leaving DSS, she worked as a liaison between DSS and the families who needed their services. Her goal was to help develop a plan to ensure that children and families were getting their needs met to have a safe and prosperous life without further DSS involvement. A large part of that role involved reaching out to family members to take temporary custody of the children. Finding relatives and assessing their homes was something Karen says she enjoyed. As a result, she became a Certified Investigator and began completing home assessments for relatives. Today, Karen is the owner of Nurturing Connections LLC. Nurturing Connections LLC is a supervised visitation service that provides a trained professional to monitor the contact between a non-custodial parent and their child and ensures the child’s safety during the visit. Supervision is often court ordered when there is a significant safety concern involving alleged child abuse/neglect, domestic violence, parental substance abuse, unsafe parenting practices, threat of abduction, or parental alienation. She says, “That name was chosen because I believe it is important for families to not only have supervised visits, but have an opportunity to make new memories together and nurture their connections, both new and old.” Karen shares that ongoing parental involvement can foster healthy emotional and social development for children and positive parent/child relationships. Nurturing Connections LLC provides supervised visits in public locations, and in the home of the non-custodial parent or relatives. Karen’s company also has flexible service hours designed to accommodate various school and work schedules.

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“I have been blessed with two amazing sons, the most important people in my life. I love to spend time with them and watch them grow into young men. I could not imagine not having the ability to see them daily and play a crucial role in their upbringing.”

Karen Bolden Nurturing Connections LLC www.nurturingconnectionsllc.com 864-501-4017

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So how did Karen get started? She says, “When I worked at DSS, a major part of working with families involved in foster care was ensuring that they have visitation with their families at least twice a month for one hour each visit. That limited amount of time is not enough to maintain family connections and relationships; however, that was all that DSS was able to offer. During that time, I also spent a lot of my time at family court. While waiting for a hearing, I met and befriended a private Guardian Ad Litem, Nela Laughridge. She mentioned needing someone to supervise visits on a private custody case, and I immediately offered my services. Based on my background and experience, she agreed to allow me to work with her on the case. That first case consisted of an 8-hour visit every weekend and was held in public and at the grandmother’s home. I worked with that family for several years until my services were no longer needed, and I continued to work with different families for about eight years, strictly as a side hustle. In February 2021, my contract job as a Certified Investigator ended, and would lead to me eventually stepping out on faith and creating my own opportunity.” Today, Nurturing Connections LLC currently serves families in counties within Greenville, Spartanburg, Laurens, and Anderson, SC. Karen says what she loves most about her business is watching the relationships between children and their absent parents improve. “When visits start, it can be awkward between the child and their parent, but with consistent visits and positive interactions, relationships almost always improve,” she says. She finds inspiration in the connection she has with being a parent herself. “I have been blessed with two amazing sons, the most important people in my life. I love to spend time with them and watch them grow into young men. I could not imagine not having the ability to see them daily and play a crucial role in their upbringing. I love watching them and seeing the positive relationship they have with their father, and having strong connections and bonds with family is important to the development of children,” she shared. Karen’s advice to anyone who may be considering a career in her profession is to have some experience or a background in working with children and families. She says having knowledge of family dynamics and the impact of divorce and custody issues will also be beneficial. “I would advise people not to get into this field strictly for the money. It would be best if you focused on the children and families that will benefit from your services,” she says. I-In the future, Karen says she plans to secure a brick and mortar location to offer supervised visits and co-parenting classes for participants. Please visit their website to learn more about Karen Bolden and Nurturing Connections LLC. h


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Pastor Monumental Baptist Church “When I was a teenager, I started to question my purpose in life. This was mainly due to me learning that God saw it fit for me to be born despite my mother being told she was unable to carry a child. Knowing this made me realize that I was purposed for greater and called to effect and bring change in the world.”

By Ellen Richardson Photos Provided by Pastor Cleophus Lee

What do you do when God calls you into your community and makes disciples of the masses? Obedience may be the obvious answer, and this is the story of Pastor Cleophus J. Lee. Born in Houston, TX, but currently living in Chicago, IL, he is Monumental Baptist Church’s Senior Pastor. Pastor Cleophus J. Lee first received his God calling when he was in college, but much like Jonah, he would run before Th e Great Shepherd would bring him back into the fold. “When I was a teenager, I started to question my purpose in life. This was mainly due to me learning that God saw it fit for me to be born despite my mother being told she was unable to carry a child. Knowing this made me realize that I was purposed for greater and called to effect and bring change in the world,” he says. Pastor Lee shares that he even believed at one time that God had destined him to be the next Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Malcolm X. “I believed that he wanted me to help people move from where they are in life and into better opportunities,” he says. Though empowering in its nature, Pastor Lee would be pushed into a new direction, and that was ministry.

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He shares “I actually started my career by working with a non-profit organization. I also worked with social services, and because I am educated in political science, I envisioned myself going to law school to become an attorney. With a law degree in tow, I believed I would go back to my hometown community in Houston and run for city council and eventually become one of the first Black mayors in the city of Houston. This plan would conclude with me retiring as a sitting Judge.” He also notes that Malcolm X advised Black people to become involved in the political system to ensure a positive change. While attending college at Dillard University, Pastor Lee was very complacent. Things were happening the way he expected for them to happen, and for the most part, he was happy. Yet, he would find out that God had a different plan. “I started to wrestle with a call to become a preacher. During my freshman year, my cousin and I were rooming together, and after returning from a school break, he told me that he was called to preach. When he said this, I felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit that said it wasn’t supposed to be him; it was supposed to be you,” he says. This prompting would send Pastor Lee on a life-enriching journey. He references Jonah, a Bible hero who a huge fish swallowed after running away from God’s plan for him. After living inside a whale’s belly for three days, Jonah prayed to the Lord. Soon the Whale relinquished the prophet onto dry land so he could start again. Like Jonah, Pastor Lee saw himself in a similar situation.

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“My life’s mission has now become to impact the people that God sends me to help them discover their God-ordained purpose.”

“Before this prompting of the Holy Spirit, I was regarded as the Black militant. I was even involved in selling drugs at one point. However, I was blessed to be able to change. I realized that if I continued on that path, I wouldn’t be able to make the difference I wanted inside of the political world. I also felt God leading me to make a difference by doing things His way versus my way. These are the things that happened which initially led me to become a pastor,” he says. Fast forward to today, and Pastor Lee has clearly answered the call on his life. He serves as the Senior Pastor of Monumental Baptist Church in Chicago and does everything he can to lead the community God has given him. “My life’s mission has now become to impact the people that God sends me to help them discover their Godordained purpose,” he said. To learn more about Pastor Cleophus J. Lee or Monumental Baptist Church, please visit their website. h

Pastor Cleophus J. Lee Monumental Baptist Church www.mbcchgo.com

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MAGAZINE

Cutest Baby

Laney Williamson The daughter of Elise Blackmon and Dante Williamson

St. Louis - Sept./Oct. 2022

To submit photographs to be placed in the Huami Magazine Cutest Baby feature, please send a detailed email to huami.cutestbaby@gmail.com

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