ABOUT

Self made has two meanings. Both apply to the women featured here. They make the things they sell and define success – what it means to make it – on their own terms. All own businesses in the South and West Wards of Newark, where economic recovery has been slower than other parts of the city. When the media covers stories of Newark’s resurgence, small business owners here are often excluded. The Self Made team photographed and interviewed nine women between June 2019 and January of 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, shuttering many small businesses. For more than a decade, there has been an enormous nationwide boom in Black women entrepreneurs. They face obstacles far less likely to confront others: lack of generational wealth, discriminatory lending practices, and an economy where they make 61 cents per every dollar earned by white men. But despite it all, many have found success. The women of Self Made have built unique creations reflecting their passions and sense of community. They inspire others, especially women and girls, by controlling their own space, pursuing their own dreams. In Newark and beyond, they offer a glimpse, not only of what is, but what could be.

Four Self Made Women

Shidae
Jones

Charmaine
Vann Seagraves

Rashena
Burroughs

Shikhana
Muhammad

Shidae Jones
CB Dreamhouse Boutique

Shidae created a fantasy world when she opened CB Dreamhouse Boutique on Bergen Street, blocks from where she grew up. Her motto is “You dream it, we can achieve it.” At the shop, opened in 2012, she custom makes faux-fur boots and slides, in addition to selling body-conscious pieces stamped with designer logos. Since her teens, she’s been known as “Cha Barbie,” an identity she embraces. While her shop has a girly vibe of luxury and transformation, Shidae’s own youth was filled with trauma.  She spent much of her late childhood and adolescence in the juvenile justice system, and the hurt and isolation of those years has been indelible. Shidae, who is branching out as a motivational speaker, has a message for young girls. “I want them to know it’s ok to take care of yourself. If you want to start a business, you can do it. Anything is possible. Anything.”

Shidae created a fantasy world when she opened CB Dreamhouse Boutique on Bergen Street, blocks from where she grew up. Her motto is “You dream it, we can achieve it.” At the shop, opened in 2012, she custom makes faux-fur boots and slides, in addition to selling body-conscious pieces stamped with designer logos. Since her teens, she’s been known as “Cha Barbie,” an identity she embraces. While her shop has a girly vibe of luxury and transformation, Shidae’s own youth was filled with trauma.  She spent much of her late childhood and adolescence in the juvenile justice system, and the hurt and isolation of those years has been indelible. Shidae, who is branching out as a motivational speaker, has a message for young girls. “I want them to know it’s ok to take care of yourself. If you want to start a business, you can do it. Anything is possible. Anything.”

Shidae on the psychology of retail. “People shop where they feel good spending money, and it makes me feel good to help them feel good. It’s therapy for them and business for me.”

Shidae is the Dreamhouse manufacturer, buyer, promotor and saleswoman. “I was born to hustle. I’m a natural at it.”

Shidae made her first pair of shoes on a whim. “One day I wondered how it would look to make some shoes with fur on them. So I put a pair together, and that one sold, and I did another, and that one sold. And before you know it, I was selling fur boots.”

The Dreamhouse is a projection of Shidae’s ambitions, ideals and fantasies. “I have a creative mind, and everything about the shop is me.”

Shidae made her first pair of shoes on a whim. “One day I wondered how it would look to make some shoes with fur on them. So I put a pair together, and that one sold, and I did another, and that one sold. And before you know it, I was selling fur boots.”

The Dreamhouse is a projection of Shidae’s ambitions, ideals and fantasies. “I have a creative mind, and everything about the shop is me.”

Shidae has a loyal following of local moms who commission outfits for their little girls. “People here genuinely love you, and they take care of you. When you’re loved like that, you gotta appreciate it.”

Shidae with her Hummer and pet shih tzu, Jimmy Choo. “Newark can be the hardest place to make it out of and make it in. I’ve seen a lot of people come and go, but after eight years, I’ve set trends, and I’m still here.”

Charmaine Vann Seagraves
Charmaine Has Hands 4 Hair

At her West Ward salon, Charmaine Vann Seagraves does more than style hair. She helps clients journey through their struggles and celebrations. They confide in her about their troubles, but she’s there for the good times, too: styling hair for proms, weddings, and holidays. Her clients at Charmaine Has Hands 4 Hair rave about her skills as a stylist, but that’s only one key to her success. She’s lasted 18 years in the fiercely competitive beauty industry through diligent customer service, an extrovert’s knack for making friends and salon chair psychotherapy. Although business ownership can be tough, Charmaine loves the freedom to make her own hours and help others. On the salon’s Facebook page, she expresses her gratitude. “I thank all of my clients who walk through my doors…And I thank God for blessing me with this talent.”

At her West Ward salon, Charmaine Vann Seagraves does more than style hair. She helps clients journey through their struggles and celebrations. They confide in her about their troubles, but she’s there for the good times, too: styling hair for proms, weddings, and holidays. Her clients at Charmaine Has Hands 4 Hair rave about her skills as a stylist, but that’s only one key to her success. She’s lasted 18 years in the fiercely competitive beauty industry through diligent customer service, an extrovert’s knack for making friends and salon chair psychotherapy. Although business ownership can be tough, Charmaine loves the freedom to make her own hours and help others. On the salon’s Facebook page, she expresses her gratitude. “I thank all of my clients who walk through my doors…And I thank God for blessing me with this talent.”

Charmaine has a few simple rules for success. “I try to be consistent, reliable, and on time. I try to do good work. I try to make sure customers aren’t sitting around waiting.”

When there’s a lull in appointments, Charmaine makes wigs, a task she finds calming. “I’m relaxed when I’m in my zone and thinking about different styles.”

Charmaine transforms customers inside and out. “People come here in a bad mood and upset about something and they leave feeling and looking better.”

Charmaine thinks it’s important for her to have a business  in the West Ward. “There aren’t a lot of us here, it’s everyone in the neighborhood but us. Girls can look at me and say, there she is, a Black woman owning her own place.”

Charmaine at home with her daughters, Asia, Afrika, and Zaheerah, and her best friend, Debra Meyers. “Women need to support each other. We need to stick together. Maybe my story can help someone and her story can help me.”

Charmaine thinks it’s important for her to have a business  in the West Ward. “There aren’t a lot of us here, it’s everyone in the neighborhood but us. Girls can look at me and say, there she is, a Black woman owning her own place.”

Charmaine at home with her daughters, Asia, Afrika, and Zaheerah, and her best friend, Debra Meyers. “Women need to support each other. We need to stick together. Maybe my story can help someone and her story can help me.”

Rashena Burroughs
Blueberry Cafe Juice Bar & Vegan Grille

Rashena Burroughs was vegan before it went mainstream. She preached a plant-based diet before plant based was a thing. In 2017, she opened Newark’s first vegan restaurant on Central Avenue in the West Ward’s Fairmount section. In a neighborhood where there are few options for healthy eating, the Blueberry Cafe Juice Bar & Vegan Grille attracts a large following of vegans and non-vegans, locals and visitors. The cafe’s success spurred Rashena to open two additional spots — a vegan dessert place and pocket gym/water bar — on either side of the cafe. Her growth strategy is simple: “Create something that people need and that helps humanity.”

Rashena Burroughs was vegan before it went mainstream. She preached a plant-based diet before plant based was a thing. In 2017, she opened Newark’s first vegan restaurant on Central Avenue in the West Ward’s Fairmount section. In a neighborhood where there are few options for healthy eating, the Blueberry Cafe Juice Bar & Vegan Grille attracts a large following of vegans and non-vegans, locals and visitors. The cafe’s success spurred Rashena to open two additional spots — a vegan dessert place and pocket gym/water bar — on either side of the cafe. Her growth strategy is simple: “Create something that people need and that helps humanity.”

Rashena’s recipes are influenced by Dr. Sebi, who advocated alternatives to Western medicine and eating habits. “We’re a whole other level of vegan,” she says.

Rashena helps West Ward residents access a healthy  lifestyle, but she hopes to do that for everyone. “I didn’t come to clean up the neighborhood. This is just how I think people should be treated.”

Rashena’s recipes are influenced by Dr. Sebi, who advocated alternatives to Western medicine and eating habits. “We’re a whole other level of vegan,” she says.

Rashena helps West Ward residents access a healthy  lifestyle, but she hopes to do that for everyone. “I didn’t come to clean up the neighborhood. This is just how I think people should be treated.”

Rashena with her family, who work with her. According to her son, Joe, she’s an exacting boss. “She makes sure things are moving and that everything is well organized and well stocked.”

A display at the Zucchini Bar, Rashena’s vegan dessert place. Since her teens, she has avoided meat and processed foods. “The holistic lifestyle was always my lifestyle.”

Rashena is both an artist and entrepreneur. “I always tell people, just do what you were naturally born to do. But for me, it’s a couple things. And I do all of them. I live my gifts out loud.”

Rashena’s granddaughters at AquaPHit, the gym and water bar Rashena opened in 2019. For nearly 20 years, she’s owned businesses in the West Ward. The community has embraced her. “They said, ‘thank you for coming to the neighborhood.’”

Shikhana Muhammad
Salaam Ice Cream Parlor

As a child 1980s Cleveland, Shikhana Muhammad watched her mom, Doris, run her own bakery. When Shikhana grew up, Doris became her business partner as three generations of Muhammad women – including Shikhana’s sister and daughter – established Salaam Ice Cream Parlor on Bergen Street in the South Ward. Named for the universial Muslim greeting, Salaam opened in 2017, serving a high-quality array of ice cream and home-baked goods made from her mom’s recipes. Like her late mother, Shikhana is a Nation of Islam follower and works to embody the religion’s values of self sufficiency and community building. She wanted to open an ice cream parlor in Weequahic because there are so few in Newark. “We wanted families to be able to come, be in a peaceful environment and just enjoy each other’s company.”

As a child 1980s Cleveland, Shikhana Muhammad watched her mom, Doris, run her own bakery. When Shikhana grew up, Doris became her business partner as three generations of Muhammad women – including Shikhana’s sister and daughter – established Salaam Ice Cream Parlor on Bergen Street in the South Ward. Named for the universial Muslim greeting, Salaam opened in 2017, serving a high-quality array of ice cream and home-baked goods made from her mom’s recipes. Like her late mother, Shikhana is a Nation of Islam follower and works to embody the religion’s values of self sufficiency and community building. She wanted to open an ice cream parlor in Weequahic because there are so few in Newark. “We wanted families to be able to come, be in a peaceful environment and just enjoy each other’s company.”

When she opened Salaam, Shikhana hoped to provide a sweet spot for local families. But she was also sick of leaving town whenever she wanted great ice cream. “I live here and I wanted to have it nearby.”

Shikhana stands outside Mosque #25 in Newark. The Nation of Islam shaped her as an entrepreneur and guides her spiritually. “It means submitting yourself to the will of God. It’s a message of salvation.”

Shikhana’s mother, Doris Muhammad, instilled her values as a businesswoman. “Have a genuine love for our people and a welcoming spirit.”

Shikhana’s job as a preschool teacher often intersects with her work at Salaam. “My parents bring students and former students through. You can talk to them about the concept of working at your own business, how ice cream is made. Everyone loves ice cream. It’s always a teachable moment.”

Shikhana with her daughter, Shakira McKnight, left, who works at Salaam and designed its logo. “We all have a boss mentality,” Shakira says of the women in her family. “We have drive.”

Shikhana’s job as a preschool teacher often intersects with her work at Salaam. “My parents bring students and former students through. You can talk to them about the concept of working at your own business, how ice cream is made. Everyone loves ice cream. It’s always a teachable moment.”

Shikhana with her daughter, Shakira McKnight, left, who works at Salaam and designed its logo. “We all have a boss mentality,” Shakira says of the women in her family. “We have drive.”

PORTRAITS

Philomina Kissi

Dresswell Boutique

Philomina Kissi, a Ghanian immigrant who’s lived in Newark for 30 years, runs Dresswell Boutique from a tiny storefront on Central Avenue in the West Ward. After years of making and selling African clothes at home and renting space at festivals, she moved to a brick and mortar store last year. Philomina, who works at the shop with help from her daughter and niece (pictured here) sews much of the inventory herself. Retail has always been her destiny, she says. “Since I was a child, I always liked to do business. I liked buying and selling. I think it’s in my genes.”

Isabel Merced

Party Events

At the Mansion Banquet Hall, Isabel Merced’s job is to make sure the party’s started right. That means working with hosts to facilitate a good time at the South Ward rental space. Party Events, which manages The Mansion, was founded by Isabel’s grandmother, Carlotta Hall. Isabel, who runs the business, is often hired to create decorations, like balloon archways and themed place settings.  Celebrations run the gamut of milestones, from baby showers to repasts. Managing events requires patience and diplomacy. But when Isabel has created a magical backdrop, and everyone’s having fun, it’s worth it. “Even though I’m not a painter, I’m still an artist,” she says.

Malika Muhammad

Fashionable Fashions

In 2004, Malika Muhammad opened Fashionable Fashions on Clinton Avenue in the South Ward. She worked there until December 2019, when she moved to Florida and took her business online. Malika is known for creating chic long dresses and duster coats. She has also been commissioned to sew choir robes and uniforms for Islamic schools. Many of her customers are African-American Muslim women. But with a range of styles, she attracts shoppers from all backgrounds. For 16 years, her mission has been the same: “I help women reinvent themselves as a positive force through the strength and power of their love of God and fashion.”

Laura Bonas Palmer

Akwaaba Gallery

When children hesitate outside Akwaaba Gallery, unsure whether to enter, Laura Bonas Palmer invites them in. “I tell them, this is your community, the door is always open. Art is for everyone,” says Laura, manager of Akwaaba, which she co-owns with her husband, Ray. The art gallery opened in 2019 on South Orange Avenue. It’s one of the few in Newark that aren’t downtown and the only one in the West Ward, where Laura has lived for 17 years. Since Akwaaba opened, it’s been embraced by the arts community in Newark and beyond—and by local residents, too, says Laura. “The response has been tremendous.”

Shante Lewis

The HotDog Lady

At the South Ward corner of Bergen and Madison, The HotDog Lady, AKA  Shante Lewis, attracts hot dog lovers from around the world with unique specials like The Nipsy (chilli, cheese and curly fries) and the Bust Yo’ Azz (home fries, onions and peppers). Shante, who was raised in the South Ward, worked her way up from a hot dog cart to her own air- conditioned truck. She plans on starting a HotDog Lady franchise this year. Her fans are rooting for Shante, who often donates food to residents in need. A Newark native in Florida recently wrote, “Keep doing your thing, because you don’t know whose life you’re touching.”

Survival During COVID-19

As of August, 2020, coronavirus cases in New Jersey totaled nearly 190,000 with a death toll of nearly 16,000—although the rate of increase declined significantly since the pandemic’s mid-April peak. Nearly 1.5 million New Jerseyans had filed for unemployment from mid-March to August. Nationwide, Black-owned businesses declined by 41 percent between February and April 2020, according to a study by the Stanford Institute of Economic Policy and Research. Here’s how the Self Made business owners fared.

Shikhana Muhammad

Salaam Ice Cream Parlor

Salaam Ice Cream Parlor closed from March until June 1. For the reopening, Shikhana installed a walk-up window so customers can buy ice cream without coming inside. So far, business has been good.

Rashena Burroughs

Blueberry Cafe Vegan Grille & Juice Bar

After closing her two vegan eateries in March —  the Blueberry Cafe and Zucchini Bar — Rahsena reopened for take out on April 14. Business has been steady.

Shidae Jones

CB Dreamhouse Boutique

During New Jersey’s COVID-19 lockdown, business increased for Shidae, who received a flood of orders from customers who kept themselves busy by shopping online. She also began making masks for sale. She reopened CB Dreamhouse Boutique in June when retail restrictions were lifted.

Shante Lewis

HotDog Lady

Shante still sold hot dogs during the pandemic since takeout businesses were permitted to remain open. Business dropped by about 30 percent, but she used that time to refine her long-term strategy. She has recently purchased an additional HotDog Lady truck so she can travel to different locations. As of late June, her business returned to normal.

Philomina Kisi

Dresswell Boutique

In June, Philomina planned on reopening her West Ward shop. But in August, the shop was empty and a “For Rent” sign was in the window.

Isabel Merced

Party Events

In June, Isabel did not return calls for updates.

Mailka Muhammad

Fashionable Fashions

Malika had already closed her brick and mortar shop in December and moved to Florida before the COVID-19 outbreak but still offered some items online. During the pandemic, she added masks to her inventory.

Laura Palmer

Akwaaba Gallery

In June, Akwaaba Gallery began having online exhibitions and sales and resumed live events in July with limited attendance in keeping with state guidelines. Akwaaba also received a Creative Catalyst Fund Grant for Newark artists and art organizations impacted by COVID-19.

Charmaine Vann Seagraves

Charmaine Has Hands 4 Hair

Charmaine Vann Seagraves reopened her salon on June 23 after the temporary ban on hair salons and barber shops was lifted. Customers and stylists must now wear masks and follow other state health guidelines, including limits on the number of people allowed in the salon at one time. Charmaine hopes that despite the economic impact the pandemic might have had on clients, business will return to normal.

Resources for Entrepreneurs

Below are state and local organizations that offer free support for small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs. For a list of non-profits that support Black women business owners impacted by COVID-19, go here and here.

Invest Newark: A city-run nonprofit that works with a range of large and small  businesses to benefit the local economy. investnewark.org

Metro New Jersey SCORE: Serving Essex, Hudson, and Union Counties, SCORE connects aspiring business owners with mentors and offers workshops and others resources. metronj.score.org

Newark Regional Business Partnership Young Entrepreneurs Academy: The academy’s free 25-week program guides middle and high school students through the steps of developing and launching their own companies. About 20 students are accepted annually. newarkrbp.org/young-entrepreneurs-academy.html

Shoppe Black: This site includes a directory of Black-owned businesses and the latest news on Black entrepreneurs. It also posts info and advice for business owners on how to negotiate the COVID-19 pandemic. shoppeblack.us/category/coronavirus

Center for Urban Entrepreneurship & Economic Development (CUEED): Part of  Rutgers Business School, the center seeks to foster socially conscious urban entrepreneurs with programs that help them start and develop a business. business.rutgers.edu/cueed

New Jersey Small Business Action Center (NJBAC): The center helps business owners get info from government agencies on obtaining licenses, permits and registering new businesses. It also provides information on financing, and taxes. nj.gov/njbusiness

Partnership West Inc. Business Improvement District: The partnership supports small business owners in Newark’s West Ward and cultivates the development of new business that will realize the city’s plan to improve commercial development in the West Ward. partnershipwest.com/bid

South Ward Special Improvement District (SID): The SID supports existing businesses and works to attract entrepreneurs that will enrich the community. southwardsid.com

Makerhoods First $100k Bootcamp: Newark-based Makerhoods offers a no-cost 10-week, online business training program that promises to provide  the foundation for makers to grow their business to $100,000 in sales. It’s specifically designed for product-based businesses. makerhoods.com/maker-support

New Jersey Small Business Development Center (NJSBDC): This center conducts start-up workshops that guide entrepreneurs through the first steps of opening a business, as well as  long-term business advising and training. njsbdc.com

Rising Tide Capital: With offices in Jersey City and Newark, Rising Tide is dedicated to transforming urban communities by empowering entrepreneurs.  It offers hands-on training for aspiring and existing business owners. risingtidecapital.org

U.S. Small Business Administration Government Learning Center: The administration offers free, 30-minute online courses on a range of topics from financing and writing a business plan to social media marketing. sba.gov/learning-center

About Tinnetta Bell

The founder of Tinnetta Bell Photography, Tinnetta is a New Jersey-based studio photographer whose work has appeared in VIBE, Ebony, Essence and Black Enterprise magazines. She is a Community Partner at Express Newark’s Shine Portrait Studio. Tinnetta also has an established career as a fine artist, whose graphite drawings were featured in the Ethnic Expressions Art Catalog. In addition to her arts career, she is a case worker with the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services. Of her work for Self Made Tinnetta says,  “It’s extremely important to have empowering images of Black women because this is US! Little girls and young women need to see this more often. These images are here to positively influence and inspire. There needs to be light and it should shine brightly!”

Photo by Ravi Balineni.

THE TEAM

Self Made was produced by an all-woman team of journalists and creatives with funding from  Newark Arts and an Express Newark Third Space grant. We would like to thank our sponsors, Gallery Aferro, financial educator Tiffany “the Budgetnista” Aliche, Dawn Fitch of Pooka Pure and Simple and Linda Street of Pink Dragon Artist Syndicate. Special thanks to Akintola Hanif of HYCIDE magazine for his encouragement and support. We would also like to thank our community partners, the South Ward Special Improvement District (SID) and Partnership West. Most of all, we would like to thank the women profiled here for sharing their stories, time, and energy.

Carrie Stetler

Editor-in-Chief

Carrie is an independent journalist and communications professional who worked for the Newark Star-Ledger for 20 years as a reporter. She was also managing editor of HYCIDE magazine and senior managing editor of NewarkBound magazine.

Tara Oliver

Associate Editor

Tara is a freelance writer and editor. She worked at The Star-Ledger for over a decade before pursuing a degree in Business at Rutgers University.

Tinnetta Bell

Photographer

Tinnetta is the founder of Tinnetta Bell Photography Studio. Her artistic career spans more than 20 years, including work as a fine artist, known for her graphite drawings.

Sindy Snchz

Designer

Sindy is a Peruvian-born Newark-based designer. She is the founder of Vandalhaus Newark, a multimedia studio that has collaborated with multiple musicians and creatives. She is also half of performance art duo #LoveDimension.

Amy Kiger-Williams

Copyeditor

Amy is a Creative Writing teacher at Passaic High School. Her writing has been published or is forthcoming in Yale Review Online, South Carolina Review, Gone Lawn, and Cleaver, among others.

Alyxaundria Sanford

Social Media Manager

Alyxaundria is a Brooklyn-based journalist who specializes in social media and audience engagement. She has served as a news producer, contributor and freelance writer for local and national news organizations.

Order Self Made in Print

The Self Made 48-page soft-cover book features more images by Tinnetta Bell, with expanded stories of the women profiled here. There are also stories on the history of Black women entrepreneurs, the nationwide boom in Black women business owners and advice on starting a business from financial educator Tiffany “The Budgetnista” Aliche and Dawn Fitch, owner of Pooka Pure & Simple. You can also learn more about Newark’s South and West Wards. Self Made is a valuable historical and artistic document that captures a pivotal moment in history, before the COVID-19 pandemic began in March of 2020. It will be a collector’s item. Proceeds benefit She Wins, a non-profit that cultivates the potential of Newark Girls.

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