Persevere: A Story About Empowerment

Hi Familia Miss Rizos! Grace Urena, Chief Operating Officer at Miss Rizos here! Let me tell you a story about perseverance and empowerment.

This past month in the United States, we quietly made long overdue history.  The first black woman (Ketanji Brown Jackson) was appointed to the highest court system in the country since 1789. 

Elizabeth Frantz | Reuters

And while I’m a history and political science nerd and was overjoyed for this win, I also had a really hard time grappling with what she said during her hearing.  This is a woman who had a success record that beat the combined success of all of the 108 white men, 3 white women, 2 black men, and 1 Latina woman who came before her, she graduated from the top schools in the world and yet, there she was choking up on the verge of tears as she bravely mentioned walking alone during her confirmation hearing and questioning, “do I belong here & can I make it in this environment?

She went on to say that her doubt was put to rest when a black woman, whom she did not know, leaned over and whispered “persevere”. That statement impacted me strongly and I want to share the reasons why:

As a black latina, this has happened to me.

That same emotion has haunted me time and time again.  Growing up in the Bronx, I was the oldest child to a mother who struggled with addiction and dealt with years of housing, structure and body insecurities.  I was the 1st in my family to make it to college, only 1 of 3 people from my Bronx high school to have ever been accepted to Columbia University at the time. The 1st to go on and get her masters 8 years later there too. Being one of a handful of women of color in any given room or meeting working in leadership roles at predominately white, male dominated institutions, managing multi-million-dollar portfolios and yet still, feeling the overwhelming pressure to second guess myself and ask, “do I belong here?”

Before I joined Miss Rizos

When my best friend, who was a Miss Rizos client, forwarded me the job description for the Chief Operating Officer position 8 months ago, I felt those feelings creep in, but just like the fellow black woman recognized and empowered Justice Brown Jackson to see, I had a village of women who whispered in my ear “persevere”.  While I had over 15 years of solid operational experience & success, I had little background in the salon and beauty world.  My transition to being a full curly girl only initially happened out of a little insanity and a pair of scissors during the pandemic/panorama/panini shutdowns and here I was now looking to oversee the operations for one of the leaders in the curly hair community. 

In addition to overseeing a group of women in an industry that I continue to learn from, I was now responsible for the operations of an entire Spanish speaking team sector of our company in the Dominican Republic and looking to create a whole structure for this brand.  However, us Bronx girls are resilient and have a lot of audacity and so I used a little perseverance whisper and a lot of self and tribe-empowerment.  I made sure that the occasional Spanglish & google translate would not get in the way of me adding value & joining the team. My experience and my corazoncito felt full-circle because I was able to blend what I do well with what I love – being in a space where I can continue to empower women who look and sound like me.  

The Time is Always Right to Do What’s Right

This leads me to the 2nd reason and a related quote from Martin Luther King – “the time is always right to do what is right”.  Sometimes it seems that the easy thing is to just give up, but we can’t. You must trust your gut.  Less than 6 months into joining the team, we had to make an excruciatingly hard business decision and shut down our New York salon operations.  As a small business, there are many things that the outside public doesn’t understand that have a strong impact on its success & failures. At the tail end of 2021, and after receiving the fantastic news that our products would be launching with Sephora through their Accelerate Program, the pandemic’s impact on finances, team numbers, and dynamics weren’t right.

As a supervisor for many years, I’ve had to move team members around, had to let people go who were good people but not the right fit, and had to say no and change strategy quickly. However, although necessary, we weren’t sure if we’d be able to get back out of it, how we would be perceived by others who didn’t get the importance of this decision, and if it was the right one to make at that moment. 

Having to cancel hundreds of appointments, start our recruitment & operational training efforts in many areas of the business from the ground level was one of the most difficult things. 

My abuela and other strong women

For me, it was even more difficult that at the beginning of this journey, I lost my best friend and matriarch of the family, my abuela. She was the person who I normally went to for advice, and in her never-ending knowledge always gave me an answer that made it feel like it would be alright.  However, in her absence, I quickly felt empowered by the outpouring of support that we received from people who were long time supporters and some just learning about Miss Rizos’s impact. This quickly allowed us to persevere, work with our community, and strengthened my determination to work on getting it right. We knew that the seeds we had to replant would be stronger than ever.   

If you’ve seen me at the salon, I usually ask you the same two questions.  How did you hear about us & what brought you here? I’m always fascinated & humbled by the hundreds of stories that we get from people from all across the world & why you chose us. From the Miss Rizos Operations side, I am proud to say that since the end of last year, and in the last 3 months, thanks to your support & suggestions, an amazing Salon Operations Coordinator, Loribel Puegero in training and onboarding- we’ve been able to add a group of amazing women from all walks of life. In addition, with our DR team’s help in strategy & training efforts and our marketing team’s constant pivoting efforts, we’re ready to bring you on this natural hair journey with love, education and continued support.

Amazing things ahead

For 2022, we have some amazing things happening in the space! We’ve added color and braiding experts to both of our teams. While you can currently book color appointments in DR and braiding services at both locations – the New York Salon will have its color bar up and running in the next few weeks, just in time for summer! In addition to our growing team, service lists and options, we’ll be looking forward to doing more events with our community and excited to share our product launch journey with you all as we launch at the salons, Sephora and beyond. 

So lastly, Justice Brown Jackson’s ending to that story (in all her natural hair beauty) reminded me of what I’ll tell you: breathe. I promise it gets better because you belong!  Whether you’re a young person struggling with issues of identity, or transitioning your hair routine, or an experienced woman afraid to take that next leap in your career because of the doubts of “you belonging”.  I’m here to tell you that you are 150% beautiful, should feel empowered and you belong. I can’t promise that trying things such as doubt won’t creep into your mind. Those are normal. When you need it, the entire Miss Rizos team is here to be that support that may or may not know you personally yet, but understands you and will whisper “persevere”.

Stay Amazing!

Grace

Resilience: What I am doing right now

Resilience is one of my favorite words.

I feel like it’s the one word that defines me to my core, and like my hair, resilience is one of those beautiful things I inherited from my ancestors.

This word to me is equivalent to hope, and I wanted to share this with you because I know many of us are feeling hopeless, angry, and heartbroken.

A message from my heart

I waited a few days to write this because I needed to disconnect from social media, from the news, and reconnect with that source of power that keeps me going every day, my resilience.

I turned to the Ted Talk my late professor, father figure, mentor, and friend, Reverend Charles Rice left us with, you can see it here. I used to call him every time I felt uneasy by the racial climate in our country and he always knew what to say. He started this speech by quoting the song below.

I don’t know how my mother walked her trouble down

I don’t know how my father stood his ground

I don’t know how my people survive slavery

I do remember, that’s why I believe

I Remember, I believe by Bernice Johnson

We must all do our part

When innocent people like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, are brutally killed in the hands of police, it only turns on a bright light on the plight of the black people of this country.

We do the work we do with Miss Rizos because we recognized that institutionalized racism has seeped into every establishment in this country: health, education, banking, you name it, and inequality and injustice plague it.

So, what do we do? How do we deal with this? Where do we turn? I want to share my thoughts on this from the perspective of being an activist for 20 years, organizing and working in the nonprofit world for over 10 years, but most importantly, from a humble heart that is full of resilience.

5 tips to boost your resilience in difficult times

1. Take care of your mental sanity. Self-preservation is important. You can’t just jump onto the next bandwagon, watch every post on Instagram, watch the news all day, and consume whatever the outside is recounting about the situation. DISCONNECT SO THAT YOU CAN RECHARGE AND RESTORE.

2. Figure out where you can be of help while honoring your body, mental sanity, and soul. If you are called to protest, GO! If you have money, DONATE! If you can organize in your community, do that. If you can educate others, do it.

We will leave a list of resources that can help you navigate some of these actions below. Post or don’t post on social media. An online post will not determine your commitment to the cause and the mere thought of this completely minimizes a movement of more than 400 years.

3. Think long term and the bigger picture. I understand that we can’t lose momentum and please pay attention when I tell you that MAJOR SHIFTS will happen now, but we must understand that the real change will take some time and it will need us.

We can’t disconnect and cease our participation in the fight for justice. Once the news stops talking about it, once the protest comes to an end, and the social media hashtags and memes are no longer occupying your timeline, we must continue to talk about it, and WE MUST CONTINUE TO ENGAGE AND PARTICIPATE IN CREATING A MORE JUST WORLD.

Again, you might ask how, and this is entirely up to you. You must decide what are your talents and know how, and resources you can give to serve a cause.

4. Don’t shame, judge, or force others into doing any of the above. Many people are grieving, others don’t know what to say. Yes, we have to hold each other and the institutions around us accountable, but please do this mindfully.

Remember that our goal is to get people to join a movement, become active, and fight for justice. So, think about what words and actions you will take to accomplish this.

5. It’s ok to laugh and have joy. JOY IS AN ACT OF RESISTANCE. I am gardening, cooking, and talking to my friends on FaceTime. All of this helps me stay grounded.

 As an individual and as a business, we will continue to donate to bail-out funds and non-profits who are working to dismantle institutionalized racism and discrimination across all fields.

We’ve donated to 1-2 small businesses, organizations, or causes, every week amidst the lockdown. We’ve managed to do this because YOU continue to support us, THANK YOU.

I vow to continue to speak loudly in honor of those who can’t and do everything in power to make sure we are seen, validated, and celebrated.

 I will go down fighting as Rev Rice reminded me. I will continue to fight with every fiber in my body for the eradication of discrimination based on hair, and the empowerment of little black girls and women.

 I have so much more to say and we are currently working on so many different incredible projects, but I’ll leave you with one of my many favorite quotes from Martin Luther King Jr.

 “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

RESOURCES: HERE 

5 Very easy things you can do to help the environment

I decided to share 5 very simple things I do to reduce waste. These tips  make me feel like I am well on my way to becoming more environmentally responsible and hope will motive you to start today.

The other day I saw Isla de Plastico (Island of Plastic) a documentary filmed in the Dominican Republic (you can watch it here), illustrating the insanely problematic plastic phenomenon the country is living. I was so sad when I saw it and simply couldn’t believe how careless we’ve been and how we disregard the current environmental damages we are inflicting on this earth. 

The truth is that after seeing that film, watching the forest fires around the globe, the crazy temperatures due to global warming, and all of the animals we are killing in our oceans, makes me feel hopeless at times and extremely frustrated. After the film however, I realized that I have a platform and I can use it to share 5 very simple things I do to reduce waste.

The truth is that I am FAR from where I want to be regarding this subject. I still have tons to learn and do to minimize my carbon footprint. These tips however, make me feel like I am well on my way to becoming more environmentally responsible.

I also make sure both of my salons recycle and use paper bags.

1. Get a reusable water bottle 

Ideally you can get a tin/metal reusable water bottle, but it’s ok if you like me, got one of those sturdy Nalgene plastic bottles many moons ago. I’ve only purchased 2 of them in my lifetime and the first one lasted me like 10 years and I’ve had the second one for nearly 4 years. I usually always carry around an empty bottle that I can fill up to avoid buying water bottles. The idea is to eliminate these 1 time use plastics that are piling up on our shores.

2. Recycle and/or separate your trash

It’s obvious that we should all be recycling. Most if not all cities in the US have a recycling system. In NYC I recycle paper, metal, glass, and plastic. This is not the reality for most countries though.

In fact, this idea might be completely foreign to someone in the Dominican Republic because of a lack of education and political responsibility. However, if you live in a place where recycling is not common, then SEPARATE YOUR WASTE

Put all of your plastics in one bag, tin/metal/glass in another one, and then your organic waste in another. Believe it or not, there are millions of people around the globe that make a living out of sorting through the trash and selling these materials. So by separating the trash, you’re ensuring that one of these folks won’t have to sort through your rubbish and will easily find what they are looking for.

3. Use reusable straws 

This is such an easy ask. Go to a local store or on amazon and please do me a favor and buy 5-10 metal or glass reusable straws and 2-3 straw cleaners (thin circular brushes). Straws are contaminating our oceans and are really impacting the oceanic creatures. Carry a few on you so that you use them at restaurants or when you’re out.

4. Use reusable totes instead of plastic bags

I have a huge collection of totes of all sizes, colors, and materials. They are so convenient, and it is easier to carry groceries or whatever you get at the mall. The best part is that you’ll avoid using plastic bags, which again are ending up in our oceans. We actually have our totes on sale for just $15 + an additional 15% OFF, you can grab your here.

5. Save your jars/recipients that your food comes in

If you look in my kitchen cabinet, you’ll notice that I have a collection of jars. All of the jars from pasta sauces and other canned goods, I wash and use them as cups. Many of them are actually mason jars and so they’re perfect for salads, soups and many other foods. 

So there you have it, just 5 tiny little itty bitty changes can have a HUGE impact in our environment. You might think that if you’re doing it and you’re just one person it might not have an impact, but it absolutely does. I mean imagine using 1 plastic straw a day for like 70+ years, that’s over 25,000 straws! Plus you’ll inspire your neighbor, your family members and friends. We only have 1 planet earth and we have to take care of it not only for our future generations, but for us right now. 

Grants and Loans for Small Businesses

I packed my bags exactly one year ago and came to New York City with a dream to open Miss Rizos Salon NYC. After so many sacrifices, depleting my savings, and many (many) tears, we opened our doors last October.

Just 5 short months after this day, we find ourselves temporarily closed due to COVID-19. Now I can’t deny that I am completely heartbroken, but I decided that my team and I were going to ride this wave and stay strong.

We’ve been looking for every single grant, loan and opportunity to help keep our business afloat these upcoming months.

Thankfully, we’ve been able to get grace periods for bills, our landlords in both countries have been incredibly understanding and we’ve been able to support our team with the bit of savings we had.

Sadly, a lot of the opportunities we are finding are for businesses that have been operating for more than a year, which is not our case.

We know how daunting and overwhelming these forms can be and so we’re more than happy to help you file any of the applications that we are sharing below, or any other that you’ve found.

We want to do this completely free, of course. Just email us at salonnyc@missrizos.com and we will hop on a Zoom call and get you through your form!

We must stick together during these really tough times. My team and I want to be of service to you and your team. If you hear of anything else, we should add to our list, please share with us via the email provided above.

Verizon Small Business Recovery Fund

Spanx Owner The Read Backpack Fund

SheaMoisture Community Commerce  

SBA Loans

KIVA.org Loan

SBA Paycheck Protection Program

Facebook Business

Dozen other grants and opportunities here

NYC.Gov Grants and Loans

Thank you. This too shall pass!

Back to basics: welcome to my blog

Is this even real life? Me on a blog post? In English? It feels like it’s been forever since I’ve been on here. Ironically the name of this the bookmark of my blog on my laptop is actually “My Dream Job.” I love writing and though I’ve been writing a ton of reflections and tips on my Instagram, this is different.

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