Recognizing the achievements, contributions and voices of Black business owners is something we strive to do year-round; however, in honor of Black History Month, we’re shining a light on the experiences of five Black business owners who spoke with us recently about the importance of mentorship.

Mentors help shape future business leaders, nurturing their confidence and empowering their entrepreneurial spirit. These small business owners proudly share the value mentorship has played in their success and how they are paying it forward.

 laptop and coffee mug on desk with The 516 Collaborative logo in the top left corner.
The 516 Collaborative, based in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, offers services that help manage the operations of online businesses and promote growth. — The 516 Collaborative

Kiva Slade, CEO & Owner, The 516 Collaborative

About the business: An Upper Marlboro, Maryland-based certified online business consultant with expertise in strategic planning, project and team management and system and processes management.

Mentors have a unique ability to impact lives, not only in the present but also in the future. I've been fortunate to have mentors at each stage of my life. Their roles have varied as they have served as sage counsel, purposeful contrarian and acquaintance maker. Interestingly, the relationships have always proven to be a two-way street as mentors stand to learn from their mentees if they are open and willing.

I continue to pay it forward by sharing generously with others. I encourage young people to pursue their passions alongside their well-paying careers. That passion project is not only a way to feed your soul, but it is yours, and you can use it to express your creativity and experience entrepreneurship. None of us are entirely self-made, and we should always look to share generously with others. Mentors are not only those that are younger than you but anyone seeking to rise to your level. Remember, while mentoring others, make sure you have a mentor for yourself. Follow Kiva Slade and The 516 Collaborative on LinkedIn and Facebook.

 little boy sitting with backpacks and accessories created by EPIC Everyday, Inc.
EPIC Everyday promotes visibility and representation through its collection of accessories designed to affirm that all skin colors and hair types are important and beautiful. — EPIC Everyday, Inc.

Cara Johnson-Graves, co-founder & creative visionary, EPIC Everyday, Inc.

About the business: EPIC Everyday, Inc. is a Washington, D.C.-based lifestyle brand with unique apparel, accessories and home goods that amplify multicultural positivity.

Our mocha-hued movement has been positively impacted by mentorship thanks to the guidance of numerous business strategy, marketing and social media coaches. Learning from the ideas and insight of purpose-driven mentors has allowed us to pivot from one collection to over 300 apparel, accessories and home good products. Our slogan, “Never Ordinary, Always EPIC”, is a true testament of how exceeding expectations has led to intentional relationships designed to facilitate success.

Support is a verb, and we deliberately foster collaborative efforts to uplift like-minded startups, small business owners and entrepreneurs. From authors to toy makers, influencers to brand ambassadors, we have built a framework to gain exposure while developing authentic relationships. We work collaboratively via virtual events, giveaways, podcast interviews and webinars that highlight the dream, plan, and execution process for entrepreneurial success. Mentors cultivate a win-win process for growth. Entrepreneurship requires a village, a tribe of dedicated role models that motivate, inspire and encourage consistent growth. It is vital that you consistently add to your framework of positive thinkers, thought-provoking leaders and social change agents that impart invaluable training to inspire the next generation. Follow EPIC Everyday on Facebook & Instagram.

 James Gaddy of Project Little Warriors teaching a yoga class of kids.

James Gaddy, chief inspiration officer and founder, Ironertia LLC & Project Little Warriors

About the businesses: Haddonfield, New Jersey-based Ironertia offers a range of private and group fitness coaching experiences. Project Little Warriors, located in Camden, New Jersey, is a nonprofit that teaches yoga to kids preschool-aged through high school as a means of promoting self-expression and self-love and “changing the world one breath at a time.”

Mentorship has played a pivotal role in shaping my entrepreneurial success, positively impacting my work ethic and driving home the importance of working hard. A defining moment that has stuck with me happened in the most casual way when my mentor asked, “Are you willing to commit to the 20/80 rule?” She told me that 20% of the people do 80% of the work 100% of the time and that to be a true leader and world-changer I would need to commit to that philosophy to create the opportunities that I desired.

Those whom I consider mentors have shared experiences and advice that have motivated me to work hard. I have successfully navigated my passion and purpose in the way I want to impact the world and those around me through the businesses I have created. These businesses are rooted in a desire to inspire people to be better, healthier and want more for themselves and their future.

Being able to successfully reach all ages and backgrounds, my diverse platform has allowed me to reach so many more people than I could have imagined through the practices of yoga, mindfulness, group fitness, strength training and daily motivation. Being a mentor for these individuals goes beyond being a workout coach, but rather a journey coach in leading them down a path that they wish to take in being the best version of themselves. My advice for those looking to mentor is to always be transparent and understanding. Remember where you came from and how challenging it was for you to become the you that you wanted to be. Remind yourself to have a space for grace for all mentees as they are figuring it out, learning and growing with every step of this journey. Follow Ironertia on Facebook & Instagram; and follow Project Little Warriors also on Facebook & Instagram.

 Move N Groove Kidz employee in a classroom working with young children.
Move N Groove Kidz is committed to improving arts education through creative dance, gymnastics and capoeira, building strong, flexible and coordinated bodies and minds. — Move N Groove Kidz

Monica Ellison, owner & director, Move N Groove Kidz

About the business: A Chattanooga, Tennessee-based mobile arts education program bringing movement and live music to kids from preschool age through grade 12.

My husband and business partner, Aaron Ellison (known as Coach Cherokee) and I have been very fortunate to have had mentors throughout our lives, individually and collectively. The mutual love and respect that exists between us and our mentors has allowed us to trust ourselves while making important decisions about our business. Because our mentors really know us and our desires for having a profitable business and making an impact, we are able to trust ourselves while implementing strategies from the coaching services we engaged with.

We have been able to pay it forward by consistently being able to offer free or low cost movement/dance opportunities to children for many years and have ensured that this will continue by starting a nonprofit in addition to our business. For those looking to mentor, be sure to discover the real desires of your mentees so that you can help them identify and bring their unique gifts into the world, creating something special and new. Follow Move N Groove Kidz on Instagram & Facebook.

 display of wood cutting boards created by Eddie Thomason.
From cutting and charcuterie boards to benches and headboards, Eddie Thomason designs pieces that inspire families to make memories together. — Eddie Thomason

Eddie Thomason, entrepreneur, keynote speaker & craftsman, Eddie Thomason

About the business: A Binghamton, New York-based woodworker crafting one-of-a-kind home goods and furnishings; and best-selling author/speaker focused on empowering kids to strive for success.

Mentorship is the only reason why I took the plunge into the life of an entrepreneur. If it weren’t for my mentor, Evan, I would probably still be aimless climbing the corporate ladder. Mentors help you avoid unnecessary mistakes and set you up to succeed, faster.

I value mentorship so much that I travel to high schools and colleges around the country to share my story with youth to inspire them to overcome their circumstances and win in life. My goal is to help youth shed self-limiting beliefs and pursue a life they are passionate about living. If you’re thinking about becoming a mentor, do it. You can make a significant impact by sharing your story. You’d be surprised how many lives can be changed because you decided to help others succeed. Follow Eddie Thomason on Facebook & Instagram.

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Published February 18, 2021