Name: Camesha L. Jones
Business: Sista Afya Community Mental Wellness
Industry: Health + Wellness
Tanya: So, question number one, a simple one, what was your path to entrepreneurship?
Camesha: My path towards entrepreneurship started, I would say, maybe about six years ago. I think I’ve always been someone who’s wanted to be in leadership and have thought outside of the confines of what we’re taught in social work school to be able to make a difference, but also to be able to approach things differently.
I saw entrepreneurship as a way to break out of some of those molds, in addition to being able to create something that hadn’t been created before in Chicago, and a topic that is difficult to talk about, such as mental health. So really entrepreneurship for me started with wanting to approach mental health differently, wanting to approach healing in the black community differently in ways that I couldn’t really get in a traditional nine to five.
Tanya: So, what would you say thus far has been your boldest business move?
Camesha: Oh man, boldest business move. I actually think getting a location was my boldest business move, in the middle of a pandemic.
Before we had just a small office space, and as we have grown to a team of about eight people, that small office space wasn’t going to work anymore, and our landlord, we have the same landlord as before, and she was like, “Hey, you all are growing, do you need a bigger space?” And if you think about bigger space, you think about more money, all those different things.
But I decided to make a move on it, and I think it was the right decision to accompany our growth, but also to have a space in the community where people can come and support one another with their mental wellness, which before we used to have to rent space, do pop-ups, and it feels good to have a home, so I feel like that was probably one of the boldest business moves I’ve made, in addition to, like with the BMO Celebrating Women Grant, just applying for funding.
Tanya: It’s amazing. I think just in terms of you taking that bold leap of faith like, “Hey, we’re growing. We’re going to need this space anyways.” And seeing a long-term vision and seeing how it paid off is pretty awesome. So what would you say is the biggest financial turning point for your business? Your, “I made it”, moment.
Camesha: When I was able to pay myself consistently and be an employee of my own company. I transitioned to doing the business full-time in 2020. I had put in my 30-days resignation at my job, and then the pandemic happened a month after.
Tanya: Of course, it did.
Camesha: So, I was like, “Ooh, I’m really in this.” You know? “I’m really in this.”
Camesha: I was thinking, “I don’t have anything to go back to. I have to make this work.” So, when I had my license, I got connected with insurance companies, and I was like, “Okay. I don’t know how I’m going to be able to do everything. I don’t know what it’s going to look like.” But when I was able to pay myself consistently, and when we generated… I think, that year in 2020, we generated almost a hundred thousand dollars more revenue. I was like, “Oh.” I was like, “We made it.”
So that led to being able to hire more therapists, and then we have an administrative coordinator so I could get more support. So, I wasn’t doing everything. That’s when I was like, “Oh, we’re really here.” I feel like I made it once it got to that point.
Tanya: How has or has the lens of being a woman, being a Black woman, in this mental health space helped you in your journey of building your business?
Camesha: Yeah, I would say it’s definitely helped. Most entrepreneurs in mental health are women, which is different than I think in some other industries. So I feel like I’m among the majority and not amongst the minority. I do think one challenge though, that I’ve seen is for, is to get to just having a small group practice to a larger group practice. It’s one of the areas where men tend to dominate as opposed to women, but it still feels pretty competitive, I would say.
Tanya: Who are some women who have helped you in your journey?
Camesha: I have a team full of women. My first business coach was a woman. Her name is Lauren Williams. I went through this business incubator called Sunshine Enterprises. They’re located in Chicago. Lauren was my first business coach, and I attribute a lot of the support and stability that I needed when I started my business, to her support.
Right now, I have a team of accountants that are all women, GreenOak Accounting. They have really, really helped me, because when you’re in business you can’t do everything. And so being able to have that support has really been helpful. I would also say other Black women in mental health care, I can think of a dozen Black women that I know who have their own practices, who have their own mental health organizations. And we support one another, and they inspire me.
Tanya: That’s beautiful. What about triumphs and challenges? What is your business’s greatest triumph and what is your business’s greatest challenge?
Camesha: Ooh, biggest triumph. I would say making it through this pandemic as a business owner, as a start-up type business owner. I do not take it for granted. There are businesses that have shut down. There are businesses that have had to shift completely. And I do feel like it is a triumph to be able to say that we grew during a really difficult time. And we’ve been a part of a national movement to address mental health and to make mental health a priority. So, I would say that’s our biggest triumph.
The biggest challenge I would say is still making sure that you’re sustainable as a business. There’s a lot of talk about growth like you want to grow, but I’m really focused on sustainability. And if that means that I grow at a slower pace, that’s okay. I think in business, people try to push you to grow really fast and to make that a top priority. But recently, I think it was maybe about a week ago. And I said, “You know what? We can go at a slower pace.”. I’d rather go at a slower pace and be sustainable, than to grow really fast and it becomes really difficult to sustain. Or worse have to shut down all those things, you know?
Tanya: I love that you touch on that because as soon as there’s like a little bit of success, everyone is always pushing you for more success and faster.
There have been major world changes in the past few years. In terms of the covid pandemic and/or recent racial and political tensions, how has your business been affected?
Camesha: I would say that it’s increased the need for mental health care. For months we were full, like we couldn’t even accept new clients because there were that many people who were reaching out for care and that’s why we applied for the BMO Celebrating Women Grant Program, so we were able to hire two more therapists, which we have done so far, just last month in February.
I think it had a profound effect because of the compounding of all these different things. Job loss, health, anxiety, racial uprisings, political tension, seemed like it was a perfect storm that created more difficulties for people to either maintain their mental health or people to experience mental health conditions. And they had never experienced them before in their lives.
Tanya: Thankfully you were there to be able to be the soft place for folks to land during like you said, all of these things and especially the Black community specifically. What do you wish people would know about being a black entrepreneur?
Camesha: I think part of our legacy is that we are really good with being resourceful, and as the phrase says, making a way out of no way. I think Black entrepreneurs do so well with that because we don’t necessarily get the same amount of funding or investment or loans. We hit so many different barriers and so I think that is just the way that we’re resourceful, creative, and able to make moves, regardless of if we get all the things that we deserve or not. I think that’s something that people should know.
And even for myself as an entrepreneur, I did a lot of DIY stuff in the beginning. I taught myself how to create a website, how to facilitate… because it was either I do it or it’s not going to exist. I think it’s a huge strength and it shows that once we have what we need, we can really soar, because of that ability to do those things.
Tanya: Absolutely. Great answer. So last question – how do you balance between personal and professional? For you, you are in the mental health space, which means that it’s extra heavy, your day-to-day, in terms of ingesting other people’s mental health. So how are you infusing self-care and striking a boundary between your personal and professional life?
Camesha: There are some things that I do on a daily basis and there are some things that I do on a weekly basis. On a daily basis, I always make sure that I’m nourishing myself with good food. I love to cook. And when you’re working long hours throughout the day, you don’t want to be reaching for pizza. You want to be reaching for apples and water and all those different good things. So, I think nourishment, like having healthy food helps with my energy, also helps with just taking care of myself.
I have a newfound love for jump roping. I’ve been jump roping almost every day. I find 15 or 20 minutes, put on some of my favorite music, and just go. And I usually do that right after I have therapy sessions. So, I can just take a breather and focus on myself before having to think about maybe some of the things that people have shared.
I try to take my weekends off. I may not get a full weekend, but I at least try to have one full day where I’m not doing anything related to my business. So if that’s spending time with friends, family, going out, doing something fun in the city, I try to do those things. And then also there’s always stuff to be done and giving myself space to be okay if I don’t hit everything right on the mark. That it’s okay if I have a little bit more space in my schedule to meet the different demands that business can throw at you.
Tanya: That’s beautiful. I love that you’re very intentional about your daily and weekly ways of self-care. Be well.
Bold & Black is a monthly interview series conducted by award-winning writer and entrepreneur Tanya Hayles. Tanya is the founder of Black Moms Connection, an online global village of almost 30,000 and a non-profit providing programs and financial tools through grant programs generously supported by BMO.