African American women collaborate in Detroit to give youth a better future

Photo Credit: Danielle Hughes
Photo Credit: Danielle Hughes

Detroit natives, entrepreneurs, and business owners, Danielle Hughes and Desha Jones team up to create the Next Level event. At this event, the youth in the community received information about college and career choices. They also had the opportunity to network, and meet young professionals who are entrepreneurs and also those who are dominating in the media, education, and medical fields.

Rolling out was able to speak with Hughes and Jones about business and collaboration.

You both just collaborated and held an event called the Next Level. Why did you choose that name for your event?
Hughes: It was really Desha’s idea. We were trying to come up with names for the event and so she sent me a list that had names including the next level. We really want to help children get to the next level and expose them to different careers and college choices that they may not know are available.

Jones: I loved the name because after you graduate high school, you think, “Well, what do I do now?,” and you think that especially if you come from a family where no one has graduated college or aren’t doing anything to better themselves. I felt like it was a good idea to call it the next level so they can know that this is what needs to be done next; these professional people here are the people in our community that are doing something with themselves and they look like us. So if they can do it, we can do it too.

How did you two connect and decide to work together?
Hughes: We were friends in high school so we always kept in touch. We then realized that we had similar businesses so we decided to collaborate because two heads are better than one; we could reach so many more people together than working individually.

Jones: When we did decide to collaborate, I feel like it was a match made in heaven. We both had things that we brought to the table and everything just flowed. With Detroit Speaks, she helps young adults find scholarships and works with the educational side of things. I work with young adults who may come from broken homes and don’t know what to do next in life. We merged the two and it was just perfect.

Jones, your business is called the Neema Project. What does that name mean and what is your organization?
Jones: Neema means grace in Shwahili. When I came up with the name, I prayed about it. Grace was a big part of me embracing healing and turning my life around deciding that I didn’t want to suffer anymore. So, I felt that was very important for me to have grace in the midst of the name. As far as the organization, everything that I have been through growing up and as an adult made me angry. After I let all that go, I started living a better life, and became whole, I wanted to offer that to someone else; this is where The Neema Project was birthed. This is for ages 13-21 and monthly we get together and do community events and weekly we talk about those self-help topics that you may hold in or you may not be able to talk about with other people. We talk about healing and being your best self. I push them to do the things they’ve always wanted to do and we hold each other accountable. Last month I had an event called Growing Up Fatherless and we touched on people who grew up fatherless and how it affected them and things we could do to change our thinking and and get on a positive track. It’s all about helping others grow.

Tell us a little about your organization Detroit Speaks, Hughes, and what you do.
Hughes: Detroit Speaks is a rising nonprofit for the youth ages 13-17 where we work to promote innovation, community, and scholarship within the Detroit area. Detroit Speaks consist of 3 people:  Jasmine Swain Brianna Alexander, and myself. We’ve done College 101 webinars and more. Our goal is to help the you find careers, scholarships, and financial freedom. I recently held my own event called Smart Women Finish Rich aside from Detroit Speaks to help women reach financial freedom as well. My heart is for all people, but my target is the young people because many of them are unaware of the advantages they really have.

Will you host another Next Level event?
Hughes: I would love to make the Next Level a series, but it’s really what God has for us. We definitely want to continue to aide kids in the city.

Jones: After the response from the last event, I would love to keep this going. I want to keep putting it out there and have more people come out. It was so awesome working with Danielle of Detroit Speaks. Also, this month I’m having an all girl sleepover and Danielle is going to come and help us create vision boards and we’re going to talk over hot chocolate; a very intimate yet comfortable setting to be yourself and talk about what’s on your heart and mind. So we’ll be collaborating in other areas as well.

Jones, how do you balance being a single mother and having a business?
Jones: It’s definitely a challenge. I have two children, Brianna and Braylen, and I work full-time. My day usually consist of work, then my daughter does dance so after that I’m literally trying to brand my business all night until like 3 a.m.I feel like it’s a sacrifice but it’s a sacrifice you need to make if you want to be successful and make your dreams come true. I sacrifice time away from my kids, family, and friends, but I believe that in the long run, it’ll be worth it. I still make time to tuck them in, do homework, and fun things, but everything is a sacrifice.

What advice do you have for women entrepreneurs?
Hughes: We did a radio interview and one of the big topics of the show was collaboration. The woman who interviewed us thought it was great that we came together as African American women to have this event. We share the same idea that lighting someone else’s candle doesn’t make yours dim at all; if anything it makes it shine brighter. Also don’t be afraid to reach out to people and let them know you want to work with them. Lastly, there will be many failures, but as many failure that you have, you’re going to have double the win.

Jones: People are going to turn you down and not want to work with you, but keep going and keep pushing. A lot of people expect for the man to be great, successful, and to be the head of the household and for a woman, it is a lot harder and a little more challenging so it’s important for women to collaborate together and to support one another knowing that your win is my win. Also networking is important. Get to know other women.

Photo Credit: Danielle Hughes

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