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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.

Yayi Dia

As far as where I started, it was from close to nothing. I grew up in St. Louis, moving homes frequently in my childhood, and I can vividly remember eating cream of wheat almost everyday. I always felt that I did not have a choice but to be the lotus that bloomed from my imperfect beginning. After losing my brother to gun violence in August of 2020, I began my journey in the business industry as well as my spiritual journey in finding who I am and living in my purpose. Read more>>

Grace Toelke

I have always been interested in business, but never fully knew what area of business I loved until I took a class in high school. In that class we had a project where we had to ‘create a business’, and not having any clue what kind of business I would ever open, I just created a boutique solely based on the fact that I loved shopping. After starting my research for the project, I quickly realized I actually really enjoyed not only the entrepreneur mindset, but also the boutique industry as a whole. I remember texting my mom, dad, and sister and telling them I would have my own boutique one day. Read more>>

Brandi Bevley

My husband and I have been entrepreneurs for a few years. During 2018, I went on a self love journey. I had just birthed our second child and only girl. I wanted to show her that it’s okay to love yourself inside and outside. I use to mask my natural beauty with makeup and weave (braids and sew ins). I wanted to start up a business that would help people of the black community to feel beauty about themselves . So, during the panidemic in 2020 I started to do a lot of research about how to start a natural hair company. At the time, I was trying to grow my daughter’s hair so I decided that would be the first set of products I wanted to make. I did a lot of research and finally came up with the formulas and found the vendor for the ingedients I wanted to use. Read more>>

Tennille Ray

Before I started my business I was a figure athlete/ A bodybuilder., and a Personal Trainer, After winning the title of miss Universe figure – I competed in a few more bodybuilding contest, there after female and male competitors began asking me for coaching and posing – I agreed and took on a few clients , helping them get ready for bodybuilding shows. And looking their best on stage . When I started posing more male athletes I realized there was a need for better stage wear, in bodybuilding the men wear trunks , they can wear any color, but in the classic physique category competitors can only wear black- black classic physique briefs. Read more>>

Samantha York

My relationship with Instagram has always been to bridge the gap between where I am and where I wanted to be. I’ve always been very curious when it comes to my personal style and have experimented with almost every style until I found the right fit. I grew up being taken to thrift stores and having to use my imagination and limited sources to create these outfit ideas I would often come across. I would say my story starts around middle school when my friends and I would take the bus to the Galleria or West County and then add a stop to Goodwill or Salvation Army. Read more>>

Jakobe Hopkins

Was introduced to construction and Realestate by my mentor Gary Johnson, he took me under his wing when I was just 17 years of age. He showed me the ropes of how to acquire property and how to make a profit off of each one. He also motivated me and pushed me to be a better person and business man! Read more>>

Alexis Black

I live and breathe art. My whole life has always been consumed in it. Drawing painting all of it. I was always the one going above and beyond in art class. When I was about 11 I was introduced into the tattoo community by my father who was a tattoo artist. I used to walk to the studio he worked at after school and I was help draw for his appointments I would help around the studio. I would study all of the artists while they worked. I was just so amazed at the idea of people walking around with permanent art on their body forever. I was inspired to follow the dream of becoming a tattoo artist. When I was 12 I did a colored tattoo of a caterpillar on my mom. Read more>>

David Lee

Track and field has always been a part of my life, a legacy passed down from my dad. I competed at Missouri Baptist University (MBU) as a decathlete, chosen team captain, and even still hold the school record. As much as I’ve always loved track, I had never imagined it being my primary vocation. But as I started coaching in high school in 2018 and eventually into the collegiate level, I noticed a gap – a need for technical T&F coaching in St. Louis. Almost every kid who came to me for lessons would say “I don’t have a coach at my high school.” And so I began trying to fill that gap. It started by word of mouth and only one or two clients a week, meeting all over the city and greater St. Louis area. And it stayed that way for months. Read more>>

Shawntelle Fisher

I started making some bad choices at a very young age. I become a mom at 15 and was arrested, for the first time, when I was 17. Those two events led to me cycling in and out of the criminal justice system for over 20 years of my life. The last time I went to prison in 2006, I made a decision to come home a different person. That started with me surrendering my life to Christ; my life has never been the same. When I walked out of prison, on my birthday, November 3, 2011 I was determined to make a difference with my life. Since then, I gotten 7 degrees, I’m a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), a Certified Reciprocal Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CRAADC), and started a nonprofit, The SoulFisher Ministries (TSM). TSM’s mission is to respond to the needs of youth with incarcerated parents and to promote restorative justice for those currently or formerly incarcerated. Read more>>

Zae Ahead

I’ve always had a love for art, design, and fashion since a young age. As a young black boy, expressing myself verbally was always difficult as a youth, so I really had to find different avenues to do so which resulted in me becoming a creative. I found out art and fashion was the easiest way for me to express myself. I started my creative career while in high school at Cardinal Ritter, joining a multi-faceted creative group titled Ahead of Our Time filled with creatives ranging from photographers, designers, and artists. While in high school I started painting seriously, designing clothing, and getting my feet wet with photography learning from my friends. Read more>>

Julia López

My love and interest in photography started with my father and something I am able to still connect with despite having lost him when I was young. I find photography (and in the recent years – videography), to provide avenue to direct some of my thoughts, aspirations, frustrations, and everything in between. I consistently pursue the relationship between the built environment, nature, and how we hold relationships in these spaces while also reconciling the historical context of the space we find ourselves in. My artwork speaks to the living and the forgotten environments. Read more>>

Valerie Berta

The WE project journey started with me asking: What more can I do? What do I know how to do best? From there it has been a personal and now public journey of growing, learning and unlearning, and of gratitude in the joy of being able to take concrete steps in the fight for justice. The WE project for me is actualizing the hope that we are getting closer to this elusive “perfect union” that the land commonly known as the United States. The WE project is my answer to the reality that we need to embrace, amplify and celebrate the diverse voices that represent this nation but have been systemically marginalized, if we are ever to realize the promise of America. Read more>>

Twyla Lee

My name is Twyla Lee and I am a mother, daughter and educator with 20 + years in the profession. To be honest, I did not want to be a teacher but the profession choose me and continues to hold on to me since 2001. Right after I graduated from Harris Stowe State College (it was not a university when I attended) my son Mekhi Lee and I moved to Atlanta, GA. I had not secured employment prior to moving I just moved and believed that I would find employment because I was a certified teacher. Read more>>


I attended Grabber School of Hair Design in 2014. I’ve worked primarily in full service salons. In 2019 I worked only on Nails, and as much as I enjoy hair, I felt more creative doing nails. Covid really put a damper on everything. I went back to cutting mens hair, and decided I’ve had enough doing corporate salons. I just took a leap of faith in myself and came across a loft. I didnt have access to my previous clientele from the last Nail salon, so I’m literally starting over. Read more>>

Terrance & Melandie Summers

Ann’s Roots microgreens farm is a small family business run by husband and wife team Terrance and Melandie. We started Ann’s Roots microgreens farm out of love for our family and tradition. Coming from a long line of growers, green thumbs and cooks we found a need to revamp of family dinners and cookouts. This new lifestyle change prompted the innovator of the family (Terrance) to work towards finding new ways to grow food indoors. We started this journey by feeding our family from an aquaponic system that grew varieties of lettuces and herbs. Read more>>

Harmonee Rose

Harmonee Rose born with an entrepreneurial spirit started her own lemonade company right in front of her Mother and Father’s salon (Salon 3FOURTEEN) when she was just three years old. While the recipe originated from her T-granny Yvette Smith Harmonee Rose has put her own spin on it and made it her own. Her huge personality and amazing tasting lemonade has the whole City of St.Louis going crazy. We spread love by putting a smile on the faces of children with challenging upbringings and the homeless in our community in St.Louis and Miami by linking up with our church homes (Vous in Miami) and (Trinity Mt. Carmel in St.Louis). Read more>>

Andrew Essig

I received a Bachelor’s Degree in business from Northwood University focused on automotive dealerships. I always had a love for cars and knew I wanted to be my own boss one day. I never played sports in school and was always in band and art class instead. But I really latched onto working out when I was in college. Initially I just wanted to build a more attractive physique, but I became fascinated by the process and the things my body could be capable of. Read more>>

Teejay Tatum (DJ Cheddaloco)

I’ve always had a passion for music since I was a kid.It has been a thing in my family for as long as I can remember. Growing up I’ve always enjoyed entertaining people. From helping throw parties to hosting my own parties and events.I began to take my craft serious in 2018 when I started an entertainment business called “Big Truck Entertainment”where we offer all of your party needs from deejay services, Photo Booth services and etc. We travel anywhere we’re needed and we specialize in all types of events from Weddings,Birthday parties , and Corporate events. Read more>>

Jennifer Yang

Growing up, I traveled a lot with my family both within the United States and internationally. My love for food began during this time, as I was fortunate enough to get to try all of these amazing cuisines from a fairly young age. Even before the days of social media, I loved taking pictures just to capture memories. Initially, I posted pictures of my vacations especially food photos on Facebook to share my memories. Fast forward a few years later, I began writing Yelp reviews so I could recommend the best food spots. April 2019, I was accepted into the Yelp Elite squad. In order to further expand my audience, I decided to create an Instagram page (IG: @jeyang.foodfunadventures), which I was reluctant as first, but was convinced by my friends and the Yelp community to start one and I’ve had a blast ever since. Read more>>

Janessa West

After raising my kids as a single parent in Southern California, I moved to St Louis in 2018 in search of a different pace of life. I quickly found it here, in the ability to purchase my very first home and create a new life for myself with great friends and experiences. When the pandemic hit, it shut down my main source of income. I had to become resourceful and figure something else out. Having been an entrepreneur, I thankfully had other business experiences to fall back on. While living in California, I had started a Mobile Notary & Loan Signing business. It occurred to me that this type of business would be more important than ever during this time. Read more>>

Lorenzo Davis

I was raised in Ferguson, Mo. I grew up playing sports all around the St. Louis area. Mainly playing in different neighborhood parks which sparked my interest in the street life. I fell off of my path and began going down a dark road of drug abuse, alcohol abuse, crime and drug dealing. Making that horrible choice led me to being robbed, shot and paralyzed at the age of 21. With God on my side I was able to stand on my own feet 8 months later. Even though I gained my legs I lost my mind and started to abuse the pain killers I was prescribed. Which led to more problems and the following year I was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon. Read more>>

Chrissy Lake

I started teaching on my own in 2001. I was instructing at multiple studios in the St. Louis area. This was fun and exciting but I ultimately wanted to find my own home. Sloan’s dance studio reached out to me in 2013 to guest choreograph one Acro routine. That Acro routine was their first national award winning group. I returned the following year to choreograph another routine. Mary the owner of Sloan’s sat me down in 2015 and said they were looking for teachers and someone full time. She wanted someone permanent who could take the studio to the next level. My first year here I commuted back and forth between St. Louis and west Frankfort. Read more>>

Greg & Jodi Miller & Kolpakov

Greg and I started working together as caricatures artists at Six Flags back in 2011, and eventually moved on to working at weddings and other live events. Both of us were artists by practice and went our separate ways for a short time, where we studied art at universities in Missouri. After some time being apart, we regrouped and started making art together. After undergrad I had worked in a print + design shop where I focused primarily on wedding stationery and graphic design. Greg had started doing live wedding painting on his own during the lockdown era. Read more>>

Mitch Thomas

Currently, I am a business partner of Power Alley Sports – DBA – The Hitting Zone STL which is located in Ofallon, MO. I spent my childhood years in Overland, MO, and attended the Ritenour School District. After high school, I would attend at the time Missouri Western State College where I would become a student-athlete in both football and baseball while majoring in Computer Science. MWSC is now MWSU. After, two years at MWSC I would return home and attend St. Louis Community College Florrisant valley and forest park where I would graduate with a Culinary degree. Read more>>

Sunni Dixson

In 2016 I decided to pursue my dreams full time. as writer, director and producer by filming my first scripted web series. From there I got my first Hollywood gig in 2017 working with a legendary producer. I did a total of three shows. Then I did a couple development projects for networks like A & E , BET and TV ONE, today I’m a Producer for the OwN TV network’s number one reality show called Love and Marriage Huntsville Read more>>

Kaylen Owens

I started making music when I was eight years old, immediately following my molestation. that made my pen my best friend and the voice that others needed to hear. I put a pause on my college books to devote myself strictly to providing for myself and my dreams, sometimes the college moment isn’t always clutch. The name FunDipp produced a wave not just for the LGBTQ community but also for people who were afraid to stand in all that they are unabashedly. Stardom for me broke at the age of 17 when I began rapping in my college dorm on Instagram and gained millions of insights off my feelings. If you thought the previous wave was strong, the following is going to wreck them, and I won’t stop until everyone on Earth has heard from me. Read more>>

Makel Hale

Everything started in maybe the 5th grade I believe. That’s when I started to teach myself how to draw different items. Fast forward to high school I took close to every art class that I could take so that I could learn different techniques. I also started customizing shoes, tie dying clothing as a little business also while in high school. Then after graduating high school in 2016 I started to learn how to cut and press vinyl, tattooing, painting a tad more and have just been growing from that and sharpening my skills. Currently I have two clothing brands one is called Smokeout and the other is DAI, I’m still tattooing, painting, and making custom clothing for others. Read more>>

Stephon Bolds

My mother was a real estate agent right before I was born. She paved the waive for me and lit my passion for real estate Read more>>

Tiffany VanEeckhoute

I will start by saying I feel incredibly blessed to do something i am so passionate about and love so much for a living. I can honestly say work for me doesn’t feel like work, i love connecting with people and making them feel good about themselves. My dad passed away when i was 21 and life was pretty rough after that for awhile. I went to hair school at Grabber at 27 and started my hair career at 29. I didn’t feel confident enough yet to stand behind the chair, so i was blessed with the opportunity to be able to stand behind my mentor Ashley Crawford at the Hair Theatre Salon for a year. Read more>>

Grip Slime of St. Louis

We started when I (Eli vocals/lead guitar) met our bassist, Spencer at a music store in our home town. I told him that I had some material I was working on, he came over and we decided to start a band. After that I asked my friend Brenden to do drums and we recorded out first single, “Face First” which came out the same day as our first show that we had a couple of months later in a barn in Salem, MO. From there we recorded and wrote more material and have cycled through a few members, but now one year later from our first show we have an EP, and our current members, Me, Spencer, Dillon on rhythm guitar, and Isaac on drums. Read more>>

Bettye Nicole Williams

n June 2015, my daughter passed away unexpectedly at four months to SIDS. I had just graduated college and was looking forward to starting my new career. After she passed, I took a step away from working and began to dig deeper into finding my purpose in life. As a Christian, I knew God had a plan for me, but I wasn’t sure what it entailed. A few months after her passing, my husband and I started a Non-profit organization (Bailey’s Dash), and I began to write, travel, and speak to families who experienced grief. Read more>>

Lin Doak

The Nation’s biggest Ozzy Osbourne tribute band with the shortest frontman (4’10” tall)! He looks and sounds just like OZZY! Little Ozzy appeared on A&E and The History Channel with Ozzy Osbourne himself and his son, Jack! Little Ozzy was a part of “Ozzy and Jack’s World Detour” and was told by Ozzy himself, “You really do sound like me honestly.” and “You are very good!”. The show included recommendations by Sharon Osbourne, as he performed for her on an episode of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent”. Read more>>

Hollow Hunnadz

So It all started back in 4th grade, I began rapping with a fellow classmate. We called ourselves the 404 Boyz, and that was only because our classroom number was Rm 404; and we were kinda basing it off if the group master p had , also known as the 504 Boyz. We use to sit in class and write raps throughout the day ; sometime we would when our work was completed, and often times when our work waan’t completed. Once lunch time came , it was our time to shine and have fun; so we get our lunch and get to a table and get the show going. Read more>>

Courtney Woolery

I began my journey in 2019 after the Covid pandemic settled a bit. I knew that I wanted to establish a “need based business” so I figured, what better way then to provide a large platform for Black owned businesses to capitalize! To date I’ve managed over 300 businesses and hosted 4 successful events including The Taste of ESTL. We want to help revitalize East Saint Louis by any means necessary! Read more>>

101 Da Exclusive

I started watching my dad make music when i was younger he had a rap group when i was growing up called grindcity ent the group consisted of about 6 artist that i used to see come over our house to make music my dad rapped as well but he also was the one producing the beats and recording, & mixing the songs. They also use to let me com to they shows and i seen how people love them as they perfomed thier songs. They even had me on stage with them as a child so i felt that if i rapped i would be closer to my dad becuase i stayed with my mom and only came over his house on the weekends. Read more>>

Danita Mahler

We are a mother-daughter writing team and create stories about the special relationship between grandparents and grandkids. A local, award-winning illustrator brought our characters to life and each page brings delight, along with some unexpected surprises. Our first book, Hip Hip Hooray, it’s Grandparents’ Day celebrates unique GRAND names (Grammy, Gramps, Nana & Papa, just to name a few!), along with the special activities the families share together (singing, camping, doing crafts, and much more!). Hooray, it’s the GRAND Christmas Play shows our familiar GRANDS preparing for the Christmas play …. Read more>>

Ra’Janea Prude

I began working on amazing embrace in 2018 . I was in a place where I knew my purpose was bigger , I wanted to make a difference and I knew Forsure I wanted to impact women. I’ve always been pretty preserved, I struggled from a lot of low self esteem as a child mainly because I had a voice but I didn’t know how to use it , I feel that we all have struggled with that at a point . I created a Instagram page not really focused on follows and likes at the time and after that I started to map out what the face of my brand would look like and who I wanted to relate to , more so who could I relate to . Read more>>

Katie Baize

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always dreamed of being a model when I was older, especially when I would spend hours a day watching America’s Next Top Model. I’ve always been very photogenic and want to take my picture with friends, but one day one of my friends, who has a small photography business, reached out to do a little shoot in the park. I loved it so much and posted it on my social media when a friend of my boyfriend at the time reached out to me. She let me know she did some modeling in STL and would love to set me up with her photographer to get started on actual modeling. Read more>>

Jenna Muscarella

I have always been involved with art. I took drawing classes at a young age. I am constantly creating, making, doing, and exploring. Art has never stopped. I obsessively used my family camcorder. I often followed my dog and sister around pretending to be The Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, with my 9-year-old pitiful impression of an Australian accent. My creativity consistently flowed into more movie productions, magazine publications (only read by my sister and mother), filling countless pages of sketchbooks, and a trip to the principal’s office in 2nd grade to run a bookmark-making business out of my crayon box. My name is Jenna Muscarella, and I am an artist. Read more>>

Sara Wilson

Born to a multicultural family, I felt out of place in my predominantly white suburb of St. Louis. I expected nothing less than the best of myself and defined success as following a lucrative, professional career path. After moving to Seattle and deciding that neither engineering nor medicine was my passion, I found that spark in public health and epidemiology. Soon after that, I launched myself to various places abroad, working in public health as well as education and language/linguistic services. Read more>>

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