On Being a Business Owner and Not Having Rent Money
About 3 years ago, I decided to take a leap of faith and change my career from the field of hospitality to community based work. I was unsure of the direction I wanted to take with this move but I knew working in the corporate setting was not for me. I became tired of wearing suits, getting manicures, blow drying my hair for important meetings, and helping build the empire of the rich - white folks.
Within the span of three years: I have worked in a university, a couple of nonprofit organizations (one which led me to move/work to the Dominican Republic), developed a mentoring program for young women of color in the Bronx, community organized, and applied/accepted into a social work graduate program (that I ended up deferring). Some would say I was lost, but I called it journeying. I was on a journey of discovering my life-affirming passion and ultimately, myself. During this time I was able to build different skill sets, while uncovering the layers and complexities of the organizations I was working for. The last full-time job I held was in a nonprofit in the Bronx working with youth of color. In attempt to voice my thoughts on centering organizing and racial equity principles into the work of the nonprofit, I received push-back that started affecting my physical and mental health. I mustered up the courage to leave this job without having a back-up plan. However, I had the privilege of living rent-free with a friend and I qualified for food stamps. Having more time on my hands allowed me to take care of my health and explore how to have an income while genuinely enjoying the work.
I always loved cooking, growing food, and using food to heal my body from illnesses. After sharing with my close friends an idea of creating a food business that centers food justice, healing, and Dominican cuisine, Woke Foods was born. With the help, guidance and support of my community Woke Foods is now a small worker-owned cooperative, whose mission is to awaken the healing traditions of Dominican foods while addressing the inequities that exist with the food system and movement. Specifically, we do this through catering for community-based organizations, community cooking classes and demos, and sharing recipes & stories online.
Being a business owner has brought on feelings of excitement, butterflies, exhaustion, and self doubt. It has also brought on feelings of joy, urgency and pure happiness. Although at times I have been discouraged by my inner thoughts telling me “Ysa, just go get a regular job” they also motivate me by whispering “Ysa, keep going… our community need this”.
The time and energy that running a business requires feels unquantifiable. I have come across people that have told me I cannot have a profitable business by centering social justice. Unfortunately, our capitalist society has conditioned us to equate money to greed and power. My business partner and I resist this. We are choosing to create a social enterprise that creates abundance in all forms. Woke Foods is not just a business, Woke Foods is an entry way for women of color to be their own bosses. It is part of the food movement that is changing the food system and a way to reclaim our cultural foods that are being co-opted and appropriated by companies and people with power.
Currently, I am uncertain of how and if I will make my rent every month because I am working part-time, going to farm school, and getting Woke Foods off the ground. It is as if this life experience has me crossing a shaky bridge and I stop in the middle because of the thought that I may or may not fall. Though the end of the bridge FEELS close, the view is foggy and I can’t tell for certain if there is an end. All I know Is that I have to trust my gut feeling. So, I trust it. I remain faithful because I am choosing to show up in ways I have never before. I am choosing to do life-affirming work. I am choosing to be powerful, loving, trusting, urgent, and authentic! If my job or business were to disappear tomorrow, I would still be me and have the faithful certainty that God will see me and be with me through it all. I am not where I’d like to be financially, but I am waking up each day feeling grateful for my journey. God has a plan for me... actually I am CURRENTLY enrolled in God’s plan!
Doing life-purpose work has required me do my own heart work, healing myself inside and out, forgiving and holding compassion for myself and others, surrounding myself with life-giving and loving people, trusting myself -- my vision, and interpreting the challenges that come along as needed lessons instead of setbacks.
Sending you love & light,