BOSS 101 Interview: Chaquanzha Stephenson

Tell us a little about yourself… 

I'm Chaquanzha Stephenson, but most people refer to me as Q! I am a quarter of a century and I graduated with a dual degree in Political Science and Justice Studies from the University of New Hampshire in 2013. I had aspirations of obtaining a corporate law degree, but as I prepared for the LSAT, I had an epiphany. I wanted to service the community at large (especially the youth) in some capacity, but I didn't know where to start. In January of 2014, I began working for Octagon as a Receptionist and HR Assistant (and while this wasn’t the job I dreamed of, it was something to get me by until I could figure things out). Octagon is also where I met Sade, so God knew just what he was doing.

In May of 2014, I incorporated DOPE Inc. which stands for, Don’t Oppress People, Educate! I was thrilled because I was one step closer to fulfilling my purpose. In 2015 I continued my journey in Human Resources for a different company while doing DOPE work on the side. From that point on, I started mentoring youth; I had my first speaking gig at the Boys & Girls club of Stamford, Connecticut. I hosted workshops for the Boys & Girls Club of Manchester, New Hampshire and continued to volunteer while branding DOPE Inc.

Fast forward to 2017, I took my first #DOPEGlobalMission in January, I traveled to the Ivory Coast and Ghana. In February, I visited Jamaica. In March I revamped our website, www.dopeinccs.com and I was able to launch our DOPE Merchandise in April. That month, I also launched our “Breaking Chains Project,” which is an initiative that works with current inmates and ex- cons to help deter youth from become a subject to the prison population. Immediately following, I ran a successful six week transformational course for young girls called “She’s Crowned.” This course engaged in topics such as: self-love, financial education, sex education, higher education, drugs, hygiene and more. Lastly, I spent the entire month of May in Ghana. Through my work, I received a rising star and humanitarian award this year and I have to say I have been truly blessed and favored this year, but there’s still so much to do before the year is over!

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What inspired you to start your organization?

I was inspired to start DOPE Inc. because of a racial discrimination incident I encountered during my freshman year of college. A white male, I had never met called me and my friends the “N” word, referred to all black people as animals and told me I was only there because I was an athlete and I held no academic merit.

This horrible experience gave me tough skin and showed me how I could educate the uneducated with positive words and cultural education. I reported his behavior and went through a series of meetings and mediations to change the university's guidelines. The university refused to make this go against his code of conduct because it didn't happen in a dormitory and he didn't physically assault me or the other girls. However, after fighting for two semesters, I was able to implement changes on campus and the university changed their guidelines. For example, if anyone says anything discriminatory to any student, anywhere on campus, it goes against their code of conduct. This means, the university can take away their campus housing, prohibit them from eating in the dining halls, and prohibit them from studying abroad. From that point on, I told my story across the campus and I also became a mentor to help other students handle discrimination in hopes to increase the graduation retention rate for students of color. That’s how you sprinkle your Black Girl Magic!

What were you doing before you starting Dope Inc., and when did you realize it was time to pursue it full time? 

Before DOPE, I was working in Corporate America. Sadly, I was never happy or fulfilled. When I was supposed to devote time to DOPE, I would be burned out and I would never have time to smash the goals I set in motion.  In November of 2016, I took DOPE on full time. Best decision ever!!! If I were still working a traditional 9-5pm, I would have never been able to travel or accomplish everything that I’ve done in the last seven months (Thank you JESUS)!

I could have went back to work seven months ago because my struggle days were beyond REAL, but that would put me right back in the same rat race with unfulfilled dreams. I wanted to turn my dreams into a reality (which I am working on daily) so I was willing to make sacrifices and take risks. “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” and trust me, you’ll NEVER hear me say, “what if” or “I wish I would have.” You might hear me say, “I did this and it didn’t work out” (But the key is, I can say, “I DID IT!”)

Do you see yourself ever going back to Corporate America?

Unfortunately, yes… I have to go back to supplement my income and pay down a few bills. In other words, ‘adulting’ sucks, why can’t someone just pay my bills for me? When you start to deplete your savings and pull from your 401k, you have to make sure you don’t sink… even if that means you have to go back where you started (as long as you don’t stay there). There is nothing wrong with Corporate America, especially if you plan to have more than one stream of income. I can say I am one of those people who jumped, but didn’t fully succeed the first time (so I’ll dust myself off and try again). I am a realist, so I am willing to put my pride to the side and go back to work until I can leave again for good! Another reason I have to go back is because I’m still building my network, which I will get into…

I appreciate your candidness, and willingness to share your successes and failures. In a world that's all about social media, it appears EVERYONE is becoming successful overnight. One goal of #TheBisForBoss is to show women that not everything is glitz and glam, and that no one person, idea, or business is successful "overnight". What’s one piece of advice you have for women out there that are looking to work in the non profit space or get funding for a non profit idea?

 If you are looking to start a nonprofit, make sure you’re passionate about it and willing to invest your time and money. That goes for a for profit business as well. Bear in mind, you have to put out before you see a return on investment, but if you don’t really care about your cause, you will not be willing to invest in it properly. In turn, you’ll probably end up losing money and wasting time because you might give up on the idea entirely and flush your investments down the drain.

For me, I grew up serving the community, so giving back is instilled in me. I’ll be honest, after my first year, I wanted to give up. The second year I dragged my feet, but this year (my third year), I have flourished beyond my expectations. The only thing I’m not fully satisfied with is my FUNDING ... so as I move along, I am still working on writing grants and figuring out ways to make money so I don’t create an extra expense for myself.

Whats one piece of advice for women looking to leave Corporate America?

If you are looking to leave, make sure you have a plan. Some people jump and figure it out along the way, but a nonprofit is a very different because you don’t necessarily have a product to sell, more often than not, you’ll be providing a service. In my case I am providing a service and using DOPE merchandise as a product. Unfortunately, DOPE merchandise doesn’t pay all of my bills, so I put myself on a spending budget; I had to save as much as I could using the “want” vs “need” technique. If I didn’t need it, I didn’t buy it. I stopped eating out and going out altogether. Don’t get me wrong, my life is still enjoyable, but I try to stay home if I didn’t have an income producing activity/event to attend.

There are two major keys:

  1. Having faith and believing in yourself enough to know that what you are doing will positively impact your target audience and others.

  2. Networking! Try to attend events parallel to your purpose and never be afraid to put yourself out there. Grab a business card, hand yours out and don’t be afraid to add/follow the person on social media right away. Remember, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know!  

Once you master those keys, you’ll have people to back you when you have fundraisers and maybe a few grant writers who can help you go after the funding needed to pay yourself/staff and maintain a reputable nonprofit. I’m still learning the ropes so if you have questions we can grow together.  

How important is networking and relationships when it comes to your career? 

In this day and age, it is vital to network and build relationships (NEVER BURN BRIDGES). Again, it’s not always what you know, it’s often times who you know. I always say, “Your Network = Your NETWORTH!”

You have to leverage your network and never be afraid to ask. You should only be afraid to be in the same spot this time next year. Some things can be done alone, but why kill yourself trying to get it done? Work smarter not harder ladies. When it comes to business, you have to put your fear and pride to the side.

What quote do you live by?

  Faith without works is dead. – James 2:26

You can’t expect things to be handed to you on a silver platter. You have to be willing to speak things into existence, while getting your hands dirty. What comes easy will go easy. DON’T TAKE THE EASY WAY OUT! It took me a while to build DOPE’s foundation because I didn’t ask for help. I wanted to build a strong and solid foundation to ensure my vision was not tainted. So make sure you are willing to put in the necessary/ required work to watch your baby flourish ever so nicely!

“To whom much is given, much will be required.” Luke 12:48

 How do you redefine the B Word/ What’s your Boss Word?

BRAVE! I am a blessed beyond measure and over time, I realized I cannot have faith and fear. I put my total faith in God and ask him to order each and every step I take. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had set backs and I know, the setbacks will never cease, but my God has the final say. I never question him because with each experience, whether good or bad, I gain wisdom & knowledge, which gives me the ability to grow!  

I also consider myself brave because in 2016, I was a contestant in a pageant with no experience in comparison to some of the other contestant who have competed before and even won pageants in their lifetime. Long story short, I was able to take home the title as Miss Dream Castle 2016. I agreed to be a contestant because all proceeds go to children who cannot afford to go to school in Jamaica and there was a $1500 cash prize that would allow me to invest in DOPE Inc. Winning the title allowed me to fund DOPE, but it is also helped me break down stereotypes for young girls (minority girls especially). Most beauty Queens have far less pigment than I so I wanted to show young girls who mirror me that anything is possible! I took advantage of the opportunity and wore a  traditional African print dress and rocked a natural hair style. I celebrated my ancestry and I was proud to be in my skin. #FlexinInMyComplexion … To date, I have crowned over 100 Queens (all different shades) domestically and internationally. It’s been so rewarding, because I have met so many girls  who said, “No” when I asked, “Are you a Queen?” My goal is to boost confidence in young girls no matter the age or shade so they can redefine the B word and live bravely.

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Any parting words of wisdom for #TheBisForBoss Readers...? 

  1. Take advantage of your thoughts and dreams and manifest them until they are your reality.

  2. Know that you can’t move forward without reaching back so please remember to send the elevator down once you take the ride up and never forget where you came from.

  3. Figure out how to make money while you sleep. It is wise to do something that will help you earn residual income so money will come in whether you want it to or not, (if you’re interested let me know).

  4. Keep your social media clean, you are representing yourself and your brand even when you don’t feel like it. (Screen shots are the new selfies and even if you delete it, it can still resurface).