Kaci Harris handles mannequins on her days off. On her days on, she often handles a full line-up of clients, under her own branded business, KM Beauty. It's an impressive feat for anyone, but especially for a first-year student in college.
“It makes me very proud of myself,” Harris said. “I definitely don’t think that I would be where I am today if I didn’t have the community that I have.”
The backdrop for Harris is a country where 14% of Americans are Black, but just 2% own businesses. Black entrepreneurs face a massive gap in the wealth and home equity that drives most white-owned new businesses.
Harris' story isn’t just of a girl who got her start in hairstyling by using Kool-Aid as hair dye. It’s also of a girl whose dreams have been nurtured by family and community.
Her parents, Darin and Sonya, recall giving their daughter their blessing. In recent years, a salon near her home has given her a stall and an apprenticeship.
“I’m appreciative that someone is willing to invest in her,” Darin said.
Benita Swindell is a local chapter president of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. They held a contest to help fund young Black entrepreneurs. They heard from Kaci and awarded her $500.
“We used to talk about starting a business, but starting a business was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s just too much. It’s a lot of money!’ But nowadays, people are starting a business, and these youth are young and they’re starting it with a dime,” Swindell said.
When Harris isn’t building her business, she’s studying at Bowie State University in Maryland.
“Thirty years ago, when I attended, the focus was to get a good job, that kind of thing. And now they’re teaching this generation of young people how to not only be their own bosses but be job creators,” Harris' father said. “It allows our community to focus on the kinds of things that are important to our community, not as a response to somebody else’s vision of the world.”
So here is a young woman in a world with barriers, but also a world where running a business seems reachable, using space at a Black-owned salon, receiving funds from a Black sorority, finding foundation from a Black school, seeing her childhood dreams become communal.
“The whole purpose of community is to expand that, you know... That's what we all should be doing,” Sonya said.
Harris may decide to open a salon one day, hire employees and become a boss. But, the choice will be hers.
“It makes me very proud of myself. Especially when I talk with other people my age, it makes me feel very empowered, like I’m doing the right thing, and I want to keep striving to make people proud,” Harris said.