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Businesses, entrepreneurs, nonprofits and grassroots organizations make up the foundation of a community. 

Many of these operations have faced a trying time during the coronavirus pandemic, having to shut their doors for months at a time. But many are back in operation or hosting virtual events.

American Business Women’s Day occurs every Sept. 22 and it’s a day to celebrate the businesses and organizations that keep the community going and are led by women. It is also the founding date of the American Business Women’s Association. 

Here are some women in Detroit who are paving the way in their businesses and nonprofits by entering new spaces and providing services to the community: 

Andrea Boyd

Andrea Boyd is the owner of Brow God and Browsessity, which is located at Livernois and Outer Drive in Detroit. (Photo: Q11 Photography)

Owner of Brow God and Browsessity at Livernois and Outer Drive in Detroit

Hometown: Detroit

When did you start your business and why?

“I began working professionally in my field about eight years ago and I was kind of back and forth with it. But brows have always been this huge deal in my family. My mom and sister used to have me sitting in this place called Terry’s Place on Livernois. And I was always really intrigued with how this woman would make everybody feel, how quick she was able to get it done and what a difference it would make on the women’s faces.

“I ended up going to Hampton University. Very quickly, I got sent home in a month. So when I ended up coming back, I was pushed to go to cosmetology school. I ended up getting my license and finding a place called For My Eyes, which was in Fairlane Mall. I just kind of grew from there. I ended up leaving that shop to do my own thing. I took off a year or so to have my kids. But after that, I got right back into everything.”

What types of products do you provide in your cosmetic line?

“My cosmetic line is called Browsessity — it’s a necessity for your brows. I have all types of products: pencils, pomades, powders, gels, growth serums, brushes. I created that four years ago. I wanted to come up with something unique and different, but something that you would know exactly what it’s for.”

What kind of advice have your mentors Chevelle Brown and Larry Swygert shared with you over the years?

“Being professional. That has been the biggest thing: professionalism, punctuality and loving and appreciating your clientele because they are the reason that you are where you are and doing what you’re doing. So,  respect the clients, be on time, respect their time and be excellent at what you do.”

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Rhonda Fields 

Rhonda Fields, executive director of Girls on the Run Southeastern Michigan, shares how her mentors have paved the way for her career. (Photo: Rhonda Fields)

Executive director of Girls on the Run Southeastern Michigan

Hometown: Detroit

What is Girls on the Run?

“Girls on the Run is a national program. It was founded in 1996. But our chapter, Southeastern Michigan, was founded in 2001. We serve Washtenaw, Lenawee, Monroe, Jackson and Livingston counties. We have amazing volunteers, who are coaches, go into schools and teach the girls about healthy eating, body habits, how girls are portrayed in the media, bullying, gossiping, how to stand up for yourselves and others and how to support your community. They do all of this within the program, which is 10 weeks. And, at the end of the program, they run a 5K.”

How have your mentors guided you throughout your life journey and who are your mentors?

“I’ve had a lot of mentors. I reflect back and I recognize that every supervisor I’ve had that was phenomenal has been a woman. In terms of mentors in my life, it would be my sister. She showed me how to balance being a working mom. I’ve had to learn quickly how to balance being a mom and a director. I would definitely say my mom. She is definitely the epitome of what a woman can do. Professionally, Yodit Mesfin Johnson, she was a former Girls on the Run Coach. She’s been phenomenal helping me navigate what it means to be one of the few people of color in an executive director role in Washtenaw County. I would also say our former executive director, Danielle.”

Girls on the Run Southeastern Michigan is having an event coming up Oct. 11. How can people participate?

“We’re not able to meet in person, so we decided to do a virtual 5K. We’re really excited about it. All of the proceeds go toward the Girls on the Run Scholarship Fund so that we can provide scholarships to our girls when our program starts back in the spring of 2021. If you’re not able to participate, you can still donate to the Girls on the Run Scholarship Fund.”

Judith Fischer Wollack

Chief executive officer of Wolverine Human Services

Hometown: Detroit

What does Wolverine Human Services do as a nonprofit? 

“We’re the largest child welfare agency in Michigan, meaning we only deal with children. On a daily basis, we have about 400 children in care. We have a full continuum of child welfare services, including foster care and adoption, non-secure residential and a maximum security treatment facility for 100 children. We service the whole state of Michigan.”

How did you get into the field of child welfare?

“My father was a social worker. He actually founded the first Black adoption agency in this country. And my mother was a social worker in a boys residential treatment area, so I grew up in the field.”

“When I was in 10th grade, I realized when the class president came to me and asked about possibly his girlfriend being pregnant, like ‘Why is everybody coming to me with their problems?’ So maybe I’m good at that. From then on, I decided I wanted to be a social worker.” 

What is some advice that you would offer to young people looking to go into the field of child welfare or into a nonprofit in general?

“I personally believe that you should not do anything because you want to get wealthy. You need to find your passion. You need to find what’s going to feed your soul. And that might take a few tries. I was fortunate enough that this was just the perfect fit for me. But listen carefully to the people around you because you never know what you’re going to learn or what you’re going to hear.”

What do you hope to see for Wolverine Human Services in the future?

“Well, we are in some very trying times. COVID has significantly affected our field and what’s going on. But what I hope to see for the future in my field is that we continue to treat children and families with the utmost respect and meeting the needs of what they need help with.”

Shannon Cohen

Owner of Tough Skin, Soft Heart and Shannon Cohen, Inc. 

Hometown: Detroit, now resides in Grand Rapids

When did you start your greeting card business and how did you get the idea?

“I had a speaking engagement at the Motor City Casino and it was hosted by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and it was for their National Management Association. I got done speaking and I was getting ready to take a break before engaging with folks over dinner.

“And one of the women that was an executive that was in attendance, she was an older Black woman. She came up to me and she had money in her hand. She said ‘Where’s the products?’ I said ‘Ma’am, I don’t have any products.’ She looked me in the eye and she said to me ‘the next time that I see you, you better have a book and some products.’ And she walked away. It is four years later and I have never run into her. But her confidence in me that what I was saying needed to be in a book or in products seeded something in me.”

Where have you been able to sell and showcase your products?

“I’ve had an opportunity to showcase my work at the National Stationery Show, which is one of the largest trade shows for greeting cards, at the Javits Center in New York. And my products are in multiple states. I just recently installed them at Woodward Corner Market, which is super surreal for me because I’m a fourth-generation Detroiter. I am the first and only Black greeting card maker in the store.”

What is some advice that you would give to a young entrepreneur looking for ideas?

“I believe you have to believe and invest where you are and with what you have. Now, we see all of these glamorized photos of companies that started out of garages. Sometimes, we berate ourselves because we’re comparing ourselves. We’re comparing our step one to someone else’s day 5,000. Just start where you are with what you have.”

“You are the first angel investor your dream will ever see. Before you start to look for someone else to seed into your vision, you seed it. You get to protect your ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ when you don’t owe nobody nothing. And you can breathe. I grew slow.”

Contact staff writer Chanel Stitt on Twitter: @ByChanelStitt. Become a subscriber.

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