By Alysha Conner | LA Black Post
Many Americans had dreams and aspirations of acquiring all around prosperity during the first few months of 2020. However, the reality of accomplishing those new year resolutions, so far, has become “A Dream Deferred” for a multitude of reasons. The coronavirus has caused a global stagnation to the economy, social scenes, and for some people to live out their dreams. As the struggle to secure stimulus checks, unemployment, and other forms of government-funded assistance continues, so do the adjustments of day-to-day nuances of life. COVID-19 has essentially forced people into survival mode, and to embrace the ‘hard knock’ reality of living through a pandemic.
Although citizens in Los Angeles have undergone disruptions to their everyday hustles, the pressure to continue this marathoncalled life persists. Since the untimely death of the rapper, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Nipsey Hussle, many members of the West Coast have continued to honor his legacy by assessing and embracing how Nipsey moved. Nipsey was notoriously known for coining the slogan “The Marathon Continues,” and was praised for his authenticity as he leveled his way up in business and the music industry. He inspired an awakening to the power of ownership, whilealso influencing others to pursue their purpose. Through establishing his record label All Money In Records, Proud to Pay campaign, Marathon Clothing line, and real estate investments, Nipsey ultimately demonstrated the value of effectively running the marathon of life.
In the words of the late great Nipsey Hussle about purpose and intention, he stated:
“At the core, one of my original goals is to redefine what the streets expect and amplify the pressure we put on these young people once they step into decision-making mode. There was a level of ignorance and self-destructiveness in the narrative that was pushed on us through music in our generation. I see how damaging that was, for myself included, and we’re all subject to the social pressure. I wasn’t above it.”
“Each of us are impacted by what’s going on around us. For me, understanding the platform I have and who it speaks to, it’s about being strategic. We can’t stand on the corner with the bull horn and preach, that isn’t going to work. We have to be strategic and make an impact through influence. I wanted to redefine the lifestyle and what we view as important. When you hear ‘buy back the block’ as the narrative, that’s powerful. That’s a step towards redefining the expectation,” Nipsey further expressed.
March 30th marked the first anniversary of Nispey’s passing. Unfortunately, due to social gathering restrictions and “shelter in place” orders, Nipsey’s fans could not pay tribute to the icon with a public memorial. But, “The Marathon Continues” to honor Nipsey throughout his hometown. Murals of Nipsey and his iconic words now fill the streets of South LA, while several residents manage to carry out his legacy through their work ethic. Moreover, here are the narratives of a local foster care worker and entrepreneur who have picked up the flag from “Nip HussleThe Great” to continue the marathon.
“The Foster Youth Advocate”: Meet Alexandra Crayton aka Ms. Alex
Tell me a little about yourself and your work.
“I was born and raised in LA. I went to Laces for middle school, then graduated from Fairfax High School in ’05. Then from Fairfax, I went to Tuskegee University, where I studied sociology. I never wanted to get stuck in the whole social work realm, so that’s why I did sociology because it’s very broad. Immediately after graduation, I transitioned back to LA to work with my mom at The Dream Catcher Foundation.
Dream Catcher Foundation provides supportive services to foster youth in South Central LA. We have support services for foster youth like the Adopt A Wish Challenge during Christmas time, or even if anybody wants to help make a prom or a birthday dream come true. That’s what The Dream Catcher Foundation is here for. We connect the youth with mentors and help direct them into different resources that they’re going to need along their journey into adulthood. Our services are necessary because we don’t have a lot of programs that are located within our community to help our youth.
We currently don’t have the group home program anymore just because of all the requirements with the state. Honestly, I feel like it’s all starting to institutionalize these kids. My mom felt like her passion was being taken away from helping the kids. It became more about the state and all the bureaucracy involved with that. We still have The Dream Catcher Foundation, but as a non-profit organization now. As of January, I work at Dangerfield Group Home. So, I’m still working in the group home field.”
What made you decide to get into this line of work?
“My mom has been doing the group home ever since I was born. So, I kind of grew up in that field. She started as a social worker for the county, and she just wasn’t really satisfied with the places she had to place the kids in. So, that’s what inspired her to open up her own group home program. I used to watch her interact with the girls at a young age. I think that’s what inspired me to follow in her footsteps and do what I do now. I feel like this is my calling and passion of mine. I don’t look at it as a job.
While studying at Tuskegee, I did my research project on the need to have life skills for our transitioning age foster youth. They are the ones that are 18 years old and are getting ready to emancipate. I did that back in 2005, and it still hasn’t really been an effective life skills program for them. They have a lot of services up until the age of 21, but it’s just about knowing those services and having someone to help guide you to them. So, I just feel like there’s a lack in support of getting our transitioning age youth to the next step of their journey.”
How are you continuing your marathon during COVID-19?
“I look at it like, ‘This too shall pass.’ I know this is a terrible time right now, and there’s a lot of fear and uncertainty, but I try not to get myself engulfed with all of that. I always refer to Nipsey’s words, “Find your purpose, or you’re wasting air.” I know what my purpose is. So, I can’t stop just because of COVID-19. We still have kids that we’re still looking for placements for them. I’m always focused on the thought of, ‘What can I do next to help?’ I can’t just sit in the house and wait for this to pass when I still have 24 kids out there that still need help.”
What challenges have you faced with foster youth during the pandemic?
“It’s all trial and error right now because this is all-new, and there is no set protocol. Keeping them in the house is a struggle because, on a regular basis, they don’t like being at home. The struggle is really teaching them the severity of this in terms of not going AWOL, which means they leave without permission and run away. I think they are going to begin providing RVs for certain Short-Term Residential Therapeutic Programs who might end up having clients who’ve come back from being AWOL and are showing symptoms of the virus.
A lot of kids are so used to being on the streets and providing for themselves. We have to keep telling them, ‘Even though we know you want your freedom right now, this is the safest place for you. So, you need to try to stay put.’ My goal is to give them all of the memories that they may not have had growing up because they’ve been in the system. So, I’m trying to incorporate different things like finding someone who wants to do a Zoom or Instagram Live paint and sip that I can do at the house with them. You know, like little cool arts and crafts stuff for teenagers that can keep them engaged.
Having them do their work at home has also been a struggle. A lot of our kids struggle with school in general. Thank God we have an education liaison, Ms. Claudorian, who goes around every day and helps as much as she can. Right now would typically be prom season for the kids, and it breaks my heart because I have seniors who were looking forward to prom. So, I’ve just been trying to think of ways I could try to incorporate some sort of form prom for them even though they can’t go. Maybe like getting their hair done, getting them dressed up at the house, and taking pictures.”
Who’s help have you enlisted to continue The Dream Catcher Foundation marathon?
“I’m so thankful for social media because it’s a major factor that I notice that helps me pay forward the gift of caring. People I’ve never even met before that have just heard about what I’m trying to do reach out to me to help out. One of my former Dream Girls that go to Wiley College, and they closed the dorm rooms because of COVID-19. So, when she had to come back to LA, she didn’t have a placement to go to. I reached out to social media, and a lot of people gave me different resources like housing shelters, and we were ultimately able to find somebody that donated for her stay at an Airbnb.
We’ve had public figures like India Westbrooks come out and talk to the girls. India has personally mentored one of the girls and took her to Disneyland on her 18th birthday. She always reaches out and makes them feel special. It’s people like her who continue to come back to help me help these kids. They make these kids feel like, ‘Wow. I’m wanted.’ I’ve also had Sammy, Nipsey’s sister, come out to speak to the girls when I had Project Me for National Foster Care Month in 2018. It was like a self-esteem day where people came and donated their services to make the kids feel good about themselves. Sammy came and told us her story about how she was in a group home. She explained to the girls that you do come across people who genuinely do care, and you have to be able to accept that love. She also told them that this is not the end of all, and their stories do start from here.
We currently have 18 girls and six boys. The youngest is 16 years old, and the oldest is 19 years old. If anybody is willing to do any sort of online classes that will help keep the kids motivated and stimulated, I would be down to set up computers at the houses so the kids can interact with them. I’m all about providing them with workshops that are going to get their minds going and get them geared in that right direction, like going to college or the armed forces. I hope in the future that I can gain more young people that can step up and be mentors and bring something to the table.”
TAX ID#: 20-4996410
“The Entrepreneur”: Meet Antwanece Taylor aka Nee-Nee
Tell me a little about yourself and your work.
“I grew up in the heart of LA off of Vernon and Denker. LA raised me. I graduated from Frederick High School s located off of Adams and Arlington, in 2012. So, that’s what really motivated me to become the woman I’ve become today. Growing up in LA and especially over there, it’s a lot of poverty. It’s a lot of people that look like me that are homeless, so it just kind of lit a fire in me to want to be an entrepreneur and be my own boss. I knew I wanted to do business, but I just didn’t know which industry I wanted to go into.
I chose nails because I wanted to do something with my creativity while having fun at the same time. It all just clicked and came to me about a year ago. I decided that I was going to practice my craft, execute it, and go full throttle with my career. Before you know it, it birthed into something bigger than I imagined. I’m in the works of opening my studio in the Leimert Park area on June 1st and fully transitioning into my A-Lavish Studio brand.”
How did you get started and gain your clientele?
“The process hasn’t been easy, but it has been fulfilling. I had to teach myself and be my own teacher. I learned a lot of my techniques from watching videos on YouTube. That whole situation was a little hard for me. I didn’t have anyone telling me that I was doing something right or wrong. I had to learn from experience and through trial and error. I would try something, and it didn’t work, so the next time I would try something different and hope it’d work better. It was all about trusting the process. I wouldn’t trade this moment for anything, the ups and the downs.
In terms of building my A-Lavish brand, I had to first think about, ‘When I walk inside of a nail shop, what is it that I want? What is it that I’m looking for?’ For me, it’s about cleanliness, professionalism, how did I feel going in there, and how did I feel going out. I took all of that into consideration to build my brand. My goal is to make real boss-like vibes where you walk in and know that you’re going to get that special treatment. I’m going to create a relaxing ambiance where you’re not thinking about the kids, not thinking about work, but you’re simply thinking about enjoying your time and peace.
Instagram really helped me build my clientele and my brand. It had a lot to do with helping me put myself out there because I’m a shy person. It helped me reach other people from different communities and different parts of the world. I’ve also reached out to a couple of different nail techs through social media, mainly in LA, because that’s where I’m from. I thought, ‘Why not reach out to other nail techs in my city to get their perspective and input.’ Me being able to hop on Instagram and connect with people that I don’t know made me feel like I could actually do this entrepreneur thing.”
How did you leverage your brand despite the downturn of the economy during COVID-19?
“Beauty is an ongoing business. Just like they say you need doctors, you need nail techs and hairstylists. Us women spend a lot of time and money on our self and beauty maintenance. We always like to look good, smell good, and feel good about ourselves. Yeah, COVID-19 closed down the beauty shops. But now people are branching out to another beauty world through the Internet to find people like myself and others. People are now thinking about how they can find other options to get their beauty services done.
Me and my clients are making sure we all wash our hands thoroughly before everyone gets serviced. I wear my gloves, and we make sure to wear our masks too. I’m also making sure to ask if anyone is showing any symptoms of COVID-19 to quarantine themselves and reschedule until they are healthier. I have to limit the number of people I see because I want to keep myself and everyone safe. So, I’m taking a limited amount of clients at this time. I’m doing the best to work and go about this whole situation safely.
My dad’s job is pretty much in the air, and my little sister’s job cut back on her hours because of COVID-19. So, it’s my mom keeping everything afloat right now and me. That’s what really motivates me to make something out of nothing because I have people that depend on me. It’s not just myself I gotta look out for. It’s my family and me now. It’s bigger than me. Everything is moving along smoothly with my studio launch in June. Right now, we’re trying to get everything organized and painted. I’m trying to remain positive and pray that everything continues to go well with the launch despite COVID-19.
My studio is going to be a complete one-stop-shop. You’re going to be able to get your nails done, pedicures, eyebrows, eyelash extinctions, and massages. I’m also going to have a hair section too. Everything that us women could possibly need done will be available in one space. That way, if I’m doing your nails and you need your hair done, you can go into the next room and get your hair done. If you want a massage, you can go into the other room to get a massage. I will have service, beauty, and cosmetic wise, available in my studio, so you don’t have to worry about going to different locations to get everything done.”
What does The Marathon Continues mean to you and your work as an entrepreneur?
“TMC means to keep hustling. It means keep chasing your dreams and do not give up. Even when you’re going through every emotion and don’t want to bear the heartache anymore, just keep going. Trust the process. Be happy that you’re going through the things that you are because it’s going to make you into the person that you want to be five to ten years from now. Keep your foot on the gas. Don’t turn back. Just keep looking forward. It’s a mentality that you have to keep every day.
As an entrepreneur, it’s all about hustle and determination. To get to your destination, you have to push yourself. You also have to have motivation. My motivation was that this is something that I really want to do. This is something that I want to feed my family off of. This is something that I want to pass on to my kids. It’s about building that legacy. That’s what keeps me going. If I don’t do it, who else is going to do it? If I don’t do it today, I won’t have anything prepared for tomorrow.
Entrepreneurship comes with a lot. If you’re not physically, emotionally, and mentally built for it, it’s not going to work for you. You’re going to sacrifice sleep. You’re going to have to sacrifice having a lot of friends. You’re going to have to sacrifice time with your family. You gotta have that drive and push to know that all of the trials and tribulations will be worth it. I had to tell myself that, ‘All the pain that you’re going through right now hurts, but in the long run, I’ll look back and be happy that I went through that situation and all the emotions.’”
How have you felt about continuing your marathon after Nipsey’s untimely death?
“Since Nipsey passed, I feel like I have to put on for my city. When people think of LA, they think of lights and glamour. It can be all of that, but you gotta understand that it’s hood out here. It’s a lot of people that’s starving out here. Not just starving for food, but for success and to be somebody. You have to keep that thought in the back of your mind that if you don’t do it for yourself, no one will do it for you. But if you also don’t do it anything at all, you’re going to be nothing. LA will chew you up, swallow you up, and spit you back out.
Every day I listen to a song by Nipsey. I have to. It gets me through the day. It keeps me going. I’ve realized that he went through the same things that I’m going through but in the entertainment industry. I’m just going through it in the beauty industry. It makes me feel like if he could get to where he wanted to be in his career, and he came from the same area that I did, I can do it too. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to make the same situation he made for his career, family, friends, and community.”