How Dawn Kelly Reinvented Herself After Being Blind-Sighted By a Layoff From Corporate America
Ep. 111
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Dawn Kelly

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    This week I have Dawn Kelly on the show. I’m excited for this episode, not only because we cover her career journey but also because we delve into a truly important conversation related to today’s social climate. Dawn spent decades climbing the corporate ladder to become the department Vice President at Prudential Financial. She is a proven public relations and strategic communications executive.
    A major theme of this episode touches on is that oftentimes we believe we have security in corporate America. We believe that businesses have an equal investment in us, but we regularly see individuals with the rug pulled out from under them. Dawn worked for Prudential for 16 years but was blindsided by a layoff in 2015.
    It left her with an immense amount of grief. Although this tragedy touched many of us, Dawn’s experience as a black woman in corporate America is vital to understand. She realized that her race played an immense part in her treatment as well as her abrupt layoff. It’s important to listen to and highlight these stories of discrimination and microaggressions to move forward in a positive way. Understanding the gravity of these demeaning actions will help us show up in the world in a highly impactful way.
    Today Dawn is serving and feeding her community with The Nourish Spot in Jamaica, Queens. She is committed to serving healthy, balanced meals to underserved communities and works to create programs to help build children up. Dawn really is the epitome of a go-getter and true inspiration to us all.
    Find Dawn Here:

Show Transcript
I feel like once you have the courage to actually lay out what you want, no matter what, the universe conspires to help it happen, to help it manifest. But if you don't have the courage to actually say it out of your mouth, what it is that you want out of life, it won't happen.

Hey there, I'm Goli Kalkhoran and this is Lessons From a Quitter, where we believe that it's never too late to start over, no matter how much time or money you’ve spent getting to where you are. If ultimately you are not happy, then it's time to get out. If you're feeling stuck and you feel like there's gotta be more, there's gotta be a way to feel fulfilled and excited about what you do, then this is the podcast for you. Each week, I will sit down with an inspiring guest who quit their professional career in order to forge their own path and create a life that they love.

Hi you guys, welcome to another episode of Lessons From a Quitter. I am so excited to have you on, and you are in for a treat for a really, not only fun and inspiring, but such an important conversation today with Dawn Kelly. Dawn began her career and spent most of her career, like many of us, climbing the corporate ladder and she did it for decades. She ultimately was the department vice president at Prudential Financial. She is a seasoned and proven public relations and strategic communications executive. And the first theme that I really wanted to talk about is something that we have had on the podcast many times before, but I constantly want to bring up this point that oftentimes we believe that we have security in corporate America and that is just an illusion. And so many people unfortunately, find this out the hard way. And oftentimes it's after a years and years and years of service and sacrifice to these companies and maybe in later years in life. We've had this happen in with previous guests, we've talked about it a number of times, but Dawn will talk about her experience. After working for 16 years for Prudential Financial, uh being blindsided by a layoff in 2015 that she never saw coming and how that left her with this immense amount of grief and feeling as if the rug was pulled out from under her and really not knowing where to go and what to do. And I think it's, uh, especially right now in the time of COVID and so many people experiencing layoffs, it's an important conversation to have, but another factor in this that I really am excited to bring to the podcast, because I think the more we have these conversations the better, is Dawn's experience as a black woman in corporate America and what her experience was and how she believes that her race played a part in her being laid off, in how she was treated and a lot of the microaggressions that we'll talk about that she experienced in interviewing or just even at the career. And it's something I think to constantly listen for and to highlight, you know, right now, like there is no way to move forward or to rectify any of the racial ills that we have in this country if we are not willing to listen to other people's stories and understand for so many of us that may not understand what microaggressions are or may not understand why it's a big deal, because it doesn't seem like a big deal to us since we haven't experienced it. And when you experience it over and over again, how demeaning and demoralizing it becomes and how it can shape the way that you show up in the world and the way that you have to fight for your dignity in this world that doesn't oftentimes seem to care. And so we have a really important conversation about that, but the most amazing part of the whole story and the quitter journey that I am so excited to have Dawn to talk about is that after being in corporate America for decades and working her way up and clearly being very skilled at what she was doing, she decided to open up a juice bar in Jamaica, Queens. And we will talk about how this all came about and how she felt crazy for wanting to do this because she had no idea how to, you know, run a food store. And she now is the CEO and founder of The Nourish Spot, which is a family-owned and operated, healthy food smoothie and natural juice bar located in her community of Jamaica, Queens. She's doing such incredible things with The Nourish Spot, including uh not only providing a healthy food option in communities that may not always have the resources that other communities have, but she partners with community-based and non-profit organizations across the city to provide internships and training for the neighborhood youth, which she then goes on to provide part-time jobs. She is really the epitome of a go getter. And you will see by, you know, if there is a definition of the phrase where there's a will, there's a way, I feel like Dawn's picture would be next to that. So we can all use some of her inspiration and I will stop yapping so that we can listen to all of her wisdom. Without further ado, let's jump in and talk to Dawn.

Hi Dawn. Thank you so much for joining me today.
Thank you very much, Goli, for having me, I love the title of your podcast. I think it’s wonderful.

Thank you and I'm so glad that you like it. And uh I'm so glad that you became a quitter and you've gone on to do such amazing things. And so let's jump in, I mean, and we are, we're going to talk about the incredibleness of The Nourish Spot, but before we get to that, tell us a little bit about your career and what that looked like before The Nourish Spot.

Okay. Well, I'm fortunate that I figured out, probably in my early twenties, that I enjoy talking to people, writing, influencing and traveling around the world on somebody else's dime. And so I figured out, um, with the help of a couple of tests, um, Myers Briggs, being one that public relations would be a great vocation for me to excel in. And so fortunately, um, I got my big break in PR working in Washington D.C. for AARP in 1992 I believe, um, was when I started in the, their uh communications department. And I've been doing public relations ever since.

I love that. And I and I love that you just mentioned that you used uh Myers-Briggs. We talked about it a little bit before and I used to be kind of skeptical about personality tests. I didn't really understand like why, you know, I thought it was maybe a little bit woo woo. And so um I had not, you know, done one and then I did one and it was incredible. I mean, it sort of seemed like witchcraft. I was like how do they know my personality so well? And I think it's such a great, you know, I don't think obviously it has to define you. I think sometimes people feel a little pigeonholed by it but I love that you used it because it gives such great insight into how we're naturally wired. And so you can use that kind of as figuring out your own strengths and realizing where you're going to thrive and be able to find a career that actually fits you.

Exactly. And, you know, I would go on to say that I'm a super introspective type of chick. Um and so I’m, you know, I always have wondered what makes me tick. And so I would say along with that Myers Briggs information, I was also armed with some research of my own. So I reviewed all of my old report cards when I was a youngster. No joke I really did. And then I was a, I took a day. Um I'm a single mom. My kids are grown now, but during this time when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, I was a single mom of two kids. And so I took some time for myself, kind of put them to bed, closed my door, turned off the lights and just was left alone with my thoughts. And I figured out that what made me tick was, you know, um talking to people, being around people, persuading others. I'm the oldest. So I was always telling my sister and brothers what to do. Right. So persuading and leading. And then when I took the Myers Briggs test and it gave all of those vocations that I might be um suitable, you know, for um I kind of did cross-section right. And realized that the public relations practitioner, which I didn't know what that was I'll be honest. When I started researching it, I realized that it included some of those attributes that I was already, you know, hardwired for. And so I started um going after PR jobs at AARP where I was working as a secretary. I was a, you know, like uh, I was a secretary. I would just say that. They'd call it administrative specialist supervisor. I had secretaries working for me but I was a secretary. And so I went for a job as a public relations specialist and I got the job and I've been doing it ever since.

I love that. I mean, I think you just, I hope people are taking notes because I really think you just gave a Masterclass on how to figure out your own strings and then use that for finding a career. I think so often people are so desperately looking outside of themselves of like how do I find something that fits me or like maybe I just jump from this job to this job and just taking the time to really get clear on how you tick and who you are and what you like. And that, I mean, that's the whole game and then having the courage to kind of go after it, because I think so often we get stuck in our own thoughts of well, I've only been a secretary or I've only done this, I don't have any PR experience. How can I apply for this? And so getting out of our own way and going after the thing we want. So that is incredible advice for anybody even now looking to figure out what they want to do. But okay, so you you applied for this and then you got into that role and tell us a little bit about what your corporate career looked like. Like how long were you working in corporate America and what kind of roles were you in?

Well, I started out as um I'm trying to think of what my job title was at AARP, but it was like a PR specialist type of job. Um and I really loved it and I did that for a couple of years. And then my bosses thought I was so good at it, that they gave me the opportunity to run the part of the communications department that corralled, I call, I say I was a troop leader, right. Um, we had public relations staff and 10 area offices around the United States and my job was to lead them. So that was my second job at AARP. But then I decided I wanted to come back home, I'm a New York city native. The only reason I was in DC was because when I graduated from public school here, I was accepted into Howard University and it was my first choice college. So I went there, okay. And I graduated from there but I lived in DC for awhile cause I thought I enjoyed the whole, you know, legislative advocacy uh um area. And so, you know, DC, that's, that's ground zero for that, right. So I worked there for nine years, but then I got tired of DC because I felt like I was walking on the back of people's shoes. I was finishing their sentences because they talked a little slower than us, New Yorkers. And then by this time, you know, I was really heavy in PR and I loved it. And now I wanted to try my hand at something else because at AARP we were advocating for older Americans. And at that time, I really wasn't older, right. I was still in my life. And so I wanted to do stuff that was more akin to what me and my children were engaged in on a normal, regular day to day basis.
So I started looking for new jobs in New York City. I actually got one, um a bunch of my colleagues and I, we had pooled our money together for this job. You know, okay, now I'm telling my age, right. So we didn't have job boards and stuff like that, where you could go on internet and find stuff like that. Most of my stuff was in paper, right. So we we put our money together and we bought this resource that had, again showing my age, that had jobs in it, but you could make $50,000 or more, right. And so I think the resource cost about $700. So I didn't, I didn't want to buy it myself, right. So I'm partnered with my colleagues and my colleagues and I, we bought it together and then we shared it. Oops don’t tell nobody. We shared it amongst us, like you know, we made copies and shared it amongst us. And then I actually found the job for York College here in Jamaica, Queens. I applied for it and I got it, as a Director of Public Relations for York College, which is a four year institution of the city of New York.

Wonderful. I mean, I think again, um so much of what I work with people is about figuring out what they like and and really it comes down to experimenting with things. And I think you're just really highlighting a lot of you you can never know something until you try it. So I love when you were saying, you thought maybe you want it to be in like leg-, in legislative work or policy work and being in DC. And then you try that and you realize that's not for me. And then you make a change. And I think so often we make it as if like once we make a decision, we have to stick with it for the rest of our lives. And so I love that like just the resourcefulness and your willingness to experiment. So you go back to New York and eventually you end up at Prudential Financial, right. And you're there for like 15 years.

Yeah, 16 years.

16 years.

16 years and that was a great time because I got to do everything I wanted to do. And I was promoted five times at Prudential. [Incredible] I started there as a manager in 1999 and I was recruited there. So I got to tell you two things. One is, I want to just go back to the example of I told you I did my own self-assessment of what I liked. I think an individual has to be really courageous um, one, to be honest about what you like. Okay. Because um telling people that I wanted to travel on somebody else's dime, you know, people were looking at me a little bit, you know, like you got a lot of nerve, but once, I feel like once that once you have the courage to actually lay out what you want no matter what, the universe conspires to help you, help it happen, to help it it manifest. But if you don't have the courage to actually say it out of your mouth what it is that you want out of life, it won't happen.

Yup. Oh my goodness. Yes, I a hundred percent agree.

So that's number one. Number two is something I live by um relationships matter, how you treat people, how you leave people, um, that will follow you for the rest of your life. So how I got to Prudential. So I was working at York College for six years and I was staying in touch with my former boss at AARP, who I'm still in contact with to this day.

Aww, I love that.

And he was one of the people that helped me learn how to do PR amongst some other organizations that I was members of, Black Public Relations Society of America, as well as the National Association of Black Journalists. So it's important to join organizations, those organizations and Bob taught me the art of PR. And so when I got the job at York College, I stayed in contact with Bob, you know, sharing with him my accomplishments, my successes. Well to my knowledge, Bob left AARP and he got the big job at Prudential as Chief Chief Communications Officer. And he recruited me to come work for Prudential in 1999. So I didn't even have to apply for the job. And he offered me a manager's role at Prudential in 1999. And I worked there for 16 years traveling the entire world, doing amazing, award-winning public relations campaign work. And then in May of 2015, Bob retired and I got a new boss and all hell broke loose.

Ugh so tell us what happened in 2015, after you've been there for 16 years and you worked your way up to Department Vice President of Global Communications, and you, you know, are going into your job just like a normal day, I guess, and what happens?

So it was September 9th, 2015, actually I, Prudential's located in Newark, New Jersey. So I go into the office after taking two trains and a bus to get to work. That's how I did it every day because I live in Jamaica, Queens. And so that particular day I was supposed to travel for the company so I also had a suitcase in tow. When I got to work, nothing felt out of the ordinary or anything. Um I talked to my assistant, she was giving me my information, you know, my travel packet and everything. And then I got a call from the new guy that took over for Bob. I got, um, I got a call from his assistant to say meet him on the sixth floor. So now, I have worked at the company long enough and had handled some very high and, you know, high-level departures from the company so I knew that meeting on the sixth floor could only mean one or two things. One, they were about to make an announcement where they were bumping me to a new job or two, they were making an announcement and they were letting me go. I'm a person that really is kind of intuitive and sensitive, okay. And so I usually know when things are happening. I mean, that's why I've been so good with my PR career. So this thing hit me like a ton like a ton of bricks because I was blindsided by. [Wow] It did not, I had no clue whatsoever that my job was in jeopardy, okay. [Yeah] Um, and so I go down to the sixth floor, when I walk in, my former boss because I'm not there anymore, so my former boss, um, uh, a young white dude, uh, a representative from HR and she’s holding a packet. And I will tell you when I walked in, I automatically knew that that meant I didn't have a job. And I did everything I could not to cry um because I did not want to cry in front of either of the two people that were in that room. Um and so I sat there and I listened to the former boss try to make me feel as though my 16 years of working didn't happen and that my work wasn't award-winning and that I hadn't hired stellar employees that quite frankly, till this day still work there, still doing good. And I trained both of them, okay. One of which didn't know anything about PR til he met me, okay. And so when they told me I didn't have a job anymore, I just had to fight back tears and fight back anger. I’m a black woman so I to, and a single mom, and so I had to fight that anger because I felt as though he was real glib about snatching my livelihood away.
Okay. And in addition to that, they offered me, so again, I, you know, I I can't talk to you without bringing my culture involved. You know, they offered me the opportunity to apply for other jobs in the company. And I will tell you that I don't know what came over me, but I'm going to tell you, it just felt like slavery. And I said if you think that I'm going to go put myself up on a chopping block for people to choose me when I didn't even, I didn't even apply to come to this company. Um I won't be I won't be doing that. Okay. So I'm like what's the next step? So then that's when the HR lady hands me the packet. I review it, I close it up and I'm like can I go now? Right. And so the guy, my former boss, he's still trying to like take jabs at me. I really do think he wanted to see me break down or, you know, start acting um, you know, start being um really, really angry and saying things that were unprofessional but I would not give him that satisfaction. So I pretty much asked him to stop talking to me because we were no longer supervisor and supervisee. [Yeah] Now we were just two people sitting in a room and now he was starting to get on my nerves. So I needed him to be quiet. Okay. And so I asked HR, and matter of fact I asked HR could he leave the room? Because he really had no more, there was no more need for him to be there. And so she did, she asked him to leave. Um she and I spoke for a little while. You know, I looked at the packet, I asked a couple of questions. And then I said can I go home now? And she said yes. And so I went home.

I’m s-, I I really appreciated that you've shared all that. And I think in, in really such a great detail, because we've had so many people that have gone through that on this podcast and especially people who had dedicated decades and decades to the company and, you know, when they found themselves in this position were, you know, older and from everybody that I've talked to, it's such a blindsided feeling. And I think, especially for you in that kind of, cause right now, maybe, or in 2008, we've had a lot of people that were on the podcast who got laid off in the 2008 recession. You know, maybe you see something coming because everyone, you know, the company is going through an economic downturn or right now with COVID, a lot of people are having layoffs, but I think there's one, this illusion of security, like it can happen at any time. And it happens to people all the time and really that how you are kind of left with the rug pulled out from under you, where you have no idea and you have no, it's like it really is disorienting. And trying to find your footing of like what happens next?

Yes and I will tell you this, I'm an overachiever. So, you know, I've always, I've always excelled. You know, I always give 150% to everything I do, whether it's parenting, whether it's being a sister, a daughter, you know, I try to give my best. And I did that at work. You know, I I burned the night oil because I had, I had customers and clients in Japan and Korea and Taiwan, I would work all day from nine to six and then come home and then be interrupted in the middle of the night at two and three o'clock in the morning from my colleagues in Japan. And I would get up, wash my face and talk to them as though it was 10:00 AM in the morning to make sure they could get their work done. So when I tell you that I was blindsided by my job, my role being just snatched away from me, um, I was furious and I felt as a black woman, I felt that I was unduly targeted because the person that I used to report to, he only had four direct reports in my my department and I was the only black person. And and and that's who you choose to eliminate job. So I felt that it was discrimination. Okay. And that he was that he was a racist. And I still believe that today, that he's a racist wherever he is.

Well and I'm a- again, appreciate you bringing that up because I think that that is something that definitely needs to be talked about more and it's and it's a reality that so many people uh face in corporate America and kind of, you know, I think especially right now in this moment in history where we are finally having some really long overdue discussions about what actual diversity and inclusion means in the corporate America and not just um these like fake head nods to it but really what minorities and underrepresented communities have to face day in and day out going into places that often feel like hostile territory is because you are the only one or you, you know, have to deal with people who aren't dealing with their own biases. And that shows up in a lot of different ways. And I think that there are so many of us who have felt that weight of, whether it be racial discrimination or gender discrimination or even age-ism or all these other things that, you know, you know, maybe you can't prove because it's they they don't come out and say it. And so it's a matter of but you know that that it's like a targeted thing and you're it it. I think it also, correct me if I'm wrong, but it adds to the feeling of helplessness because it's like there's nothing you can do about that.

Exactly, it’s very insidious then. And I mentioned this, but I'm an African-American history major. I graduated from Howard university with a degree in African-American history and much of what goes on in corporate America um and and businesses across America and the world um is that stuff is coded now, right? So they don't they don't come right out and and do things to you that you can go yell and scream about, but they do things that are coded. And as a person who's studied what has happened to African-Americans um since we came to this country um I know what I was going through. I'm no fool, okay. And I've worked I've worked at enough companies and with enough different kinds of people, ages, races, ethnicities, cultures, to know when I'm being discriminated against and to be and to know when somebody is unfairly targeting me for no other reason. Okay. I know what it is. Um but you know, the other part of that is you get tired of always being the statue of liberty and being the person that has to always, you know, be yelling and screaming look, what's happening, look, what's happening because it’s almost like you get tagged as the person that's just, all you do is make noise. But the problem is that there is noise to be made. And if somebody doesn't stand up and say this is discriminatory, this is age-ism um, you know, this is racism, then it just continues to happen unchecked. [Exactly] And so the other thing that I wanted to say to you it's funny that you mentioned the whole diversity and inclusion thing, because again, I'm in my fifties and again, that whole diversity inclusion stuff is new, right. But I'm at the point now in my life where I don't even believe in diversity and inclusion anymore [I agree] it should be equality and equity. [Yes] They should get rid of diversity inclusion because it's BS.

Right, I agree with you 100%. And I think it's shown that like all of that stuff didn't fix anything. And it's really just for like to save face as opposed to actually creating uh change. And I will say one thing though, too, that I think a lot of people can, I did a couple episodes on like, you know, how to quit being a racist and implicit bias. [I like that] And and here's the thing that I want people to understand is that oftentimes even let's say that employer, I'm not saying your specific employer, but may a lot of people in corporate America, a lot of white male uh leaders or employers, or even white female employers, they don't understand, they're not explicitly being racist. And so a lot of people end up pushing back and saying like no, I wasn't targeting that person because they were black or because they were a female or whatnot, it was, but what has happened is because of the racism and that this country is so systemic and so deep rooted that you, we view, you know, when black women do something that anybody else would do, you view it as them being kind of angry or causing problems or whatever.
And so your actions towards them, even though you're not understanding that it's coming from like an implicit bias, [Right] that's rooted in racism, you know? And so I think it's often we, I hear, you know, people, white people or people in general, trying to defend like this w- there was no discriminatory. It wasn't because of that. And it's like it's so, like you were saying, it's so insidious it's so uh it's just these stereotypes that we've created, whether about like women being overly emotional or whatever it is, or black people, you know, black women being angry or uh...

Or black people being lazy.

Right, right.

Let me, let me make you laugh. So I had, when I worked at AARP, when I first got there, um, one of my former colleagues that I worked at AARP, he had hired two of us from his former employer. So what my former colleague and he, and he and I are very cool now, but he used to say a lot, another white male. He used to say that one of my staff members was lazy. Right. And so I had to tell him you got to stop saying that about black people. Okay. That's coded. Okay. I said the day black people became lazy is when we stopped being slaves and working for free.

Right, right. I agree with that 100%.

And when I when I told him that, he said I will never say that again.

Oh, I love that. I love that. Good for you for pointing that out. Because I think again, people may not realize they're doing it. And I always, I saw this like tweet the other day and it's just like so perfectly sums it up. But I think when, you know, I'm trying to explain to people what implicit bias is. And the fact that when you're saying either like lazy or looking at, I think a lot of times white men are just looked at as like more capable or more intelligent. And so they're, they get the promotions, you know, like the young white male that comes in over somebody that's been there for all these years and has clearly like shown more of their worth. But, um, somebody had tweeted out and it was like when for all these people that are saying like oh, the best person for the job was, you know uh promoted or whatnot or was hired. And they're like do you genuinely believe that the most talented, hardworking, creative, innovative people in the world are just coincidentally always white, straight men like [exactly] just so insane, you know.

Exactly, exactly.

I-it really is to see like clearly there is something else at play that is moved white, straight men up the chain, you know, [themselves] to every level of power. Yeah, exactly. [themselves] But yeah, absolutely. But I think it's something so important to really understand that it's not on a surface level of, was this racist or was this not? It's like what is really in our deep seated, implicit biases that we've all been programmed with from, since we were children, like how is that playing? [Since day one] How is that playing in corporate America?

You know, I think that as a leader, because I was a leader of people, um being unaware when you're a leader is unacceptable. Right. And um lack of understanding is not an acceptable excuse. Your job as a leader is to understand. [Absolutely] Your job as a leader is to get under, you know, get underneath the minutia and find out what really is at play. And so what I really do believe is that leadership in companies, it needs to happen from the top down. [100%] And usually the top is really white. Okay. And so unless, you know, unless they have interracial relationships. Okay. Um most of them are clueless as well. And so I really do believe that leaders of companies, especially in America, because that's where I live and what I love. Okay. They need to be retrained and they need to understand that they are sending the wrong messages from the top.

Absolutely. You're a hundred percent right. And and and I no way want to give off the impression that when I say implicit bias or something, that it be some kind of an excuse that, because you don't know about it, you can, you know, like no, you're a hundred percent right that like it requires you to do more work. If you are going to be the leader, then you need to unpack it, like it is so important for you to figure out what your own biases are so that you can actually lead a company. So um I couldn't agree more. This is such an important topic to figure out like what you did afterwards because I think that for so many people, you know, obviously a lot of people hate being in corporate America and they hate maybe the rigidness and the fact that you don't have this freedom and that, you know, security is in other people's hands. But I think this is such an important conversation because oftentimes for people that feel like it is hostile to be there, it's even harder, you know, it's even like the desire to want to get out is even greater. And so, so after you get laid off, what do you do? What are you thinking? Are you like thinking I need to apply for another job? Um, did you have any plan?

Well, no. I I could laugh now but I wasn't laughing then. Um that particular day I could only muster up the strength just to hurry up and get out the building. Right. So I get out the building, you know, my secretary is yelling after me are you leaving? You're going to get on the train? I'm like no, I'm going home because I was told I couldn't say anything. So I said I'm going home. You'll find out everything. And I just disappeared out the building. And I also wanted to get out of the building without crying. Okay. So um I get out of the building, I get onto the train and then I break down, I call my mom and I break down because I'm feeling like a failure. Right. [Yeah] I'm feeling like I had done something wrong and I messed up my life and my children's life because um I would also say this I'm the first person in my family to have to have a role like that, to reach an echelon like that, to make the money that I made, to do the things that I did. Um I was a role model for my sister and my brothers. Okay. And my children. And so I felt like a failure. I felt like maybe I had done something wrong to bring me to this moment in my life. And so I came home and I grieved, I wouldn't get out of my bed. I wouldn't do anything. I didn't eat. All I did was cry and sleep, I'll be very honest with you. I wasn't interested in looking for another job because fortunately for me, I had saved a good sum and my severance was okay. So I knew that I would be okay for a little while. So I just, you know, grieved. Until one day, my 26 year old daughter at that time, she's now 29. She came into my room and she said to me you're going to be mad with me, but you raised me to say what I feel and so I'm going to say this. She said can you find my mother? [Ohhh] She said because my mother is a fighter and she doesn't give up. And I don't know who you are but could you find my mom? And I would [Start crying] I would tell you that I put her out my room, I said a couple of choice things. Um but and I cried some more, but then I dried my tears and I got up out the bed and I passed my mirror and I'm going to tell you I realized that I hadn't looked at myself in a long, long time. And it was almost as if the mirror was talking to me and the mirror said hey you, you know you free. Now, that's that’s a weird concept to hear, to deal with when you're managing grief about a role. And I'm like free? Like I’ve never been free. Like what? Like I've always worked. I've been somebody's mom. I've been somebody’s daughter, I’ve been somebody's girlfriend. I've I’ve never been free, but now I have no ties to anything. I can do what I want. And I would tell you Goli, I ran and I got in that shower and I gave myself permission to kind of dream again. And now I start traveling, right, with my daughter, cause I'm still trying to heal. And so we go on a couple of trips, you know, like I really travel. I'm not joking. I got on planes and trains and automobiles. Anywhere to make myself smile. And then in 2016, I think August, I went on my first job interview and still, I had not made up my mind about a business because I was, let me say this upfront, I never thought about business ever, you know. [Yeah] I may have had a pie in the sky dream every once in a while. Oh, it'd be nice to have a cafe, but it's quickly as it came in my head, as quickly as it went away. The only business that I ever thought that I would own and operate would be a PR business because that's what I spent the bulk of my life doing. And so it was really easy to do PR. So I'd go on a job interview now make you laugh. I haven't been on a job interview in so long, I didn't know what I was doing. And so what happened was I go on a job interview. I had already went once but then they call me back for a second interview. So I go back for the second interview. But when I get there, I realized I didn't bring any copies of my resume. I was at a loss for a lot of stuff. [Right, right] Right, so when I got there I asked the gentlemen who welcomed me in was it possible that he could get to the HR person and get my resume? Because I knew they had it, right? So could he get it to the people that I was going to meet with? And so he did, he obliged me and I went on like four different interviews in one setting. You know how they have you go [Yeah] meet this person, that person. [Yeah] So what I believe they were doing was having me meet the team that I would be working with or alongside of. But what happened to me was I went into the last meeting with a young white woman. And the other people that I met, I met an older white guy. I met an Indian guy. I met I met a couple of different kind of people, nobody black though, right. [Right] But I go into this room with this young white woman and in my opinion, she starts off wrong because she says to me do you have your resume? Now everybody else that had came in before her had the copy of the resume, right. So I said to her um no, I don't actually. I said maybe you left it on your desk. I said because I'm convinced that the uh individual that, you know, brought me to this room, he made sure that everyone I was supposed to see had my resume. So maybe you left it on your desk. So then she's like she has her laptop. And she's like, you know, typing on her laptop as she's talking to me. And then she says oh, do have writing samples? And that's when I lost it, okay, because I wasn't going for a secretarial job. I wasn't going for a junior position. I was going to be an executive VP. Now I don't know where they ask executive VPs for writing samples. But I know for a fact that that's not a customary thing. But what I feel, what I felt, I felt debased by this young woman. And so before she knew it, I had disappeared under the table. I was changing my pumps to my sneakers cause I'm a New Yorker. Okay, I put my portfolio in my briefcase. I stood up, I put my coat on and I said to her this interview is over. But then I stopped because I realized we were in a public conference room and there was probably a camera so if she tried to lie, I wanted to make sure the camera knew, I wanted to speak to the camera so that they would know. And so I turned to the camera and I said this interview is over because I don't want to work for a company that feels like it's okay to debase me. And this woman debased me by asking me for things that she should not have. I don't want to work here. And I opened up the door and I left the building. Now when I got outside, I will tell you this, I threw my shoes. I don't know where they are but I also started crying again because I'm trying to take care of myself and my children and my house and my car note. Okay. And so I'm like God has to take care of… God takes care of babies and fools and I'm no baby. So he's going to have to help me because I just walked out of a job that probably was mine to give away. Do you understand? Okay [Yeah] so now I come home, I come home to my house and this is how The Nourish Spot came to me. I come home to my house, I take off my clothes. I'm sitting in my, you know, my play clothes, if you will. I'm sitting on my bed. And as a PR person, I always watch CNN. I love the news. Okay. I dissect the news like I guess, doctors dissect specimens that they're looking at. And so I'm watching the news but I'm still kind of weepy, right? [Yeah] And on the news, a woman says next up, Styles P opens juice bar in Westchester. And I would tell you Goli, my head kind of went to the side and I was like juice bar, huh?

Did you like juice at the time?


I mean, why did you feel?



Let me tell you. So when I went to Prudential in 1999, I was a swelt size 8. I mean, you know, Coke bottle shape, everything. Everything was good. By the time I left that company, 16 years later, I was a size 16. My ankles hurt. I was um on the brink of being diagnosed for high blood pressure, everything was wrong. Okay. So I had started juicing and and changing my diet in 2013, all on my own. So when I saw the juice bar, it just went along with what I was already doing. Cause I was juicing to change my life and my and my weight, okay.

Oh wow. Uh huh.

So I’m I looked at this segment intently. I mean, even like running it back cause I have DVR, right. So I kept rolling it back [Yeah] and looking and looking and I'm such a girl. I kept saying oh, I can do better than that. Oh, I can make it look better than that. Oh, I can do that, I can do that. Right. And so I'm like can I really do a juice bar? I'm a Christian so I pray like a crazy lady. So I'm like lord, could I really do a juice bar? And I swear, I heard a little voice say look at your phone, go through your phone. Right. I go through my phone and this is no joke, I can show you the pictures today. I still have them. Okay. I go through my phone and what do I have on my phone? I have pictures of the juices that I was buying for my own healthy lifestyle journey. [Mhmm] And not only did I have pictures of the juices, I had menus from all the different juice bars I was going to. I had their cup sizes. I had pictures of um pricing. I had so much stuff. Did I know that I was going to have a juice bar one day, no. But God knew, God knew because here I am looking at the beginnings of The Nourish Spot on my phone. All of that was information to help me as I moved forward in my journey. So now, okay, I'm figuring out I want to do the juice bar but now I'm like where would I do it? Where would I put it? Right. I know that I don't want to get on two busses. [Right] I mean two trains and a bus to get to work anymore. So I'm like I need to figure out if I can find some space in my community.
And so I actually went outside where I live around the corner and I looked up because they always say as a Christian, they always say when you're in a when you're in trouble, look up right. Cause that's where God is and God can help you from above. So I go around the corner, I there's a light post out there. I stand on a lamppost. I hold onto the light post. I asked my daughter to accompany me. She does but she's screaming and hollering the whole time because she was sleeping and I woke her up and we go around a corner and I looked to the left. I see nothing. And I get a little discouraged and my daughter starts screaming at me and say you bring me out here all this time, I'm going to look to the right. Right. And so then I looked to the right and I see it. I see an awning that says D K Upholstery and it’s on the top of a boarded up store. So nobody has it. Okay. And so from that moment, every single day, I go over to that store, hoping and praying I could get somebody to tell me who owns it so that I can find out about renting it. One day I'm in somebody's car, crossing over the boulevard, they have no idea of my dream because I didn't share it with anybody other than my daughter. I jump out of the car in the middle of the street because I see the gate is open. I run over to the space, there's a man inside the space. He seems to be patching up the walls. I immediately got upset because I'm thinking I lost my chance, this person has rented this space and I'm not going to be able to have it and I have to go back to, you know, ground one, right? Start all over. I knock on the door, the man comes to the door. I'm like oh my God, excuse me, is this your place? God told me I'm supposed to have this place. He's looking at me like I'm crazy. And he says calm down, calm down. No, I'm not renting it. I'm a handyman. The landlord wants to rent it. And he's asked me to clean it up so that, you know, potential renters could come and see the space. I said oh, I'm the person you don't need to see nobody else. So he introduced me to the landlord. The landlord introduced me to his real estate broker. I filled out the papers at the real estate brokers office. That was funny too because he was a young black guy. And when he reviewed the papers and saw that I didn't work and that um yeah, that I didn't work he was so like flabbergasted Goli, that when he came that when he came to talk to me, he couldn't get it out. He kept saying like he kept like taking the paperwork and saying like um Ms. Kelly Ms. Kelly. Um so you want to rent the, you know, you want to rent 10705 and I'm like yes, sir. And he's like okay okay. You know, the rent is, you know, and I said yes, sir, I know the amount. And he's like you know you going to have to give us like, you know, two months. Right. And maybe even three months. And I’m like yes sir, no problem. And so he's like but Ms. Kelly you don't work. And I said I know but I got money.

Oh I love it.

And he’s like well, I don't know Ms. Kelly, we don't usually rent, you know, we don't usually rent to people that don't, you know, don't have a way of showing us that they can, you know, cause he, you know, he he really didn't know what to say. Right. So I said to him no problem, just get me in front of the landlord. Okay. I said I'll take it from there, just get me in front of the landlord.

Let me just stop you just right here real quick cause this is incredible. I want to really quickly back up cause I think what you said at the job interview, I just want to um, again, preface that like I think that people may listen and then this is such an important topic about these little microaggressions and things that have happened. These cuts that happen, you know, it's like a death by a million cuts. Where it's constantly being asked things that other people aren't asked or asked to prove things or kind of demeaned in a way where other people in your position aren't and it's a lifetime of these in in corporate America where it gets to the point where it's a boiling point. And I really want to highlight that. Like I don't want to brush over it because I think it's so important. And I think so many people looking at one situation think like well that wasn't that big of a deal or I wouldn't have reacted. And it's like well, you haven't dealt with a lifetime of of people constantly doubting you or asking you for more or you know, saying things that might not see. You know, even when we talk about microaggressions, oftentimes it comes across as um compliments, like when it comes with women, I think like in gender, the conversation is always like well, I don't understand, I just called you beautiful or I just called you honey or whatever. It's like that's not the point that, it's like it's inappropriate and I shouldn't have to deal with it in a corporate setting. And I think that's something that we really need to uh everybody in corporate America needs to understand but moving on to this. You have this idea so many people have, you know, I agree with you. I was the same way. Like I never in my life thought I would start a business. I just never thought I was a business person. I didn't really care about it that much. I was a good employee.

Yes, I was a great employee.

Yeah, you’re a great employee. Exactly. Cause you cause you always hear so many people that are entrepreneurs say like I can never work for anyone else or I'm not. And I'm like hey, I'm great at working for other people. I do I do everything they ask me to do. But um but like most people, when they even have the idea and especially like okay, let's say the business I started. Or if you started, when you started a PR consultancy, there's not that much capital that needs to go into that, it's an easier thing to start. When you're starting something where you have to rent a place. And then not even that, like figuring out that business, like how does one run a juice bar? You know, like how do you even set that up? I mean, you don't have any background in that. [None] At some point are you thinking like this is insane? I don't know what I’m doing.

Yes! Yes, I did think I was insane every day!

I love that.

That’s so funny. That’s so funny that you say that, Goli. It's the truth, I felt insane every day. Every day I second guess myself and my family members was second guessing me too. [Right] You know people were like what are you doing? You don't know what you're doing. Like you don’t know what you doing. Like that's, that's hard. Don't do that. Okay. [Yes] You know, don't waste your retirement. Don’t waste your retirement money on that. Um it's not going to go. It's not going to win. There were people in my community saying that nobody wants a juice bar, people like fried chicken. Like I'm telling you really nobody was on my side. And I'm not saying that people were being mean to me [Right] but they were not encouraging me at all. [Yeah] And I and the the the crazy part of it was deep down inside, I wasn't encouraging myself either.

Yes, yes. Oh my God. This is, I mean, this is the biggest thing for everybody. And I, and I talk about it all the time on the show that, you know, again, it's not that people are trying to be mean, actually most of these people are just worried about your well-being. [Yes] They want you to not, you know, they want you to make sure that you have money for retirement because they love you. [Right] But when you already have doubt yourself and then other people are adding on to that doubt, oftentimes it's really difficult to overcome that. So, I mean, how did you keep pushing through to do something when you yourself are thinking you're insane and other people are telling you you're insane and it's like you start thinking like yeah, maybe this is insane and I should stop.

Well, one, I believe in a higher power. I cannot say it enough. [Right] Um I believe in Jesus Christ and you know, I've seen I've seen my faith win for me over and over and over again. And so whenever I get to a point of like no return and that's when I'm really doubting myself, I have to lean on my faith and that's what I did. And I just leaned on my faith and I just acted like I was in college. Right. So you don't know everything when you in college, what do you do? You go research, you find a book or a person [Yeah] or a class. And so that's what I did. I took every single class, every free class, every cheap class. Um, you know, I talked to every person, I've read every book. Um and what I didn't know, I didn't know. [Yeah] And I would just go out and find the information. So, you know, I went to the SBDC, I went to the SBA, I went to score or I went um I have friends that own their own business. I talked their ears off or if I read their books, okay.

I love this because I just love that like the the, I mean, clearly you are a go-getter, clearly you are somebody that is going to figure it out. And um but it's just such a good example. And I think for so many of us, we get so stuck on the how and it's like the how is figureoutable? Like the how is Googleable. It's about the faith. It's about the doubt. It's about the mindset of like am I just going to figure this out step by step? Because when you look at the final product and it's like that's overwhelming when you have to figure out 3000 steps and you're like I have no idea what step one is, you know? But it's like if you can focus on step one, it's like I got to rent this place. And then I got to figure out how to open this up. And like then you do and and then you end up opening up a juice bar in Queens.

Yeah, yeah.

You know?

Now in my soul, I think I'm like uh I'm an artist in my soul. Right? [Mhmm] So I I love entertainment. I love movies and films and plays. And I will tell you that what was playing over and over in my head when I was starting out, you know, like with the construction and all of that was the song if you put one foot in front of the other and still you'll be walking out that door. So that's, I'm going to tell you honestly, that's really how I kept myself going. I just, I kept thinking if I just keep taking one step, just one more step, just one more step, just one more step. Right. Um and every time I accomplished one of those steps that I needed to accomplish to get to the larger goal, I would congratulate myself. And that would give me the no the, I don't want to say balls cause I'm not a man, but that would give me the courage, that’s the way you go, that would give me the courage to keep to keep going. And I also had my my daughter my daughter, Jade, um she's like my right hand. You know, I have my son too but my daughter Jade is my right hand. [Yeah] So you know what I couldn't do, she could do or what she couldn't do, my son did and together we got it done.

I love this. I love this so much. And so you guys have opened up The Nourish Spot, it's won all types of awards. You got micro-business of the year by the U.S. uh, by the small business administration. I mean, you've received so many, so much recognition as you should [Thank you] and you're doing such incredible things for your community. I mean, beyond the fact of just providing, you know, a uh healthy food option in places that may not have as many. And in, I know that you provide internships for the youth in the community and then that often leads to jobs. I mean, what an incredible thing to be able to birth in giving back to your community. And like you were saying, I mean, doing something with your children, seeing something that was a dream come to life, it's just such, not just an incredible story, but I just think for you like what an amazing experience to be happy.

Well, it is amazing. And I would tell you this. So remember I told you when I saw the awning, it said DK upholstery, right? So one reason I knew it was mine, because my name is Dawn Kelly, so it had my initials. Right. But I would tell you that last year um in December, I was sitting in the store by myself, just sitting there, you know, kind of reflecting and being proud of myself, you know, cause every once in a while, I'll take a moment and just to reflect [Yeah] right. And I was thinking about that awning again. And I focused in on the last word ‘upholstery’ and I'm like oh my goodness, upholstery means to make something over. [Mmmm] So in fact, the awning said DK made over.

Oh my goodness, unreal.

And that's what The Nourish Spot is for me. It's my life made over because now I really get to be who I am. I get to be around all of the people, the babies, the kids, you know, the senior citizens. All of the people that want to be healthy, you know, that they come in all flavors and sizes and ages and races and palettes, you know.

I love this. It’s so amazing.

But I love what I'm doing. And I love that my, that I'm in business with my children. And and I'm gonna tell you a reason for that. I love that I'm in business with my children because one of the last projects that I was engaged in in Prudential before I left was we did a survey called the African-American financial experience. And in that survey, in that research, we found that, you know, the wealth gap between um African Americans and our European sisters and brothers, you know, um, was so large. And they're still saying it now that um it's gonna take lifetimes unless, you know, something happens in some of these banks and real estate and university that were red lining us, you know, uh uh pay us back for all of that um debauchery. But anyway, it showed that there wasn't a lot of money being passed down between our families, you know, people would die and then that would be it. And so black people are always starting from scratch. And so I learned from that research, I took a lot of, you know, I didn't just do the work and share it for the masses to know about it. I learned from it too. And so it's part of the reason that I established my business because I wanted to leave a legacy for my children.

Uhh.. I love that. I love that so much. And it's so important. I would be remiss if I didn't ask you before we kind of wrap this up, how are you guys doing right now with COVID? Because I mean, it's been so hard for everybody. And New York is especially been hit hard. And I know that a lot of these places were closed down. And I think a lot of people are very scared right now and feel very, you know, apprehensive about what's going to happen with their jobs or whatever. And so I can't imagine as a brick and mortar shop that it it has been uh probably a tumultuous time for you guys as well.

Well, I would tell you it's been tumultuous in that my daily regimen, especially during the height of COVID, um was grueling. So as a small business, I'm owner operator, like founder, owner operator, right? So I'm still like we're still in growing stage. So it's my responsibility every day, pretty much every day, except Sundays, I source our our fruits and vegetables and other food stuff daily. I get up out of my bed like 5, 5:30, and I'm out in the street by 6:30 to get what we need in order to open up the store. During the height of COVID, our supply was scarce. And so I couldn't get a lot of the fruits and vegetables that I need or if I was getting them, they were the prices was super high. In addition to that, there were lines outside of the warehouse that were taking hours to get from the line into the store. [Oh interesting] And then when, once you get into the store, there's a line to get to the cash register. So there was way more time um that I had to uh expend just to source. And I would tell you that one day I almost packed it up [Wow] and said the hell with it. I'll wait till COVID is over. But again, I told you I'm a persistent, determined type of chick. And I don't, I don't give up easy. I just, I'm just not that person. [Yeah] I don't give up easy. I'm a fighter. And so I just prayed for God to give me strength when I was weary and not to let me faint. I didn't want to faint. I didn't want to give up. And so, although we lost three of our staff members because they didn't want to travel via train and bus to get to work. I, as you mentioned, and I mentioned earlier, the staff that I have are now mainly made up of young people who began with me as interns. With somebody else, some nonprofit organization was paying their salaries, but once those internships was over and these young people have shown themselves to be conscientious and dependable and honest and trustworthy and also care about culinary arts, I offered them jobs. So they actually work for me and I pay them. Okay. And um the ones that stayed with me, there's five that stayed with me, well actually six that stayed with me. They live in the community so they walk to work. And so that gives me great pleasure that I'm also able, not only to feed the community, but we are circulating some of the money in our community because these young people [Yes] who are between the ages of 19 and 23 work and live in the community, work in the community and spend their money in the community as well.

Right, so important. Well Dawn, you are just incredible. Um and it's been such a delight to talk to you. Thank you so much for sharing so much on this podcast. I think it was so many important conversations that need to keep happening. So I really appreciate you being here. Where can people come and find you and follow along on this incredible journey?

Well listen, please come let us nourish you at The Nourish Spot. We are located at 10705 Guy R Brewer Boulevard in Jamaica Queens. Um we're open for curbside pick-up and food delivery apps uh delivery only. Um so if you want to do curbside pickup, please call us at (718) 526-2099 in advance of your arrival um so you don't have to wait long. Um we're also on DoorDash, GrubHub, Postmates, Uber Eats um and Seamless. So you can order via any of those food delivery apps and have your food uh delivered to your door. Everything, nearly everything, that we make every day is customizable. So you can actually customize any any juice blend, smoothie, salad, sandwich wrap, Greek yogurt parfait, fruit bowl that you like. Um it can suit your taste buds.

Well I love that. And I will put all of that into the show notes and for the people who unfortunately like me, who don't live in New York and can't enjoy that. Um we can follow along on Instagram at The Nourish Spot so that we can support you and see all the amazing things that you're doing for your community [Yes] and I encourage you all to check that out too.

Yes and please do and listen we’re a minority women business enterprise, as well as a um um ACDBE which is an airport concession disadvantaged business enterprise. I told you Goli, I went after everything.

I love it.

And so um hopefully um hopefully one day soon, as soon as COVID is over The Nourish Spot will pop up in the airport nearby you.

Oh my goodness, I would love that. And um I will be on the lookout for that. I'm so glad you told me that, it's amazing. And I can't wait to follow you because I know that this is going to go to so many more places and seeing, I mean, how unstoppable you are I'm so excited to see what the future holds for you. Thank you so much for being here, Dawn.

Thank you.

How amazing was Dawn? I loved that conversation and here are my three takeaways. One: it is so important to be having these conversations about other people's experiences. And I want you, especially, if you felt a little bit defensive or you didn't understand what she was talking about or you didn't think it was as big of a deal, take note and listen more. We are so quick to want to put our own perspective. Not realizing that the reason our perspective is different is because we have had different experiences and it is so important to listen to other people's experiences and understand how they have had to navigate the world and how they have experienced things and how they perceive things if we are ever going to make a change. Two, I loved the advice she gave early on about how she figured out her own strengths and went after a career that fit that. Too often, we're trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. We pick a career, not focusing at all on what we're good at or what lights us up or what makes us uniquely us. And then we wonder why we are unhappy. If you're looking for a new career, before you search outside of yourself, figure out who you are, what makes you tick, what lights you up and then find the careers that fit that. And three, I mean, it's inescapable to look at her go-getter attitude and not be affected by it. She really epitomizes the saying where there's a will, there's a way, but I think there's so much to be learned from that. So often we get paralyzed by the hows. Like how am I going to do this? And when it comes down to it, the hows are actually really easy to figure out. There are classes. There are people that are willing to help. There are coaches. There's Google. There are millions of blogs on every subject. You can figure out the how, if you believe in yourself enough to go after it and to know that even if other people think you're crazy, you can pull it off. The how is a piece of cake. So I hope you enjoyed this. And if you did, please reach out to Dawn and let her know. And I will talk to you all on the next episode.

Thank you so much for listening. I can't tell you how much it means to me. If you liked the podcast, please rate and review us on iTunes. It'll help other people find the show. If you want to connect or reach out, follow along on Instagram and Facebook at lessons from a quitter and on Twitter at Twitter podcasts, I would love to hear from you guys and I'll see you on the next episode.