Society tells us men are suppose to be strong, they are leaders, they never or should never show emotions and they are never to be vulnerable. I believe as human beings, male or female – we are strong in our own way, we can all be leaders, we can be emotional and being vulnerable is what makes us real – what allows others to connect to us.
At the Queens & Kings Empowerment Brunch it was nice to see the Kings being completely open, vulnerable and at times emotional; this allowed me to really connect with them, experience their struggles and strengths in an honest and open way.
The panelist consist of a DJ who aspired to become a restaurateur, a man whose kindness lead to an amazing business venture, a young man whose vision expanded after the death of his brother and a man with a prison record who uses his successful business to provide assistance and guidance to young men. The kings were introduced by Shawn Love. They took the stage and were asked to tell the audience about themselves, their challenges and what advice they would give to the audience.
Below I will tell you about the panelist:
Correy Kaiten is a New York native who finds pleasure in bringing people together in celebration, With a passion for people it’s no surprise that he is an event planner. For the last 15 years Correy has planned events in NYC and other cities. The Black Excellence Ball is one of the most anticipated events in NYC and it’s planned by Mr. Black Excellence himself, Correy Kaiten – it’s an event where people get creative. Everything is amazing; the custom gown, tailored suits, venue, music and most important the experience.
Correy lost his little brother a few years ago which has lead him to deepen his relationship with God. His faith and trust has not only helped him to get through this very sad experience, it has helped him to expand his vision include philanthropy and find ways to give back.
Lesley (Ontrack) is a giving soul whose passion and love for music has brought Joy to many people over the years. He finds great joy in providing for his family and giving back to his community. As a successful DJ for many years Lesley has built many successful relationships over the years – he has used his platform to help others and his relationships to find ways for us to help each other. He believes that it’s ok to let go but trust the process and make you pick up back your dreams.
With a deep desire within to become a restaurateur and bar owner; Lesley opened Palooza Kitchen 1 & 2 in Brooklyn – his understanding, that having the perfect space, ambiance, great food, cocktails, good music and people makes for beautiful celebrations has lead him with patience, determination and faith to opened Bklyn Prime, a space that embodies all of what brings joy to others..
Andrew McDonnell was born in St. Michaels, Barbados, and came to Brooklyn, NY, at the age of five with his parents and two younger sisters. After playing Basketball one day in 2012 he noticed a homeless man without shoes; something deep within him gave him a nudged and he offered the gentleman his sneaker. This small act of kindness was greeted with a smile of gratitude from the grateful gentleman – It was in that moment that he experienced an AHA moment and It’s From The Soul was born (IFTS). That beautiful moment made him realized that many others were in the same position as that gentleman and could use his help. The next step was to start collecting donations which lead to him creating a distribution system.
For two and half years Mr. McDonnell did all of the groundwork himself; he handled the collection, cleaning, and distribution, all at his own expense; Of course, great work never goes unnoticed, as word got out the donations started coming in and so did the media exposure. It’s From the Soul has distributed sneakers in New York, New Jersey , Philadelphia, Alabama, Texas , Barbados, Jamaica , Puerto Rico, Haiti , London, Paris and Washington DC where we have given 1000 pairs of sneakers to CCNV shelter in 3 hours.
It’s From the Sole means to give from “the soul of your heart, to the sole of your feet” – I’m in awe of this organization, I love what Mr. McDonnell is doing for the Homeless population and what he is doing for the high school and college students he recruits. These students are learning what it means to help others while performing community service. To date, IFTS has generously given over 20,000 sneakers locally and internationally to the less fortunate.
Ethon Henry childhood passion for cars lead him to open Ziad Autobody. As an ex-felon in NYS he has experienced many challenges on his path – he used those challenges as a stepping stone to create a better life for himself, his family and to create a legacy.
Nat: What does success mean to you?
Ethan: Success means being able to take care of your family, while still being able to help others, I think some equate success with money but I like to think of it as the things money can’t buy if I died today the life insurance and money in the bank will at some point disappear but what will my name be worth? I want my family and children to be able to go somewhere and be asked “hey are you Ethon’s daughter (or wife son etc.) oh man I knew your dad he was a great man”…. and with that statement it opens a door that may have been closed or unlocks an opportunity that would otherwise not be given. In short, success should be a legacy.
Nat: Since you’ve figured out how to make your plan and dreams work and accomplish your goals, how will you give back to your community and assist them as they journey to figure out how to plan their dreams and make it work?
Ethon: I assist actively in my community first by leading by example, our young people have a lot of distractions in the media and I personally believe it has led to a decline, this thought that you can have overnight/ microwaved success is all over the internet. So I show them it’s ok to work, it’s ok to save your money and not blow it on shoes and things that have no real value. I employ youth in the summer to keep them off the streets, I show them a trade get them involved in learning the core skills needed to compete in the marketplace. We do mock interviews, they learn time management, financial management (many kids that come in don’t have bank accounts we set them up for them), so it’s a comprehensive program to empower them to possibly become entrepreneurs or at the minimum be able to obtain and hold steady employment
Nat: What contributes greatly to your growth as a person and as a business owner?
Ethan: The thing that contributes most to my growth is God I have grown both mentally and spiritually through him. I believe its taboo to some to say God did it, they prefer to say “I’m self-made, etc. and I find that to be ridiculous, as I said on stage this isn’t the first business I have been through a lot been broke like seriously to the point of not being able to eat proper meals and at all times when attempting to do what I wanted to do God showed me a path and even in suffering reminded me he is always with me. So everything I have accomplished now I owe it to him that’s why I give so willingly he puts us in positions to be givers and to do good work with what he has given us.
Nat: Since you understand the struggles and challenges a man with a record faces in his day to day life – have you in any way helped or guide others who are facing this very challenge? And what would is the best advice you could give them?
Ethon: Having a record is a hindrance in so many ways so when I have people apply for jobs I don’t even ask the question, I know how that rejection feels and the stigma you carry as if your going to run away with the building you are standing in. I actually employ 2 people that have spent a combined 4 years in prison and to be honest with you they are my most valued employees. People make mistakes and just need a real second chance to make it work and our criminal justice system purposely makes it hard for them, I won’t be a part of that. I have to help my people.
Nat: Where do you see your company in five years?
Ethon: In five years I see my company being considerably larger we are already laying the groundwork for it today, we have acquired an additional building and have begun construction, we are getting into the towing business and I’m back selling cars which have always been a passion of mine. I’m also starting an initiative to help people with poor credit buy cars through in-house financing that we will put the money up and buy these cars and give out decent non-predatory car payments so people are not getting repossessed and can get on their feet. Having a car is a big step opens up your possibilities with where you can live, jobs you can take, etc. so its a small step but an important one.
And there you have it dahlings – this is the second and final part featuring the Kings from the Empowerment Brunch. Read part one
It was an incredible experience to listen to these men speak about their journey thus far through life. My three takeaways that I have added to my “to live by” list – know that magic exists because although life can take us through many turns and twists it can be so wonderfully amazing, know your destination but enjoy your journey because it helps you to grow into the person you’re meant to be, don’t sleepwalk through life.
Images via Cindy Trinispice Photography