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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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Featured image by Shutterstock
Lawd, lawd. I'm assuming that I'm not being too presumptuous when I start this all out by saying, I'm pretty sure that more than just a few of us can relate to this title and topic. I know that personally, there are several men from my sexual past who would've been out of my space a lot sooner had the sex not been…shoot, so damn good. And it's because of that very thing that you'll never ever convince me that sex can't mess with your head. The oxytocin highs (that happen when we kiss, cuddle and orgasm) alone can easily explain why a lot of us will make a sexual connection with someone and stay involved with them for weeks, months, years even, even if the mental and emotional dynamic is subpar, at best.
Thankfully, I got free from the whole "the sex is great but the relationship sucks…WTF?" cul-de-sac. And while it left me with a few skinned knees (no pun intended), I'm hoping that this will be a bit of a "beauty for ashes" kind of moment. I'm hoping that if you currently are in this exact type of situation that this read can help you to figure out what you should do about — it all.
1. How Did Things Begin?
Aristotle once said, "If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development," and when I say that there is so much truth to that right there, chile. Matter of fact, I was recently talking to a friend of mine who recently reconnected with someone from our college days. Back then, there was a young lady he messed with who had the biggest crush on him, he had zero emotional interest in and yet she still basically begged him to sleep with her. Hmph. One day, we'll have to get into the discussion of how, when a man is upfront with you about where he stands and what you can expect and you proceed with him anyway, he didn't "dog you out"; you simply lowered your standards. I'm telling you, self-accountability is where the big kids play.
Anyway, when he told me that she reached back out, all of these billions of years later, to try and strike up yet another sexual situation, only for him to say "cool, but I'm STILL not interested in anything serious" — first, I was really disappointed that she clearly has not evolved when it comes to him after almost three decades; then I found myself being kinda sorta thankful because that cyclic thing they are in is what helped to inspire the first part of this piece.
If you're caught up — or is it turned out? — in someone and you know that it has absolutely nothing to do with anything other than sexual chemistry or a man's technique and yet, you still can't seem to let ole' boy go, the first thing to ponder is how things began. Was it pretty much only his physicality that drew you in? Did you have sex faster than you probably should have? Can you even count on a full hand any real dates that the two of you have ever been on before? The reality is, more times than not, that the beginning is the foundation of things.
My friend and that girl don't have many places to go because they started off pretty foul because she wanted everything and he desired nothing but a way to get off; it's still that way. If you and the guy in your life — or is it just your bed? — don't seem to have much in common outside of sex, the way things started could reveal a whole heck of a lot about how you got to where you are.
2. Are You Even in an Official Relationship?
I believe I've shared before that a pattern I had with a lot of the men in my sexual past (check out "14 Lessons I've Learned From 14 Sex Partners") is I was friends with them yet not much more than that. On the friends tip, we were real friends in the sense that we talked/hung out often, knew a ton about each other and, with most, I shared a lot of their world with them (family included) too. So, there was a strong connection, even before coitus transpired. Hmph. Problem was, when you have sex with your friends (check out "5 Things You Should Ask Yourself Before Having Sex with A Friend"), things can get really weird because, although the two of you may be close, you're not officially anything but friends. As a direct result, you may find yourself not really knowing what to do about the relationship after the get down goes down. Then ish can really get messy when you find yourself enjoying the friendship and the sex and yet somehow, there is still a…disconnect.
That's why pondering if you're even in an official relationship (which is not something you can decide on your own; "he" has to be on the same page with you) is so important too.
If the sex is great and the relationship isn't, there's a really strong possibility that what could be going on is you're not in a relationship at all and the awkwardness of that reality is what's causing all of the internalized distress.
So yeah, figure out if the two of you are in a relationship. If you're not, do you want to be? If so, the two of you need to have a serious conversation, sooner than later. If you are in a mutually-decided-upon relationship and things suck…well, it's time to go to my next point.
3. Take Sex Off of the Table. What’s Left?
A couple of years ago, I wrote an article for the platform entitled, "Make-Up Sex Might Be Doing Your Relationship More Harm Than Good". One of the points that I made in it is, if you have to rely on make-up sex to "make things better" in your relationship, that is a red flag. That said, say that you are in a mutually-agreed-upon relationship and you're just not as happy in it as you thought you would be yet you stay because that man has a way of making you climb every wall in your house. If that's the case, do me a favor and, as difficult as it might be (because the sex is just that good), take sex totally off of the table. What's left? If you can't think of anything past kiddie-pool-shallow answers (you know, like "We like the same movies" or "It's not like we fight or anything"), you have some reevaluating to do…on a few levels.
For one thing, if the ah-ha moment that you discover is you're in a casual relationship and you don't mind being in something that is light, unintentional and lacks serious intention, then I guess there isn't too much to worry about. Although I will say that if that was the case, I doubt you'd be reading this all the way through. On the flip side, if you desire to be in the kind of relationship that evolves into something bigger and greater, as crazy as it might sound, you may need to literally take sex off of the table so that the two of you can see what else you've got going on.
Again, this is something that you need to discuss with him because, since you both decided to have sex, you both should discuss not having it anymore. And I will tell you this — if he's open to seeing what else you both have, there's a chance for growth. On the other hand, if he's totally not interested in a season of abstinence…I think you've kinda got your answer. This brings me to the next point.
4. Are You “Sexually Settling”? Think Hard Now.
Not too long ago, I was talking to a married male friend of mine about his thoughts on how men process sex overall. He said, "Shellie, sex is great, but we don't need it as much as y'all think if it means putting up with a lot of b — shit. We can pay someone to get off and there's no drama. The older men get, the more we realize that amazing sex is when you're with someone who you feel safe and peaceful with, there is a solid connection, and she gets off on pleasing you as much as you get off on pleasing her. Even we like to be into our partners."
Where am I going with this point? I agree with my friend, 1000 percent.
If you're able to have an abundance of orgasms with someone when the relationship is just "meh", think about how much better sex could be if you're truly in sync with an individual. Because here's the reality that, for whatever the reason, a lot of us do not want to face — you can find good sex many places; don't let the guy you're sexually hung up on cause you to think otherwise.
Not only that but for every day that you stick around, telling yourself that you're staying because the sex is so bomb, that's one more day that you're wasting when it comes to clearing the path to get the entire package. And if you're willing to waste time, just for some good "D", sis, you are most certainly sexually settling. You are basically saying that you don't deserve to be relationally happy and fulfilled both in and out of the bedroom. And that couldn't be further from the truth.
This leaves me with just one more thing to say on the topic.
5. Be Honest. Are You Turned Out? For Real.
There is one guy from my past who, we were never really friends. For a season, we spent a significant amount of time together and we had a fair amount in common, yet I never wanted him to be an intimate part of my life. He was too opportunistically creepy (I honestly don't know a better way to put it; he was just always trying to charm his way in and out of stuff) for that. So why did I allow him into my treasure trove? Because I had just come off of a relationship a few months prior, was emotionally exhausted and didn't feel like building anything substantial — not a friendship, not more than a friendship. Just wanted a sexual distraction (not saying that was smart; it was just my truth at the time). And how does all of this tie in?
You know, something that I try and drive home to my clients as much as possible is, you can't get very far if you're not willing to hold yourself accountable in your relationships. So, with all that I've already said, where I think this should end is, if the sex is great and the relationship sucks, it can never hurt to look within. What I mean by that is, is the sex good because that's where YOU are showing up and does the relationship suck because that is where YOU are putting in the least amount of effort? Are you so comfortable in the afterglow of orgasms that being sexually turned out is enough for you? And gee, if that's what's going on…is it enough for you?
Because here is something that I can assure you. If it's not enough for "him", he's somewhere getting whatever else he needs. Yeah, one day, I'll do a full piece on monkey-branching (folks who go to one person while holding on to another for safe measure) and how very few people stay content with being…discontent. For now, I'll just say, relationships don't just "suck" — they are a direct result of one or both involved parties not showing up. If you know that's you, what do you want to do about it? Is there enough, beyond sex, to try and make things work and last? Or do you need to come to grips with sex being all there is and that definitely meaning that you are on a timeclock because 98.7 percent of the time, lust, eventually, exhausts itself.
Again, I've been where some of you are. Where the sex is so mind-blowing that you're not really making the rest of your needs the priority that they should be. Yet you know how the old saying goes — if you're looking for a sign to do something different, this would be it. Sex can be great AND you can be in a good relationship too. It's your move. Time's a tickin'. Sis, moving forward, what's it gonna be?
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"Black men, we're in constant warfare. Every day is a fight outside of my house, so why would I want to come home to more fighting when that is the very place where I should be resting? There are loved ones who I don't speak to as much anymore because they aren't peaceful people. A huge part of the reason why I am happier without my ex is she was rarely a source of peace. The older I get, the more I realize that peace really is the foundation of everything; especially relationships, because how can I nurture anything if I'm in a constant state of influx and chaos? Guys don't care how fine a woman is or how great the sex may be if she's not peaceful because there is nothing more valuable than peace. If the closest person to me is not a source of it, that can ultimately play a role in all kinds of disruption and destruction. No man wants that."
My ever-since-college friend Anthonol recently said that as I was talking to him about a conclusion that I have firmly come to after having countless conversations with men about what they prize more than just about anything in a long-term relationship. Yep, you guessed it — peace. I don't care if the guy is 18 or 60, single or married, I can't tell you how many times a man has told me that they have remained with someone or left them in a heartbeat and it was all because that individual, for them, was not a very peaceful person and/or did they cultivate an environment of peace.
And honestly, I get it. The older — and hopefully wiser — that I become myself, something that I too value is peace. I want to be a haven of peace. I want the people around me to cultivate an atmosphere of peace. And yes, I will be quick-fast-and-in-a-real-hurry to remove myself from people, places, things and ideas that do not bring peace to my space and psyche.
Personally, whenever I think of the word "peace", the Hebrew word for it comes to mind — shalom. One of my favorite things about the word is it has so many meanings. Today, I want to touch on five of them in hopes that, if someone reading this is looking of a bona fide and surefire sign that they are with the person who is truly right for them, they will 1) come to understand that peace is absolutely essential and 2) gain even more clarity on what peace is — and requires.
The reason why I picked a GIF that has the ocean in it is for this particular point is because that type of environment is what immediately comes to my mind whenever I think of tranquility. To be tranquil is all about being peaceful and calm. That's already dope; however, there is more to it than that. Did you know that another definition of tranquil is "free from or unaffected by disturbing emotions"? That said, another male friend of mine (who prefers to be off the record) said something that really stood out to me — "Women don't mind feeling a wide range of emotions throughout the day. Some of y'all will literally be like, 'I want to cry. Let me find a movie that will make that happen.' Your emotional focus and sometimes even resilience is wired like that. We like to remain as even as possible because there is so much going on that we know we need to remain centered and focused. So, anything or one that constantly triggers us to be upset, bothered or angry, we'll avoid that."
To me, here is a great place to start. When you're in a healthy relationship, it will not consist of you constantly feeling disturbed, confused or unsettled. Typically, when we're feeling that way, it's alerting us to the fact that something is…off. And if things are always off, something is…really off. No relationship is perfect and there are going to be times when things are a little disruptive. Still, if you can't use "calming" as a way to define what you are currently in, don't ignore that reality check. Please ponder what's really going on.
Another word that defines peace is agreement. Here's the thing about that, though. To agree is "to have the same views, emotions, etc." and "get along together". This speaks to having similar views, values and to some extent, even communication styles. Still, don't sleep on another definition of the word which is to "come to an arrangement or understanding". You know what this means, right? People who are in peaceful relationships, even when they don't have the same views or feelings about something, they are able to negotiate. Peaceful people are the folks who are far more interested in keeping the relationship healthy and moving forward than being right all of the time. They can compromise. They are open to hearing someone else's point of view. They can even agree to disagree when needed.
Another definition of agree is harmony. I'm a huge music fan, so that makes me think of a choir. Sopranos, altos and tenors all sound different yet when they come together and everyone knows and does their part (which is so key, y'all), the collective sound is beautiful. Men and women aren't supposed to be the same. There are proven scientific differences that help us to come together and cultivate a balance — a beautiful sound, so to speak. When it comes to your relationship, do you have similar views? Do you get along more times than not? When there is discourse, can you come to an understanding that you both can feel good about? If not…why not?
Something that I shared not too long ago is I'm a firm believer that no one should expect another person to make them happy. Humans are fallible; they tend to be pretty fickle too, so there are going to be times when they disappoint you, hurt your feelings and straight up piss you off. If you feel like they should never do that, because they should be the source of your happiness, you really should stay single because that expectation is unrealistic as all get out. I mean, do you make yourself happy all of the time? Exactly.
Same thing goes for another definition of shalom-peace which is wholeness. While a partner can help to cultivate a sense of wholeness, it shouldn't be expected of them to "make you whole". No, the focus here should be more along the lines of "containing all the elements properly belonging". Healthy relationships are better able to go the distance when they contain the "core ingredients" that make a relationship work and last — love, respect, patience, support, consistency, attentiveness and similar relational goals are certainly a great place to start.
I can't tell you how many couples I've worked with where the love is there yet so many other things are lacking. You can't ever truly be at peace in a relationship if what it takes to make one work is fractionated on some level. Is yours? It can never hurt to direct this same question to your partner too.
While it might seem a bit redundant to have wholeness and completion listed as signs of peace, even when shalom is broken down, the words are separated. I get why too. It's because while complete does mean "having all the required or customary characteristics, skills, or the like", it also means "thorough", "consummate" and "uncompromised". Let's break all three down a bit, shall we?
Thorough. When it comes to relationships (really, when it comes to almost anything), very few words are literally gonna make me literally tingle more than proactive and thorough. A thorough person pays attention to detail. A thorough person isn't negligent. A thorough person is extremely careful when it comes to what they say and do. And a person like that? How can they not be seen as a source of peace?
Consummate. You wanna know why couples can get their marriage annulled if they never had sex? It's because sex is considered to be what completes their wedding day. Yes, to consummate is to complete. It's also to fulfill and to fulfill is to satisfy. It's very easy to feel peaceful in a relationship when you also feel satisfied with the person you are with. Not that you are needy (needy people are like a bottomless pit); that your needs are being met — the needs that you've clearly expressed and your partner has verbally agreed to meet.
Uncompromised. Whenever I think of the word "uncompromised", I think of character and stability. While again, no human being is perfect, someone who operates from a space of being uncompromised is someone who says what they mean and means what they say. You can trust them because they are dependable, reliable and steady. And how can you not feel totally at peace with a person like that?
One more. Y'all, let me preface this final word by saying, it is no one's job to save or restore us. EVER. That is God's task and even then, we've got to be willing to do a lot of work, along with his help.
So, when I say that a sign that you're with the right person is that they will bring you peace and that a definition of shalom-peace is restoration…"encourage" is what I think of. The right guy will encourage you to come back to a place of health or vigor if you haven't been there in a while. The right guy will encourage you to return to an original state if you've felt lost or like you've been unclear about some things. The right guy will encourage you to improve, repair and strengthen (all words that are synonyms for restore) the areas of your life that need them. There will be something about that man that will always motivate and inspire you to want to be better — to get back to what makes you your absolute best.
Y'all, there's a reason why I entitled this article using the word "right" instead of something like, "a sign that you're in love". It's because loving someone doesn't mean that they are right for you (trust me, I've got a few T-shirts on this point). When someone is right, they are good. When someone is right, they line up with facts and truth. And when someone is right, a part of what comes with them and your relationship is peace. Loads of peace.
I'm not sure why peace is so underestimated in relationships. Hopefully, you're reading this and possibly sharing it with others will help us to maintain the healthy relationships and release the unhealthy ones. 'Cause chile, if you ain't at peace…if your relationship isn't bringing you peace…what in the world is "right" about it?
Join our xoTribe, an exclusive community dedicated to YOU and your stories and all things xoNecole. Be a part of a growing community of women from all over the world who come together to uplift, inspire, and inform each other on all things related to the glow up.
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This article is in partnership with Staples.
As a Black woman slaying in business, you're more than likely focused on the bottom line: Serving your customers and making sure the bag doesn't stop coming in. Well, there's obviously more to running a business than just making boss moves, but as the CEO or founder, you might not have the time, energy, or resources to fill in the blanks.
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5. Marketing, marketing, marketing!
You can also bring your signage concepts to life―from sidewalk signs, window, wall and floor decals, to indoor and outdoor banners, to paper, adhesive, and foam board posters. Staples has experts who can help you create consistent, professional-quality marketing materials for your brand. Custom outdoor banners are offered at competitive prices, and you can get double-sided A-frame sidewalk signs as well.
And let's not forget those extra details and special touches that allow your business to stand out and put you at top-of-mind for customers, partners, or prospective clients, like business cards, flyers, brochures, postcards, menus, advertising labels, presentations, manuals, and letterheads. Going custom is always a good look, and Staples has in-store professionals to help you with this!
Staples' general managers are standing by to help you with your business's unique needs, so tap in! Let this be the year you rebound, refresh, and rejoice in the growth you and your business deserve.
To find a store and access more resources for your small business, visit StaplesConnect.com/Small-Business, today!
Featured image by Getty Images
When Ngozi Opara Sea started Heatfree Hair almost a decade ago, curly and kinky extensions weren't the norm on the market as they seem to be today, especially if you wanted those textures in quality human hair. Beauty supply stores mainly sold synthetic curly hair, and there was a surge of renewal for women who were just beginning to embrace natural styles, taking to YouTube to experiment with new techniques and styles.
"I just knew there was a market out there for women who were going natural, who were big chopping, and who wanted more human hair options for extensions, so that's where Heatfree Hair came in."
Trained as a stylist, she even went as far as traveling to China to see, first-hand, the whole process of manufacturing and shipping hair, and she meticulously came up with the right formula for wigs and extensions to match the beautiful coifs of a client base she was sure would love it.
Image courtesy of Ngozi Opara Sea
Today, Ngozi heads a multimillion-dollar empire that includes the Heat Free Factory, which runs exclusively to manufacture the company's line of products. Customers can get closures, wigs, wefted tracks, clip-ins, and ponytails in textures that range from 3B to 4C. The company ensures you're getting 100 percent virgin hair that can be dyed and styled just as if it were growing out of your scalp, and the versatility is very evident, with options that can go from blow-outs, to twist-outs, to wash-and-gos, to kinky twists, to Afros, and back.
Well, we still can't ignore the fact that the market has also changed tremendously. There are now hundreds, if not thousands, of online vendors selling curly extensions, and so many new hair companies are cropping up via Instagram and Amazon. And some brands that once only offered straight and wavy hair have been diversifying, and even beauty supply stores have finally caught up.
The difference with Heatfree Hair is that it continues to stand out, scaling for longevity in the hair space and building an online community of 200,000-plus to boot. With her factory, she's also disrupting by being self-run and self-managed. (Thus, sis is, essentially, the plug, cultivating what her company offers from start to finish versus adding a custom tag on products that were bought from a secondary source or vendor.)
Image courtesy of Ngozi Opara Sea
"We were―and still are―very selective with what we offer our customers, from how the hair is sourced, to the production, to the marketing. We want our customers to truly feel beautiful and purchase hair that they can be proud of spending their money on."
So, the question is: In what is often seen as a saturated market, how can an entrepreneur remain viable and thrive? Let's take a page from Ngozi's journey with these key points for success. (And a plus: These insights can apply to any business or industry):
1. Authenticity dominates every time.
Ngozi and her team are keen on remaining true to the company's goals of providing premium human hair that is responsibly sourced, with an emphasis on premium and proper sourcing. "When you're dealing with human hair, it's important to know exactly where it came from and to be honest about what you're getting, how you're getting it, and the quality. There's a commitment to really be part of that process and to look at what we're choosing to supply women who are going to use our products to style their hair," she added. "We don't really chase trends or what the next person or company is doing. We like to really target what we do and excel at that."
2. Trends can die but great customer service never gets old.
"We have been able to build a good relationship, and the key to that is great customer service," Ngozi said. "It's really been great because the customers we had in those early days are the same customers we have today. Customers No. 1 or No. 50 are still buying from us," Ngozi said. "And having a customer retention rate of above 40 percent just shows the level of customer loyalty we have as a company."
And what does good customer service look like? It's actually asking your customers what they like, what they would like to see in the future, and getting insights on how exactly they use your products. It's also quickly addressing issues, being relatable, and putting customers first in any initiatives or campaigns you choose to do to market your products or services. A good word on a great experience from one customer can lead to many new customers and thus, loyalty ushers in growth.
Image courtesy of Ngozi Opara Sea
3. Know when to pivot and diversify what you offer in order to continue to show up for your loyal customers―and gain new ones.
"With Covid, we had major issues with the manufacturers shutting down. HD lace had become very popular and everyone wanted it, but we couldn't get lace. There was a shortage," Ngozi said of a recent challenge her brand faced. "Well, we decided, hey, let's offer the headband wigs. And they began to sell out! Our customers really loved those, so we're glad we were able to pivot to offer that since we couldn't with the lace wigs."
For Ngozi, it was a matter of thinking of how she could cater to the needs of her customer when her company couldn't offer something else that was in demand. "It's another product part of our line that can be an asset along with, now, the HD lace wigs and closures. Oftentimes it's about timing and reacting in a way, again, that serves the customer."
4. Forward-thinking is key, and having a vision separates a short win from a long-term one.
"Listen, in 2019, we were thinking of 2020 or 2021. We're always trying to get a step or two ahead in terms of what we dream of doing. We like to strategize what we'll offer way ahead of time," Ngozi said. When you have a vision that focuses on the future, you're not so set on duplicating what someone else has done or trying to be a replica of another concept. Having a mindset that looks to the future and seeks to be a trendsetter vs. a follower of trends, is a must.
5. Do your research and build an understanding of the ins and outs of the industry you're in.
"I moved to China and really got to know all about how they made the hair, how the hair was produced, and the whole business behind it. I like to have a hands-on presence in what I'm trying to do," Ngozi said. It's also a great idea to research the ingredients, processes, and other aspects that will contribute to solving a specific problem or meeting a need. For Ngozi, it was always about being able to give women the opportunity to provide extensions and wigs that could be a positive part of growing one's kinks, curls and coils. "We just want women to enjoy the experience, to wear our products throughout every transition of not only their hair but of their lives, and to enjoy!"
For more on Ngozi Opara Sea and Heatfree Hair, visit @ngozioparasea and @heatfreehair on Instagram or HeatfreeHair.com.
Featured image courtesy of Ngozi Opara Sea
No one is excited about paying taxes, but for the most part, they're unavoidable for the working woman. Yet, not everyone has to pay quarterly taxes. You may have to get acquainted with quarterly taxes depending on how you earn money and who signs your paychecks. Not only is it essential to know if you should pay quarterly tax payments, but you need to know what your tax liability is and the deadline to submit your taxes — unless you want the IRS visiting.
Who Needs To Pay Quarterly Taxes?Giphy
Plan on paying taxes if you're a small business owner, you haven't had enough of your income withheld, or you're a self-employed individual. Unsure if you're self-employed?
You're self-employed or a small business owner if you're:
- An independent contractor
- A full-time/part-time freelancer
- An individual with a side gig
- A sole proprietor
- A business partnership member - LLC, LLP, LP, GP
You haven't had enough income withheld if:
- You owe a minimum of $1000 in federal income taxes currently after accounting for your refundable and withholding credits.
- Your withheld and refundable credits don't cover more than 90% of your tax liability for the current year or 100% of your liability for the previous year; whichever is lesser of the two. (The threshold is 110% as long as your adjusted gross income in the prior year was larger than $150,000 for jointly filed married partners and $75,000 for singles).
Who Doesn’t Have To Pay Quarterly Taxes?
You don't have to pay to make quarterly tax payments if you're a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident who had no tax liability from the previous year. Also, individuals who don't have untaxed income.
How To Estimate Quarterly TaxesGiphy
To calculate your estimated tax, you should know your expected adjusted gross income, taxes, deductions, taxable income, and credits for the current year. Then, you can calculate your estimated quarterly taxes using a calculator or manually:
1. Determine Taxable Income. Start by estimating the total amount of income you're expecting to earn during the year. Then subtract deductions that are considered above the line (expenses the IRS allows you to deduct from your gross income) to get an adjusted gross income.
2. Calculate Income Tax and Self-Employment Tax. Once you know your adjusted gross income, it's time to calculate your taxes. First, you need to figure out your tax bracket to determine the rate that you are taxes based on your income. Then, take your income tax rate and multiply it by your adjusted gross income.
If you're self-employed, you calculate your taxes a bit differently. There isn't any need to pay taxes on self-employed income under $400, but if you make more than $400, then you're responsible for a 15.3% tax that's a combination of social security tax and medicare. But, you're only responsible for paying taxes on 92.35% of your estimated total income.
If you had a $50,000 estimated total income, the calculation would be 50,000 x 15.3*% 92.35%, for a total of $7,076.25 in owed taxes.
3. Total Taxes and Divide By Four. Lastly, add your income tax and self-employment tax for the current year and divide your total by four. So pretty much if you owe $10,000 in income tax and you owed $15,000 in self-employment tax, your total income tax is $25,000.
So next, you'd divide $25,000.00 by four, so your quarterly tax payment would be $6,250.
When Are Quarterly Taxes Due
If you plan on paying quarterly taxes, it's a bright idea to know when they're due:
- If you earned income on September 1–December 31, 2020, your quarterly tax payment is due by January 15, 2021.
- If you earned income on January 1–March 31, 2021, your quarterly tax payment is due by April 15, 2021.
- If you earned income on April 1–May 31, 2021, your quarterly tax payment is due by June 15, 2021.
- If you earned income on June 1–August 31, 2021, your quarterly tax payment is due by September 15, 2021.
- If you earned income on September 1–December 31, 2021, your quarterly tax payment is due by Jan 18, 2022.
How Do I Pay Quarterly Taxes?
There are three ways to pay quarterly taxes; the choice is yours. You can pay your taxes the old school way by mailing your estimated tax payments with IRS Form 1040-ES or paying in cash at an IRS retail partner.
Or, you can keep it modern by paying electronically using the IRS's Direct Pay System or the U.S Treasury's Electronic Federal Tax Payment System. Keep in mind, there is a credit card fee of approximately 2% when paying electronically.
You can mail your estimated tax payments with IRS Form 1040-ES. You can pay electronically and use the IRS's Direct Pay system or the U.S. Treasury's Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, for example. Paying with a credit card carries of fee of around 2%.
Now that you have all of the proper knowledge to make quarterly tax payments, it's time to start actually planning to make your payments. Be sure to estimate your taxes reasonably in advance to avoid lacking enough funds to cover your tax payments. Or, you can simply reach out to an accountant who has the expertise to ensure your taxes are taken care of properly.
Featured image by Getty Images
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