Meet Kahlilah and Chamara, two women with inspiring stories featured in last month’s POWER newsletter. POWER: Prioritizing Our Women’s Economic Rise is a three-year project supported by JPMorgan Chase that brings together community-based organizations, government agencies, and institutions to accelerate the wealth creation among Black and Latina women in West Baltimore.
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Kahlilah’s Journey to Financial Stability
“My home buying journey started more than 5 years ago. I never imagined that I would be living in my car even though I’ve been employed full time since 2015. Every time someone saw me on the street, I was clean and dressed well, so no one knew that I was homeless. I suffered in silence, and I believed that I was alone in the world.
I met Tonika Garibaldi at the Live Baltimore Trolley tour two years ago. At the time I was hoping to find new employment. We spoke for about 30 minutes. She told me all about Black Women Build - Baltimore. The mission was awe inspiring to me. I imagined a space where women were seen, heard, empowered, and supported each other. I’ve found an organization that would cultivate my talents. Also, a community that would nurture my spirit. They would be the catalyst for me to create a home where love grows bountifully and joyously. I put all my hopes and savings into buying a home through them. But it wasn’t meant to be yet.
On November 1st, 2022, I received an email from Tonika that the program had homes available immediately. They had extended the opportunity to applicants working traditional working hours and I leaped at the opportunity.
It’s a leap of faith that I am eternally grateful to have taken. I closed on my home on February 23, 2023.
Black Women Build Baltimore introduces all their cohorts to programs and resources throughout the city. I went from never knowing where my next meal or space to sleep would be to having a community of women with shared experiences and so many shared resources. It was through them that I learned about the POWER project. I am now attending the Wealthy Women Financial Transformation program offered through the Latino Economic Development Center (LEDC).
The journey to gaining the stability that I desired was hard, but I am willing to do everything in my power to sustain it. I knew that I needed to transform my mindset. The financial education program is helping me and 30 or so other women to do just that. We are gaining understanding of our money stories and our mindset so we can make the changes we need to be successful long-term. We also get to consistently connect with like-minded women. My sister circle has grown. I started just wanting to buy a house. Instead, in the last six weeks, I’ve found a home both spiritually and physically.”
The unBraid Bar: West Baltimore’s Unique Salon Experience
Baltimore native Chamara Johnson didn’t know she’d become a salon owner when she retired from the Air Force after 20 years of service. Yet, she opened the doors to Eluka on Charles featuring The unBraid Bar in May of 2022. Eluka on Charles is a spa-like salon offering braiding, natural hair services, and unbraiding. The Unbraid Bar is Chamara’s exciting, unique offering. Braiding and unbraiding hair takes hours, but few braiders or salons offer braid removal. Clients come to appointments with clean, blow-dried hair.
Chamara loves braids. Her mother and grandmother taught her to braid and unbraid hair, and she taught her own children. “I was natural until the eleventh grade,” she says, “I did not wear chemicals. When I did get relaxers, it wasn’t the healthiest for my hair, but it helped me maintain my hair throughout my Air Force career.”
The unBraid Bar was a eureka moment. The idea flashed into her mind while complaining about the hassle of removing braids. “People usually get their own braids out,” Chamara explains, “My daughter would do it or my friends would. But we are all older and busy now. We don’t want to! We don’t have the time or energy for that” — the Unbraid Bar was born.
The concept is simple: you make an appointment at the Unbraid Bar; have professional unbraiders remove your braids; wash, and blow dry your hair. Then, you can get your hair braided at the same salon or be ready for your appointment with your own hair braider. Eluka on Charles has two sides, one side for the Unbraid Bar, and the other side for braiders and natural hair stylists.
But Chamara’s journey to entrepreneurship wasn’t easy. She had a business degree from the University of Texas but felt the need for guidance to apply her knowledge to the new venture, and she wanted to grow her professional network in Baltimore after being away from home for over two decades. That’s why she turned to Empowered Women International, a program of the Latino Economic Development Center, and participated in the Entrepreneur Training for Success (ETS) program in the Fall of 2022.
Through ETS, Chamara refined her business acumen and learned new marketing techniques. She also gained a network of fellow Baltimore women Entrepreneurs who have supported her throughout her journey.
“Being an entrepreneur, sometimes you get discouraged. There are some days you don’t want to do anything for the business. But when you go to class and see ladies making progress and sharing, you feel like you are in a safe space. I want to continue to be involved with EWI and the community,” she shares.
Today, Chamara has a complete business plan and newfound confidence to talk about Eluka on Charles and the Unbraid Bar. She started promoting the business to her existing network and expanded to people she didn’t know. “Word-of-mouth is key in the business. I started talking to home-based braiders and approaching women with beautiful braids to ask where they get unbraided!”
Her dream is to expand the concept beyond Eluka on Charles to other salons and locations across the country.
Chamara recommends the ETS program to anyone who wants to get their business idea off the ground. “It’s the push you need to get the business going,” she says, “And the camaraderie from the class is invaluable.”
Eluka on Charles featuring The unBraid Bar is located at 2522 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218
Story by Ally Jokl