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Portraits of Michigan

It’s more important to understand someone than to judge them. We think the first step to understanding someone is asking them the fundamental questions about who they are and how they became the person they are today. Understanding and empathy are essential building blocks for a better, more compassionate world. We’re incredibly fortunate to be able to ask these questions each week through our interview series. Below you’ll find inspiring interviews from in and around KC.

Stephanie Dolly

I started in 2016! Knowing my whole life that I wanted to own my own business like my dad! I’m a single mother of two and I wanted to give my children the best life possible so they didn’t endure some of the same struggle I had to… I went through many ideas and business plans but one day I just began baking something that came natural. As a child my mother would have us kids in the kitchen helping daily. Pretty much all the Dolly women can cook!  Read more>>

Denise Moore

Starting ZAB Cultural Collective was a labor of love. I was an illustrator but I had given up seriously creating art back in the early 1990s after I had met my future husband and started a family along with investing in real estate and opening my first brick and mortar rental hall business, I would do a few projects here and there but thought that I didn’t have the time to seriously pursue art anymore. Now, in hindsight, I know that that was ridiculous and that I should have made time for it. Read more>>

Shacarra Bennett-Hardy

Hi! I’m Shacarra Bennett-Hardy. Detroit, MI (Eastside) born and raised, however I’m currently residing in Dallas, TX, but I’m always visiting home. When I was in high school I would try to wear a little makeup. Just one or two eyeshadows, nothing major, but when I got to college I tried to really step it up. I attended Alabama A&M University where I received my bachelor’s degree in Social Work. I remember one summer while home from school I was working part time and taking one online class. As you can probably already tell it was a very boring summer for me, but I found excitement in YouTube!  Read more>>

Mya Ferguson

As a young girl I always knew I wanted to do hair somehow. No one in my family does hair, so I always found it interesting how I knew at such a young age what I was passionate about. I’d like to think it’s been a God given plan the whole time. From putting random pony tails all over my moms head, to slapping loads of product in it. Staying up late doing my little sisters hair for school when my mom would get too sleepy. Read more>>

Karen Burton

I decided that I wanted to be an architect when I was in the fourth grade. My friend’s dad worked in architecture. He came to my class for career day and brought his sketches of African American leaders and business people. I figured he liked to draw and so did I. Combine that with my Dad taking my brother and me exploring through houses under construction in my neighborhood, my good grades in math, and stories of an uncle who was an architect (he died when I was much younger, but my family made the connection), I knew I would make designing buildings my career. Read more>>

Toni Porter

DJ Candle Light emerged over the initial Covid19 lockdown. I already had a love for music, but the lockdown made me get creative. I’m a single mom to a toddler and you most definitely have to keep them entertained. So music is the best choice and dancing helps burn off some good energy. However, I had no clue that I would fall in love with DJing and get hired post quarantine. Read more>>

Madinah Muhammad

It all began with a makeup brush, a eye shadow pallet from the dollar tree and a natural pressed powder by MAC cosmetics. I’ve always been a creative person but I didn’t truly tap into this creativity until 2009 while living in Atlanta, GA. Born and raised in Detroit I relocated to Atlanta with my two children to be with my mother who was living there at the time. The beauty scene in Atl was very different from Detroit during this time. I started to notice the beautiful artistry of makeup that many of them wore on a day to day basis.  Read more>>

Damon Bradley

Currently one of the partners ins Shoptalk Podcast studios, with my partner Jason. We record our podcast out this location Shoptalk Podcast, and we provide a recording space for over 200 podcasts that have recorded behind our doors. Jason and i took the conversations we’d have at work, and literally put it podcast form. We’re 300 plus episodes in on Shoptalk Podcast consecutively. We have no plans of stopping. Read more>>

BRANDON SMITH

I started as a producer/songwriter who decided the best way to my name out there was to create a hit-list of all the local artists I wanted to work, and offer my talents for free. This really helped propel my name and allowed me opportunity to work with many artists around Metro Detroit. I quickly realized that we had major talent here, yet the opportunities for growth as an artist, were slim to none. Read more>>

Chef Robbie B

The sentiment, “I don’t look like what I’ve been through” is one that describes my story. I grew up on the Eastside of Detroit, my father passed away from cancer when I was 11 years old and my mother was emotionally unavailable for even her own children. I spent my childhood in survival mode for the most part. I was kicked out at 16 and moved with my grandmother who then was given guardianship over me.  Read more>>

Chrystle Cadet

Bling Apples started with a request from my best friend to do custom apples for her mother’s party. I’d never done this before and I responded “I have no clue how to make those.” She simply replied “I believe in you.” Although I had no knowledge on the subject, I was creative enough to figure it out. YouTube became my best friend! Although not perfect, I didn’t do too bad for my first time. From there I received requests from my sister in law, other family members, and eventually strangers who came across my work.  Read more>>

Laurn Valentine

I became sick and was in the house for so long I started reading different genres of books on my kindle. Shifters, witches, druids, books of that nature, however whenever I would try and find a fae book they were always evil or bad and I didn’t understand it, but I was determined to find one good fae book. One day I was searching Amazon like crazy and I spoke out, “are there no good-fae books written’? And clear as day a voice said, if you want it write it.  Read more>>

Alyssa Jones

In high school the conversation really starts regarding what you want to be when you grow up, what your passion is. I was the student who had absolutely no idea what I wanted. Some things sounds okay – being an art teacher, a math teacher, a massage therapist, but nothing I felt a “passion” for. I was accepted early admissions to Saint Mary’s College in South Bend, IN my senior year and I still didn’t know what I wanted to major in or what career might make me happy in life. Read more>>

Candace Duggan

I am an Artist, Crafter, and Licensed Massage Therapist. I have been a practitioner for 21 years working in spa, chiropractic, and health club settings. I received my diploma through the Flint School of Therapeutic Massage and I’m a certified member in good standing of Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals. I strive to help my clients achieve relief from chronic pain and help provide overall relaxation. I’m currently working at Ascension Genesys Health Club in the massage department. Read more>>

Pavlina Osta

I began as a steel drum street performer when I was 10 years old. I’d perform at various beach town venues in Florida. Media noticed and after multiple interviews, it was suggested I should have my own radio show. I was up for it! However, my school schedule, competition dance, karate and gymnastics scheduling made a radio show difficult to fit in. I decided to do on location interviews with news makers and celebrities. By the time I was 18, I had a Guinness Works Record, numerous media awards, over 800 interviews for my shows and a new job in New York City. Read more>>

Toni Porter

Jax|Co by Jaxon Porter started as an anti-bullying apparel line for my son Jaxon Chandler in 2017. More recently the company was revamped and rebranded to also include business consulting and company branding. Jax|Co by Jaxon Porter has a brand partnership & collaboration with Toni’s Collection. Our goal is to help other business owners showcase their business and present themselves professionally to their customers.  Read more>>

Caitlyn Moore

In fall of 2020, I was speaking with my sister one day about how there’s no one store that sells everything we need. Some stores are good for everyday items, some stores are good for going out items only, but there’s no one store with everything. She challenged me by saying that I should simply create one. After this conversation I got to work researching vendors and ways to create a website and branding ideas. I decided on the name Vital because I know that when you go to the doctor they check your Vitals to ensure you’re healthy and your body is functioning properly. Read more>>

Barbara Goldberg

It all started when my son was invited to an engagement party…I had been working on creating and developing a chocolate chip cookie recipe for years. He decided to bring a batch to the party. We received such amazing feedback from all the guests. So my son, Spencer, and I decided to launch a small business, called Gold Mountain Cookies. Everyone loves cookies and during the pandemic, we all needed a yummy pick me up. So we started an instagram page, a facebook page and told our family and friends. Read more>>

Lisa Higgins

The balloons wouldn’t fit in my van! Yes, that’s how it all started. In 2016, in preparation for my twin’s birthday, I had loaded up my minivan with my 3 kids, party supplies, a cake, boxes of pizzas, and presents, I made my last stop to get balloons. Sweating and stressed out from the party planning and hurrying to get back to set up in time, I discovered, with a handful of balloons whipping in the wind – that they wouldn’t fit. Read more>>

Noa Chandler

My name is Noa Chandler, I am 26 years old, and I was born and raised in Metro Detroit. As a professional working in the field for 10 years, I specialize in Portraits, Engagements, Product Shots, and Fine Art Photography. That’s the basics. How did I get here? I would love to tell you. I have always been a super artistic person, I love crafts and completing tasks by working through a process. In high school, I became interested in a career in art, but didn’t have any specific medium In mind. Read more>>

Emily Alber

My story starts with adoption. I was put up for adoption in 1983 after being ironically born on Gross Point road in Skokie, Illinois (I was raised in Grosse Pointe, Michigan). My biological mother carried me in Chicago after being lured by a baby broker in the 80s from an advertisement she saw in Bismarck, North Dakota. She was not treated very well or compensated properly for my birth (breach of contract happened for many mothers that were influenced by this particular broker) and a group of our adoptions led to the Federal Anti-Fraudulent Act of 1984.  Read more>>

Anthony Whitlow

Started doing my music at 7. Started making beats at 12. I performed a lot and dropped a lot of content to get heard. Never was a smooth road. Once you clear one obstacle another obstacle comes even harder. Took a hard loss losing loved ones Was flat broke and was homeless at one point. I’m a rapper. I’m proud of all my dedication and never giving up. I’m very diverse I adapt to anything thrown at me. Read more>>

Maria Finch

Golden Finch Tanning has a unique origin story. An origin story that is my life. 3 years ago I started my journey with IVF. As a women who suffers from PCOS, infertility has been a long battle for me. Anyone on a fertility journey similar to mine knows that you not only need faith and great doctors, there’s also hefty expenses. One day I was brainstorming, considering different options for me to earn extra income to aide in my IVF journey. Result? Read more>>

Nicolette Skerratt

Hello! I am Nicolette Skerratt, the Owner of Twisted Craft Cocktails, LLC., located in DeWitt, MI. I started my craft cocktail business journey in November 2020 after going a bit stir crazy while virtually schooling my children. I decided to give creating craft cocktail jars a try for a local fundraiser. They were extremely successful and that is when I decided to start my own business. I wanted to create something distinctive, yet delicious that would lift spirits during this stressful time we are living in. Another goal of mine was to ensure my prices were just as refreshing as my cocktails, making them available for all to enjoy! Read more>>

Honeybee (Audrey) Sugarbee (gajeski)

Like most stories, it happened during the pandemic. I was working in a healthcare setting and schools were shutting down. I’m a mom of two kids so this made a HUGE impact on our daily lives. I became a stay at home mom and needed an outlet (and maybe even a side gig) to keep a spark inside me going. I took ceramics in high school and I fell in love with clay. I found some videos on TikTok and ran to my nearest craft store and found polymer clay. The name of my business comes from my two kids! I call them all sorts of sweetie names when they were babies. My oldest Oliver is honeybee and my youngest Soren is sugarbee! Read more>>

Critical Theory

Starting from separate backgrounds, the group amalgamated into one through our love for poetry and music. We met through slam poetry, eventually growing into a strong poetry force. They earned several accolades and eventually grow into a passion for music. Recording anywhere quiet they made several songs and projects eventually performing at south west fest (their bigger show) and currently they have several members in the group dropping projects and a new project coming soon. Read more>>

Valerie Richardson

SipTalkChill started October 2021 with the idea of bringing forth acknowledgment of extraordinary people we have in our city! No, it has not always been a smooth road. We had struggles along the way that we learned from. Those struggles actually helped us be more self sufficient and business savvy with the many different people we were dealing with. The best advice we can give is continue to grow and add value to yourself, to your brand then Tax because you’re worth it! Keep going! Read more>>

Patrick Hershberger

Discovered street art and graffiti while in Chicago in the mid 2000’s. That work turned into murals and public art over the years when moving back to Kalamazoo. I work with a few local committees: the Kalamazoo County Public Art Commission (current chair) Kalamazoo Earth Day planning committee, and Bike Friendly Kalamazoo Art Committee (current chair). Current art created in studio are illustrations and comics with watercolor as a primary medium, and public art with community engagement as a priority. Read more>>

Kevin Johnston

I’m blessed with great fishing pals my dad Scott and his dad Bill. Both taught me there’s a great life via fishing. Started fishing at age 2 catching bullheads in the backwaters of the Mississippi near Sabula Iowa. Added bluegill and crappie to the species list along with farm ponds and drainage basins. As our family moved I got to fish for bass in Virginia and Kentucky. I’d like to edit this part- I got sick of being a minion and wanted to work and have fun. I figured being a charter captain sharing the fun of fishing is something I’d like to do. Read more>>

Hugh Cleal

I am born and raised in Michigan. I’ve been involved in music since about the age of 8 playing violin and singing. During high school i began throwing raves and dabbling with DJ’ing at some of them. I kind of took a break from music in my 20’s and then at some point decided i really wanted to make music my full time thing. I started back up my production company and started my first record label Coyote Cuts which led to Golf Clap. Read more>>

Antonio Martin

My story started in 2012. I just signed an arena football contract for a two-year deal, when my life changed. I was working security in a nightclub in Detroit when shots were fired. My best friend, the other security guard, was shot 6 times and died. I was shot once in the back and became paralyzed from the waist down. Although my football playing days were over my athletic career wasn’t. After leaving the hospital I had a new outlook on life.  Read more>>

Allison Elliott

Hi I’m Allison! I am a wife, mama, and wedding photographer! I started my photography journey in 2016. I started practicing daily taking photos for free of anyone that would let me. My dog was the real MVP back then LOL I never thought photography would be more than just a hobby for me. I never thought I would ever be good enough to photograph a wedding. Being trusted to capture a couple’s most important day of their lives is a huge intimidating responsibility.  Read more>>

stephanie schlatter

Growing up a creative and taking art in High School I never dreamed art could be a career. I became a hairdresser. Wanting to expand my creative repertoire I went back to college for photography in my late 20s. A photography teacher encourage us all to take art classes to strengthen our eye and our composition so I did and I never looked back. Art became my passion my career and my hobby. Read more>>

Lita Farmer

I stated catering in 2012. I have been doing so successfully as Food Feddish Catering. It was 2017 when I had a house fire and lost all of my catering equipment. This was a devastating loss and I was preparing my son to graduate high school and catering was my only income. After being displaced and having to fight the insurance company for almost a year, I reached out to family and friends to supplement my income and getting into FCA production facility. Read more>>

DeVante Dooley

I started doing floors in 2005 with my grandad. Once I grew a passion for it I started my company in 2015 and haven’t looked back since. They say anything that come east is not worth having and I strongly agree. This has been a amazing journey and I’m learning something new everyday. I own a flooring company I specialize in flooring, but I am known for doing carpet installation. I’m most proud of the many jobs I’ve completed so far. I created new promotions and specials monthly for the public. Read more>>

Adrian Perez

Well it all started in my teenage years I always watched my dad and mom cooked some amazing food especially my dad. My dad is puerto rican so seeing dish from the island was amazing. But he also did bbq he loved to bbq. I wanted to learn how to cook so I was like maybe I should watch him more lol. My dad always wanted to start a food truck or a catering with him and my mom. But that dream has ended do to his murder on 02/01/2018. Read more>>

Young Dutch

I was always into music. Never really wanted to pursue though as a career or hobby. Finishing my freshman year of college (basically failing out) i decided to take a risk and start just making music as one of my good friends told me I really should go for it. During this time was having living situations as my parents kicked me out of the house, I was able to live with some prpducers in East lansing while they were in college. being consistent and having small goals along the way really helped me progrss quickly!  Read more>>

Paige Sparkman

My route to becoming a therapist was in no way a direct, seamless one. Throughout my adolescent years the conversation of Mental Health was a focal point in my life. I lost two dear friends to suicide, and also had my own battles with depression and anxiety. This is when I had my first experience on the other side of the therapy couch (as a client). At this time, that hadn’t been the most positive experience, and I never dreamed I would end up as a therapist! The transition to college was a tough one, I wasn’t exactly sure who I was yet, or what I wanted for my life. Read more>>

Racquel (Rocky Cherise) Greene

I am a Dye Artist. Yes I could have said Tie Dye Artist but, I wanted to add the razzle dazzle. Anybody can do tie dye but trust me if it’s coming from me it is not the same. It all started in June 2016, I distressed a pair of denim jeans from the thrift store and posted them to my IG feed. The comments went crazyyyy. I got on youtube to find more designs and ideas then a DIY Tie Dye video popped up. I said ohhhh whats that? Watched it a few times and boom Recreated By Rocksss came along. I knew I wanted something that started with a R and Recreated made sense to me. It means to Create Again. Read more>>

Jose Flores

My name is Jose Flores and I was born in the Bronx, New York. I had a great childhood filled with many amazing memories. However at the age of 3, I was diagnosed with a neuromuscular condition called, “Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). What SMA does is a deficiency in the survival motor neurons 1 & 2 and because of this deficiency, it weakens my muscles the older I get. The doctor’s said that I’d end up in a wheelchair by the age of 15 and they weren’t even expecting me to live pass my teenage years. Read more>>

Rachel Rievert

Jessica and I graduated together from Unionville-Sebewaing Area High School in 2014. After graduation, we continued on to attending college. We started our college career by commuting together to our local community college and then eventually graduating with our Bachelor’s Degrees from Northwood University. We then decided to start a new adventure together and open a business. We began doing research for vendors and inventory and eventually began ordering. Read more>>

EarlRich Bailes

I always been into fashion as a kid but in 1998 I decided to start a brand after I seen the success of the Maruice Malone designer from here in Detroit and seen how big Fubu had gotten…..so I started Rich Rags line but it wasn’t moving along fast so I let it go which I believe if I would have kept going it would have been a huge success now because it wasn’t making making their own lines like it is now……So in 2016 I came up with EarlRich Signature Brand and it’s a brand that I do believe one day will be up there with the famous upscale fashion brands. Read more>>

Austen Brantley

Austen Brantley is a figurative sculptor from (and based out of) Detroit, Michigan. He initially had little to no knowledge of his artistic abilities until he reached his junior year at Berkley High School in 2011. Austen was inspired by his High school ceramics teacher who saw his potential to succeed in things he thought weren’t possible; as a result in 2013 after a mere two years of sculpting Austen began receiving local and statewide recognition for his creations and won a gold key with his portfolio in national scholastic’s competition. Read more>>

Taylor Walker

Getting where I am today took a mixture of chance, hard work and making some really amazing friends. The first time I ever managed social media was 10 years ago at the Hilton Waikiki Kuhio, for their 24 hour restaurant. I had worked there as a server and was now moving into a management position I was so excited about. My general manager at the time was taking photos and managing our instagram account. He asked me to help him snap a few pictures one day for our feed and I told him I would edit them a bit with some promotional flares. Read more>>

Chris Nichols Nicole Stopka-Nichols

Nicole is originally from Hamburg, Germany a city of 2 million people, and Chris from Evart, MI a city of less than 2,000. After a 6 year long distance relationship, we got married in 2015 and decided to make the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit our new home. While we knew that we wanted to own a part of Detroit, we didn’t initially set out to build out of shipping containers. We came close to purchasing an old Firehouse, then an old Library but at the time those projects seemed too daunting to undertake.  Read more>>

Natashia Hurley

I started my career as a social worker in 2013. I have been working in this field but found that I had a passion for skincare and beauty. I thought of becoming a makeup artist but wanted to get more training. I learned more about the esthetics field and felt instantly drawn to it. In 2020, I enrolled in esthetician school. I became a licensed esthetician last April and took the steps to open my own business. I love helping people transform their skin and feel good about themselves. Read more>>

Shawn McDonough

I worked in radio for 10 years. I was an on-air talent, producer for many formats. Through that company, I started to get my feet wet DJing corporate events and weddings. It was a FUN job but I got a bit burned out on it all and decided to jump into some “regular” jobs. During the 2 years, I was out of the entertainment industry, I kept getting’ at least 20-30 inquires per 6 months on couples & clients wanting me to DJ their events or produce their commercials. So, I decided to start my own company for a little side coin and it exploded to the point where I had to go full time with it 4 years ago. Haven’t looked back since. Oh, and the company name comes from my nickname in HS & radio “JellieBean” and my mentor in radio was “Catfish” so I combined the two and fell in love with “JellieFish Productions”. Everyone digs the logo. Read more>>

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