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Portraits of St. Louis

It’s more important to understand someone than to judge them. We think the first step to understanding someone is asking them the fundamental questions about who they are and how they became the person they are today. Understanding and empathy are essential building blocks for a better, more compassionate world. We’re incredibly fortunate to be able to ask these questions each week through our interview series. Below you’ll find inspiring interviews from in and around St. Louis.

Cole Coleman

My, oh my, where do I begin? The beginning is as good of a place as any, I suppose: Born and raised in Jefferson County, Missouri, to a self-employed and entrepreneurial family, my parents owned a janitorial company. They cleaned car dealerships in St. Louis and the surrounding areas. From time to time, I would eagerly join dad on a portion of his path (which consisted of night shifts, vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms, dusting, glass, etc.). I remember a few idioms from dad I picked up during this period, including “Do it right the first time, and you won’t have to do it twice.” More importantly, the idea that “You’re never too good to get your hands dirty.” Thinking back, that was the solid foundation for the work ethic that has helped me accomplish what I have since. Read more>>

Kasper Lorene Woldtvedt

With a passion for footwear, a newly found obsession with Alexander McQueen, and a love for disco balls and everything that sparkles, I graduated from Webster University with a Bachelor of Fine Art in Graphic Design. Upon entering the real world, they hired me to be the head coach for a small club USA swim team. I excitedly accepted that unique opportunity, but with a new design degree in tow, I also got a part-time job at a local paper store in hopes of growing a creative career while coaching swimming. Read more>>

Gericka Proctor

Hello, my name is Gericka Proctor. My journey started with photography. A small Instagram page with a variety of photos. From food to family, friends, and everyday life. This was a major transition for the sunglasses brand. The sunglasses idea came from my personal preference. I have been a sunglasses fan forever. I would typically wear aviators because my eyes are sensitive to light. So the dark lenses, for me, were the way to go. I sat one day thinking about how much money I spent on sunglasses, and the number of sunglasses I had was insane. Read more>>

Jenna Goble

I’ve been practicing and teaching yoga for 10+ years, and for much of that time, cultivating a studio in STL has been swirling in my mind. In 2020 after some of my favorite studios closed, my husband Chris encouraged me to take my ideas and make them a reality. Even then, I didn’t believe it was possible. How would we find the money, time (we both have full-time jobs and five kids), and people to make it happen? But one thing after another kept falling into place, including finding our beautiful space in Midtown. We have always loved that neighborhood, and it is coming alive with new neighbors like Golden Gems and Egg. Read more>>

Gv Freeman

I grew up in a small rural town in central Nebraska. When I was 14 years old, I got outed as a gay kid in a small Nebraska town, and my life sort of turned to hell. Lots of bullying and torment. So I decided the best thing to do was to disappear and spend 11 months as a foreign exchange student in Belgium when I was 15 and 16 years old. This experience truly opened my eyes to travel and many new and different cultural perspectives. I returned to Nebraska to finish high school and went to the University of Nebraska at Kearney, studying computer information systems.  Read more>>

Tyrell Manning

June 22, 1986, I came into the world right here in St. Louis, Mo. I was a goofy yet quiet kid. I feel I learned to set boundaries very early for my preservation. My world was no stranger to trauma. I had a front-row seat to my mother’s struggles with mental health and substance use. I don’t have many memories of my dad. I know he wasn’t there. He popped up a little later in my adolescent years, but my relationship with him was a bit strained. My grandparent got custody of my sister and me around the time I was 10. I knew very early in life I was a different kid.  Read more>>

Eddie Adams

I started in the engraving and sign industry when my grandpa opened a sign shop in his barn after retiring. From a young age, he taught me a lot about design, how to use tools, and most of the knowledge I use today. I’ve worked at many sign and engraving places in Missouri and Michigan, and after feeling pretty burnt out on the corporate aspect of it, I partnered up with my friend, Chrissy. We started Axiom in 2019, working out of my basement and garage, then finally moved into our shop in 2020. I met Chrissy at the first job I got when moving back to Missouri from Michigan, and she’d gotten great at the admin side of the business, and had an interest in doing more than just the typical sign shop type of products, so we struck out to build a business that we’re both passionate about. Read more>>

Zoe Zaiss

I was born & raised in the heart of the Midwest in St. Louis, Missouri. My passion for art and design started at 14 when I started my freelance business taking senior portraits. ZoeZPhotography is where I built my first website, designed my first business cards, and managed my first clients. I continued to find new opportunities while furthering my education at Truman State University with internships, multiple design positions, and advancing my freelance. May 2017, I completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Communications, a Bachelor of Arts in Public Communication, and a minor in Photography. Read more>>

Desirae Maupin

My tie-dye obsession began at the City Museum. There was an art station that allowed kids to tie-dye a shirt, and I was SO excited. While making it, I dyed the smallest sliver pink, but when I rinsed it. Most of the shirt was pink. Since that shirt didn’t turn out how I wanted it to, I started watching videos and practicing tie-dye art. Like most moms, mine didn’t enjoy that I took up such a messy hobby, so I slowed down until my senior year of high school. My chemistry teacher taught us the science behind tie-dye, and I fell in love again not shortly after I started a business and named it Dizzy Dyes because of a childhood nickname. Read more>>

Travis Haughton

My name is Travis Haughton, and I’m a film director and producer from St. Louis, Missouri, based in Atlanta, Georgia. I recently walked the stage at Webster University, receiving my degree in Film, Television, and Video Production, Scriptwriting, as well as a certificate in Entrepreneurship. Months after graduating college, I was blessed to work on 5 movies and counting, gaining more knowledge and experience to add to my resume. While in college, I’ve attended the American Black Film Festival multiple times to learn more information about the film industry coming directly from black perspectives. This year, I’m proud to announce that I am selected to be a volunteer for the 2022 American Black Film Festival! I’m so excited to meet more people in the industry and help behind the scenes. Read more>>

Thad James

In 1998, I bought a book on making balloon animals that included a bag of balloons and a hand pump. I wanted to be a cool uncle to my nephew. He loved the giraffe and sword and dog. But I was enthralled with the possibilities of this creative art form. I stumbled on an online discussion board created just for balloon artists. (This was long before the age of websites, YouTube, and digital photography. We would type questions, type answers, and type instructions on how to create new balloon figures. Read more>>

Sapphire Phoenix

I’m Tilischa. Better known as Sapphire Phoenix and born February 7, 1990, in Geisen, Germany. Grew up with my parents and younger sister in Saint Louis (North County). At age 5, I realized I loved music. I started singing in the school choir. Since then, I’ve been a part of multiple Saint Louis Choirs, Saint Louis Children’s Choir, and Ben Chandler & Kingdom Singers, to name a couple. For the past decade, I’ve been a dedicated singer in GEM. We are a local inspirational group. I’ve been able to travel and record with them. In January 2020, I decided to become a solo indie artist, now singing more RNB, Pop, and Neyo Soul music. I have since released 4 singles. “Distraction,” “Dumb For You,” “Love Don’t Change,” and “NO CONNECTION.” All of my music is available on any music platform. Read more>>

Chris Riordan

After College, I started to work for my father at his insurance broker business. After 1 year and our fair share of arguments, I decided to stop convincing him of my vision for the future of the business and started my own Insurance broker business. It took some time to grow the business, but I knew it would pay off. All I had to do was believe in myself and set goals and benchmarks to ensure I was heading in the right direction. As the goals continued to be met and I knew I was on the right path, Read more>>

Ashley Lopez

My coworker, Sam Whitelaw, and I were having a dull Monday morning at our corporate job. We always had talked about a crazy idea where we make dog treats and leashes to sell. COVID hit and sent us home to work remotely. We also hit our slow, seasonal months and decided to try out our crazy idea. We started with a few leashes and treated to give to our friends and family. Over a few months, we started getting a lot of likes and comments on our products. We then decided to make a Facebook page and see what happens. Because of COVID and quarantining, dog adoptions went up in our area. We took that opportunity to promote our personalized items and sell them online. Once vendor events started opening up, we signed up for as many as we could find to get our name out there. Read more>>

Kelli Braggs

As a native of St. Louis, I’ve grown to love all its beauty and complexities. I’ve committed my career to be a part of what’s good in this region. I grew up in North County and attended the Riverview Gardens School District. I did not know or understand our city’s long, steep racial history and divide as a child. When I was 2-years old, my mother purchased a home in the Bellefontaine Neighbor’s community in North County. I remember our family being the only blacks on the street, with very few others in the entire subdivision. My mother, a registered nurse by profession, was referred to by our neighbors as the “colored” nurse, with no harm intended as they frequently called her or came by to seek medical attention.  Read more>>

John Hansen

Following a challenging period in my life, I discovered woodworking, welding, and building furniture to be very therapeutic. It allowed me to escape to my shop, blend creativity with my love of problem-solving, and finally, have something tangible to show for my time. What initially started as a hobby quickly evolved into a profitable side hustle. I enjoy working with clients to design custom pieces for their homes or business that reflect who they are and fit perfectly in the space. Read more>>


We met through a mutual person who also could rap. We became a group, and some events took place. The joint person left, and we (Kassh & Q) continued with each other. Read more>>

Naé Jackson

My serial entrepreneurial journey started in May 2020 after I quit my job. During that time, I began selling eyelashes, accessories, and clothing from my “Brennaé’s Closet” page. That same December, I established my non-profit educational and mental health organization “Brennaé the Brand,” which aimed to alleviate the pandemic’s educational disparities by providing local learners free tutoring and counseling. I found this helpful because of my extensive teaching background and my knowledge of psychology. Read more>>

Brian McClelland

I’m from Arnold, Missouri but have spent most of my Life in St. Louis City and Maplewood. My first loves were music and movies–I began writing and playing terrible songs at age 12 and shortly after that began making terrible camcorder movies. I kept at both of them, though, eventually playing regularly in the STL music scene over the last 30 years (with Whoa Thunder, Maxtone Four, Tight Pants Syndrome, Middle-Class Fashion, and Hotel Faux Pas, to name a few) and pursuing my love of video by attending Jefferson College in Hillsboro, which had a working cable station where I eventually was employed. Read more>>

Sean Frye

Sean Frye, Creator, Writer, Editor, and Artist of Biff Bam Boom Comics (3B Comics). I’ve been working on this project since I was 12 years old, The Dream Started with my fathers, and he put it aside, and I grew up and ran with it. As of today, were a father-son team alongside my sister. We wanted to create a variety of unique heroes that could establish their legacy and represent the future generations of comic book lovers. We took what others viewed as a hobby and decided to create a business. We’ve had several supporters tell me that they were inspired by our Work, which motivates us to continue to do what we love. The love we have for the world of comics and its culture will forever run through me, which is why we’re delighted to set a foundation that will kick start a long-lasting legacy within the world of comics. Read more>>

Adrianne Martin

Free Flow Fitness started as Foxy Fit Studios on April 1, 2016. I never meant to take over a pole fitness studio. I started because my trainer at the time told me that I could get a stronger core if I did pole fitness, so I started at one class a week for 4 weeks, moved to 2 classes a week for 8 weeks, and then when I noticed the studio owner struggling to keep the business going, I began answering her phones for her and managing her parties. I texted my newest best friend (now business partner), telling her that my new therapy was closing, and she said, “what do we have to do to save it?” Read more>>

Jamia Howell

Hi, My name is Jamia Howell. I am the owner of Mia’s Scented Candles. I was born and raised on the south side of St. Louis. I started taking an interest in candle-making when I was 14 years old. I used to go to candle workshops with my grandmother every Thursday evening. I’ve always been a creative person and different. I loved that I could create my own with a good-smelling scent ( who doesn’t like things that smell good). I would go to the stores with my grandmother and pick out something that made my room smell good once I cleaned my room. Instead of picking up lipgloss or fingernail Polish, I would get candles. In 2019 I had issues with different jobs, and the schedule they needed me to work didn’t fit my children’s schedule. One day I had a sit down with my friend. She’s more like family. Read more>>

Kym Smith

I started when I was around 10. I had a cheap little family camera that I would run around, photograph things, and try to get good shots. I would use a free web browsing program and edit the photos as best as I could, I thought it was amazing and took some okay photos, but the majority were kind of bad. Fast forward to high school, I took a photography class. I was able to learn more of the details behind photography, how to frame your shot and different positioning, and the thought process you have going into a photo shoot. This was the moment that I decided it was something that I wanted to get more into and become more severe with, my style was improving, and I was one of the top photographers in the class. Read more>>

Noelle Daoire

I began my career in 2011 after graduating with a BFA in Creative Writing from Truman State University. I worked for a few years as a freelance writer/editor. I had a part-time job with a local attorney, who encouraged me to return to school. I was considering law school, but then I came across an ad for a degree in counseling. Before that, I didn’t realize there was such a thing; I thought you had to get a degree in psychology. When I began at Truman, psychology was my major, but it didn’t feel right to me because it focused on the medical model. So, I switched to Creative Writing because it was my other passion. Read more>>

Noelle Robinson

My story began with overcoming my hardships, which led to leaving my career as a teacher and starting my own business so that I could help others and give back to my community. I have struggled with mental health disorders, chronic pain, and other medical issues that even specialists couldn’t explain fully. For many years now, I have searched for answers and explored a variety of healing modalities. I have experimented with and tried more systems than I can count to overcome those conditions and live a pain-free life. Read more>>

Angella Sharpe

This life kind of found me. My degree is in education, so hosting/emceeing/talking for a living happened. It happened really by hanging out at Wild Country during the tapings of St Louis Country, The Director of that show was the director of the St Louis Blues in-game production — and the rest is history. Read more>>

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