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How A Near-Fatal Tumor Inspired One Woman To Birth A Successful All-Natural Skincare Line

BOSS UP

I sat patiently awaiting for a return call from Barbara Jacques, owner of the all-natural skin, bath, and body care company Jacq's Organics.


I listened as she situated her 5-year-old daughter so that she could get back to our call, poised and unbothered. With tender, yet stern care, Barbara took the time to answer her questions, tend to a bruise, and redirect her playfulness, while also making it clear to her young daughter that she was in the middle of an important conversation. Essentially, her daughter's presence was just as powerful as the story she told about how her birth led her onto her current path of incredible success.

Barbara's story often starts with the number one traumatic event in her life that just so happens to be the thing that fertilized the idea: she was pregnant…but she also had an ovarian tumor. Upon hearing that, I learned quickly that her story, just like her products, is more complex than it appeared.

To begin, her choice to create her line of products didn't come overnight. In fact, it didn't come without turmoil. In 2009, Barbara married her longtime boyfriend, James. But by the end of 2010, they both had become both elated by the news of being pregnant, and ailed by the horror of a possibly fatal diagnosis.

After being rest assured that the developing baby was out of harm's way, she was hoping that she was out of harm's way too.

She wasn't.

She had a tumor over her left ovary, roughly the same size.

“So I got in my car. I call my husband and I just start bawling. I have this tumor. I'm pregnant. I'm in my 20s. My life just started, you know? What is going on? I was scared."

Scared and confused, Barbara and her husband decided to leave Orlando to return to her roots in Miami. “I was researching, reading medical journals, trying to figure out what was going on. And during that time, I was like, 'I'm going to fight. I can't allow the situation to dictate me. I have this baby [growing inside of me], I'm not going through all of this for no reason'. That's what I kept saying to myself and that's when I kind of felt a calming peace come over me to say, 'It's gon' be alright.' I would pray and I would ask my mom to be with me throughout the time."

Photo by: John Catignas

Barbara's mother Mary had passed away over a decade and a half prior to the health scare, but it wasn't her physical presence that she was seeking. “She has a really big influence on who I am today," said Barbara, adding, “I say has because I feel like she's still with me." At 15-years-old, Jacques had lost both her mother and father - both emigrants from Haiti - within five months of each other. Subsequently, she lost all desire to continue excelling in school. “My mom was in the back of my head saying, 'You have to have more,'" she said, referring to her battle with depression as she crawled her way through high school.

But this time was different. In the face of her diagnosis, Barbara wasn't looking for validation or strength - she had already possessed those things - now, she was just in need of support.

Barbara found a way to save her baby, herself, and her family by becoming educated on the food and product industries in America, as well as healing herbs. She came to find that the natural remedies her mom taught her as a child, were more than just a part of her family rituals.

“I laugh now, but it was misery for me," she recalled of the formative years she spent being forced to use plants and vegetables as ails to her puberty-ridden skin. “My mom always had this clear, toned skin, she was always even, one color. People would always [compliment her]. But she took care of it."

Her mother wished the same beauty for her daughter's dark skin tone and would make her do things like go into the yard to cut up aloe, scrub it on her face, and drink another piece of it to help rid of pimples and blemishes. "The more I researched later on, I realized that it actually is natural vitamin A, zinc, and beta carotene that helped give dark skin a natural glow. [It] helped with aging, wrinkles, acne, blemishes - and the aloe, which is actually mineral water - is healing, hydrating."

Naturally, these ingredients - in addition to almond - are now the base ingredients to all of her products.

Photo by: John Catignas

Growing up a dark-skinned girl in Miami had its challenges, too. Learning to care for her skin and her hair assisted in her journey of learning to love and admire herself more. For Jacq's Organics, education is not only the motive, but the standard. When you visit the website, not only can you learn about your skin-type, how the product is made, and the daily routines you need for your age range, but also nuggets of information that you're not going to find just anywhere.

“We absorb everything we put on our skin through our bloodstream. Eating natural foods is not enough. Slathering toxins on your skin just doesn't make any sense."

More than a passion, but a way of life, Barbara found her life transformed into a vegetarian life-style with a vegan brand. But the transformation didn't happen immediately.

“I already shopped at farmer's markets because I was a very conscious buyer, but the more I researched, [I realized] everything in my refrigerator was soy. I learned that it mimics estrogen and that was feeding my thyroid." From hummus and chickpeas to chicken and white rice, Barbara learned - and spread the word - that her food choices were killing her.

“And then I look, and I have this make-up artist display of products in my closet," she continued. “I have bags of MAC make-up, Estee Lauder, Clinique…it was crazy. I just started throwing my stuff away, and that's when, for me, when I felt that sense of calmness."

Those products - the ones she placed in her hair and on her skin - were causing equal amounts of damage to her health. And just like over 70% of all beauty products catering to Black women, they included “the dirty dozen". “The dirty dozen is basically a list of 12 common ingredients that you will find in, not just skin and hair products, but also in food that are a no-no," Barbara explained. “They're linked to cancer, birth defects, ovarian issues, stuff that has harmful side effects. But it's ingredients, preservatives, and products that are basically in everyday [items] that we don't even think about. Everything from toothpaste to clothes, canned goods, sugar, milk - everything."

Like most people, this was news to Barbara. Her infatuation with those products had begun nearly 10 years prior, when she made the decision to leave Miami for Orlando. “There's something about moving away from home and having to live on your own. It kind of shapes you into being - to think independently," she said. “Within six months, on January 5th, 2000, I went natural - I shaved my hair off. So when I would go back home to Miami people would be like, 'Girl what is wrong with you? Somebody broke your heart? You gay now? What's going on?' And I'm like, 'No this is more me learning about myself - exploring.'

"Miami was still about the quick weaves and getting your hair done every two weeks and that high maintenance life. And me, I was like in an environment where nobody knew me. It was a beautiful thing because then I learned about loving Barbara for who she was."

Photo by: John Catignas

Barbara began playing with natural soap formulas to create alternatives for her and her family - not only to save her skin, but to save her life. “It was therapy for me because, here I was, middle of the day, can't go anywhere [on bed rest], can only walk 30 minutes a day, and it just became peace for me because it was a way for me to heal my body, my mind, and my spirit in a sense."

Spending the bulk of her time home alone, sick, and barely keeping down food, she twiddled her thumbs and contemplated a solution. That began with finding the right doctor. “I think the only person I told close to me was my big brother, he's like my best friend. My close girlfriends knew some-thing was wrong and I didn't want to tell them I was pregnant. I eventually told my aunt and [I found out that my] doctor at the time was giving me some misinformation."

Her aunt - who also took over as matriarch following her mother's death - luckily stepped in with her nursing expertise. “'That could kill you,'" her aunt told her. “'We don't even know if we're going to make it through your pregnancy for birth. We don't even know if it's benign.'"

Barbara's doctor at the time was attempting to coax her into a vaginal birth, which in her state could potentially be very fatal. That's when Barbara found out that her mother had had a hysterectomy due to ovarian issues in her lifetime - a health conversation that they were never able to share. From there, she knew to seek out a gynecologist who specialized in ovarian care.

That was the missing key.

By the time her daughter reached full-term, she gave birth to her via C-section, and subsequently had the tumor removed immediately following. Both surgeries were a success and propelled her to her next move: expansion.

Photo by: John Catignas

By 2011, Barbara wasn't selling anything she made, but all the products she was making were in excess. After giving them away to her family and friends, she heard stories of them hiding their homemade pieces away from their own spouses to use in solitude. The response was that good. On a fluke, a girlfriend convinced her to sell her products at a Farmer's Market and she ended with nearly $600 in sales! From there, she started to think differently about keeping her products to herself. So, in 2012, she set up an official online shop and company. Pedaling quality work, peer and local engagement, as well as an in-demand product, Barbara spent her free time (literally in-between 16-hour or more workdays) to work on her company.

Although she did not appreciate the amount of time working for someone else caused her to spend away from her family, Barbara had a lot of love for her day job and wasn't quite ready to chuck the deuces to her “real job" in lieu of her hobby that was making a profit. Not just yet anyway. “It wasn't until I got this huge ass order that was bigger than my salaried paycheck. And I was just like, 'I think this is for the birds.'"

It was early 2015 when she decided to make the leap from Jacq's Organics acting as a side-hustle to being her full-blown new entrepreneurial career. When Barbara handed in her two weeks' notice, Jacq's Organics was being recognized locally as a growing, thriving business - and once she told the world her own story of triumph, so was she.

Falling into fear nearing the end of her job, Kareem Abdul-Jabar - a regular at the job's networking events - said something to her that has stuck with her to this day.

“He was like, 'God has a plan for you and you're on that plan, you're on that journey. Don't be afraid, it's going to be hard. Everything you need is inside of you.' And when he told me that, I had to walk off. I almost started crying because that's what I needed," she said, laughing joyously.

But it wasn't without preparation.

Photo by: John Catignas

With loyal customers, a growing newsletter, and an easy-to-navigate website, she was ready. “I was able to give my full attention because I'm not really into multitasking, I think it's a gimmick. When you give something your full attention, you start to see your work. That's when my customers doubled, I was getting a presence online, I was still networking, going to events, talking about my business, working with non-for-profit organizations. I was able to be present, complete-ly there. And the transition for me, that aha moment, was when I got that first full [check]."

She was successful, so successful, in fact, that a year and a month to the date of walking away from her full-time corporate job, she was able to rent out her own separate space for her business and say goodbye to using her kitchen for home and work.

From being known as her mother's daughter to stepping into her own light in her mother's name and later manifesting her journey for the love she has of her own daughter, Barbara's life and continuously growing legacy is a testament to time and true liberation.

Shop Barbara's all-natural line of products here. Stay connected by following Jacq's Organics on Twitter and IG.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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