In the last post, I spoke about traumatic growth. So, for this one, I wanted to give you an example of one of the amazing entrepreneurs whose story is covered in the book. This story can be found in Chapter 7, titled “Embrace the Now.” Here you will find out more about how Kheris Rogers, an 11-year old African American girl was able to turn the racially charged comments that she received at school into a flourishing business and personal brand with a bit of creativity and the power of the internet.
Now twelve years old, Kheris’ first experiences with bullying dated back to the first grade. One of four African American students in her primary class, Kheris faced severe backlash from classmates who teased her over her dark skin tone.
“I was the darkest of all of them, but they were all African American,” she said referring to the other three classmates.
The subject of horrid verbal and physical abuse, Kheris was punched and threatened by classmates, who referred to her as “a dead roach” or someone who “was left in the oven too long.” These harsh words were her first introduction to racism and tore her down to a point where she didn’t want to be in her own skin.
“I would always come home crying, like I would just have tears just coming down my face,” she says.
She once asked if she could stay in the bathtub longer in hopes of making her skin lighter. To her family, it was clear that the bullying was taking a profound toll on her adolescent life.
“That’s when I realized the bullying that was going on at her school in the first grade was really taking a toll on her,” her mother said. Shockingly, this harassment did not only come from her classmates but from her teachers as well. In an environment that should encourage inclusion regardless of differences, she was singled out as a public exception.
“During an assignment where the students had to draw themselves, the teacher handed the shy dark-skinned girl a black crayon instead of a brown one.”
This left her confused and embarrassed, as her other three African American classmates received brown crayons for their self-portraits. After a year of mistreatment from peers and faculty, her mother, Erika Pollard, put her foot down and made the decision to transfer her daughter to a more diverse school.
Erika had hoped that if surrounded by students of similar racial backgrounds, Kheris’ bullying would dissipate. Yet, even in her new school the harassment continued because she still bore a darker skin tone than her fellow African American classmates. But this time, it was a bit different. The bullying came from those of the same race. Upset, hurt, and confused, she sought out advice from family members.
“Flex in your complexion.”
This phrase was coined by her grandmother, Bettie Pollard, who constantly used it to reiterate to Kheris and her sister that they were beautiful, no matter the color of their skin.
“So flexin’ in my complexion means to me that it doesn’t matter what other people think about you. It’s what you think about yourself, and you don’t let anybody tell you different,” Kheris said.
Although she received numerous pieces of encouraging advice, there was something special about her grandmother’s wise words. In the Spring of 2017, Kheris’ twenty-three-yearold sister Taylor, posted a picture of Kheris on Twitter with the #FlexinInHerComplexion.
It broke the internet.
“It was up to almost half a million likes and she had just as many retweets on Twitter,” added Taylor.
An overnight viral success, Kheris and her sister received an outpour of positive feedback and support, lauding the girls for their beauty and courage. Some even shared their own experiences with race fueled bullying and discrimination. Quickly identifying a promising business opportunity, Taylor suggested they put the phrase on a few t-shirts andtry to sell them. With an $100 loan from their mother, Kheris and Taylor scraped together a website, learned the basics of screen printing and set up shop out of their garage. A month after the original post, in April 2017, their business Flexin’ in My Complexion was born. Within a few days of launch, Kheris’ endeavors spread contagiously across social media, garnering the attention of many high-profile celebrities such as Snoop Dogg and Alicia Keys. Other celebrities such as Lena Wraith and Lupita Nyongo quickly became loyal customers, Instagramming photos of themselves sporting their own Flexin’ in My Complexion tees.
Since its launch, the Flexin’ in My Complexion line has expanded from t-shirts into bomber jackets, jumpsuits and satin pants sets with new taglines such as “Coolest Queen in the Universe” and “The Miseducation of Melanin.”
Propelled by the catchy motto, celebrity endorsements, and the genuine authenticity of her story, Kheris has successfully sold over $200,000 worth of gear to date. But the money is the least of her accomplishments. Since making her way into the public eye, with the help of her sister-turned-manager, she has built a tremendous brand around simply being herself, amassing a total of 230,000 followers between Instagram and Twitter and winning numerous social impact awards. Just in the last year, Kheris has become the youngest designer to feature her work during New York Fashion Week, been featured on America’s Next Top Model, and was hand selected by LeBron James as one of sixteen powerful African American women to feature in the Nike campaign for the launch of his recent Lebron 16 sneaker. In addition to modeling and running her own clothing line, Kheris travels across the globe sharing her story and empowering other like-minded African American women to take the leap, find their passions, and follow their dreams.
Later on in the chapter, I go on to discuss how to use the power of the internet, like Kheris, to share your story and create your own powerful personal brand. If this is of interest to you, please make sure to check out the book on Amazon!