In September, I attended the Young Professionals Meet Up at Winston-Salem Urban League on Trade St., publishing a story which covered the event. I had the pleasure of networking with African-American professionals and made a significant connection with Brandi Gray — an Elizabeth City State University (ECSU) alum as of 2017.
Gray was at the networking event for the same reasons that drew me into covering the story. She wanted to meet young black professionals in the area. We discussed her feeling uninspired by her peers, who hadn’t changed much since high school. She felt that she couldn’t connect with her Winston-Salem friends who hadn’t graduated college and were comfortable working their minimum-wage jobs. She sought more for her life, and the networking event was an initial step for her to chase after something bigger than her day job at Marshalls.
“My professionalism has evolved since going with Urban League’s events. I’ve connected with many people who are black millennials like myself,” she said. “Urban League also helped me get out of my shell when it came to networking, because before the events, I usually didn’t network.”
This month, I reconnected with Gray and learned that her narrative has changed. Just three months ago, she was struggling to find work that was more meaningful and would allow her to use her degree. Now she is transitioning into the world of entrepreneurship with her partner, Jermel Jackson. The two have created their thrifting business, called Thriftin “R” Us.
“Jermel initially started the business in September, and then he told me about becoming a reseller,” Gray said. “I helped with the business and now we’ve been going almost three months strong.”
This brand sells thrifted urban and vintage clothing and accessories, which are largely promoted through their Instagram page and the resell app Depop. They will have their first pop-up shop December 15th on 1243 N. Patterson Ave. starting at 11:00 a.m.
Gray said that their brand is steadily evolving, and she never thought she would enter the world of entrepreneurship.
“We’ve met other resellers, recreated its image and social media pages, and extended the platforms we sell from. This is a remarkable experience because I never would have considered myself to be an entrepreneur. I thank my partner for that. He introduced me to so much with this business and I can’t wait to see what is in store for us in the future.”
Gray and I both agreed that professional development has been a top priority now as young adults, but navigating the professional realm as a black woman has been a unique experience. Being black and a woman, I have to work past the social injustices and stereotypes these two identities have held for years. Before I can even present myself as a professional in a room, my mind wanders to whether my skirt is too short, or whether my natural hair puff is considered “professional” or not.
Coming from Dudley High School, in Greensboro, with a majority black student body, I sometimes feel as if I’m one step behind my white peers in the professional sense. Transitioning to college was an utter culture shock for me, with Wake Forest University being predominately white at around 70%. Most of my high school friends and I didn’t come from a family of doctors and authors, or lawyers and entrepreneurs. We come from working class individuals who take us as far as they know, and it has been up to us to figure out the rest.
Though I was surrounded by wonderful teachers and counselors in high school who were professionals at their jobs, I don’t feel that I was exposed to the caliber of professional skills I’ve obtained at Wake Forest. I’m being taught by award-winning journalists and teachers who’ve produced films. Having professionals who’ve reached these levels of achievement in their professional lives has pushed me to dream bigger. Through resources like our extensive alumni network and the Office of Professional Development, I’ve since learned that being a professional extends beyond having a polished resume. It’s about enhancing your communication, knowing how to assert your presence in a room of employers and much more.
Gray and I share similar views and challenges as millennials trying to find our path as black professionals. However, my conversation with Gray helped me realize my own privilege in attending a predominately white, elite college. She holds a separate struggle I haven’t faced, as a graduate from a historically black college/university (HBCU).
Gray believes that her college choice could be to blame for the challenges she faces now in looking to start her professional career. Though she was able to form a network with professionals in her college community, stepping outside of the small HBCU has created barriers.
“It sucks that I didn’t meet black professionals until I went to college. I wish I had a black professional mentor when I was in middle and high school. My experience at ECSU was great, but for me it’s challenging because many people don’t know the school. White people can probably afford to go to any school and get a job wherever, once they graduate. But because I went to a small HBCU, it’s extremely hard for me to find employment in my field after graduating.”
Organizations like the Urban League helps provide the resources and spaces young black people may need to meet people dedicated to advancing their careers. Personally, I find it important as a minority student to have opportunities in the broader Winston-Salem community where I can meet people of color who defy the odds and work their way into successful careers.
Gray had a strong will and work ethic, and her success came from perseverance. She had been on a persistent job hunt throughout the year and strived to expand her network with like-minded professionals around her age. While she still has her job at Marshalls, having Urban League as a resource in the community served as an asset in her journey towards success.
Becoming an established professional can be tough for African-American young adults, and in Gray’s case even for those who have obtained a college degree. Financial and educational disparities within some African-American communities have created barriers towards becoming a black professional. This evident divide in our society dates back to the Jim Crow laws – meant to keep blacks always one step below the white and wealthy.
“It seems like black people are always in some sort of struggle,” Gray said. “But somehow we always find the beauty of it and survive.”