It has taken me almost a week to write about this. I needed to sit with it for a minute. I now feel compelled to share a bit more than just a few lines. Warning: I am frank. Sorry, not sorry VC’s.
This has been an incredibly tough year. Last June, after George Floyd was murdered and for several weeks after we launched our free therapy initiative DRK Beauty Healing, I cried every day, all day during that month. We were working insane hours to get this help out to folks and I started Zoom calls with the statement: “I may cry during this call but I can do business and cry at the same time.” This is how intense it was. I cried when I woke up, I ugly cried in the street under my mask, I cried on calls and I cried myself to sleep in my husband’s arms every single night that month. I worried about the world and our collective existence. I sat in my laptop while I heard the protests outside and the news challenged my mental health stability. But we still carried on and delivered much needed therapy to our community, if even on a small scale.
As the months went by, we grew from a few hundred hours of free therapy in mid-May to over 2000 hours by mid-July and a growing network of over 120 licensed clinicians. From an idea borne out of an anxiety attack one morning in late March (listen to my new podcast to hear the full story) it very quickly evolved into a non-profit organization which was not my intention but has clearly become my life’s purpose. Over the summer, we navigated this new landscape where performative companies donated hundreds of millions of dollars to Black Lives Matter and/or the NAACP last summer which I felt was just assuaging their white guilt without any deep thought or research into the grass roots organizations who were on the ground delivering real help to real people who could have used even a small fraction of the millions that went into a minuscule handful of non-profit orgs. My business and non-profit were running on the ‘friends and family round’ that my husband and I put into the business. We were very lucky and extremely grateful that Cynthia Erivo discovered our work and made a sizeable donation to our initiative and supported our efforts. We also lucked out with a grant from a philanthropic organization who believed in the work we were doing. That helped us to keep going into 2021. We were also grateful to have the opportunity to work with SoulCycle last fall (while I was sick with COVID – not a good look). Towards the end of the year, I realized we had done no work on the for-profit side of the business so I spent November and December building out what our official pivot would be from the original concept I had been working on for two years. My own personal mental health journey was a decade-long exploration of healing modalities and spiritual practitioners which helped me to transform my life. I felt that this was where we should direct our focus. I built a new business plan and financial model and went out to fundraise with VC’s. After two months it became apparent that VC’s were time wasters who had no intention of investing in the work we were doing but took meetings nonetheless with no constructive feedback. Turns out they were scoping out the landscape that many of them are now piling into. If I am brutally honest, over the last four years I have been in and out of rooms with VC’s and every single time it feels like I am tap dancing and singing ‘mammy, how I love you how I love you’. (If you know then you know). I decided that enough was enough and I needed to build my business without investors. It was a thoroughly degrading process. I needed to focus on the work we had started and direct my energies into our community. But I still had a for-profit and a non-profit side to the business and both needed my attention and both needed funding. I am not a grant writer, so we employed one but alas, we were turned down for all grants. Money was running out and in spite of the phenomenal work my team was doing and more importantly our clinicians were doing, we couldn’t raise a dime! VC’s are the biggest time wasters! Oh, did I say that already? Well, no more.
Although our grant writer was no longer working with us, she continued to send through opportunities. She is lovely. One of the opportunities was the Jrue & Lauren Holiday Social Impact Fund. I applied but held out very little hope and also feared that we would have to spend time jumping through impossible hoops as a rookie non-profit org that would take away precious time from the impactful work we have been trying to do and still be unsuccessful.
I was wrong. Last Tuesday I received a calendar invite for a Zoom meeting, which I thought was an interview with the organization. I didn’t get my hopes up but accepted and notified them that I would be on a train to Philly where I would be en route to a memorial service for my late brother who died a few days before lockdown and we couldn’t hold a proper funeral. I didn’t want to reschedule the meeting with the JLH Fund so kept it in my diary and prayed that I would be able to get reception on the train. I logged in to the Zoom call and quickly discovered that there were 50+ people there – not just me! And, as predicted, the reception was really bad. Jrue and Lauren were speaking and I could not hear them and the visuals were cutting in and out. It was clear I was missing out on an important message when I started seeing the chat messages exclaiming joy and surprise and gratitude. I frantically started typing, “What did I miss????”. No answers back. I had missed something pretty impressive. I finally was able to put two and two together and realized that they were sharing that all of these people on the call had been chosen to receive grants from this fund along with taking part in an accelerator. I was overjoyed and promptly started crying in my seat. My 26 year-old son, who was next to me, held me and told me how proud of me he was. That is a unique and special feeling when your own child is proud of you. I was experiencing both relief, joy and gratitude that they believed in our mission and the impact of the work we are doing.
I don’t know Jrue and Lauren and to be honest, I didn’t know who they were before applying for this grant. Having lived in the UK for the past 30 years and only recently returned to America a few years ago, I am still learning about public figures in the U.S. But when they shared that we were now part of their family, I felt their sincerity and am fully prepared to embrace that. Jrue and Lauren – you’re now stuck with me!!! Not only am I excited about the grant we will receive but I am so encouraged about the accelerator where we will learn about building and running a non-profit organization, which to be honest, we have been winging it since last year! For the first time in a long while, I feel truly supported in the work we are doing.
This next phase of DRK Beauty Healing, through the support of the JLH Fund, will empower us to deliver more healing support to women of color in America as well as support our amazing community of clinicians who are truly front-line workers. What I have experienced and learned from these clinicians this year is truly phenomenal.
Thank you Jrue and Lauren. I am honored. I am thankful. I am grateful.
P.S. I would like to invite you as guests on my podcast soon…just saying!
Love, Wilma Mae xx