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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!


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