By Janice Nesamani
Starting her own southern tea business, Tea Promenade was a dream for Debbie Smith, a dream that Renaissance Bayview Women’s Program has helped make a reality.
Making southern sweet tea was something that Deb always did well. People regularly complimented her brews and suggested she sell them. So one day, Deb did just that! She made some tea, went out into her neighborhood, and sold it for $5 a jar. Deb’s herbal, sugarless teas are made with organic ingredients and generous doses of love. The results are not surprising. “Once people taste my tea, they love it. Someone even told me I would become a millionaire,” Deb says.
Despite her initial success, Deb was worried about going into business. Then, she met a friend who suggested she enroll in the Renaissance Bayview Women’s Program. “The course helped a lot. I was scared of the legal and financial aspects of starting a business. Through the entrepreneurship classes, I learned business skills and the importance of social media and networking. More importantly, I know my own worth and the worth of my business. Now, I all I want are empty glasses to fill with my teas.”
Today, Deb supplies her organic teas to local offices. She believes her recipes help reduce stress in the workplace. As for the stress of running her own business, she feels it’s worth the struggle. She loves working with her daughter who is the tea taste inspector! “Making family recipes, getting creative and testing new recipes together is wonderful,” Deb says. Next on the duo’s list is supplying bars with tea kegs so they can be used in cocktails. They also plan to reach out to event planners through sampling shows and are hoping to eventually retail their products.
Deb’s determination to succeed is not isolated. Statistics show African American women in the United States are one of the most entrepreneurial groups of people today. Since 1997, their business ownership has grown by 322%. For many entrepreneurial women in Bayview it is the same story, despite the several challenges the community faces.
Marcus Tartt, Renaissance Bayview Center Director grew up in Bayview. He has an intimate knowledge of its residents and the challenges they face. Through the years, he has seen them struggle to keep afloat financially, though they are surrounded by a multi-billion dollar economy. The Bayview community in particular has lost a significant number of African-Americans, who were forced to leave their homes and businesses to move to more affordable areas.
“Displacement has a significant impact on low-income families because it erodes their social networks. Being able to call upon a friend or family member for assistance and being able to access resources from within the community is critical to many of these families,” Tartt says. However, he has seen people who have been displaced continue to go to church and take their kids to school in the communities where they spent a significant part of their lives, even though they may live far away from that community.
“The billion dollar question” says Tartt, “is ‘can we stay?’” Marcus, explains that Renaissance helps people stay in the areas where they currently live by helping them start and develop sustainable small businesses. In turn, this helps keep their communities alive.
To provide women with the resources they need, Renaissance developed ‘Bayview Women’ – a 14-week business training program that empowers Bayview Hunters Point women to achieve economic mobility through skill building, mentorship, networking, and peer support. Services include business planning, financial management, access to capital, networking and personal empowerment. Women are given access to successful entrepreneurs with whom they can discuss personal and business questions and develop ideas. Some of our mentors include, La Shon A. Walker, Director of Community Affairs, Fivepoint, Yvonne Hines of Yvonne’s Southern Sweets, Brigette LeBlanc of LeBlanc and Associates, April Spears of Auntie April’s Chicken & Waffles, and Dr. Veronica Hunnicutt, Professor at City College of San Francisco and CEO and Founder at HG Inc. at University of San Francisco.
Lottie Titus, Resident Employment Service Connector of Huntersview Family Center/YMCA encourages women to expand their knowledge through the program. Lottie says, “Women of Huntersview are in need of education, training, and employment. The ability to obtain education and training on economic opportunities in San Francisco will allow sustainability and empower them. Renaissance provides an environment where women can come together to learn how to develop their gifts. We all have a ‘God-given’ gift, and Renaissance gives women the tools and resources they need to follow their dreams of having their own business while working toward making it a reality.”
“We’re learning from the women participating in the program. Together, we’re able to develop strategies to overcome barriers and obstacles to success,” Tartt says. So far eight women have launched and grown their own businesses. Those who already had businesses are expanding their markets, better understanding their products, and are growing their profit margins.
According to Deb, she gained a lot of knowledge through Bayview Women and that knowledge gave her the freedom to accomplish her goals. “My advice to other women is ask a lot of questions, learn and know about your business, and then do your best. Be excellent at what you do. You never know what people are looking for,” she says.
“Next on the duo’s list is supplying bars with tea kegs so they can be used in cocktails. They also hope to reach out to event planners through sampling shows and are hoping to eventually retail their products.”
Ericka Scott, Program Coordinator, refers to Bayview women as the “Hidden Gems of San Francisco.” She says, “Bayview Women graduates dispel a huge misconception of African-American women who currently live or grew up in subsidized housing. Many of these women are mothers who often juggle two or three jobs, advocate for their community, and are determined to participate in the program to realize their dreams of business ownership.”
Ericka observed that the comradery among the group is phenomenal. “They come together to discuss their dreams and goals. The participants are more hopeful about their futures and the likelihood of leaving entrepreneurial legacies for their children. It is a privilege to serve such creative tenacious women.”
Renaissance thanks the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development’s Invest in Neighborhood Program and First Republic Bank for their generous support for Bayview Women.