Blackgirl rules! Publisher Kenya James wins our 2003 Teenpreneur of the Year award

Blackgirl rules! Publisher Kenya James wins our 2003 Teenpreneur of the Year award – entrepreneurship

Raelyn C. Johnson

Kenya Jordana James knows African American girls are rarely represented in the magazines they read. So, the natural-born innovator created a publication that does just that.

Blackgirl Magazine shows African American girls at their best. Kenya says, “I wanted a publication that I could see myself and my friends reflected in. So I looked around and noticed, of course, that we’re all black girls.”

Most teenagers have to wait until they get older to do things they enjoy, such as going to the movies with their friends and getting their driver’s license. But 14-year-old Kenya wants you to read Blackgirl, regardless of whether you’re 13 or 18. “I wanted a publication that my mom would allow me to read that wouldn’t have any inappropriate content,” says Kenya, who was named BLACK ENTERPRISE’S 2003 Teenpreneur of the Year.

Launched in 2002, the first six issues of Blackgirl included interviews with singers Lauryn Hill, India.Arie, Monica, Jill Scott, and Mario; rap duo Outkast: music mogul Jimmy Jam; and tennis superstars Serena and Venus Williams. One notable interview was with A’Leila Bundles, the great-granddaughter of haircare pioneer Madame C.J. Walker, the nation’s first African American female millionaire.

As publisher, founder, and editorial director, Kenya owes much of the company’s success to good planning–and support from her mom, who encouraged her to commit to hard work. “You have to know exactly what you want–and the best way to do that is by writing a plan. I had to take time to settle myself, because I usually go in headfirst without direction,” says the Atlanta-based magazine queen. “So, I wrote down what I wanted to see, and what I expected the magazine to [be]: an outlet for teens to express themselves by offering insightful coverage on today’s issues and events.”

After the plan was written, Kenya began researching publications, writing articles based on stories she had read, and being more attentive in English class. She even attended a writing camp.

Although Kenya’s mother is on Blackgirl’s advisory committee, Kenya calls all the shots. There are 15 volunteer staff members, ranging in age from 11 to 18, who gain valuable work experience and have the ability to express themselves creatively.

Blackgirl is published bimonthly and sells for $4 in African American-oriented bookstores across the country. Despite the tact that it takes $4,000 to $5,000 to print each issue–Kenya has to pay a designer to layout the pages and a printer to print copies–Blackgirl grossed $12,000 last year. As for the money it took to start the publication, well, that came from another business altogether.

“I love baking from scratch and developing my own methods, so I started catering for school whenever we had to bring in a baked item. From there, I started selling Kenyajordana Cakes.” With the $1,200 profit from the baking business, in addition to personal savings, she was able to start Blackgirl.

Some might say that Kenya has the entrepreneurial spirit in her “jeans.” In fact, she’s planning to launch a denim clothing line for teen girls, ages 12 to 19, within the year. Since she loves sewing, she’ll make most of the clothes. The business is currently in its initial stages. “I’m sewing right now so that I [will] have a significant stock when the business launches.” The seed money for her latest venture came from a $2,500 scholarship she received from Girls Inc. after winning an essay contest called “Strong, Smart, and Bold” in early 2002.

Entrepreneurs have a specific mind-set. “A typical day [includes] making calls to people I want to feature in the magazine, [such as] advertisers, writers, columnists, and staff,” Kenya says. “I have to jot down ideas for the publication, and how I want to improve the magazine and organize editorial content. I’m accomplishing everything in steps. As the magazine evolves, so does the content.” It also helps that Kenya is homeschooled by her entrepreneur mother, which gives her the opportunity to take classes, such as public speaking, at Clark-Atlanta University. The credits she’s earning count toward her high school diploma.

In spite of her success, she remains grounded. “I don’t think I’m any different [from] my peers. I’ve just had the opportunity to express myself and [to] apply myself in many different ways,” says Kenya, who wants to become a midwife-obstetrician. She adds that having fun while running a business encourages you to work harder. She believes if you find something you’re good at, you should keep doing it until you discover something else.

Prior to starting your own business, Kenya continues, you should look for success stories of trailblazers who have succeeded in the field you’re interested in. She was inspired by Mary Ann Shadd Carey, the first black female editor and publisher in the U.S. “See how you can model what you want to do after what they’ve done,” she says. “There is nothing new under the sun. It’s up to you to do it better.” Whatever you do, tackle it with a positive attitude. “You are never too young to make a positive difference in someone’s life or your community. If you have that mentality, you will be able to knock down any barriers or obstacles you may face.”

For more information and to subscribe to Blackgirl, log on to www.blackgirl

COPYRIGHT 2003 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group