Entrepreneurs espouse the joys of owning their businesses

Dr. Carletha Hughes started her own pediatrician practice. It has allowed her to make her own hours, spending time with family. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)

A great idea can lead to a successful business. Believe in it.

Black entrepreneurs from Homewood and Flossmoor told Homewood-Flossmoor High students that dreams can become reality with hard work and determination during the Black History Month program Roots to Success: Bringing Generations in Black Entrepreneurship on Feb. 19 jointly presented by the Village of Flossmoor and H-F High.

Nine business owners offered their insights on how to start a business and make it prosper. Panelists were Gregory Austin of GCA Apparel; Marlana Baylis of HXM Consultant and Career Coach; Dr. Brie Coleman of The Pelvic Gem; Chogie and Tony Fields of Conservatory Vintage & Vinyl; Karen Ford of Sutton Ford; Dr. Carletha Hughes of Suburban Pediatrics; Rita Natasha of Thairapy; Luckeyia Polk-Murry of Luckeyia’s Balloons and Mariah Smith of POSH Pageants.

There were lots of encouraging messages: Don’t give up, believe in yourself, love what you do, show discipline, follow your passion and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. And, personal stories that were meant to give students direction and guidance.


“A business is like a baby. You have to grow that business, feed that business. You are forever with that, just like a newborn,” said Luckeyia Polk-Murry, who added: “If you do something that you truly love, it won’t feel like work.” 

Polk-Murry and several other panelists said the Black community doesn’t have a pipeline for working capital. She told students that every idea needs capital. She recommends starting a small saving account to build up reserves to be used to start and maintain the business. Mariah Smith recommended the Black Girl Ventures website for its information on funding sources. 

“We don’t have a strong community of business owners or entrepreneurs so for the bank it’s business,” said Dr. Carletha Hughes. “So, we definitely need to do financial planning and think about opening banks for ourselves so we don’t have that stigma because unfortunately we have it. We have many, many talented people in our community who can open up a business but they don’t because they don’t have the money.  It’s just something to think about.”

Gregory Austin said getting an accountant made a difference for him. He now has better management of his income.

Karen Sutton, a 2006 H-F graduate, said she often feels she is breaking ground in the car industry where only 6% of the dealerships are Black owned, although the Black purchasing power is much greater than 6%. Sutton Ford was started by her parents, and she is now the owner.

 “I knew it was difficult. I knew there weren’t people who looked like me, and I had a point to prove,” as a Black woman, Sutton said. “I enjoy what I do … You want people to say ‘I can do that, too.’”

Several presenters sell services. Career coach Marlana Baylis said she invested in her education to gain reputable credentials. 

“It was an ‘aha’ moment because when you go to charge people you don’t have any fear because you’ve invested in the thing that you want to do. You know the value, you trust the value and you know you can deliver.”

Making your own schedule is something these entrepreneurs appreciate. Hughes said her business of treating sick children doesn’t always have a set schedule. She is taking phone calls and offering care in a hospital setting in addition to her office hours. But having her own business does allow her to make her own schedule and plan family time.

Chogie Fields, who still maintains a full-time job, said work-life balance is important.

Fields said she decides activities have to be spiritual or family oriented or a means of giving back. If not, then she decides not to do it. “And sometimes I have to regrettably (say) I’m not available,” she said.

Fields stressed: “Make sure you take time to sleep. If I’m home, I do lunch on a plate – not eating out of Styrofoam, not eating out of a carry-out box. Eating on a plate is very intentional and purposeful and this is my time to take a rest and take care of myself. If you’re not healthy then your business won’t thrive.”

Eric Baker Jr. of Homewood, a sophomore at H-F, was on the panel as a student presenter. As a freshman he had ideas for a clothing line and had sketched out designs, but it was his Entrepreneur and Management class that gave him insights on how to set up a business plan.

He only had $80, so rather than spending the little money he had, he used YouTube and TikTok videos as teaching tools. He started a website for EMP Clothing Apparel. 

He remembers he wanted everything to be perfect, and he believed that he could “just come out and Bam! It would be perfect. But I had to learn you have to start from somewhere. So, just start off with what you have and it will get better, but it takes time.”

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