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How This Atlanta Mom Of 4 Launched A Successful Event Planning Business

How This Atlanta Mom Of 4 Launched A Successful Event Planning Business

Business

On April 7th 2016, a barefoot Dej Loaf entered the Ventanas rooftop in Atlanta in style.


Her custom gold Nicci Hou dress gently hugged her curves, the train brushing across the yellow rose petals tossed casually on the floor from the bowls of her female escorts, while celebrities, guests and press snapped photos of the Detroit rapper in celebration of her grand entrance into the quarter-life. The Coming to America themed party hit the blogs that following Monday just as event planner Summer Bledsoe Totten, who created the dessert table for VIP guests, breathed a sigh of relief for the completion of yet another successful extravaganza.

“I get people who call now like 'oh you did Dej Loaf's party? Can you do my party?'" says Totten. “It opened a whole other door."

For the Atlanta native, party planning isn't a hobby, it's the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. One that she had pushed aside after graduating from Morgan State and jumping the broom at the age of 22. As she puts it, life took over, priorities shifted to marriage and motherhood, and the little girl who once envisioned herself planning other people's weddings became a woman working a nine-to-five for the government.

That is, until her youngest daughter turned three. While many mom's lament at the idea of having to put together a noteworthy gathering for their little one, Totten saw it as an opportunity to tap back into her creative aspirations. “Once I had my daughter I realized, hey, I had dreams. I had stuff that I wanted to do. So I was like let me plan a party for her."

But she didn't just want the typical Chuck-E-Cheese gathering; she wanted something special that catered to the likes of her little princess. Realizing that there was a lack of options for girls, she decided to take matters into her own hands and create a one-of-a-kind event that both friends and family would never forget.

Kids dessert table at Tammy Rivera's swimsuit launch.

Its Your Party ATL set up for a kids fashion show

After sharing her goals with her boss, she was provided with a copy of The Go-Giver, a story centered on a character striving for success. Totten began to revisit her own purpose in life. “After reading the book, literally it clicked. I was talking to [ my boss] and she was like, if it's your passion and it brings you joy, you should try to do it."

But there were a few problems. Well, perceived problems that turned out to be excuses in disguise. “My reason was life was in the way. I have a responsibility by my kids. I have a husband. I have a job. We've got insurance. We've got a house. We've got a mortgage. And so I was basically like no, I can't do this."

With encouragement from her husband, family, and a circle of equally driven and women entrepreneurial friends, Totten could no longer defend her reasoning for not going after the one thing that both scared and fueled her. She started taking weekend classes—eight hour long sessions on everything from baking to decorating—and spent nights perfecting her planning skills in preparation for launching her own business. In 2012, It's Your Party became official. “I felt like I had no choice but to go out and pursue my dreams. I'm like why not? What's holding me back? I can't say it's my husband. I can't say that I don't have the support. So why do I think that I can't be a professional at it? I've literally just looked at it like I don't have a choice. This is what I want to do and I have no reason not to. Why should I settle and not do what I really, really love to do?"

Totten started with kid parties and baby showers for clients in the surrounding communities, making sure to tag her Instagram photos for those scouring hash tags for events in the Atlanta area. It didn't go unnoticed. “I was doing an event for a rapper named Young Scooter, and the lady who was doing balloons there was like, 'oh I follow you on Instagram and I love your work!' And then she ended up calling me one day and was like Tiny is having a charity event that she does every year for kids for Christmas. Do you want to contribute at all?"

There was a catch—she wasn't getting paid for her services. But what she sacrificed monetarily she gained in connections. “I literally look at it as marketing, and if you can't afford marketing then you can't afford to do business. Because marketing is a huge part of business."

Dessert table at T.I. and Tiny's baby shower

After successfully lending her talents for the event, she received a request to create the dessert table for rapper T.I. and his wife Tiny's baby shower, and soon began partnering with her fellow event planners on a number of events catering to celebs and their children in addition to maintaining her own steady stream of clientele. Totten believes that it's her uniqueness and knack for personalization that takes her ideas to the next level. “I'm putting your child's pictures on the label and things that can make a party unique for that person and making it a memorable event."

The average client comes to It's Your Party armed with just a theme or a color scheme, and it's up to Totten to bring the vision to life through customized invites (that she prefers to do herself), décor, and edible creations. “Once I create the invitations, my head is already at the event. I'm already visualizing your linen, your labels, etc. I already have it drawn out and know exactly how it's going to look. So basically it starts with the invitation."

If she's working in tandem with other party planners, she still prefers to have a certain level of control over the event. “If you're using an outside person, I need that person's information because I want to coordinate with them. It's a stress-free process for you. I do a lot of treatments with the visuals so that way I don't have to worry about everything not matching and not coordinating. Everything has to coordinate and match, and if I have total control, then it's going to be successful."

Summer and her husband.

Being a boss, a wife of 13 years and a mom (she recently had her fourth child in January) while still working part-time at her government job, is no easy feat, but having the support of her husband, especially, helps her to stay committed to the end goal. "I'll call him like babe I need you to look up who this person is because they're calling me about the party and he'll come back to me in like five minutes and give me the whole history on them. He's just like you need to go for it. If he sees me renting stuff too often he'll be like, do you need to buy it? I don't want you paying rent now. Without support I would've been like man forget this."

Totten admits that there are times that she feels guilty about missing football games and cheerleading practices. It helps knowing that she has a strong support system in her family and friends, and makes sure to bring her kids along when situations permit. “If I'm just going to be at a party for a couple of hours, I'll bring them along so they see oh this is my mom's party. That helps me feel that they know why I can't do certain things."

The sacrifice does come with rewards, though. In this case, it's knowing that she's no longer dying in the confinements of comfort and instead is living her dream.

“To know your purpose and actually have the willingness to pursue being yourself, having freedom and feeling comfortable enough to be yourself, to me is an ultimate goal to me for any woman."

While many women struggle to find the answer of how to have a marriage, kids and a fulfilling career, Totten is proving that it's possible to both be your own boss and come home to a loving family. It's all about being unafraid to pursue everything that you want, and not making excuses as to why you don't deserve to have it all.

To find out more about Summer's event planning business, visit Its Your Party ATL on Instagram.

Black Women, We Deserve More

When the NYT posted an article this week about the recent marriage of a Black woman VP of a multi-billion-dollar company and a Black man who took her on a first date at the parking lot of a Popeyes, the reaction on social media was swift and polarizing. The two met on Hinge and had their parking lot rendezvous after he’d canceled their first two dates. When the groom posted a photo from their wedding on social media, he bragged about how he never had “pressure” to take her on “any fancy dates or expensive restaurants.”

It’s worth reading on your own to get the full breadth of all the foolery that transpired. But the Twitter discourse it inspired on what could lead a successful Black woman to accept lower than bare minimum in pursuit of a relationship and marriage, made me think of the years of messaging that Black women receive about how our standards are too high and what we have to “bring to the table” in order to be "worthy" of what society has deemed is the ultimate showing of our worth: a marriage to a man.

That's right, the first pandemic I lived through was not Covid, but the pandemic of the Black male relationship expert. I was young – thirteen to be exact – when Steve Harvey published his best-selling book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. Though he was still just a stand-up comedian, oversized suit hoarder, and man on his third marriage at the time, his relationship advice was taken as the gospel truth.

The 2000s were a particularly bleak time to be a single Black woman. Much of the messaging –created by men – that surrounded Black women at the time blamed their desire for a successful career and for a partner that matched their drive and ambition for the lack of romance in their life. Statistics about Black women’s marriageability were always wielded against Black women as evidence of our lack of desirability.

It’s no wonder then that a man that donned a box cut well into the 2000s was able to convince women across the nation to not have sex for the first three months of a relationship. Or that a slew of other Black men had their go at telling Black women that they’re not good enough and why their book, seminar, or show will be the thing that makes them worthy of a Good Man™.

This is how we end up marrying men who cancel twice before taking us on a “date” in the Popeyes parking lot, or husbands writing social media posts about how their Black wife is not “the most beautiful” or “the most intelligent” or the latest season of trauma dumping known as Black Love on OWN.

Now that I’ve reached my late twenties, many things about how Black women approach dating and relationships have changed and many things have remained the same. For many Black women, the idea of chronic singleness is not the threat that it used to be. Wanting romance doesn’t exist in a way that threatens to undermine the other relationships we have with our friends, family, and ourselves as it once did, or at least once was presented to us. There is a version of life many of us are embracing where a man not wanting us, is not the end of what could still be fruitful and vibrant life.

There are still Black women out there however who have yet to unlearn the toxic ideals that have been projected onto us about our worthiness in relation to our intimate lives. I see it all the time online. The absolute humiliation and disrespect some Black women are willing to stomach in the name of being partnered. The hoops that some Black women are willing to jump through just to receive whatever lies beneath the bare minimum.

It's worth remembering that there are different forces at play that gather to make Black women feast off the scraps we are given. A world saturated by colorism, fatphobia, anti-Blackness, ableism, and classism will always punish Black women who demand more for themselves. Dismantling these systems also means divesting from any and everything that makes us question our worth.

Because truth be told, Black women are more than worthy of having a love that is built on mutual respect and admiration. A love that is honey sweet and radiates a light that rivals the sun. A love that is a steadying calming force that doesn’t bring confusion or anxiety. Black women deserve a love that is worthy of the prize that we are.

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Featured image: Getty Images

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