#ShesGotVERVE - Shanae Jones: Buy From A Black Woman Business Grant Winner 2016
I sat with a cuppa in my hand as I scrolled through the Ivy’s Tea website reading the descriptions of each brew. “Lala Salama. Taste: mellow and flowery. Pairs well with: side piece.” I spit my tea. After mopping myself up I promptly ordered No Coffee (part of my endless quest to rid myself of my caffeine addiction). If this tea was as good as its website was clever I was in for a treat. Only a couple days later my tea arrived with a sample of Rise & Grind and Redbone. Rise & Grind is my new favorite. I was on the phone with Shanae Jones, the owner of Ivy’s Tea when my tea arrived. Nikki Porcher, founder of Buy From A Black Woman had connected us. Shanae was the first woman to receive BFABW’s Black Woman Business Grant in 2016. I wanted to hear her story.
Shanae and I warmed up to each other by giving our elevator pitches—mine for VERVE and hers for Ivy’s Tea. I asked all the expected questions about how she got started and from where she got her inspiration. She is the first generation in her family to be born in the United States to parents from the UK and Jamaica. In my mind her parentage alone made her qualified as a tea expert. The longer we talked the realer it got.
“The thing no one tells you about entrepreneurship is that it is lonely,” Shanae admitted. Every morning she goes to her day job as an executive assistant then comes home and works on Ivy’s Tea for hours until bed. Sometimes she’s putting in 18-19 hour work days. That kind of grind doesn’t leave time for family or friends. This loneliness must be especially true for a business that operates online—even interacting with customers isn’t in person. But this isolation is just one of the sacrifices that Shanae has had to make to pursue her dream.
“I wanted to create a work environment I’ve never had.” She described what a workplace is like for a Black Woman—especially an ambitious one: Supervisors who aren’t people of color, certainly not women of color. Even if they were well meaning or relatively enlightened about their privilege, white supervisors cannot understand the adversity that a Black Woman would face in the business world. Having a mentor who can relate to the challenges one faces can sometimes make all the difference in the world. This is why we need more women and minorities in positions in leadership—because that is the only way to grow diverse workforces. And a diverse workforce is not only better for society on a humanitarian level (because everyone deserves an opportunity to thrive) but it is good for business. A business that is run by only one type of person (usually a white man) is never going to be able to appeal to other groups of people as a business with a variety of representation. The more groups a business appeals to, the wider their customer base. Diversity at all levels of the company is good for business.
This is one of the reasons the BFABW Black Woman Business Grant was created. We need more Black Women business owners but starting a company is one of the hardest career goals to obtain. Making it just a little bit easier can make the difference. Shanae told me about the day she found out she had received the Black Women Business Grant in 2016. She had decided to start Ivy’s Tea and had been able to afford herbalist courses to improve her skills but when she got to class they gave her a list of herbs and books that she would need. Another expense. She was at a job that was counting the minutes that she sat at her desk. That’s when Nikki called to tell her that she was the first recipient of the Black Women Business Grant. “I’m crying now that I think about it,” Shanae said. “It meant I wasn’t stupid. It meant my idea wasn’t stupid.” Now I was crying too.
“You get beat up all day and someone comes along like a little angel… And you don’t have to do anything for it. It wasn’t even the money. It was the validation.” Thank goodness for BFABW, I thought, or I might be sipping subpar tea right now. Men are given the message from the time that they are boys that owning their own business is a realistic goal. Do men struggle with this self-doubt? Do they wonder if their idea is stupid? Or do they assume they will be successful because entrepreneur is a man’s birthright?
Supporting women owned businesses, particularly women of color, is one of the steps that we can take to try to level the business playing field a bit. The Black Women Business Grant is a way to do that, and as Shanae’s story shows, the grant can be incredibly powerful: “I meant I was taken seriously not just as a woman and not just as a black person but as a black woman.”
Article by Claire Ryder
VERVE Operative USA & Humanitarian Activist