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Black in Boston: Entrepreneurs Panel

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Story Contributed BY MAKAYLA FRANCIS, Bay Path Student Newsroom Layout & Design Coordinator aND Social Action Series Writer/Columnist

In honor of Black History Month, Bay Path had a series of events to commemorate the importance of Black voices and success. One out of the many events that took place was on Wednesday, February 24. The event, referred to as “Black in Boston: Entrepreneurs Panel” consisted of five hardworking Black successful beings, best known for establishing their own business and breaking systemic stereotypes of Black success. That evening, these five amazing people were introduced by Network News's very own Cora Swan, who we all know as an amazing artist and advocate for diversity and inclusion. That night us viewers had the opportunity to meet and listen to the stories of:

Sheena Collier, Founder of Boston While Black

Leonard “Lenny” Underwood, CEO/Founder of Underwood Photography

Khamani Harrison, Engineer and Founder/CEO of Key Bookstore

Derryl Gibbs, Owner of Bumpy’s Natural and Organic Foods

Moriah Leigh Wilkins, Social Entrepreneur, Founder and Director of Rooted Essence Dance

Of course, before we had the chance to listen to each of their journeys of success, we were blessed with an amazing video presentation that memorialized lives lost to police brutality, inspiring Black voices in history, and the recent impactful Black historic moment in American history. Moving forward, our first story was shared by Sheena Collier, not only a founder of Boston while Black but also founder of Collier Connection. From a very young age, Sheena wanted to have an impact on her community and sought influential careers in education and psychology. Though of course, like any being, her life experiences guided her to a new path. 

Growing up in Albany, NY with seven other siblings, Collier spent most of her life alone as the youngest, but in a more urban environment. To keep that same environment she went to Spelman College, an all Black women's college in Atlanta, Georgia. However, to her surprise, not all Black people grew up in minority based communities. She was surrounded by many well-off Black adults who didn’t have quite the same upbringing. With this realization, she decided to abandon her previous studies and seek out a field that approached social problems within Black communities to provide that support and knowledge she wished she received growing up. This is what led her to create her first business.

Sheena’s advice to us:

 

  • What you start may not be your finish point, but what matters is that you start; Never question how things turn out in the future.
  • Follow your passion, and pay attention to social demand
  • Find early supporters and make them your ambassadors and take feedback
  • “The best way to build anything is with a community”

 

After Sheena's amazing background and introduction, the rest of the panelists followed with their own stories and advice to viewers through the Q&A session, the main segment of the event. The guests were asked multiple questions, and below I’ve shared two out of the few along with a summary of their answers.

Q1: What inspired you to open a business?

Q2: What did you shift from to get to your current career?

Leonard: On my college campus, I was always asked to be a photographer. With this, I was allowed to explore and get my feet wet in the skill. By 2015 I launched my own photography business after being inspired by a dream. Previously, I had been a substitute teacher since I was 19, alongside being a personal trainer starting in 2012.

Khamani: In 2016, when the social justice movements were heavy, I wanted to learn more. So I sought out books and educated myself as an activist. I realized that minority-filled communities are not aware of economics and the way in which their lives can be greatly impacted by certain things. So I wanted to create a place where all Black people had easy access to Afrocentric, environmentalist, and entrepreneurship-based books/content. Originally I worked for a Black engineering firm in Hartford, CT, however, I got laid off due to lack of work. I also worked at bookstores and other engineering companies where I would experience microaggressions due to being Black and a woman.

Derryl: I was referred to as Bumpy during my football days in high school which was originally my career path. However, I was injured and of course my future was altered. On top of that, I have a speech impediment, and I was made fun of. But I said: “When people laugh at you, don’t care, focus on your goal.” Since I was a kid I was always a hard worker, despite being slightly hindered by my accident, I got back up only to be met with another health issue due to having only one kidney. After the fact, I was inspired to look into natural foods for my own well-being which further let me create a business for minority communities who don’t have easy access to organic foods. Before shifting my career choice, I was a Juvenile Correctional Officer.

Moriah: I was inspired by divine inspiration and direction. I ended up on a path that was confusing after being laid off from my previous job but I followed it and trusted the process because I know that there was something greater for me. With that being said, I wanted to create something that would uplift people. I had a psychology background that helped me establish mental health practice in my dance studio for healing.

There were so many inspiring answers, but of course, there is only so much I can fit in this medium pour review of the event. This year is by far the best representation of Black appraisal from Bay Path University, and many students are looking forward to the growing celebration in the future. Even the panelists were grateful to be a part of the experience and uplift those who are seeking to be entrepreneurs. While owning a business wasn’t a path I saw for myself, I was definitely compelled to consider the possibility of one day having my own business and having a positive and empowering impact.

PSA: While Black History is celebrated greatly in the month of February, let's remember to uphold such a commemoration and respect Black lives, and encourage equality.

This article is also featured in the March 2021 issue of the Network News Student Magazine.