Local Black-owned businesses

For Black History Month the Falconer spoke to the owners of local Black-owned businesses.

Dancing Around the Oak Tree Art Studio

A safe haven filled with tables of colorful beads, paints and other art supplies, Dancing Around the Oak Tree Art Studio in downtown San Diego is an educational nonprofit organization that allows kids with disabilities not only to express their creativity, but also learn important skills and connect with the community.

Founded in 2014 by Vickie Lawrence, a person with a disability, the organization is approaching its 10-year anniversary in April. “I had a lot of opportunities [as] a person with a disability able to go to college and able to come here and start a nonprofit with all the people to back me up,” Lawrence said. “I just want to be a leeway to a path for those with disabilities and for family members who have disabilities.”

Lawrence achieves this by providing her students with creative freedom. Currently, Lawrence has approximately 25 students, and she spends class time focusing on them and their projects one-on-one. She sets up stations that provide her students with high-quality supplies for whatever they require to create their artwork.

“Most of my students love making bracelets; if they want to make five, that’s okay, [if they] run out of beads, I can get some more,” Lawrence said. “Another table is painting, and another table I have is if they want to work on another type of art. And if the student doesn’t want to take part and just wants to sit and watch, it’s okay … it’s designed so that everyone can choose what art they do.”

Not only does this connect her students to their artistic side, but to the greater community.

“To have an educational school system for those with disabilities where they don’t need to be in a place isolated from the community [is important],” Lawrence said. “Those with disabilities — we are capable. Just give each and every person a chance, all you have to do is have patience and … come with a good attitude.”

Improving the treatment of people with disabilities is Lawrence’s main goal.

“To me, this is a very sensitive thing, a person with disabilities and how society treats them; it’s come a long way but it still needs to be improved,” Lawrence said. “I advocate for the others who have been overlooked … I always have to say something, I cannot just watch.”

Lawrence does this advocacy through Dancing Around the Oak Tree Art Studio.

“It’s building the community up not to shun,” Lawrence said. “If a person is in special education, but they are in a non- special education class, have respect. Don’t tease that person because they look different or they talk differently. It’s learning together, which brings success in the community, and that’s my goal.”

The establishment and 10-year growth of the Dancing Around the Oak Tree Art Studio also came with unanticipated rewards.

“Getting the community’s recognition, I wasn’t expecting that,” Lawrence said. “I’m just doing what I need to do, not just to be recognized in the community.”

Lawrence will continue doing “what [she] need[s] to do,” creating lasting impacts on the community through her love of art.

Maya’s Cookies

From doorstep to doorstep across the nation, neon pink boxes make their way to eager customers. Each box contains a set of scrumptious cookies, but these are no ordinary cookies — they are Maya Madsen’s signature gourmet vegan cookies.

While sales started at the Little Italy Mercato Farmers’ Market in 2015, Madsen steadily grew her business by selling her cookies online. Maya’s Cookies’ popularity skyrocketed in 2020 due to actress Kerry Washington tweeting about the brand as well as the rise of movements to support Black- owned businesses amid the Black Lives Matter movement.

Now, Madsen’s business is known as “America’s #1 Black-owned Gourmet Vegan Cookie Company,” as stated on its website.

Madsen’s first location opened in November 2020 at her baking facility, which she upgraded to a retail store in the Grantville neighborhood of San Diego, followed by a second location in July 2022 in San Marcos.

“I started my business because I could not find what I was looking for on the market, which was a … decadent cookie that happened to be plant-based,” Madsen said. “So, I created one myself.”

Since its inception, Madsen knew what she wanted to achieve.

“When I started the business, I told myself I wanted to be a national presence and I wanted to be the best,” Madsen said.

However, the development of her business was not an easy task.

“I don’t have any food and beverage industry experience, and I did not go to college to study business, so I made a lot of mistakes along the way,” Madsen said. “I value the mistakes that I’ve learned to overcome because they’ve helped me grow.”

Building a business requires both technical knowledge and a belief in the creation.

“No one knows what your dreams and goals are and what you are capable of accomplishing except for you,” Madsen said. “So when other people try to project their opinions and fears and tell you what they think you should be doing, I think that it’s best to just trust your gut and believe in yourself.”

Overall, Madsen’s business continues to evolve.

“My new goals are to continue to grow. Scale up, be an innovator, provide more jobs, get better and continue to create delicious products that make people happy and expand my brand,” Madsen said.

Madsen has adapted various strategies to achieve the goals for her business.

“I surround myself with like-minded people and industry experts that know more than I do,” said Madsen. “I get involved in the community, which allows me to network and meet more people, and ask for help from my mentors and those that know more than me.”

Madsen makes a point to support other Black-owned businesses, such as buying ingredients from such companies.

This year’s fourth annual Black History collection of Maya’s Cookies is inspired by sports icons, as the Olympics are fast approaching. The three new flavors are: “The Trailblazer,” designed to look like a gold medal inspired by track and field Olympic athlete Florence Joyner, also known as FloJo; “The Grand Slam,” inspired by Olympic tennis player Serena Williams’ favorite dessert, the Moon Pie; and “The MVP,” inspired by Magic Johnson, infused with chunks of magic bars.

To place orders, visit mayascookies.com or visit the San Diego or San Marcos location.

Mrs. Parker’s Charm School

At Mrs. Parker’s Charm School, a local educational program for building etiquette skills, founder and owner Kymberli Parker stresses one key rule above all others: “No matter what you see, and no matter what you do, you have to shake a hand.”

Since its inception in 2011, Mrs. Parker’s Charm School has emphasized “consideration, respect and honesty.” Parker’s very first students were her own kids.

“There were a few moms who said, ‘Man, I wish I could get my kids to behave like your kids or make eye contact.’ And so that was the inspiration for starting the business,” Parker said. “They were the greatest business cards that I could ever have had.”

The only thing Parker was missing was “formal training” to teach etiquette, which brought her to the Emily Post Institute in Burlington, Vermont.

“I went there for a three-day training called ‘Train the Trainer.’ It teaches people how to teach children and how to teach parents to teach their children,” Parker said. “I was a hit when I came back.”

With that training under her belt, Parker started by teaching private lessons with children at her kids’ school. Lessons include etiquette basics such as how to give a handshake, introductions, using social media and what Parker calls “the art of the hand-written thank-you note.”

While Parker’s work revolves around children’s etiquette, “most of the things that [apply] to the children are the same things that are applicable to a business.”

This revelation brought Parker back to the Emily Post Institute for another “Train the Trainer” program for businesses.

“Qualcomm called and asked if I could teach a group of gentlemen that was going to work with some high-level executives, but they were uncertain of their dining skills,” Parker said.

Since then, Mrs. Parker’s Charm School has taught what Parker calls foundational “life skills” to businesses and institutions such as LPL Financial, Point Loma Nazarene University and even Prada.

“I taught a class with a group of minority athletes years ago,” Parker said. “We were arming them with a little bag of tools that they could pull out [to] fit in and make themselves feel comfortable.”

Her comfort in and dedication to etiquette is what brought Parker to the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility to teach a program to “reform [inmates] into society.” Parker’s work there and at the California Institute for Women earned her the 2019 cover of the San Diego Reader.

Though Mrs. Parker’s Charm School has, since COVID, limited its operations to only private lessons, it is looking to relaunch a group class environment this coming summer, according to Parker. Past in-person group lessons often involved a partnership between Mrs. Parker’s Charm School and a venue or storefront. Mrs. Parker’s Charm School even partnered with Ruth’s Chris Steak House in the past, renting a room for herself and 10 to 15 students to enjoy a guided meal.

“I teach in the Socratic method … It’s very interactive, [and] it’s so much fun,” Parker said. “I love teaching etiquette and manners.”

Parker customizes lessons for individual clients, making the process of learning etiquette non-threatening, comfortable and personalized. For booking, pricing and all other inquiries, email info@parkercharm.com.

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