Self Made: Photojournalism Project Profiles 9 Black Women Business Owners in Newark

Oct 9, 2020

Cover Photo of Self Made
Credit Tinnetta Bell

The Self Made photojournalism project profiles nine Black women business owners in Newark who were documented just before the COVID-19 outbreak. It celebrates their creativity and connection to community at a time when the future of small businesses everywhere, especially those owned by Black women, is uncertain.

The Self Made women, who make the products they sell, were photographed by Tinnetta Bell and interviewed by journalist Carrie Stetler between July 2019 and January of 2020. 

Stetler joined WBGO News Director Doug Doyle for a chat about the photojournalism project.  

Stetler says proceeds from magazine sales will be donated to She Wins, a Newark non-profit that cultivates the potential of middle-school and high-school-aged girls, with a focus on those who have been affected by violence and trauma.  Copies of the magazine can be purchased here.

All  businesses featured and pictured were in the often-stigmatized South and West Wards of Newark, where economic recovery has been slower than other parts of the city.  Stetler says when the media covers stories of Newark's resurgence, business owners in both wards are typically excluded.

"I guess one thing that inspired me to do this was because I was looking for a interesting story to tell and I also found that Black women are the largest growing  demographic of entrepreneurs in the U.S. and that's been the case for more than a decade.  So I thought those stories are really worth being told, stories of smaller businesses or more traditional businesses, you know like restaurants or ice cream parlors, I really thought it was valuable to tell those stories and document them for history sake." 

Charmaine Vann Seagraves is one of the business owners featured in Self Made
Credit Tinnetta Bell

Self Made, created with funding from Newark Arts and an Express Newark Third Space grant offers in-depth profiles of four entrepreneurs: Shidae Jones of CB Dreamhouse Boutique; Rashena Burroughs of Blueberry Cafe Juice Bar & Vegan Grille; Charmaine Vann Seagraves of Charmaine Has Hands 4 Hair and Shikhana Muhammed of Salaam Ice Cream Parlor.

Stetler says all the women featured care about their community.

"One thing that really struck me doing this is that the women that I profiled are really products of their communities and they have real bonds with their customers.  I guess that's true of any small business but I like it's symbiotic relationship.  They don't have this attitude that this a place they want to escape or that they're here to improve it or make it better, they are there because they love what they do and they love where they are."

Five additional South and West Ward business owners are featured in shorter profiles: Laura Bonas Palmer of Akwaaba Gallery; Shante Lewis, the HotDog Lady; Malika Muhammad of Fashionable Fashions; Isabel Merced of Party Events; and Philomina Kissi of Dresswell Boutique.

Rashena Burroughs is also featured in Self Made
Credit Tinnetta Bell

The Self Made print publication includes stories on the history of Black women entrepreneurs in America, resources from aspiring entrepreneurs and expert advice from financial educator and Newark resident Tiffany "The Budgetnista" Aliche and Dawn Fitch, founder and owner of  Pooka Pure & Simple bath and body products.

Stetler is an independent journalist and communications professional who worked for the Newark Star-Ledger for 20 years as a reporter.  She was also managing editor of HYCIDE magazine and senior editor of NewarkBound magazine.  

Stetler says she chose Tinnetta Bell to do the photos for the project because the subjects of her studio portraits always look so radiant and confident.  Editor-in-Chief Stetler stresses that she wanted to see Tinnetta transfer her style and point-of-view as a studio photographer to photojournalism. 

"I wanted Self Made to provide a platform for her images, especially because she is a Black woman with her own business."

Tinetta is the founder of Tinnnetta Bell Photography.  She is a New Jersey-based studio portrait photographer who work has appeared in VIBE, Ebony, Essence and Black Enterprise magazines.

Self Made includes a directory of free resources for aspiring and existing women entrepreneurs, and the website includes updates on the women and how their businesses were affected by COVID.

The other members of the Self Made team besides Stetler and Bell are Tara Oliver (Associate Editor), Sindy Snchz (Designer), Amy Kiger-Williams (Copyeditor) and Alyxaundria Sanford (Social Media Manager). 

Click above to hear the entire conversation with Carrie Stetler.