Empowering Women to Change the World

Entrepreneurship is in the air. Recently, I spoke to a roomful of women who were willing to take a deep breath and dive into business ownership so they could call the shots and live the dream. The Women’s Entrepreneur Workshop is sponsored by the Coca-Cola 5by20 Initiative. Along with White Castle, 5by20 aims to empower five million women entrepreneurs by the year 2020, to create new sources of income, employ countless numbers of people, and help change their communities. ImpactOdyssey will introduce the 5by20 program around the country by tapping into the spirit of independence that pervades the psyche of so many people today.

About 75 women come out on a rainy Saturday morning to gain some pearls of wisdom that would take their idea, product, or service to the next level. Becky Davis set the stage for the day, inviting women to learn the “6 Cs of Credit: Character, Capacity, Capital, Collateral, Conditions and Cash Flow.” Two break-out sessions followed in which Linda Clemmons demonstrated through “Leadership & Mindset” how your body language could open a door or slam it shut. Delilah Winder shared her personal insights about Access of Capital.

Then it was the panel’s turn. I was joined by Towana Parker, President of Ladies of Destiny and Purpose International, and Milan Kludo, Founder of Green Spirit Farms. For the next 45 minutes, we answered a range of questions about our personal experiences as business people. I focused on three things:

  1. Write a business plan. This is the roadmap for your success. Every step in running a business is covered, and I learned the most from sections on developing your vision, defining your product and your customer, branding, marketing, and understanding your money. We’ve all heard the statistics about how many businesses succeed and how many fail. There are dozens of free resources available that will help you to plan your work and work the plan. One of them is the Small Business Administration’s Business Learning Center: https://www.sba.gov/tools/sba-learning-center/search/training/starting-a-business
  2. Be a leader. One of the most important tenants of leadership is being a role model. Know who you are. Write down your values, beliefs, and accomplishments and make this your branding statement. A business person doesn’t have the luxury to say, “I don’t care what you think,” because customers won’t separate the product from the person. There are lots of people I admire; Oprah is at the top of my list. Find a role model that you admire and keep their lessons close at hand. Are they inspiring, empowering, responsible, and creative problem solvers? I’m not excellent, but I’m constantly working on it.
  3. Get help. Entrepreneurs by definition are lone wolves. But today’s entrepreneur has to travel in a pack to make the business a success, including a banker, accountant, consultants and employees, all two-legged, of course. It takes a while to turn a profit because of the building blocks that lead to a strong foundation. Who’s in your pack? For me, networking has proven to be invaluable in connecting to people and resources.

My co-panelists and I talked about a lot of other things, but in summary, we agreed that being an entrepreneur is not for the faint at heart. However, with the right planning and attitude, you can become a major player in the business world like so many did before you.

Helping the Captain to Steer the Ship

20150606_161020 Me, steering the ship

July 5, 2015–There are a couple of things I forgot to mention in my last post about Dubai: Hotel DJs have a huge hip hop music playlist, the biggest movie billboard in the world (it had to be)  was plastered across the main highway, advertising The Rock in St. Andreas Fault, and Nikki Manij, looking very chic and sophisticated in a short bob and pink glossy lipstick was featured on billboards advertising sunglasses. Represent, girlfriend!

With Dubai an astounding memory, we set sail for Muscat, Oman and that’s when I discovered my seafaring expertise. But first, I have to paint a picture of Quantum of the Seas, our Royal Caribbean ship, that called itself The Smart Ship for good reason. It was six months old, all steel and glass with a Robotic Bar that served drinks (so cool!), a promenade with shops, bars and a casino, and positive messages painted on walls and stairways throughout. Internet service was spotty, but patience is a virtue, right?

I found a perfect spot in the Solarium in the foremost section of the deck, by one of the ship’s three pools where anyone who wanted to could find me on a daily basis. Surrounded by an unobstructed view of endless water that defined the color blue and really made it seem like we could fall off the earth just beyond the horizon, I realized that this huge ship of 16 floors and 3,000 guests were the sole responsibility of an overworked Captain. So, from that day on, I stretched out in that location, and between my book, Ipod, naps and drinking lots of water, I would either point my toes to the left, right, or straight ahead, to help our Captain navigate to the next country. I’m sure he appreciated it as so many others did, who I shared this story with!

We sailed for two days to Oman when a city surrounded by mountains appeared from out of nowhere. To the right was a giant incense burner, built atop a hill surrounded by a children’s playground. But there were no children in sight, maybe because it was 104 degrees.

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Left, center, right: Dancers at the port, Margo Williams taking pictures; the giant white incense burner landmark; a city street along the beach.

We disembarked listening to a group of musicians who danced in a circle in natural rhythm to bagpipes. Hundreds of passengers lined up to pile onto waiting busses and started our tour where we could hop on and off at various locations. I think my pictures say a lot about this country, that 50 years ago was filled with tents and dirt roads. Today, Muscat looks like a perfect, newly designed Hollywood set.

Muscat has a multi-ethnic history. Most people are not native to the country, which includes British, a long line of Gujarati merchants, and Portugese. Arabic is the primary language along with English, Balochi, Swahili and South Asian languages such as Hindi, Gujarati, Malayalam, Tamil and Urdu. Islam is the predominant religion in the city, with most followers being Ibadi Muslims. Non-Muslims are allowed to practice their religion, but may not try to convert people publicly or distribute religious literature.

Our bus weaved in and out of shopping and residential areas, all painted bright white, that blazed in the hot sun, past air conditioned cars–lots of Mercedes, BMWs and Toyotas–and a Ford dealership. Unlike Dubai, there were no skyscrapers here. But there was an ancient city that seemed to be coexisting with all that is new. Beautiful.

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Left to right: Fountain entering Muscat, Oman; Royal Opera House.

Next: India Beckons

Two Places at Once: Detroit and Dubai

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Detroit, MI–I just returned home from a fantastic vacation and although I’m glad to be back, I’m not quite home yet. My thoughts are still filled with the beauty of Dubai’s skyscrapers, all designed in award-winning fashion; touring Muscat, Oman and being stunned by it’s movie set quality of clean, white-cool buildings, baking in unrelenting 104 degree heat; the smells and colors of Cochine, India, that convinced me that sacred cows and people can coexist on city streets; the bustling city of George Town, Malaysia and the cab driver’s proud comment that their exponential growth is because of China. “No China, no Malaysia,” he said. And the crown jewel of my vacation: Singapore, where everything is shiny and new: buildings, malls, public transportation systems. Can you imagine a mall so big it has a canal inside where you can float from one end to the other? But wait, you’re surrounded by four levels of designer stores that repeat themselves every few hundred feet and at the very end of the mall is a gourmet food court that surrounds a skating rink.

But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. In the coming days, I’m going to give each country its individual recognition, but first, Dubai. We flew there from New York–a 13 hour trip–my travel buddy, Margo Williams and I, and after checking into our spacious and elegant hotel room, decided to take the public train to the Souk Market, the gold and spice market in Old Dubai.There wasn’t much significance about the train except that it was new, like everything in this part of Dubai, extremely clean, quiet as a whisper, boasted digital signs, maps and a British speaking lad that identified every stop. It was also full of people who, unlike me, didn’t stare out the windows at hundreds of new buildings that took on various shapes and sizes, leaned toward or away from each other and fanned out in every unique style imaginable. However, like me, they exited the train to transfer to Old Dubai, which some people said is the working man’s part of town.

Have you ever been to a gold market? Every store was like sunshine, repeating a yellow bright theme that played out in bangles, necklaces, and rings…carats galore to adorn every part of the human body. Everywhere we turned, merchants beckoned, “Come here, come here.” But my gold buying inexperience and the fear of a no money back guarantee kept my pursed closed unitl I opened it for spices and dried fruit…yum! We handled locally made and Chinese silks, carvings from neighboring villages, and refused invitations to buy caftans that exploded in color and were greatly reduced in price the further along we walked.

It was night time and it was still so hot. It was hot the next day too when we joined the Classic Soul group on a desert tour. You see, Margo knew someone who knew Linda, who has been booking tours around the world for more than 25 years, some of them complete with concerts and theme parties. In fact, Linda used to book the Tom Joyner ‘Party With a Purpose” annual cruise, but she and Tom went their separate ways a couple of decades ago.

Anyway, we bumped along the sand dunes in a Hummer for too short of a time (as far as I was concerned) and that’s where we learned a lesson about citizenship in Dubai. Our driver was born in Dubai, in fact, he has lived there more than 30 years but he’s not a citizen, and he wants to be. Why? Money and resources. Emiratis only make up about 20% of Dubai’s population and in a pretty cool “share the wealth, keep the peace way,” the Royal Family gives all 800,000 Emirati citizens free education and health care, a monthly allowance, and subsidized utilities. Men can claim free land and no-interest loans to build homes and ask for as much as $19,000 to pay for a wedding. At 800K strong, Emiratis only make up 20% of the population. The other 80% are immigrants, who can live in the country as long as they’re working. Once they stop working, they’ve got to go! It kind of messes up a retirement plan.

Our driver also told us that you can tell Emirati men from everyone else because they wear the white thobe or ankle length robe. Many of them do not have more than one wife. He said that the government issues a weekly prayer for the Imans so that fanatical interpretations of the Koran don’t occur.

After a camel ride and having a falcon placed on my head (not by choice but I embraced it), we headed inside the marketplace, where we sat on ground cushions that were pressed against slightly higher tables. We were treated to a feast of Indian food and watched the Tanoura dance, referred to as the Whirling Dancing Man. He whirls and twirls the entire dance, lifts part of his costume, folds it, and continues to twirl, cradling the cloth like a small child. The music also changes to sound like a crying baby.

20150529_112332The next couple of days, I watched Al Jazarra News, which focused on all the growth and philanthropic campaigns countries like Dubai carry out. I met some business people, weathered the heat, marvelled at the ski lodge in the mall (for reals!), and continued to tour this fantastic locale of contrasts and culture clashes that will be the first Middle East country to host the 2020 World Expo.

Look out, world, and behold beautiful, creative, exotic, mysterious, rich, exceptional Dubai. It’s everything you heard about, and more. I know I’m back home, but in many ways, I feel like I’m still there.

Next: Helping the Captain Steer us to Muscat, Oman

Basking in the Spotlight

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As an entrepreneur, you don’t get many pats on the back.

Employee/subcontractor appreciation is something you do…not necessarily something you receive. You are your own “wind beneath your wings.” Your back pats are new and repeat business. (I’m not complaining!) But there are times when you just want to hear the words “good job,” and that’s exactly what I heard the other night.

Last week, I received the 2015 Giving Spirit Award from the National Association of Women Business Owners, which recognized my volunteer work on behalf of The Children’s Center, and Cranbrook’s Horizon Upward Bound SISTERs program. Most notably, I was singled out for my work as a volunteer reader for the last two years in public schools where I have read my two children’s books–Taj Cleans the Garage and Malcolm Mows the Lawn–and encouraged young children to choose books for imaginative fun and adventure!

The likes, shares, retweets, views, favorites and comments that followed the award announcement all felt like a warm, cuddly blanket that wrapped me up in praise and congratulations. I heard from friends and collegues, clients and family, all filling me up with their kind words and expressions of love. Now, I am passionate about all of the work I do in the community, and while I don’t do it for recognition, my heart swelled with gratitude that someone had noticed.

Thank you, everyone, for your good wishes and for your awards night support. I think it meant so much because even a self-starting, go-getting, everyday is a new opportunity to shine entrepreneur like me, needs a little recognition sometime.

Congratulations to all of the 2015 NAWBO awardees:

Breakthrough Award, Samantha White,  Founder, Shakespeare in Detroit; Diversity Champion, Siham Jaafar, President & CEO, 3D Consulting & Communications; Global Business Award, Kay Douglas, President, Douglas Marketing Group; Pinnacle Award, Barb Hendrickson, President, Visible Communication, LLC; Rainmaker Award, Belinda Jefferson, President, Hercules & Hercules, Inc.; Red-Tape Buster Award, Sheila Konanur, President & CEO, Naadee, LLC; Up-and-Coming Award, Robin Cole, President & CEO, Professional Medical Centers; Warrior Award, Cassaundra Sims, Vice President, Universal Solutions Management; Words of Wisdom Award, Melanie Duquesnel, President & CEO, Better Business Bureau; Greater Good Award, Rhonda Walker, President, Rhonda Walker Foundation.

Don’t Judge a Book By the Cover

Holding my booksRaising hands

I was recently invited to read to Mrs. Charles class of second grade students at Marquette Elementary and Middle School on Multicultural Children’s Book Day. Once again, I was awestruck by the inquisitive nature and insight of little people who say the “darnedest things.”

MCCBDay, was started last year by two children’s book authors to promote diversity books and authors, and to send a message to publishers that the demand for multicultural books is real. Last year, I wrote about my experience at University Prep with students who brought in their favorite diverse books and talked about why they liked them.

This time, I read my latest book, Malcolm Mows the Lawn, a story about a little boy whose chore turns into an exciting adventure, and he becomes a hero. The literacy instructional specialist, Aretha Snadon, also asked me to read another book, The Royal Bee by Francis and Ginger Park, which was about a little boy in 20th century Korea whose persistence earned him an education and eventually, a national prize that allowed him to feed and clothe his family.

Right away, the story points out that only rich children were allowed to go to school. One little girl raised her hand. Yes?

“That’s not fair,” she said. “All people should be able to go to school.”

Out of the mouths of babes.

The kids had other questions too, and I had mine. Was Malcolm’s adventure real or imagined?

“It was fiction,” said one boy. “He was dreaming!”

Which book was your favorite?” I asked, so assured of the answer. When the majority of the children said the Korean book, Why?

Royal Bee book
“It was inspiring,” said one little girl.

“But the book you wrote was fun!” said a boy. (Ahhh…my target market has spoken!)

I had expected the typical second grade class: Jittery, a little noisy, anxious to one-up the last answer someone gave. But these young people were thoughtful, calm and very good listeners.

While some parents and teachers may already know this, here’s what I learned: Our kids may be little and noisy and constantly craving fun, but once you turn the page, you will see their desire to connect the dots, and to understand how and why things are the way they are, whether real or make believe!

Reading—especially about diverse children and cultures—is a great way to help them to do that.

If Football Players Can Wear Pink, We Can End Illiteracy

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(Left to right) Cowboys & Lions in pink; Pam Good, Renee Prewitt, Leslie Andrews and Councilman James Tate at Beyond Basics Literacy Summit; Links Panel on Literacy; Art Wall at Starr Academy.

I believe that we will greatly diminish illiteracy–especially in Detroit–in my lifetime. I’m a believer because I’ve seen problems of this magnitude make significant advances since I’ve been around, and I’m convinced that, when it comes to illiteracy, this too shall pass.

For example, December 1 was the anniversary of the day that Civil Rights Advocate Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to move to the back of the bus. Today, Barack Obama sits in the White House as the nation’s first African American president. Decades ago, Nancy Brinker’s sister, Susan G. Komen, sat in the back room of a hospital at a time when it was taboo to say the words “breast cancer.” Today, even big, strapping football players wear pink shoes on the football field, and an army of survivors have helped to turn fear and shame into courage. I’m a big fan of classic movies, and beyond their black and white allure and stylish sophistication, they reflected a time when smoking cigarettes was considered cool and sexy. Today, cigarette cool is making its last stand. The little tobacco stick is not even allowed in its most sacred refuge, the bar! Who ever would have thought?

But, most of all, I’m a believer because every time I’m with a group of people who are committed to reading and literacy, the energy in the room is so powerful. The people and the programs underway are not overwhelmed by the problem here in Detroit, where 47% of people are illiterate. Rather, they are dedicated to exposing children to books, to new experiences and helping them to develop language. Small victories become huge successes over time.

I believe that we will win this war on illiteracy in Detroit, in America, and eventually, around the world. Think about it, and I am sure you will agree. We’ve all seen issues of this magnitude solved in the past, and in time, we will say, Illiteracy: Problem solved! The opportunities to be a part of the movement are everywhere!

Reading and Volunteer Resources
http://detroitk12.org/readingcorps/
www.beyondbasics.org
www.liveunitedsem.org
www.gradelevelreading.net
www.pnc.com/grow-up-great
www.matrixhumanservices.org
www.readingrecovery.org

Renee Prewitt is author of Taj Cleans the Garage and Malcolm Mows the Lawn, books about little boys whose chores turn into exciting adventures!

When Crashing Is a Teachable Moment

Kitai takes flight in After Earth

Kitai takes flight in After Earth

I saw two very good movies this weekend and was genuinely surprised that my earlier dismissal of both was turned on its ear.

The first movie, After Earth, starring Will Smith and his son, Jaden (Kitai), was an exceptional portrayal of a father-son relationship fraught with trust, love and acceptance issues. After a horrible crash onto a planet where “everything lives to kill man,” Ranger Cadet Kitai has to venture out into the wilderness alone to find a rescue beacon to save his skin and that of his incapacitated father. As I’m watching him being chases by manic gorillas, I say to myself, “This is an adventure story, just like the ones in my two books, Taj Cleans the Garage and Malcolm Mows the Lawn.”

Taj and Malcolm are both African American boys and their chores turn into adventures. Taj learns the Golden Rule, and Malcolm becomes a hero. It’s light, fun stuff for the 2-7 age group. In After Earth, Kitai faces a series of challenges (adventures) too that force him to overcome his fears and rely on his instincts.

Yes, there were moments in the film when things did not quite mesh together. There were also a couple of times when it appeared as though, for Kitai, following directions was a concept as foreign as planet Earth. But hey, all kids do that and to be honest, Kitai had his reasons. Did his Dad not see that monster-sized tarantula on his son’s arm after telling him he could protect him by watching his every move via that giant TV screen that survived the crash? Eventually, the son, guided by the father, comes into his own, trusts himself and emerges the hero. Just like Malcolm did…in a way! The other reason why I liked After Earth is because it lays out such a positive relationship between an African American Dad and his son.  I am not sure, but I think this is a first for Hollywood.

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The second movie, The Internship, wasn’t bad either. To be honest, I don’t get Vince Vaughn. It takes me too long to zone into his borderline humor, even in this movie. But I was fascinated by the idea of having both Taj and Malcolm, and little boys and girls who look like them (not depicted in the movie, by the way) to grow up one day and compete for an internship at the greatest place to work in the world…Google!

That’s part of the movie’s charm. It is a tongue-in-cheek depiction of what we’re missing as employees of any company, anywhere else. In The Internship, both guys “crash” the party. They’re outsiders who want in, and they bring their unique games to the party, spicing it up in a way that only age and experience can contrive. They’re after the perks of all perks: At Google, you get lots of free coffee drinks and food, reflection chaises where you can recharge yourself—not just your batteries—and you’re surrounded by young, smart kids who are the best of the best, and they know it!

If the internship competition is really one of the ways to get a job at Google, then kids, pay attention! I would like to show both of these movies to the children I have been reading to in Detroit and Southfield Public Schools. In both cases I would ask them very basic questions.

What would you do if you thought that the team you were assigned to could not win a competition?

What would you do if you had to run half-way across a dangerous countryside to find a rescue beacon that could save you and your Dad’s life?

I am a reader and a huge advocate of reading as the backstage pass to everything you can possibly want to do in life. But as I become more adept at mining the broader messages that relate so deeply to my heart and soul, I will also sneak in a movie lesson, especially if it offers the chance to tap into a child’s imagination and become a teachable moment, either by hook, by crook, or by crash!

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