In xoNecole's Our First Year series, we take an in-depth look at love and relationships between couples with an emphasis on what their first year of marriage was like.
Love is patient. Love is kind. And for many of us in relationships, love can be a delicate blend of ups and downs. Such is the case for Harvey and Casey Kelley.
Having known each other since high school, the two were unknowingly living in the same city around the same time and later reconnected via FaceBook. Harvey was a grant program coordinator through the school system and Casey was a consumer product goods professional and later moved from Atlanta to Jacksonville, Florida after she was unfortunately laid off from Coca-Cola. And it was there that they were dealt the hefty task of trying to meld their new huge (think, five girls and two boys kind of huge) family.
And it's arguably that very task that led them and strengthened their bond to build both in love and in their professional lives. Now serving as entrepreneurs to their own business, aptly named Blended Designs, the two have found a way to bring the story of their lives and passion to inspire into the forefront. Serving as a premium backpack and travel bag, Casey tells me that their mission is to elevate, empower, and educate people of color. And in response to the lack of representation of characters of color in the backpack industry, their endeavor thus found a much bigger purpose.
Courtesy of Blended Designs
Now with six years under their belt in marriage and two years in a thriving career, they let us in on some insight they've learned along the way in this latest segment of Our First Year.
Casey: I have two sisters but I grew up an only child, so I never had to share. I never had a time where I had to share with another adult or thinking about another person. It's not that I was selfish, it's just not a skill that you learn as an only child. [When I realized he was the one] it was a point where I was thinking of him more than I was thinking of myself. I was thinking about the decisions I was making and how they were going to impact him.
Harvey: After I got divorced, I said I never wanted to get married again. But she made me want to be in a relationship again. She showed me all the things I was missing from my first relationship. She made me say, "Wow this is how it should've been. This is the kind of relationship I should've been in." That kept me close to her and getting to know her. She literally does the things that I was looking for in a relationship. She filled all these voids that I had.
Courtesy of Casey and Harvey
"After I got divorced, I said I never wanted to get married again. But she made me want to be in a relationship again. She showed me all the things I was missing from my first relationship. She made me say, 'Wow this is how it should've been.'"
Overcoming Fears in Marriage
Casey: My biggest fear was acceptance with the girls. Harvey has five girls from his first marriage. And at the time we got married, the youngest was in middle school and they're very close to their mom. And I didn't want it to be that whole 'you're taking my Dad away thing.' Some of it I think I projected myself as opposed to it really and truly happening. But once the oldest daughter lived with us for a little bit, it gave her the opportunity to really know me and not the person she sees on the weekend. I just had this huge fear and it's something that I think I put on myself. Because now I have a great relationship with the girls! And I have a much better relationship with his ex than before.
Harvey: That was one of my biggest concerns as well because as much as we were a blended family, we weren't a blended family all under the same roof. So being able to manage that and moving away from them but still keeping them involved, that was the hardest part. You have to constantly travel, constantly communicate to make sure things are working.
Casey: One of the major lessons [I learned in love] is that it's unconditional. Real love will love you through your flaws. I didn't recognize my flaws as much until they were staring me in my face and someone is loving me anyway. Harvey will always say, "We're on the same team, we're wearing the same jersey." I understood that we're the only ones that can control whether or not we spend the rest of our lives together. And we both have an active desire to make sure we're always together.
Harvey: For me it's that if someone loves you, they're going to allow you to be who you are. They're not going to ask you to be different or for you to change and they're going to love you the way you are.
Courtesy of Casey and Harvey
"I didn't recognize my flaws as much until they were staring me in my face and someone is loving me anyway."
Casey: There was a couple that Harvey grew up with and before we got married, they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. The wife told me to always remember the look on your face when you say "I do". That there are going to be times where we're going to be upset at each other and when things are harder than they should be. But if I remember the look on his face when he said "I do", then I'll always remember--no matter what is happening in that moment, that he loves me unconditionally.
Harvey: The best advice that I got was addressing problems from the start and to not let things fester. I was told by someone to never go to sleep mad, angry, or upset. You need to make sure before you close your eyes that night, that you resolve whatever issue that were there that day. So that when you wake up in the morning, you both are waking up fresh and ready to go.
Courtesy of Casey and Harvey
"If I remember the look on his face when he said 'I do', then I'll always remember--no matter what is happening in that moment, that he loves me unconditionally."
Casey: I know that this is someone who 100% has my best interest in mind. There's nothing self-fulfilling about what he suggests or wants to do. I know other business people and mentors and they have the best business interests in mind, but Harvey has MY best. I don't know that anyone else cares about that. And to be able to travel for business with my husband, it's strengthened our relationship so much. Its being able to bring our relationship to another level that I didn't even know we had. I knew my husband prayed for me but now he prays WITH me.
Harvey: I think the best part is that my highlights are OUR highlights. When we win, we win together. So it's like we're there in the moment as it's happening and we're able to share that because we're both a part of that.
"The best part is that my highlights are OUR highlights. When we win, we win together."
Featured image courtesy of Casey and Harvey
Want more Our First Year love stories? Check them out here.
This post is in partnership with Amgen.
The seemingly simple task of taking a breath is something most of us don’t think twice about. But for people who live with severe asthma, breathing does not always come easily. Asthma, a chronic respiratory condition that inflames and narrows the airways in the lungs, affects millions of people worldwide – 5-10% of which live with severe asthma. Severe asthma is a chronic and lifelong condition that is unpredictable and can be difficult to manage. Though often invisible to the rest of the world, severe asthma is a not-so-silent companion for those who live with it, often interrupting schedules and impacting day-to-day life.
Among the many individuals who battle severe asthma, Black women face a unique set of challenges. It's not uncommon for us to go years without a proper diagnosis, and finding the right treatment often requires some trial and error. Thankfully, all hope is not lost for those who may be fighting to get their severe asthma under control. We spoke with Juanita Brown Ingram, Esq. and Jania Watson, two inspiring Black women who have been living with severe asthma and have found strength, resilience, and a sense of purpose in their journeys.
Juanita Brown Ingram, Esq.
Juanita Ingram has a resume that would make anyone’s jaw drop. On top of being recently crowned Mrs. Universe, she’s also an accomplished attorney, filmmaker, and philanthropist. From the outside, it seems there’s nothing this talented woman won’t try, and likely succeed at. In her everyday life, however, Juanita exercises a lot more caution. From a young age, Juanita has struggled with severe asthma. Her symptoms were always exacerbated by common illnesses like a cold or flu. “I've heard these stories of my breathing struggles, but I remember distinctly when I was younger not being able to breathe every time I got a virus,” says Ingram. “I remember missing a lot of school and crying a lot because asthma is painful. I [was taken] to see my doctor often if I got sick with anything so I was hypervigilant as a child, and I still am.”
Today, Juanita says her symptoms are best managed when she’s working closely with her care team, avoiding getting sick and staying ahead of any symptoms. Ingram said she’s been blessed with skilled doctors who are just as vigilant of her symptoms as she is. While competing in the Mrs. Universe competition, Juanita took extra care to stay clear of other competitors to ensure she didn’t catch a cold or virus that would trigger her severe asthma. “I would stand off to the side and sometimes that could be taken as ‘oh, she thinks she's better than everybody else.’ But if I get sick during a pageant, I'm done. I had to compete with that in mind because my sickness doesn't look like everybody else's sickness.”
Even when her symptoms are under control, living with severe asthma still presents challenges. Juanita relies on her strong support system to overcome the hurdles caused by a lack of understanding from the public, “I think that there's a lot of lack of awareness about how serious severe asthma is. I would [also] tell women to advocate and to trust their intuition and not to allow someone to dismiss what you're experiencing.”
Jania, a content creator from Atlanta, Georgia, has been living with severe asthma for many years. Thanks to early testing by asthma specialists, Jania was diagnosed with severe asthma as a child after experiencing frequent flare-ups and challenges in her day-to-day life. “I specifically remember, I was starting school, and we were moving into a new house. One of the triggers for me and my younger sister at the time were certain types of carpets. We had just moved into this new house and within weeks of us being there, my parents literally had to pay for all new carpet in the house.”
As Jania grew older, she was suffering from fewer flare-ups and thought her asthma was well under control. However, a trip back to her doctor during high school revealed that her severe asthma was affecting her more than she realized. “That was the first time in a long time I had to do a breathing test,” she describes. “The doctor had me take a deep breath in and blow into a machine to test my breathing. They told me to blow as hard as I could. And I was doing it. I was giving everything I got. [My dad and the doctor] were looking at me like ‘girl, stop playing.’ And at that point [it confirmed] I still have severe asthma because I've given it all I got. It doesn't really go away, but I just learned how to help manage it better.”
Jania recognizes that people who aren’t living with asthma, may not understand the disease and mistake it for something less serious. Or there could be others who think their symptoms are minor, and not worth bringing up. So, for Jania, communicating with others about her diagnosis is key. “Having severe asthma [flare-ups] in some cases looks very similar to being out of shape,” she said. “But this is a chronic illness that I was born with. This is just something that I live with that I've been dealing with. And I think it's important for people to know because that determines the next steps. [They might ask] ‘Do you need a bottle of water, or do you need an inhaler? Do you need to take a break, or do we need to take you to the hospital?’ So, I think letting the people around you know what's going on, just in case anything were to happen plays a lot into it as well.”
Like Juanita, Jania’s journey has been marked by ups and downs, but she remains an unwavering advocate for asthma awareness and support within the Black community. She hopes that her story can be an inspiration to other women with asthma who may not yet have their symptoms under control. “There's still life to be lived outside of having severe asthma. It is always going to be there, but it's not meant to stop you from living your life. That’s why learning how to manage it and also having that support system around you, is so important.”
By sharing their journeys, Juanita and Jania hope to encourage others to embrace their conditions, obtain a proper management plan from a doctor or asthma specialist like a pulmonologist or allergist, and contribute to the improvement of asthma awareness and support, not only within the Black community, but for all individuals living with severe asthma.
Read more stories from others like Juanita and Jania on Amgen.com, or visit Uncontrolled Asthma In Black Women | BREAK THE CYCLE to find support and resources.
Two years ago, Hannah Bronfman, heiress, social media influencer, entrepreneur, and author of Do What Feels Good, shared her IVF, pregnancy, and motherhood journey with xoNecole, but she's also shared her experience with another amazing journey: becoming a passionate angel investor.
Last month, via her TikTok, she shared that she has invested in more than 70 companies in the past five years, and that angel investing “sits at the intersection of basically everything I do.”
Angel Investing Pt 2. Turning Obstacles into Opportunities #startup #investing #finance #business #womeninbusiness #entrepreneur #angelinvestor #blackgirlmagic #cpg #startuptalk
She continued with details on how she once co-founded a venture and faced challenges with getting funding. “I had a difficult time fundraising and was met with all the ‘isms,’ so I just wanted an opportunity to share those learnings with other founders,” she added in the video. (Her Beautified app would eventually get $1.2 million in seed funding and give StyleSeat some tough competition.)
“It was notable that a young Black female started a beauty tech company back in 2013 and the world wasn’t ready for it. And the world isn’t ready for more people of color in the venture capital world. So I’m here to just use my platform to open doors and share knowledge.”
This month, she dropped more jewels, schooling her more than 100,000 TikTok followers about what it takes for a business to qualify for angel investment and highlighting Topicals, a mega-successful skincare company co-founded by Olamide Olowe, the youngest Black woman ever to raise $10 million in funding. The company is one that Bronfman has invested in. (Oh, by the way, other investors in Topicals include Gabrielle Union, Kelly Rowland, entrepreneur and former Netflix exec Bozoma Saint John, and Yvonne Orji.)
The topic is Topical 👏🏽👏🏽 @TOPICALS @Olamide Ayomikun Olowe #startup #investing #finance #business #womeninbusiness #entrepreneur #angelinvestor #startuptalk #cpg #blackgirlmagic #skincare #beauty
Some of you might be reading all of this—heiress, Hollywood’s Black Elite, and millions of dollars—and saying to yourself, “Well, that’s for rich folk,” and you’d be somewhat right. The average net worth of an angel is $1 million (or at least $200,000 in annual salary). On top of that, Black and Brown women founders often face unique struggles when it comes to getting funding for their businesses, including biases associated with race and sex, and make up a small drop in the bucket when compared with the funding successes of startup entrepreneurs getting millions of dollars from their affluent white-male (and very well-connected) peers to make their entrepreneurial dreams come true. And even many of the Black women-led exceptions get funding from celebrity friends or other well-connected links to big money.
But there are indeed everyday professionals, entrepreneurs, and activists seeking to balance the playing field when it comes to investing in the ideas and startups of Black and Brown women, and they're rallying together to create opportunities for others to join them.
This is where some of us can do our part to get involved, put our money where our mouths are, and fund the next billion-dollar Black-owned empire (while building our own generational wealth off the dividends). Let’s get into a few basics of angel investing:
First Off, What Is Angel Investing?
Well, it’s not to be confused with family and friends donating money to help you make your side hustle the main one. Angel investing involves a savvy and committed investor—taking a high risk and expecting a high gain—who goes into a legal agreement to offer funds for the upstart and/or growth of a new business, particularly when the founder can’t get a traditional loan or funding by other means. The practice was made infamous by Broadway producers who relied on “angels” to support and fund their productions.
There’s typically an expectation of equity or the value of an investor’s stake in the company. Also, angels are more likely to invest in a great idea, unlike a venture capitalist firm, which requires a business to be a proven hit in the market (among other things). Forbes reports that oftentimes, angels invest after a startup company’s initial investment and before they need larger sums from venues like venture capitalists.
Today, angel investing has become a powerful method for funding Black and Brown women-led businesses since these enterprises have seen a decline and are often shut out when it comes to venture capital funding. Angel investing is a great way for everyday citizens to put their dollars behind a business they see is viable, has a solid business plan, has an actual market to serve, and can offer something in a way that solves a problem. (In Topical’s case, for example, had all of those elements in its favor when it launched in 2020, offering inclusive science-based solutions for common skin issues like eczema and featuring everyday models in their ads, embracing imperfections and normalizing depictions of a diverse range of natural aesthetics relatable to the masses.)
Who Can Become An Angel Investor?
While the net worth of the average angel investor is quite high, the minimum amount someone can invest in a company as an angel can vary (like this woman, who started with a $7,000 investment in NasaClip, a company founded by a savvy Black woman ER physician.)
And while accreditation is encouraged (and sometimes required based on some platform’s requirements related to income and other factors), it’s not a legal requirement for an individual to be an angel investor. Everyday professionals, philanthropists, and entrepreneurs, basically classified as non-accredited) get involved via angel investment groups, equity crowdfunding, or angel networks. Some groups have membership fees, while others bring together like-minded women who want to support one another in researching, vetting, and investing in promising budding businesses.
Look into networking events, pitch competitions, bootcamps, or courses offered by organizations and platforms like the Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership, Black Women Talk Tech, Pipeline Angels. AfroTech, The Black Enterprise Disruptors Summit, Level, or Black Girl Ventures.
With angel investing, the risks are high—which these types of investors are often well aware of—and there are challenges and pitfalls, but if you have the disposable income to offer, and you're willing to do lots of networking, conduct lots of research (on groups, investment platforms, and the companies), and commit to intentional, strategic planning of how often and how much you're willing to invest, angel investing is a great way to build wealth while supporting the growth and survival of Black and Brown businesses.
And who knows, maybe you can gather your network and their coins and create an angel investment support group or firm yourself. With Black women’s buying power still standing strong at $1.5 trillion and a collective move to support women entrepreneurs through actual schmoney, a change is certainly on the horizon.
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Featured image via Pexels