Lift as you climb. When you’re trying to make it to that next level, you work to take everyone with you. You do right by others, form good relationships, and continue to build community with those around you. By doing so, you’re creating a positive, welcoming environment for all. People recognize the good work you’re doing, and the opportunity to do more will present itself.
In March of this year, NetsDaily attended the Long Island Nets’ Women’s Impact Game and spoke with New York Liberty CEO, Keia Clarke. We asked her about building community across NY and she told us:
“Part of the community that we’re building happens inside the arena during games when we’re bringing people together, and a lot of it is in a lot of ways external where we’re really identifying: what are the pillars, what does the New York Liberty want to represent, what do we stand for? . . .
I think women’s initiatives and women’s empowerment and women’s equality is a major part of everything that we’d like to be a part of, so we identify specific partners in that area of focus. For many years, we’ve been very, very intentional about racial equality issues and this is something that’s been led by the players, so our unity platform often suffices for that and we will partner up with events with organizations that are doing work in that space as well and really lock arms and try to make an impact.”
The dedication to working with the community is something that has been a consistent theme for the Liberty and will continue to be so in the future. And now, they are making another massive investment in Brooklyn.
The Social Justice Fund (SJF) is a part of the work done by Clara and Joe Tsai. Since becoming owners of the New York Liberty and Brooklyn Nets, the Tsais have devoted time and resources to address the needs of minority communities here in New York and beyond. One component of the SJF is the Brooklyn EXCELerate program. EXCELerate is designed to provide financial support to Black-owned businesses that are continuing to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Clara Tsai explained the importance of the program to Forbes and said:
We saw that gains that had been made in terms of number of black-owned businesses could quickly be lost. We partnered with True Fund CDFI and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. I know you’re interested in women founders as well … 70% of the loans we made through the EXCELerate program were to women. In general, the lending community does not find that Black women are bankable. We found the opposite.
A lot of the businesses we helped were very important to communities. We kept thinking about how do we impact the trajectory in a bigger way? The impacts to venture backable businesses would be greater. This could be the next Black-owned Google or Calendly. These businesses create incredible jobs. A lot of BIPOC founders will hire BIPOC people.
By investing in communities, the Liberty are laying the foundation for small and large businesses alike to stay afloat and The team has been deliberate in highlighting the work of Black women, and as they head into the new year, will continue building on the work they’ve done on that front.
On Wednesday afternoon, the team unveiled their 2023 schedule. The WNBA is expanding to a league record 40 games this season and the Liberty hope to build on a successful 2022 campaign that saw them play a competitive series against the Chicago Sky. Big Ellie took a tour of Brooklyn as she unveiled the upcoming games
To help introduce the new season, the Liberty turned to four Black owned businesses in Brooklyn.
Lead the way
One of the partners in the EXCELerate program is Therapy Wine Bar 2.0, a local restaurant based in Bedford Stuyvesant. Led by Angela Terry, 2.0 has been a stalwart for Bed-Stuy throughout the pandemic and worked as a community leader as she fought for businesses across New York State. Terry applied for the program through its character based grant, and those funds helped her business in a major way.
COVID-19 wreaked so much havoc on Black-owned small businesses, and the Fund helped 2.0 survive and thrive during the worst of the pandemic. Terry discussed being a source of support for the community amidst the uncertainty of the pandemic, and she said:
“It was important for us to stay there, be present in the community because historically we have been underserved. But during that time of COVID, it was even more [important] for us because it gave not only myself hope, but others in the community that has a long history of being underserved. It was really important for us to be there. It was challenging and very, very hard.”
So many lives, businesses, and communities were irreparably harmed by COVID-19, and the way we live has permanently changed as a result. Having local institutions that are still present — who have survived — helps bring a sense of familiarity and normalcy back to what we’re doing.
The support from the Fund gave 2.0 a chance to do construction on their site, remain active in the neighborhood, and support other merchants on the Malcolm X corridor. In 2023, Terry hopes to make the corridor more vibrant as she continues to support the neighborhood in a myriad of ways.
In partnering with the Liberty, Therapy Wine Bar 2.0 will be able to help address the injustices and inequalities Black and brown people face in New York, especially women of color. Terry and the Liberty both are active on local issues and care deeply about promoting economic development, supporting local businesses, and creating a welcoming environment for everyone. she noted that this partnership with the Social Justice Fund is one that speaks to the work that she has done in the community pre Therapy Wine Bar and in the present.
Terry’s background in social work helped in naming her business Therapy Wine Bar, and the concept of therapy shapes how she operates her business. We talked about the importance of being present for others, active listening, allowing people to be their whole selves, and promoting understanding. Terry spoke of the importance of service, saying:
“It’s so important to me that service to me, customer service, our community serving us, is important and that’s what I convey to my staff all the time. We are from here, we live here, and we want people to feel as though they are welcomed all the way.”
When you and your partners share the same core values, it makes the relationship that much stronger.
Style is a huge part of the WNBA as the players have made themselves into stars on and off the court. The league has continued to grow and with players attaining more visibility, the game will continue to become more accessible for fans of all stripes.
Donna Prescott has been in the hair care industry for over 23 years and is currently celebrating her business’ 10-year anniversary. Donna Prescott Beauty provides luxury hair care services in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. There aren’t many luxury hair service providers in BK, and with Donna Prescott Beauty,
She was connected to the SJF via the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. The SJF helped as the funds took care of her debts, which allowed her to maintain operations during the pandemic, and maintain a sense of normalcy. DP Beauty was shut down for five months during the pandemic, but she was able to maintain her business and connection with her clients through making wigs and hair extensions for her clients who were stuck at home. The pandemic led her to take on more of a teaching role as compared to her usual in person work, and it was greatly appreciated by her clients.
The teaching role she took on during COVID has extended into her Donna Prescott University program. Hair care is an incredibly competitive field, and through the Program, Prescott has created a pathway of success for the next generation behind her. Prescott shows her students how to go about securing funding, connecting to resources, technical skills on how to deliver the best service, building the proper structure of owning a business, and the skills needed to navigate structural barriers that may arise. Prescott prides herself on not being a gatekeeper and works to make things easier for those breaking into the hair industry.
Access can be a huge barrier for entrepreneurs, and as you’re reaching new heights, it’s important to lift people up alongside you. It’s important to make the environments you work in as equitable as possible so it can be safe for people to work and exist in. Removing those barriers to entry is critical and works to create a more level playing field. It’s something that’s a point of pride for the Liberty and Prescott alike.
With the funding from the SJF, Prescott will be able to bring awareness to an issue that matters a lot to her. Prescott’s DP beauty program is geared towards women who experience severe hair loss. She’s run the program for a while now and it has made a difference in the lives of the women she has worked with. In a 2020 interview with Jessica Parks of Brooklyn Paper, Prescott spoke of the importance of the beauty program:
“It’s been something that has been in my heart for a while, I had a situation with my mom where she lost her hair. I wanted to do this just to treat someone extra special because I know how hard it can be.”
There’s such a value in creating a welcoming environment for people who are experiencing major changes such as severe hair loss. Having an environment such as Donna Prescott where you work with someone who treats you with care, empathy, and respect goes a long way towards making you feel understood ... and appreciated.
Style is always in, and the partnership between Prescott and the Liberty is a match made in heaven (aka Brooklyn!) Prescott about this aspect of the partnership with the Liberty, and she said:
“I love when I encounter these relationships with my clientele and I’m able to put a smile on their faces and I know that my work is making them feel and look beautiful. When I look at the WNBA and I’m seeing that the women now are emboldened with expressing their creativity and their individuality, it brings me into what I do also. I have to tap into those areas sometimes to just make someone’s day and give women a way to express themselves through their hair.”
Being able to fully be and express yourself is such a blessing and places like Donna Prescott go a long way in creating spaces that foster healing and support.
Do good, do well
The Liberty have made mental health a key aspect of their community work, and it’s something that The Amulet Fairy focuses on as well. Founded by Samantha Beckford in 2019, The Amulet Fairy works to educate the community through techniques that balance the body, mind, and spirit.
Beckford was connected to the SJF via BKLYN Commons, which helps local companies find workspaces. The support from the SJF came at the right time. The funds from the EXCELerate program allowed her to obtain inventory, which allowed her to scale up, pay for staff, do more wellness programming, and achieve a great level of success. That success has Beckford aiming to have a sensory healing museum in a couple of years and working in collaboration with historical institutions like the Weeksville Heritage Center.
With that success, Beckford has worked to be inclusive and create a path for people who hope to follow in her footsteps. Beckord spoke about that and more, saying:
“For me, I created this business because I believe that there’s a connection with productivity and your mental health. And I wanted to move people past those blockages and having a creative space. I think sometimes when we talk about mental health, we think about one way. But mental health is art and creativity, too. I feel like as humans, when we create something, we feel better about ourselves. So it’s about getting people back into that creative space because I think that they’re directly linked.”
In her work at Amulet Fairy, Beckford encourages people to think of mental health beyond a clinical sense. In a lot of discussions surrounding mental health, we think of things like hospitalization, medication, diagnoses, therapy sessions, etc. That clinical lens can sometimes make discussions about mental health and addressing the needs of an individual more uniform and less inclusive than it should be. With The Amulet Fairy, Beckford utilizes a lot of sensory experiences such as aroma therapy, crystals, sound healing, art meditation, etc. Focusing on various aspects of self care allows for more people to be reached and for them to find what best fits their needs at a given moment in time.
In her full time job, Beckford works as an internship coordinator at a high school in New York City. She works with students as they embark on their journeys and teaches them about entrepreneurship, financial literacy, and mental health. In her dual roles, she’s been able to weave everything together and provide the kids a fulfilling education. Due to the nature of working in high school, there’s a great level of stress that comes with the job and it can lead to burnout. Beckford encourages the teachers to stay grounded as it allows them to give their best selves. She has been able to form community as she receives support and encouragement from the kids she has worked with and helped. It provides her with a sense of fulfillment and as they start their own businesses and forge their own paths, they have someone who will make room for them to succeed.
As the Liberty take a holistic approach to addressing various community needs, their partnership with The Amulet Fairy will help in reaching those goals. I asked Beckford what she thought the best aspect of the partnership is, and she said:
“I think the best aspect is community and reach. What is the audience that I’m able to reach and just kind of showing people what I do.”
When you partner with an organization that aligns with your vision, it makes for a positive relationship. You both want to do what’s best for the community you serve and create spaces where people can turn to you for support. It makes everything around you better and inspires those you work with to replicate it for themselves and maintain the positive energy.
Inspiring the next generation
During the pandemic, educators faced a myriad of barriers. Schools were closed, resources were hardly available, technology issues created problems, and the way they had to teach changed to accommodate for the new world they now inhabited. It made a tough job even tougher, but
The Jones Family Touch Day Care has been servicing the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn for over 20 years. As time has gone on, the children they taught at an early age come back as adults and bring their own children to learn from the staff there. It serves as a validation of the work they’ve done that they can work together as one and have such a profoundly positive effect on the families they serve across generations. By staying up-to-date on current research and information, maintaining their education, and always looking for ways to get better, it allows them to make the largest impact possible.
COVID-19 tested Jones Family Touch in a variety of ways, but the funding from the SJF helped them stay open and present for the community. The funding helped them provide jobs for members of the community, bring in new graduates that were certified in early childhood education, and allowed them to build on their 20+ years of success while also relieving some of the financial stress caused by COVID-19. It also has a multiplying effect as the staffers who worked with Jones Family Touch went about opening their own day care centers, which works to give the community even more good options to work with. It’s an opportunity to nurture the next generation of childhood educators as well as encourage others to enter into a field where we need as many good, kindhearted people as possible.
In conversation with Adina Jones, she spoke about how Jones Family Touch was able to succeed during COVID even with all the barriers they faced. She mentioned things like fostering community with the kids and the parents, delivering food to families in need, bridging the digital divide, sending home activities for the children so they could maintain a sense of normalcy amidst the changes. She added:
“Routines and a peace of mind for the parents knowing that their children were still held in a higher regard and we were trying our best to keep all the safety measures in place during this challenging time.”
Jones mentioned the importance of developing positive relationships in early childhood
“I think that it definitely has been an eye opener for us to understand how we contribute to that development and how consistency - keeping up to date with research and education, and also continued education for ourselves as time changes - and developing rapport
The funding from the SJF has also led to Jones Family Touch doing something pretty awesome and quite innovative. They have expanded to their first-ever night time model of child care for healthcare workers. Services like that are incredibly hard to find, and for parents who work deep into the night and may not always have people who can watch their kids, having a fully accessible option that can be there for your children can be a godsend.
The Liberty roster hails from all over the world, and their ability to work together, learn new things about each other, and teach each other is a great model to follow. Teamwork and play are important in any environment, and it takes on even greater importance in the early stages of a child’s development. I asked Jones about the importance of the Liberty being a model for the young kids, and she said:
“I think the Liberty embody everything that we implement to our children in the day care. We take pride in the model, which is teamwork, working together, how to model play...”
The work-together approach is one that we see across all of the businesses that partnered with the Liberty and the Social Justice Fund. Each business is deeply in tune with the communities they serve, create welcoming environments for everyone, and work to include other minority owned businesses in their own success. By doing this, they work to create healthy spaces while also encouraging others to enter these arenas and make names for themselves as well.
As the New York Liberty embark on a new year, they’ve continued to build on the work they do in the community. They’ve been able to use their resources to help businesses in need and help them reach new heights. As time goes on, they plan to continue uplifting businesses and making the business sphere a more expansive and inclusive space. It’s a call to action, and one we hope continues to be answered.