HOLA! USA wants to empower the Latinx community with narratives about the contributions that Latinos have made in the U.S. across the full spectrum — music, fashion, entertainment, business, health, beauty and wellness. It is time to celebrate our Latinidad in all its glory. These are our stories; this is Latinx.
As a first-generation American of immigrant Dominican parents, entrepreneurship was never supposed to be the answer. Though many immigrants come to the US and build successful businesses, entrepreneurship seemed so far fetch at home. Watching my mother, I learned that you work really hard, strive to be a stellar and exemplary employee, take limited career risks, and always, always have savings. My dad, however, was always a rebel. A free spirit who hated being confined by the rules and unfairness of an employer, he’d always have some sort of a side hustle while working full-time, including providing the same services at a cheaper rate for his friends’ businesses across the Bronx and the Heights. I’ll never forget asking my dad at home on what was supposed to be a workday, “Pa, ¿que haces en casa?” His answer was simple: “I’m not working for those people anymore, mami.” He’d spend another day at home before, from the 4th-floor window of our Bronx apartment, I watched his (unbeknownst to them) former employer trying to break into the company car because they hadn’t heard from him in two days. The next day, though, my dad was ready to head out wearing his “work clothes” — if you’re Hispanic you know exactly what I’m talking about, a t-shirt with a random logo and those Wrangler construction jeans. “Pa, ¿pa donde tu vas?”“Oh mami. ¡A trabajar!” That was the day my father officially became his own boss.
The Dominican entrepreneur is on a mission to uplift Latinx and African-American talent
Though he has remained a small mom-and-pop business for over two decades now, with a rotation of 3-5 employees throughout, I learned from my father what it means to hustle. While running his business, he also decided to own a club (that was short-lived!), manage a restaurant, and the list goes. He’s never not done what he had to do to provide for his family. And while ensuring his family was financially well taken care of, I’d watch him enjoy a freedom I didn’t see in the person I spent the most time with, my mom. While to this day, it pains my mom to take a day off despite the fact that she has them, my father would travel and take a day off as he pleased. Always disciplined and respecting his work by leaving at 7:30 am every day, he’d cut his day as early as he wanted to be able to hang out en la bodega and play dominoes with his friends.
I’ve always been incredibly ambitious. While most girls put together scrapbooks of their dream wedding, mine was of the power suits I’d wear to court and the large house I’d own as a lawyer. I used to marvel over the suits and heels in the Popular Club magazine! Independence always intrigued me. I couldn’t wait to turn 13 to be able to work summers, and did so the moment I could. In high school when I thought I wanted a career in journalism, I pushed for a newspaper to be able to explore my writing and the program was added. At 14, I worked 7 days a week at an off-the-books job for a clothing store in the Bronx. At the store, I discovered I had a knack for managing. I had keys to the store, ran inventory, handled the books and registers, and taught my immigrant middle eastern boss, who was not a fluent English speaker, how to order and run the credit card machines, fill out the paperwork for the business, and more. In college, in addition to joining the campus newspaper, The Quadrangle, and working to become an Associate Features Editor, I worked full-time at Bebe, where I was an operations manager, and juggled multiple internships in PR.
The New York native in her element
Upon graduating, I spent nine months at an agency, where I created the artist relations program that bridged the gap between our clients and the leaders in entertainment that used their products. After meeting so many creatives and developing a rapport with them, they’d start emailing or texting me individually about doing their PR or helping them connect with other brands. One of them was Ken “Duro” Ifill, a six-time Grammy award-winning engineer and co-founder of Desert Storm Records, who is also SVP of A&R at Republic Records. After working with him on a project for my client, he reached out to ask if I had a contact at another audio company because he was interested in working with them. Before responding to his email, I reached out to the brand and brokered a deal for him. He was the first person to tell me “you should be doing this for yourself!” Inspired by his own story, I silently started building a company with my brother, Jaysson. A colleague at the time saw a Facebook post I made of the company and within 10 minutes of it being live, I got a call from my then boss who said, “either you take down the website and stop pursuing your business or you quit you job.” “Ok, I quit.”
The powerhouse Latina during her music PR days
I only had about $600 in savings (sorry mami!) and my hustle to get me by. I started taking on endless projects, at no fee, to build my name and get my foot in the door. And it did! I even ended up recruited by a label of a multi-grammy award-winning rapper to help manage one of their artists. I had the opportunity to meet and network with some game changers and innovators, but the lack of financial stability and the growing insecurity of the decision I’d made started taking a toll. I couldn’t fathom another month of asking my mom to help pay my cell phone bill when I’d been paying it on my own since I was 14! Almost two years into it, I found myself applying for agency jobs, and then spent a year at one.
I then joined a female-founded Hispanic agency and had an incredible boss, Victoria. Within weeks of working together, she saw my take-charge attitude and my love for relationship building and trusted me to lead our accounts. When Sundial Brands, the owners of SheaMoisture, called looking for a Hispanic agency and wanting us to submit for the RFP, I eagerly helped with the deck and asked Victoria almost daily “has SheaMoisture gotten back to us?” When they finally did, it was as if no other client existed. All I wanted to do was work on SheaMoisture. And it was such a beautiful time for the brand - the hair category was booming and the business was growing! Richelieu, the founder, and CEO of the company, was rightfully being celebrated for changing the game in the multicultural aisle, and he was eager to build the fastest-growing minority-owned and operated beauty company. Less than a year into leading the account, I got a text from my in-house client contact, “Rich asked if you would be interested in working with us in-house.” Seven months later, I officially joined the Sundial family!
SheaMoisture Founder, Richelieu Dennis and Dinorah
Working at Sundial reignited the entrepreneurial flame in me. Though a multi-million dollar company, its culture, and approach was very much like a start-up. All hands on deck, everyone fully invested. No one too big or too small to get their hands dirty and do what needs to be done to make it happen! Richelieu believed in being accessible, and that belief gave me the first-row view to his approach to business. He became (and still is) the hardest working man I know. You could text him at 1 P.M. or 4 A.M., he’d have an answer. He’d similarly reach out at all hours with big ideas. He was a dreamer who wholeheartedly believed that his potential is limitless. He never heard “no”, only “not this way, try another way.” He intentionally built and grew a company that would sow seeds for everyone, especially people of color, to reap from. And that is contagious.
Leading the influencer marketing for the brand, I was able to use the experience and relationships I already had in entertainment and management, with my love for relationship building to work with talent and identify brand partnership opportunities. Doing so in a corporate setting that was entrepreneurial, continued to stir my spirit and had me constantly thinking about my long-term goals for over three years. The peak of this discovery was reached in 2018 when fashion and style influencer Kyrzayda Rodriguez openly shared her journey battling terminal cancer. I’d been following her for years and even had the opportunity to collaborate with her for one of our brands. I, like everyone else in the community she so lovingly built, was struck by her news and inspired by her perseverance and faith in the midst of what must have been the scariest storm. She spoke day in and day out of the need to live fearlessly, to not be attached to material things, to fight for our dreams and against the things that keep us away from them. Her testimony had me constantly thinking of my dreams and the excuses I’d created to not live them out. Watching her, I simply couldn’t continue to put my dreams on hold. As she often said, our time on earth is so limited and we never know when it will be cut short. LIVE!
Beloved Dominican Fashion Blogger, Kyrzayda Rodriguez
I decided it was time to go. And though it wasn’t an easy decision, because I was attached to my company and job, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that God was calling me into this assignment. When I felt ready to go, I called Richelieu and without hesitation, he said, “You’re going to (expletive) crush it!” And then, Bodega7 is born. Talent management was always the end goal, but seeing how Richelieu’s work empowered and changed the lives of people of color globally, made me want to do the same. They’re rooted in purpose, determined to challenge and change the stereotypes and create a legacy that will outlast them. Bodega7 is here to completely disrupt and innovate the way talent is represented and managed across the board.
The New York native used her Bodega-hustler mindset to create her talent agency
Knowing that talent of color is horribly misrepresented and terribly underpaid, I wanted to make sure that they had a house that was fighting for them to be equally respected and paid, working hard to knock down the doors that so often capped their reach. I have the fortune of representing some incredibly talented people, all large believers in themselves and how their work makes others feel.
Dinorah and Beauty Youtuber, Franchelli Rodriguez
Fear has meddled in my life for as long as I can remember. Whether it was learned indirectly from my mother, watching her work tirelessly and endlessly without taking a vacation or fighting for well deserved raises, or after experiencing instability and uncertainty during my first round at being an entrepreneur, fear has always been present. I’d say to any person, especially young women of color, to actively fight against their fears. We are all so insanely gifted and we are meant to put those gifts to work to be a blessing to others. Limiting what we can do and who we can become out of fear of the unknown is a complete disregard to what we are purposed to be. Soar, thrive, fight for yourself!