14 May NOLABA Small Business Spotlight: Overcoming Racism

Overcoming Racism NOLABA connects New Orleanians with the support and resources they need to achieve economic prosperity. This includes providing information for small businesses like local resource providers and certification opportunities. In our newest Small Business Spotlight, NOLABA interviewed Matthew Kincaid, founder of Overcoming Racism and the 2018 Louisiana Young Entrepreneur of the Year, about utilizing New Orleans’ small business ecosystem to achieve his business mission – equipping educators with tools to build culturally responsive schools and classrooms.

“I started as a teacher, and besides that I don’t know of many jobs more challenging than being an entrepreneur,” Kincaid said. “This award means a great deal to me, because it is always an honor to be recognized for your hard work, and the effort and attention to detail that you put into your business. However, more importantly than that, I think this award is a validation of the work that Overcoming Racism is doing in schools across our city and nation, and the amazing community that supports our work.”

NOLABA: How did you get the idea to launch Overcoming Racism in New Orleans?

“I have been leading anti-racism workshops for over 14 years. When I began to teach and later in my work as an assistant principal at a public school in New Orleans, it became increasingly clear to me that many of my students were facing abnormal obstacles in their pursuit of a quality education. Recognizing that our school systems, students and families are dealing with the results of pervasive multi-generational systemic racism it seemed clear to me that educators should have some consciousness around race and anti-racism when designing school/classroom policies and priorities. New Orleans was a great place to incubate Overcoming Racism because I had already built a reputation as a teacher who embraced culturally responsive pedagogy in my classroom. However, most importantly, as New Orleans schools shifted from being traditional public schools to what is now an almost exclusively charter-led city, one of the critiques that schools faced was their ability to engage with the community. Rooted in the work that Overcoming Racism does is a belief that parents and community members are critical stakeholders in children’s education, so Overcoming Racism is positioned to help schools navigate some of the underlying beliefs and practices which cause tension between schools and communities.”

NOLABA: How have New Orleans’ small business resource providers and services helped in your growth as a business leader?

“There are so many resources in New Orleans for young entrepreneurs to take advantage of. The program that perhaps helped Overcoming Racism the most in our founding was the local Propeller startup accelerator, which gave me access to a mentor who I met with weekly, outside consulting support, and weekly professional development. One of the most challenging elements of being a new entrepreneur is navigating all the challenges of turning an idea into reality. Having Propeller’s support during the initial stages of my business was extremely helpful. Through Propeller I was able to receive some funding after placing third and receiving the audience choice award at the PitchNOLA Education presentation. Propeller also connected me with the Red Bull Amaphiko Social Entrepreneurs Academy, which is an 18-month fellowship. Overcoming Racism is currently in Propeller’s growth accelerator program as well, as we continue to expand our impact around the nation, so New Orleans-based resources have helped a ton. Being a member with LifeCity is also a great asset to Overcoming Racism because LifeCity helps businesses focus on sustainability and equitable practices, so the work they do is part of building an ecosystem in which the work I do exists.”

NOLABA:  How did you overcome any struggles along your journey as an entrepreneur?

“This is the second-most common question that I get. I see all the struggles I’ve had as learning opportunities. The word “racism” makes a lot of people uncomfortable, and the word is in the name of my business. Not everybody understands that anti-racism work is about creating a more just and harmonious world for all people. It is rooted in the understanding that our nation, cities, communities, families and each of us individually are better off when we don’t live out a reality informed by myths about race which elevate some and lower others. So whether struggles come in the form of articulating the value of this work for all people, partnering with organizations who are willing to be introspective and envision a better way, or simply having my brain split across multiple sectors of my organization’s impact, I am always brought back to the notion that each struggle is an opportunity to learn. We know that in starting your own business, if you are interested in it being successful, it takes a lot of hard work. What is less talked about is the reality that mindset might be the most important quality of an entrepreneur. The last thing I would say is I had to learn that ‘All money is not good money,’ and that helps me partner with schools and organizations who are committed to this work for the long run.”

NOLABA: What are your goals for your business moving forward?

“Overcoming Racism will soon be bringing on new trainers and consultants in order to support the demands and rigor of this work. As Overcoming Racism continues to grow and expand, we hope to create ways for schools to share best practices, tools and resources as our partner schools and districts continue their journeys toward reaching their diversity, equity and inclusion goals. In 2018-2019 we hope to double the number of schools we work with, while maintaining the quality of the programming and support that we offer each of our partner schools.”

NOLABA: What future improvements in New Orleans’ small business ecosystem would you like to see to help move your business forward?

“I think communication and collaboration is key. One of the best parts about growing a business which is now getting some recognition for our work is working with other young entrepreneurs and providing guidance as they navigate some early challenges. If we can create an ecosystem in which collaboration trumps competition then I believe there is room for small businesses in this city to thrive while also making an impact on the social footprint of our city. It is important to me that the entrepreneurial community in this city is asking itself the tough questions. Are we opening doors to more access for people who have traditionally been marginalized and shut out in this city? Are the funding opportunities and resources coming into this city being distributed equitably? Are the businesses and organizations that we are building developing practices that support the development of diverse, equitable, inclusive and just organizations? There is so much good research out now about how diversity and the intentional creation of inclusive work spaces not only positively impacts a business’ bottom line, but also its ability to solve problems, ability to be innovative and ability to interface with their consumer market. Developing a small business ecosystem which has a consciousness around the intersecting issues of oppression that limit institutions in both their internal and external functioning capacity would be a major asset for our community.”