Forbes: Building your legacy as an African American

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Kezia Williams discussing Generational Wealth. Photo//Chanel Stitt

The Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit highlighted the cultural side of the business world. Some of the panels zoomed into African Americans in business, and other fields, that have experienced struggles that others may not have. These panelists each had their own individual pathways, but all of them trailed back to how the public can make a difference with their various platforms. Let’s talk about each of these defining panels: 

Are you the only one?

Diversity in the workplace is still a problem and companies are constantly trying to fix it. At the “Forbes 30 under 30” summit, prominent African Americans in the business industry discussed that “you will be the only one,” and it’s up to you to make an impact and bring someone with you. The goal is to continuously bring more people of color to the table once you have made it there and not leave it how you found it. 

“It’s unacceptable at this point to not be inclusive,” said Alexis Kerr, Head of Multicultural Marketing at Cadillac General Motors. “It’s about when I leave this position or organization, there’s a crew of people behind me and whether they’re prepared.”

The Only One panel discussion. Photo//Chanel Stitt

The panelists of “The Only One” included Melissa Butler, Shavone Charles, Alexis Kerr and John Henry. Of all their advice, they wanted to make sure that the people of the future were taking care of themselves. They all explained that they were the only ones in their workplaces.

“The first thing we have to do is reprogram ourselves and realize we don’t need to be the only one,” said Charles, former Global Head of Music & Youth Culture at Twitter. “When you see a fellow person who’s alongside you and looks like you, go and offer a hand.”

John Henry, Venture Partner of Harlem Capital, says that his way of helping other people navigate through being the only one is having “radical transparency in my journey.” 

Melissa Butler, Founder & CEO of The Lip Bar, a Detroit-based makeup company. Butler says, “I think that you guys can support me by believing in exactly who you are. My customer is not a makeup artist. She’s someone on the journey of self-acceptance.”

Working to build generational wealth 

Kezia Williams, CEO of The Black upStart, stole the panel of For(bes) The Culture: Building Generational Wealth. Her advice made the crowd applaud every time she said something. “If you do not have multiple streams of income, you are hustling backwards,” said Williams twice. Williams explained that when people ask what business she would have if she could, she says she would start a Chinese food delivery service. People laugh and ask why, and her response is that African Americans never think twice about who is behind the counter when they’re purchasing hair products, weave and nails.

Kori Hale, CEO of CultureBanx, expressed not seeing people on the television that looked like her, which meant that her values were not being discussed on the news. This is why she chose to go into the business media industry and began investing in herself. Hale asked the audience to raise their hand if they understood the stock market and only a few people raised their hands in a room full of at least 300 people. “There’s a reason that when you look at the markets, it’s complex,” Hale. “They’re built to keep certain people in and to keep certain people out.” It’s not easy to create a startup, says Hale, because when you go to the bank for a loan, they already expect you to be bringing in tons of money from your product or service.

To build generational wealth, Abbey Wemimo, Co-CEO of Esusu, says that home ownership is fundamental. In the meantime, Wemimo says that paying your rent makes your credit score go up. “Why that’s fundamentally important is the average debt in the United States is over $150,000 and then you have over 45 million people without a credit score,” said Wemimo. “That’s an additional $3.1 trillion dollars in capital that can be unlocked.”

Laura Grannemann, Vice President of Strategic Investments at Quicken Loans, narrowed the generational wealth topic to Detroit. “It’s people that built systems that are failing us today and it’s people that are going to change the systems that are failing us today,” said Grannemann. “We have to make sure that we’re investing in our home communities.”

Grannemann says that there have been many “racist tendencies” in the Detroit housing industry over time, which caused African American homeownership to drop. “We’ve had 150,000 people who have lost their homes to property tax foreclosure, so that’s one in three of our properties in the city of Detroit,” said Grannemann. Granneman says they went into neighborhoods to seek the issue and why it was happening. They found that there was a lack of education about property taxes. Apparently, 75 percent of those homeowners that were behind, didn’t even need to be paying property taxes because they qualified for exemption.

Being the head of a movement

Deray McKesson, civil rights activist, was a part of the Law & Policy: How to Start a Movement panel. He says that social media has opened doors for people to learn across cultures and allows people to spread new ideas. “Twitter and Instagram allows you to do that from the comfort of your own home and not being embarrassed,” said McKesson. 

Jewell Jones and Deray McKesson discussing how to create a movement. Photo//Chanel Stitt

He stated that these movements are not exactly making things occur more or less, it is just creating awareness of the problem. “The conversation is dramatically different and the outcomes are not that different as they used to be,” said McKesson. He says that many programs that we need are due to other systems failing to begin with.

UM-Dearborn alum and Representative Jewell Jones was also on the panel and said that auto insurance is one of the largest problems that the community faces in Michigan. 

Building bridges between cultures

Sophia Bush and Nia Batts are the owners of Detroit Blows, which opened its doors in 2017 to people of all races to get their hair styled by licensed professionals. 

Moderator Moira Forbes with Nia Batts and Sophia Bush. Photo//Chanel Stitt

Bush was living a Hollywood lifestyle as an actress, director, producer and activist. Batts was a director at Viacom. The two have been very close friends for a while.

The story of how Bush’s and Batts’ business idea came together was simply the fact that they were never able to get their hair done together. This became an intersectional movement instantly when it turned into a way to bring different cultures together. “You see women sitting next to each other in our salon who historically have never sat next to each other in a salon before,” said Bush. 

Batts says that people should also be educating the community about various products that are being put onto our bodies. Their salon ensures that their products are non-toxic and that it’s important to let clients know more information about the products. “Businesses have a responsibility in their community,” said Batts. Some of these responsibilities include “fair and equitable pricing,” which is important to the community. This was said in their panel, but it is also mentioned on the homepage of the Detroit Blows website. 

Pricing begins at just $25 for a quick style, with prices escalating as more services apply. 

Hair is not this salon’s only service. An affordable one-stop shop for makeup, lashes, nails, waxing and bridal. Detroit blows also offers apparel and candles emblazoned with their logo.

Additionally, BeyondTheBlowout.com is a blog that offers advice from many writers, including Batts and Bush. 

Maintaining mental health

Another hot topic discussed in many panels was maintaining your mental health in the work industry. Whether you’re running a business or working for a business, personal health is our first priority. On day one, the panel called Personal Wellness: How to Destigmatize and Prioritize Your Mental Health had statistics of multiple faults in how people are treated. “One in five Americans suffer from mental health issues,” said Roni Frank, Co-Founder & Head of Clinical Services at Talkspace. “Two-thirds of them have no access to care. It’s a huge crisis because they have no access to mental health services.”

Frank went on to say that cost often stops people from receiving care. The price of just a 50-minute session can be over $100. Ashley Edwards, a panelist and Founder and CEO of MindRight Health, says that people are more focused on survival than self-care. She advises to stay connected with people and get a therapist if you are able to. “Spend energy on people who make you feel seen and heard,” said Edwards.