RuPaul Charles: Creating Opportunities for the LGBTQ+ Community

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RuPaul speaks at the LA Pride Resist March

by Mackenna Cummings

You may recognize RuPaul Charles from his global phenomenon hit show, RuPaul’s Drag Race, or as one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People.

RuPaul has been paving the runway and the world for tolerance and education of the LGBTQ+ community. He is a prominent figure and has supported LGBTQ+ rights and has fought for equality throughout his career.

Many members of the LGBTQ+ community credit RuPaul with bringing drag into the spotlight. In 2018, he was the first drag queen to earn a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. RuPaul paved the way as the first openly gay national television host on The RuPaul Show on VH1 in 1996. Currently, as the host of RuPaul’s Drag Race, he has helped launch the careers of more than 120 drag queens. He was also the first face of M.A.C. Cosmetics and, as its spokesperson, helped raise money for AIDs epidemic awareness. The fund has raised more than $400 million to date. While changing the world through tolerance and representation is one thing, it is all done while looking flawless and being true to himself, which makes RuPaul stand out even more.

RuPaul makes a surprise appearance onstage during "RuPaul's Drag Race" Season 9 Premiere Party. (Photo by Santiago Felipe/Getty Images)
RuPaul makes a surprise appearance onstage during “RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 9 Premiere Party. (Photo by Santiago Felipe/Getty Images)

RuPaul’s mantra for his entire career spanning more than 35 years has been to “love yourself.” During his sendoff at the end of each of episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race, he addresses fans and contestants alike with the advice, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you going to love someone else?” He is an avid promoter of self-love. His fans are of all ages, races, genders, and sexualities, and these lessons and this encouragement to embrace and accept oneself are critical for the LGBTQ+ community that is often misunderstood and criticized.

Not only does RuPaul continue to empower the LGBTQ+ community through championing for rights on each of his platforms, but he has also created an environment of support and growth for those on his show. He recognizes the need for finding “your tribe”—as he calls it—a support group of others who share your passions and interests, which is why he has created other outlets for people to connect outside of his shows and podcast, RuPaul: What’s the Tee with Michelle Visage. Another outlet is RuPaul’s DragCon bringing people together in both Los Angeles and New York, where RuPaul says that many of his younger fans are able to attend, represent themselves, and find their community. At the Los Angeles 2018 event, RuPaul said, “All the queens here represent the American spirit of being an entrepreneur and following your dream—no matter what anyone else has to say about it.”

RuPaul Performs at the World Theater. (Photo by James Crump/WireImage)
RuPaul Performs at the World Theater. (Photo by James Crump/WireImage)

RuPaul’s Drag Race is helping both the contestants and the viewers understand how to love themselves more, which is why the show has become such a celebrated part of television. RuPaul coined the phrase, “You’re born naked and the rest is drag,” advocating that for all of us, our clothing is a means of expression, and everything else we put on our bodies is drag.

RuPaul’s Drag Race brings forward authenticity by showcasing what contestants create, and because of that, how drag is a part of themselves. “Drag can help you understand what you are, how amazing it is to have a human body, and what you can do with it,” he said in an interview with Oprah for the February 2018 issue of O Magazine. RuPaul highlights the beauty and art behind drag culture in his show, airing on VH1, which has drawn in millions of viewers.

Ru Paul attends the signing of his book 'Workin' It'. (Photo by Angela Weiss/Getty Images)
Ru Paul attends the signing of his book ‘Workin’ It’. (Photo by Angela Weiss/Getty Images)

RuPaul also says that drag is helping fight the patriarchy and the dangers of strict definitions of masculinity. Through drag, no one else has to adhere to one identity, which allows people of multiple races and orientations to fit in by standing out. By not being afraid to embrace who he is and share that with the world, RuPaul has given so many others a platform to also represent their non-conforming and beautiful selves. In addition to RuPaul’s Drag Race and RuPaul’s DragCon, he will be starring in the new Netflix scripted comedy series AJ and the Queen, his book GuRu will be released in the fall on Dey Street Books, and he will be releasing a cosmetic line with Mally Beauty in 2019. An ever-positive figure, RuPaul shows no signs of slowing down his success and support for self-expression and love.

Groundbreaking Study of Black Business Owners in the Wine Industry Reveals the Immediate Need for Inclusion & Equity

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Flyer that states "uncorked and cultured". During National Black-Owned Business Month, The Terroir Noir: 2020 Study of Black Wine Entrepreneurs uncovers business owners’ undeterred persistence and commitment to fostering change in the global wine industry

By Press Release, Advisor

Marketing professor and wine business researcher, Monique Bell, Ph.D., has released an inaugural study of Black wine entrepreneurs that captures survey data collected in the aftermath of the global pandemic and civil unrest in 2020. Survey participants, who represent a diverse spectrum of businesses and professional expertise, completed the online survey in late 2020 amidst pandemic-related losses and renewed civil rights and “buy Black” movements.

The Terroir Noir: 2020 Study of Black Wine Entrepreneurs survey respondents answered multiple questions related to their motivations for wine entrepreneurship, experiences with racism and other challenges, perceptions of the wine industry’s inclusion efforts, business strategies and practices, and the impacts of COVID-19. Black-owned wineries account for less than 1 percent of all U.S. wineries, while Black people typically make up more than 10 percent of American wine consumers. A majority of survey participants (43%), which represent wineries and other wine businesses, report that financial capital is the primary business roadblock to their business. Bias/racism was cited by 20% as the number one challenge, in general, for Black wine businesses. Further, more than half of respondents (58%) are neutral or disagree that the wine industry is taking meaningful action to be more inclusive of underrepresented groups.

“I am grateful to the Black wine business community for welcoming me during a very trying time and sharing their valuable insights for this important study,” says Bell, who performed the research during a sabbatical at the Fresno State Craig School of Business and subsequently founded Wyne Belle Enterprises. “The opportunity to connect with wine entrepreneurs inspires me to pursue further research and has opened pathways to increase exposure to and awareness about underrepresented groups in traditionally exclusive industries.”

The survey is the first of its kind among trade reports and academic examinations, and it will be followed by studies of Black wine professionals and consumers, respectively. Bell and her California State University colleagues, including Liz Thach, Ph.D., M.W., of Sonoma State, are currently analyzing more than 40 in-depth interviews with Black wine entrepreneurs.

“In illuminating Black entrepreneurs in the wine industry, Dr. Bell has identified an important gap in the global wine industry and in our collective knowledge about wine entrepreneurship,” says Liz Thach, Distinguished Professor of Wine and Professor of Management, Sonoma State. “As a wine business educator, writer, and consultant, I’ve sought to bring diversity, equity, and inclusion issues to the forefront, and the Terroir Noir study will help further the industry’s progress.”

It was through Bell’s research that she met Angela McCrae, founder of Uncorked & Cultured, and joined the media platform centered on wine, wellness, culture, and adventure as Chief of Cultural Insights and Partnerships. McCrae and Bell, both graduates of Morgan State University, launched the Sip Consciously Directory, a comprehensive resource of more than 100 Black entrepreneurs in the three-tier wine distribution chain. Importantly, the directory enhances Black visibility in the $70 billion wine industry where less than 1% of wineries are Black-owned. The evolving resource connects wine lovers with Black-owned brands, distributors, and retailers, and is complemented by the growing Sip Consciously YouTube video series.

“With knowledge there is power, so it’s important for Uncorked & Cultured to be a destination and resource for consumers and the greater wine industry to understand Black wine entrepreneurs exist and the challenges we face in the industry,’ says Angela McCrae. “We’re filling a void and creating solutions to connect, not just Black winemakers and entrepreneurs with consumers, but also with mainstream brands and major distributors for an opportunity to tap into a far too often overlooked demographic.”

Click here to read the full article on the Advisor.

Instagram adds “Black-owned” label option to business profiles

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A post on Stormi Steele's Canvas Beauty Brand's Instagram account. Steele raked in $20 million in revenue in 2020, and is on track to hit the same number for 2021.

By Randi Richardson, NBC News

Stormi Steele posted a video on her social media accounts in 2017 of how to use Black hair products she created herself with $800 of capital.

Her homegrown business, Canvas Beauty Brand, later brought in $435,000 in profits through a single $100 paid social media advertisement. Steele said even with this rapid progress, buyers were still asking the same question: Is this Black hair care brand Black-owned?

Instagram has been key to customers finding Black-owned businesses to support and Steele said it has been integral to her business’s growth. And now the platform is strengthening that relationship between customers and Black-owned businesses.

Instagram announced Wednesday its new “Black-owned” label that U.S.-based businesses like Canvas Beauty can add to their profiles. The company and Steele said the label will make it easier to find Black-owned businesses.

“People still ask, ‘Is this Black-owned?’ I think it’ll get rid of that question and it’ll make our consumer, the woman and the person that we market to, trust us,” Steele said. “It helps us to not have to continuously reiterate we’re Black-owned, because that’s the difference between the conversion or not, most of the time, especially to the customer who wants to know that answer.”

Business accounts can select to display the “Black-owned business” label in their bios, and may be included on the Shops page.

Instagram does not have concrete numbers regarding how many businesses are expected to enable this feature. But more than 1.3 million Instagram posts included “Black-owned” or “Black-led” during the height of the racial reckoning in summer 2020 and through the fall. And the number of U.S.-based businesses that listed these labels in their profiles increased by 50 percent during that same period.

“There was a lot of tragedy happening in the Black community,” said Rachel Brooks, a product manager at Instagram on the equity team who worked on developing the label. “On top of that, there was a global pandemic raging, and a lot of challenges particularly with Black-owned businesses being able to stay open, maintain livelihoods, those sorts of things. And so what we saw is the community really rallied around Black-owned businesses somewhat naturally and organically by using #BuyBlack and all sorts of other ways of amplifying Black-owned businesses.”

That rallying prompted Instagram to develop an official label to support this specific interest, adding structure and making it easier for users to search for businesses, she said.

“When you see a profile, you know where the name is, you know where you can find the post, you know where you can find the stories or whatever it might be,” Brooks said. The idea is to create a standard so that people know how to consistently find the information. Otherwise, people are kind of fishing for this information.”

Brooks said the label will not contribute to what information the algorithm takes into account. But subsequent engagement with related accounts will do so. Instagram’s algorithm considers what type of content users previously liked, viewed or shared and uses that pattern, among other things, to present personalized content to users, then-director of product management Julian Gutman told TechCrunch in 2018. So accounts keeping tabs on Black-owned businesses are more likely to see them in their feed, giving the businesses more exposure and potentially increasing their revenues.

Steele raked in $20 million in revenue in 2020, and is on track to hit the same number for 2021. The first video she put money behind became a viral video and effectively launched Canvas Beauty. Since then, she’s used paid and unpaid advertisements on Instagram and other social media sites, she said.

Click here to read the full article on NBC News.

5 Minutes With MDee Beauty’s Deidra Smith

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Diedre Smith of MDee BEauty looking strong and wearing tee-shirt with company name across it

We often think of inclusion as only existing within professional or social circles, forgetting that it must also go a step further. In that spirit, the Black EOE Journal spent five minutes with Deidra Smith of MDee Beauty, a makeup company that is passionate about diversity without giving up on quality.

Black EOE Journal (BEOEJ): Where did your inspiration for MDee Beauty come from and what makes it stand out from the crowd?

Deidra Smith (DS): As a child I used to watch my mother put on her makeup, I dreamed of the day when I could do the same. From there my passion for skin care and the way I look took on a whole new meaning. It was more than just the way it made me feel, it was who I became once I became an adult. Skin care, the importance of lipstick all touched parts of me and what I deemed important. It was from that background the inspiration for MDee Beauty was born. I have used many products, never finding one with sustainability. There were many that became my favorite until later finding out that something in the formula had changed to make it no longer fit my needs. So, it was then that I started researching and later developing a formula that fit not only my needs but also that of other women who felt the same as me.

What makes us stand out from the crowd is basically the love that we put into the products. We have addressed issues of sustainability and longevity. Our ingredients are natural and good for the health of your lips. To enhance the lip care, we have subtle and bold colors that make this the perfect product that women who feel the same as I do, would want to consider.

BEOEJ: You’ve shared your views previously on the import of diversity and inclusion reform in the workforce. Why should businesses and business owners want to consider diversity, equity and inclusion when thinking in terms of their workforce, supply chain or mastermind group?

DS: I’ve been on both sides of this question as an employee and employer. I have been overlooked as a female and as a black female. I’ve been made to think that my ideas and what I had to say didn’t matter. It was kind of like when they tell kids, just be seen and not heard. Everyone’s voice needs and should be heard especially in the workforce on your team. Everyone’s background, experience and culture creates a product of inclusiveness, not only in the office but also for the market we are trying to reach. As the employer, I know that I don’t know everything, that’s why I surround myself with motivated, opinionated and diversity in thought. If you continue to do things the way they were done in the past, how do we get to the future?

BEOEJ: What can entrepreneurs or solopreneurs do to be a part of the change?

DS: Listen to the ideas of all. Decisions on what ethic groups like and don’t like can’t be made without those ethic groups being part of the conversation. Get it right the first time with inclusion of thought.

BEOEJ: Why, is not only the quality of your products, but also their sustainability, important to your company? What does sustainability mean to you as a business owner?

DS: There’s lot of good products out there but most don’t last. As women when we leave our homes, we want to look good all day. Looking and feeling a certain way we should expect it to last all day, maybe with a little touch up. We want you to be confident that your look can last all day. We did that. Our product is built on healthiness, vibrant colors and sustainability. It is our goal to keep you looking good all day long. Sustainability means that I stand behind my products. If you read the reviews MDee Beauty should be a staple in your beauty regimen. With the glowing reviews we have received thus far, it is evident that our company has sustainably, as the MDee Beauty roots continue to grow in the cosmetic industry. My goal is to continue to provide a quality product that people will purchase without reservation.

To learn more about Deidre and MDee Beauty, you can visit their website at mdeebeauty.com.

Photo Credit: Anthony Sealey

Black tech entrepreneurs get $1 million boost from Pharrell Williams

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Pharrell Williams in a gray hat and army jacket shirt

By Adrienne Broaddus, CNN

Entrepreneur Justin Turk knew his start-up was special, but a $1 million prize from Grammy award-winning singer and producer Pharrell Williams came as a shock.

On Tuesday, Williams announced the winners of his Black Ambition prize competition — and Turk and his business partner, Andre Davis, are in the national spotlight.

Williams’ non-profit was founded in December to help Black and Latino business owners close the wealth gap through entrepreneurship.

Turk and Davis, co-founders of Livegistics, took home the top prize of $1 million. The Detroit-based entrepreneurs run a cloud-based material management software company, which eliminates paperwork in heavy civil construction and demolition. The company also provides data and metrics that construction experts can use for efficiency.

Livegistics is also helping the environment through the elimination of tons of paper each year and helps local communities accelerate the elimination of blight in urban cities and neighborhoods.

“We knew we had something special, but you don’t go in thinking you will walk away with $1 million. But when it happens you are like, ‘Wow, we just won $1 million,” Turk said.

But the 40-year-old said he never knew joy and pain could co-exist simultaneously.

Success can be bittersweet
On the day he learned his tech start-up won the grand prize, his father-in-law died before he could share the news.

“All in 24 hours, it was the greatest and worst moments tied together forever. There we were with the our biggest business success to date along with the worst day of our lives all in 24 hours,” Turk said. “It is weird. Sometimes I feel guilty for being so happy about what’s going on, but I know he would have been excited.”

Turk, who co-founded the business three years ago with Davis, said that hours after he learned about winning he watched a team of health care professionals try to revive his wife’s father, whom he admired. He was a veteran who loved architecture. And they shared the same passion for construction.

Instead of hosting a celebration party for friends and family, Turk said he will bury his father-in-law in a private ceremony Saturday.

“He would have been enamored with what’s going on. If he would have been able to see all of this, it would have just blown him away,” Turk said. “He would walk around the city of Detroit and look at buildings on his own. This would have just made his decade.”

More like brothers
Turk’s and Davis’ friendship goes back decades. The two met in elementary school when they were 5 years old, Davis said. Then, they were college roommates at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Davis, the chief financial officer, said it was never a goal to become business partners but it made sense.

“He’s been in just about every special moment in my life,” Davis said. “Not only are we solving the single most significant reason construction companies go out of business (cash flow), we’re doing so in a manner that creates less work and makes the lives of our customers easier to manage.”

Davis, 41, said he worked at Financial One as an outsourced CFO to clients in the Metro Detroit area. He started and operated his own accounting and financial services practice for 10 years, managing to keep one foot in the non-profit sector to give back. He wants to encourage other Black and minority entrepreneurs looking to start their businesses to take the leap of faith.

“A thought today, backed by effort today, is one step closer to your dream tomorrow. Justin is brilliant. His background is the foundation for what I forsee as a unicorn in the making,” Davis said. “A third generation business owner, minority-owned, who understands all facets of large construction projects at an expert level…who also has a degree in computer science to speak tech geek language! You don’t find a Justin Turk walking around every day.”

Click here to read the full article on CNN.

From ‘Watchmen’ to ‘Blade’: Meet the First Black Woman to Write a Marvel Film

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Stacy Osei-Kuffour attends Premiere Of HBO’s “Watchmen” at The Cinerama Dome for Marvel

By Jasmine Alyce, Atlanta Black Star

Marvel‘s upcoming “Blade” reboot has tapped playwright Stacy Osei-Kuffour as the film’s head writer, making her the first Black woman to pen a Marvel movie.

Two-time Oscar winner Mahershala Ali will star in the film as the half-human, half-vampire vigilante, a role originated by Wesley Snipes in the late ’90s/early 2000s film trilogy, and was reportedly heavily involved in the “meticulous” six-month-long search for the talent that would craft the story that led to Osei-Kuffour.

The studio’s search centered around finding a Black writer for the film and Osei-Kuffour gained their and Ali’s attention following her successful involvement in HBO’s critically acclaimed series “Watchmen,” on which she served as story editor and writer. In 2019, she earned an Emmy nomination for outstanding writer in a comedy series for her work on Hulu’s “Pen15.” Additional writing credits for her include Amazon’s “Hunters,” and the HBO series “Run.”

In late 2020, it was announced that “Candyman” director Nia DaCosta signed on to helm “Captain Marvel 2,” making her the studios’ first Black woman director. Marvel Studios President and Marvel Chief Creative Officer Kevin Feige has previously expressed hopes that the diversity in front of and behind the screens during the next phase of Marvel films will eventually “become the norm.”

“We’re lucky that we have the comics to guide us. They have been relatively progressive over the decades for their time,” he told Variety in March. “The character lineup allows us — we’re not creating full-cloth any of our characters, they’ve been in the comics for years — and we’re finally able to tell those stories. Looking at the remarkably positive experiences we’ve had making sure that the room where it happens is not a room full of people that all look the same. When that’s not the case, when there are people from various backgrounds and genders, stories are better. Being at a company for 20 years and having released 23 movies, it is always been ‘How do you keep things fresh and surprising on a story level?’ “

He continued, “When you’re doing a story about a female lawyer who is giant and green [“She -Hulk], or a Muslim teenager with superpowers in Jersey City [“Ms. Marvel”], or working with filmmakers and writers of color as we are — it’s so prevalent and so much a part of who we are and what we do now, that it doesn’t seem abnormal. It’s no longer a headline. A woman is directing something! Wow! I hope this will become the norm to the extent that this is no longer a rarity.”

Click here to read the full article on Atlanta Black Star.

I am a Black female CEO, and this is how I redefined the white men’s club in tech

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CEO stock photo of two people walking on top of blue glass

BY Danielle Rose, Fast Company

Growing up in East Oakland, I personally experienced the diverse realities of the divide between the wealthy and poor, and the ricocheting effects of violence and substance abuse. My mother was the only one to graduate from college in her family and she understood the importance of education and the doors it could open.

Her determination to ensure that regardless of our socio-economic circumstances combined with the promise I showed in math and science meant that I was able to attend an affluent private boarding school at the base of Mount Diablo in California on scholarship. This is where, for the first time, I often found myself to be the only Black person in a classroom. I was isolated emotionally and physically, living in one of the wealthiest communities in the country, worlds apart from my humble Oakland beginnings.

Despite my ability to perform academically, my continued attendance at my new school was repeatedly threatened because I questioned the school administration’s exclusionary and invisibilizing practices towards students of color. Nevertheless, I thrived and I graduated. I was accepted in and awarded scholarships from 12 of the top engineering programs in the nation.

My story isn’t unique, but in many ways, it’s not nearly common enough. Education, particularly in STEM subjects, has historically been unwelcoming to young people of color. And for those passionate about STEM, there are countless hurdles including loneliness, doubt, sexism, and racism to name a few. So let’s talk about it.

EVERY EXPERIENCE IS NOT ALL GOOD OR BAD, SO KEEP LEARNING
Being Black, a woman, and an engineer I found myself shadowed by skepticism in every space I occupied from high school to the present day. In meetings, my managers would not make eye contact with me when I spoke. My ideas seemed to land only when regurgitated by white male counterparts. My white male managers questioned whether I was paid too much because they thought my clothes were too fashionable. A senior executive told me that I seemed to be a better fit working at “one of those fancy boutiques on Rodeo Drive.” With two Bachelor of Science degrees in mathematics and mechanical engineering and a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the third top engineering school in the country, I cannot say I ever contemplated working at Gucci. All of these slights told me I didn’t belong as I was, the authentic and costume-free me.

The micro and macro aggressions I experienced, while staggering and hurtful, only made me more reflective and self-aware. The times when people who looked like me and tried to minimize me, were especially informative. I used those painful interactions with people who I assumed would understand my experience as a way to deconstruct my own biases and become a stronger ally and advocate for others.

SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PEOPLE WHO BELIEVE IN YOU
From my early education and into my career, I was often the only Black person in a host of STEM education programs and it was lonely. I quickly grew to understand how easy it can be to look for the exit and self-opt out of spaces where you don’t see yourself represented.

Spelman College graduate Marian Wright Edelman once said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” It is no coincidence that it was during my undergraduate studies at Spelman College that I realized the power of representation coupled with social and emotional support when it came to success.

CREATE NETWORKS OF PEERS, MENTORS, AND MENTEES
The importance of this can’t be understated. Who you know, and who you surround yourself with will have an incredible impact on how you envision your future and realize your maximum potential. Connect and enlist a team of people who can see you, especially when you cannot see yourself, and who are authentically committed to your success and want to support you along your journey. You need people who will nurture your spirit, remind you of how you have grown, and of your superpowers during the inevitable storms of life. You need people who will shout with joy and applaud the loudest when you win because your wins are their wins.

LEVERAGE PERCEIVED EXCEPTIONALISM RATHER THAN INTERNALIZE IT
Ursula Burns, the first Black woman to become a CEO of a Fortune 500 company (Xerox), writes about how there was a pattern where her colleagues would reconcile her success as a Black woman by elevating her to an “exceptional status.” They viewed her as incredibly gifted, instead of any other talented and hardworking Black person.

I lived this early on in my career. As an “only” or one of a few Black women in my engineering classes at Georgia Tech, the labs at NASA, the meetings at BP, and countless other spaces, I became the unicorn in the room. My achievements became my last name. When I was introduced it was, “This is Danielle. She has degrees from… She’s worked at…” Folks thought they were being complimentary, but instead, it felt “othering.”

What were considered rare accomplishments for someone who looked like me became the buoys that I grabbed hold of when I found myself in spaces that were not welcoming or generative to my professional development. I used the perceived exceptionalism to access roles and responsibilities that would otherwise have been considered uncustomary or too high-risk for someone with my academic and professional background. I successfully pivoted from engineering to working on a trade floor, to retail and marketing—all for the same company.

Click here to read the full article on Fast Company.

How this 28-year-old’s pandemic cookie business became a celebrity favorite

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ABC News' John Quinones talks about California coming back in business

, Good Morning America

When Lara Adekoya started baking cookies at the start of the pandemic, she never anticipated that a year later, celebrities like Issa Rae, Jenna Dewan, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Melissa Benoist and Lena Waithe would be lining up to order from her Los Angeles business, Fleurs et Sel.“What I’m doing is reaching beyond just the backyard,” Adekoya, 28, told “Good Morning America.” “It’s refreshing to have their support, because these are people that now know who I am, and they know that I make really great cookies.”

Her Hollywood clientele isn’t just limited to celebrities either. The business owner has catered to Amazon Studios, A24, the Oprah Winfrey Network, HBO’s “Insecure” set and, most recently, National Geographic. But even though Fleurs et Sel has quickly risen as a business that’s only a year old, its success is anything but a fluke — Adekoya said she hustled to make a name for herself.

“I’m customer-obsessed and social media-driven, and I use those skills to create community through my cookies,” the baker of Nigerian and Japanese descent said. “I hope that my voice transcends communities and transcends different cultural groups so people know that we, as young Black women, we are capable of doing so many things.”

Adekoya’s venture started when she was laid off during the pandemic as a designer shoes salesperson at Nordstrom. Like many Americans, the pandemic prompted her to reimagine her career goals. According to a survey by Prudential, 50% of workers admitted that the pandemic made them rethink their careers, and another study by Microsoft found that 41% of employees are considering leaving their current employer this year.

Despite the career change, Adekoya said her job at Nordstrom was invaluable to the success of Fleurs et Sel because of the work values and connections she built there.

“The key to me working in designer shoes was building relationships, because in order to be successful, my work was strictly commission driven, so it was up to me to make money — I wasn’t going to be there and not hustle,” she said.

Two important relationships she cultivated there were with female entrepreneurs Aderiaun Shorter and event planner Mindy Weiss, the latter who is known in Hollywood for throwing lavish parties for the Kardashians, Justin Bieber, Ciara and many others. When Adekoya started sharing her baking hobby on social media, her two former Nordstrom clients were the first to buy cookies and promote her. That’s when her idea for Fleurs et Sel really kicked off.

“I got a new entire following, and I was introduced to a new crowd that I would have never otherwise been exposed to,” Adekoya said. “Aderiaun and Mindy are both self-made women entrepreneurs, and they were both instrumental in mentoring me as a woman entrepreneur in this new space.”

The women’s support helped leverage Adekoya’s presence on social media, which in turn exposed her to high-end clientele. Adekoya credits community word-of-mouth and digital promotion for the social media craze of Fleurs et Sel.

Click here to read the full article on Good Morning America.

Pharrell joins Chanel to launch mentorship program for Black and Latinx entrepreneurs

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Pharrell standing in a vintage mickey mouse shirt smiling away from the camera

By 

Pharrell Williams is helping Black and Latinx entrepreneurs with his latest initiative. The two-part program — a collaboration between Chanel and his Black Ambition nonprofit organization — will specifically work toward providing emerging businessmen with “access to knowledge, insights and opportunities from industry-leading experts,” per The Hollywood Reporter.

In part one of the initiative, which is titled “Women Who Lead,” Harper’s Bazaar editor-in-chief, Samira Nasr, moderated a panel that saw Tracee Ellis Ross, Medley co-founder Edith Cooper, Good American CEO Emma Grede and Natalie Massenet, who is the co-founder and partner of Imaginary Ventures, discuss resilience and determination, the importance of clarity of vision and more.

The second part of the program is a series of mentorship workshops. Members will have access to Chanel’s network of experts, who will teach them about the process of launching and sustaining a brand among other things.

“Chanel’s support of Black Ambition is a cornerstone of Black Ambition’s mission and is vital to the success of the next generation of Black and Latinx entrepreneurs,” said Williams. He also noted the brand’s “commitment to investing in human potential and advancing greater representation in culture and society.”

”You may have a great business idea, but that doesn’t mean you know how to run a business,” he added in a statement to Vanity Fair.

“Even when you have a great business plan, you might not find the right operators. [The mentorship program] teaches you all of those things. Success really does have a lot of authors. Usually when you say, ‘Success has a lot of authors,’ it’s a dig at people who didn’t do something but are taking the credit. In this particular sense, when it comes to running a business, success does have a lot of authors — there are a lot of signatures needed to cosign to get a brand new idea off the ground.”

Click here to read the full article on Revolt.

Covid-19 decimated Black women-owned businesses — Ayesha Curry wants to change that

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Ayesha Curry signs books at Goya Foods' Grand Tasting Village Featuring Mastercard Grand Tasting Tents & KitchenAid Culinary Demonstrations in Miami Beach, Fla., on Feb. 25, 2017.

By Alexi McCammond, NBC News

Ayesha Curry has a long list of accomplishments: actress, author and cooking television personality. And now she has her sights set even higher: helping one million Black women business owners. Curry joined the board of Goldman Sachs’ “One Million Black Women” initiative, which will invest $10 billion in Black women-owned businesses and owners over the next 10 years. She has also hosted listening sessions with Black women business owners in the restaurant industry.

The goal? To help Black women business owners in various industries gain greater access to capital and have the tools to ensure their businesses survive past the pandemic.

“The pandemic … shattered the restaurant industry in general,” Curry told Know Your Value. “… Access to capital, especially right now, was so necessary and so important to not only keep these places afloat, but to … find that growth that we’re all looking for.”

Other prominent Black women, including senior advisor to former President Barack Obama Valerie Jarrett, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, are on the project’s advisory council.

In many instances, Black-owned and Black women-owned businesses were growing exponentially before the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Black women were launching new businesses at greater rates than any other demographic between 2014 and 2019, according to American Express’s annual “State of women-owned businesses” report.

In that same timeframe, the number of female-owned businesses overall grew by 21 percent, but Black women-owned businesses grew by 50 percent according to the report.

And now in the aftermath of Covid-19, its many of these businesses that are trying to stay afloat. After all, Black entrepreneurs are typically over-represented in industries most affected by the pandemic, including the food, retail, and personal care industries.

Curry said joining this initiative is personal for her.

“I watched my mom build up her hair salon — she was a stylist for 40 years, a small business owner — and so I’ve seen that work ethic, and that strength behind that and it’s something that I’ve carried with me through my own career,” Curry said.

She’ll be supporting Black women in the restaurant industry in the greater Oakland, Calif., area with a focus on helping those women promote food security and have greater access to capital. She’ll be working alongside women like chef Reign Free, who owns Red Door Catering in Oakland and recently launched the Black Culinary Collective, to help fellow Black entrepreneurs, too.

Click here to read the full article on NBC News.

J.P. Morgan Creates Scholarship Program for Black College Students

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Jp Morgan building with sign. JP morgan is creating scholarships for black college students.

By Jeff Berman, Think Advisor

In the latest J.P. Morgan diversity and equity initiative, the firm has teamed with the United Negro College Fund to create the J.P. Morgan Wealth Management HBCU Scholarship Program. The initiative is part of the $30 billion Path Forward commitment to advance racial equity that JPMorgan Chase announced Oct. 8. Building on that commitment, J.P. Morgan Wealth Management said in March it set a goal to hire 300 more Black and Latino advisors by 2025.

The new scholarship program invests in students at historically Black colleges and universities who are interested in careers in financial planning “early on and creates a path for their long-term career success, strengthening the pipeline of diverse talent” for JPMWM, the firm and UNCF said in a joint announcement Monday. The program will provide scholarships and mentorships to students attending one of 11 HBCUs across the U.S. and help them develop the skills they need to grow a career as a financial advisor, they said.

JPMWM will award 75 scholarships annually over the next five years. Students receiving the scholarships will have the opportunity to participate in two summer experiences: the Advancing Black Pathways Fellowship Program and the first-of-its-kind J.P. Morgan Wealth Management Service Center Internship. After completing the internship program, students will also be eligible for another scholarship to be applied to their senior year.

“We’re committed to supporting diversity, equity and inclusion at J.P. Morgan Wealth Management, and that begins by investing in students early on and creating a path for their long-term career success,” according to Christopher Thompson, head of Diverse Advisor Experiences at JPMWM. “We look forward to unlocking an enormous talent potential while boosting interest in a career as a financial advisor, which has excellent growth potential,” he said in a statement.

Click here to read the full article on Think Advisor.

Rihanna releases first Savage X Fenty Pride collection

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Rihanna attends a Fenty event in February 2020 in an orange turtle neck

By Melissa Minton, Page Six

Rihanna is starting off Pride Month with a bang. The pop star’s Savage X Fenty lingerie brand launched its first-ever Pride collection on Tuesday, along with an accompanying campaign. “Pride is all about appreciating your authentic self,” Rihanna, 33, said in a statement. “I am very excited about this collection and showing love and support to the LGBTQIA+ community, which includes so many of our customers, team members and fans.”

Just last September, Savage X Fenty — which is now valued at more than $1 billion — announced an expansion into styles for men. The brand’s star-studded Pride campaign features model couple Ahmad Kanu and Rahquise Bowen, artist Aya Brown, plus-size model and dancer Dexter Mayfield, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” star Gigi Goode, transgender influencer Jaslene Whiterose, Fenty Skin model Jazzelle Zanaughtti, Rihanna’s personal hairstylist Yusef Williams and more.

Available in sizes from 30A to 42H and XS to 3X, the collection includes smoking jackets, jock straps, crop tops, hosiery, boxer briefs and even a whip. Prices range from $16.95 to $69.95, with purchases from the line supporting LGBTQ+ organizations including GLAAD, the Audre Lorde Project, The Caribbean Equality Project, INC., Trans Latin@ Coalition and the Trans Wellness Center.

Click here to read the full article on Page Six.

PNC Announces $88 Billion Community Benefits Plan

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black businessman working from home during pandemic on laptop wearing a suit smiling

The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. (NYSE: PNC) recently announced a Community Benefits Plan to provide $88 billion in loans, investments, and other financial support to bolster economic opportunity for low- and moderate-income (LMI) individuals and communities, people and communities of color, and other underserved individuals and communities over a four-year period beginning Jan. 1, 2022.

The Plan – developed in connection with the anticipated regulatory approval and closing of PNC’s pending acquisition of BBVA USA Bancshares, Inc., including its U.S. banking subsidiary, BBVA USA – covers the geographies currently served by PNC and the new geographies PNC will expand into through the BBVA USA acquisition.

The Plan incorporates, builds on and expands the pledges and plans previously announced by PNC and BBVA USA to help meet community needs, advance economic empowerment and address systemic racism.

Specifically, over the Plan period, PNC expects to:

  • Originate at least $47 billion in residential mortgage and home equity loans to LMI and minority borrowers and in LMI and majority-minority census tracts.
  • Originate at least $26.5 billion in loans to small businesses in LMI communities, majority-minority census tracts, businesses with less than $1 million in revenue and small farms.
  • Provide at least $14.5 billion in community development loans and investments across all markets, including at least $400 million for Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) that help meet the banking and financial service needs of traditionally underserved communities.
  • Increase to at least $500 million PNC’s charitable giving, including sponsorships and philanthropic grants. This includes the continuation of BBVA USA’s existing multi-year grant and charitable sponsorship commitments with nonprofit organizations, and a commitment to maintain or increase the current levels of philanthropic support provided to community groups in Birmingham in recognition of the history of the city as the headquarters city of BBVA USA and its predecessor bank.

“As a Main Street bank, we believe that our success will be proportional to the prosperity we help create for our stakeholders,” said PNC Chairman, President and CEO William S. Demchak. “This plan reflects that belief and builds on our longstanding commitment to provide economic opportunity for all individuals and communities we serve, as reflected in PNC Bank’s and BBVA USA’s overall ‘Outstanding’ Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) ratings in each of our organizations’ most recent evaluations.” PNC Bank has consistently earned an ‘Outstanding’ CRA rating in every performance evaluation issued since enactment of the CRA more than 40 years ago.

PNC’s Community Benefits Plan was developed by PNC, in consultation with BBVA USA, and was informed by numerous community listening sessions that PNC held with the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) that included representatives from more than 150 NCRC member organizations from across the combined PNC and BBVA USA footprint. PNC also held listening sessions with the National Diversity Coalition, the Greenlining Coalition, the California Reinvestment Coalition, Faith and Community Empowerment, and members of their respective organizations.

“We appreciate the leadership and commitment of PNC Bank to collaborate with us and our members to develop the largest-to-date community benefits plan,” said NCRC CEO Jesse Van Tol. “This plan is a significant commitment by one of the largest banks in the nation to increase investments, services and loans for low- and moderate-income communities and neighborhoods of color. It’s rewarding and makes me hopeful when institutions and communities can come together like this to make a meaningful commitment that’s intended to have a lasting impact on lives, families and neighborhoods.”

PNC’s Regional President and Community Development Banking teams will serve as key points of engagement in their local communities for identifying impactful local community development initiatives and acting as liaisons with local organizations. PNC will extend this model to the new markets it enters through its pending acquisition of BBVA USA.

“As we consulted with numerous groups across the country, we learned the concerns that are top of mind to our communities: focusing on home ownership as a foundation of wealth creation for current and future generations; finding solutions to help the unbanked and underbanked who have suffered disproportionately during this pandemic; and supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs by providing access to capital and credit on par with the access enjoyed by more affluent segments of our society,” said Richard Bynum, chief corporate responsibility officer for PNC. “We believe that our strategic focus on fostering economic empowerment, education and entrepreneurism in traditionally underserved populations and communities truly reflects the concerns of our communities and addresses each of these areas.”

“For over three decades, I have been fond of saying, ‘Banks are our neighborhoods’ best hope.’ The PNC plan directly responds to that hope,” said NCRC President and Founder John Taylor. “It will provide a much-needed influx of investment into critical programs that improve affordable housing, mortgage lending, small business development and economic development projects for low- and moderate-income people and neighborhoods coast-to-coast. This plan would have been impossible without the clear and unwavering commitment of PNC CEO Bill Demchak and other executive leadership at the bank, as well as the critical role our local community members played in our discussions with the bank.”

The Community Benefits Plan builds on PNC’s commitment to providing economic opportunity for all individuals and communities, including LMI and minority individuals and communities, as well as women, veterans and LGBTQ+ individuals and businesses. In addition, the Plan reflects PNC’s commitment to addressing systemic racism, promoting social justice and advancing diversity and inclusion, not just within PNC, but within the broader financial system and its communities.

In 2020 the PNC Board of Directors formed a Special Committee on Equity and Inclusion in order to provide oversight of these important issues. The Board’s Special Committee will also be responsible for oversight of PNC’s execution of the Plan.

PNC’s plan to better meet the needs of the unbanked and underbanked includes the addition of 20 new branches and 25 remote automated teller machines in LMI communities across PNC’s expanded footprint, and 10 mobile banking units primarily dedicated to servicing LMI communities. PNC also expects to increase its spending with diverse suppliers by at least 20% over the plan period.

PNC also plans to expand the reach of its innovative banking products and initiatives designed to meet the needs of LMI individuals, underserved communities and the elderly. This includes the company’s recent announcement of its groundbreaking Low Cash Mode℠ digital offering, which addresses the $17 billion that some studies estimate U.S. consumers pay each year in overdraft fees. Low Cash Mode℠ helps PNC’s Virtual Wallet® customers avoid overdraft fees and remain in the banking system through unprecedented account transparency and control to manage through low-cash moments or mis-timed payments. Low Cash Mode℠ launches nationwide in June and July. Pending regulatory approval and the anticipated close and conversion of BBVA USA customers to PNC’s systems later this year, it will be available to BBVA USA customers with Virtual Wallet accounts.

In addition, PNC will expand into its new BBVA USA geographies its SmartAccess and Foundation Checking accounts—two products that meet the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund’s Bank On national certification. Bank On’s 2021-2022 Standards require low cost, no overdraft, and full-functioning features. PNC is the only bank with two Bank On certified products.

“PNC is committed to continuing to reduce barriers to banking, increasing access to financial services and capital, and implementing financial solutions that position LMI and minority-owned businesses for effective growth, development, and sustainability,” Bynum said.

Under the Community Benefits Plan, PNC also will create a Community Advisory Council that will meet semi-annually to discuss the bank’s progress toward the goals and objectives of the plan, as well as emerging areas of community need. In addition, PNC will host an annual Community Leadership Symposium for members of the Council, key representatives of its member organizations and other invited guests to discuss broader developments affecting community development needs and how financial institutions, like PNC, can best help to meet those needs.

Finally, under the Plan, PNC will increase recruiting from historically Black colleges and universities while also exploring opportunities to increase its recruitment from higher education institutions primarily serving Latinx students.

PNC will use its best efforts to meet and, where possible, exceed the goals included in the Plan, assuming regulatory approval and consummation of the planned acquisition of BBVA USA.

In Nov. 2020, PNC and the Spanish financial group, Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, S.A. (NYSE and MAD: BBVA) announced a definitive agreement for PNC to acquire BBVA USA Bancshares, Inc., including its U.S. banking subsidiary, BBVA USA, headquartered in Houston, Texas, that operates 637 branches in Texas, Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Colorado and New Mexico. When combined with PNC’s existing footprint, the company will have a coast-to-coast franchise with a presence in 29 of the 30 largest markets in the U.S.

The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. is one of the largest diversified financial services institutions in the United States, organized around its customers and communities for strong relationships and local delivery of retail and business banking including a full range of lending products; specialized services for corporations and government entities, including corporate banking, real estate finance and asset-based lending; wealth management and asset management. For information about PNC, visit www.pnc.com.

Cautionary Note Regarding Forward-Looking Statements
This press release contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act. Forward-looking statements are typically identified by words such as “believe,” “plan,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “see,” “look,” “intend,” “outlook,” “project,” “forecast,” “estimate,” “goal,” “will,” “should” and other similar words and expressions, including, but not limited to, statements regarding the outlook for our future business and financial performance. Forward-looking statements speak only as of the date made. We do not assume any duty and do not undertake to update forward-looking statements. Forward-looking statements are necessarily subject to numerous assumptions, risks and uncertainties, which change over time. There are important factors that could cause our actual results, level of activity, performance or achievements, including those under the Community Benefits Plan, to differ materially from the results, level of activity, performance or achievements expressed or implied by the forward-looking statements in this press release, including, but not limited to, future changes to our business strategy, performance of the U.S. economy, or changes to the laws and regulations affecting us, our customers and the U.S. economy (including, but not limited to, tax laws and regulations), risks and uncertainties related to the acquisition of BBVA USA Bancshares, Inc., including its U.S. banking subsidiary, BBVA USA, and the integration of the acquired business into PNC after closing, as well as the risks described in our Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended Dec. 31, 2020 and in our subsequent Securities and Exchange Commission filings. Thus, there can be no assurance that the Community Benefits Plan will achieve the results or outcome originally expected or anticipated by us. As a result, we caution against placing undue reliance on any forward-looking statements.

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