It was my last semester at UGA and May 10 was soon approaching, it was starting to hit me that college was inevitably coming to an end and real life was about to begin.
Most of my friends and classmates were busy going on interviews and accepting jobs after graduation. Everyone was excited to know what each other would do and where they were going. We had all worked so hard for the last four years and now was the time we had all been waiting for. We were eager to finally put everything we learned to the test and more excited to no longer be broke college students.
My last months of college, I didn’t apply to any jobs and did I go on any interviews. Instead, I was contemplating a very different route, one that wouldn’t provide me with the security and the money we’re all seeking but a route I was convicted to take.
Two years earlier, I had an experience that would forever change my life. The summer going into my junior year of college, I had the opportunity to study abroad to Ghana. During the trip I fell in love with the beauty of the culture, textiles, people and of course the food (I could have sworn I gained 10 lbs from all of the chicken and jollof rice I ate). Toward the end of the trip, we visited a program that helps young girls who had been abandoned or came to the city for better opportunities and assisted them in becoming self-sufficient and equipping them with the tools needed to provide for themselves and their families.
The girls welcomed us in a singing-dancing circle and we heard stories of how the program was changing their lives.
As we were about to leave, I got back on the bus, feeling a sense of helplessness and wanted to give back to the girls to help them continue their journey to receive an education. Our group had gathered some items we could leave for the girls but I went back through my bag searching for more I could give to the girls, knowing that everything in my bag wouldn’t be enough.
My time in Ghana and my encounter with the girls was an experience I couldn’t forget once I got home, one that continued to run through my mind as I contemplated what could I do and how. I shared my experience with my best friend Sasha and we both knew, we wanted to be a part of supporting the girls as well as those with similar stories around the world. We had an idea to start a business but I still wasn’t sure if this is would just be a passion project or something I would pursue full time after college.
Call me crazy but I believed that even though our support would have to start small it would grow into educating hundreds even thousands of girls around the world.
And at the end of the day, those beliefs were all I needed to make my final decision. Instead, of following a plan of security, I would take a journey into the unknown and decided to start a business immediately after graduation, to help support the girls receive an education. No, I didn’t have any experience and no, I didn’t have any money. But I figured I had nothing to lose and there was no better time than now.
Two weeks after graduation, we launched Bené and I started working the business full-time. Bené is a collection of scarves with love at its core; we are committed to educating girls in Ghana and growing our impact around the world.
Two years into my entrepreneurial journey, I can honestly say that I am crazy, but as Steve Jobs said, “the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
To follow along the craziness of my entrepreneurial journey, check out The Journey of Blue.
Just one month before my high school graduation and 18th birthday, in April 2005, I walked into Planned Parenthood because I wanted to start taking birth control pills. Per their protocol, they gave me a pregnancy test and I was terrified to learn that I was pregnant.
Furthermore, as class president, Homecoming Queen and Varsity Cheer Captain. I felt like I wanted to die right there in the clinic.
I had already been accepted into Florida State University and after sitting down and telling my parents, they asked if I would still pursue my college plans, I replied “Yes!” They both embraced me and my high school sweetheart, Anthony Wilcox, Sr. and said “life goes on.”
I was wowed by their response and although it wasn’t the best news, they were confident that I would further my education and set out to fulfill my dreams.
I did just that. I went to Florida State University in June 2005 and Anthony, deferred his football scholarship to stay in Tallahassee with me and witness the birth of our son, due in December.
As I completed the first 2 semesters, waddling across campus, on December 20, 2005, I gave birth to the most precious gift I have yet to receive, Anthony Wilcox, Jr. Fortunately, it was during the Christmas Holiday break and when he was 3 weeks old, I started my 3rd semester of classes.
At the time, I knew that the odds were against me: a young, black mother, but I was determined to graduate within 4 years and lead a life for my son that he would be proud of, and one that he can truly understand the true essence of “never giving up.”
When Anthony Jr. was 6 months, his dad had to report to his Junior College in California, so I was left to take care of our son, balance a full load of college courses and I worked on campus and at CVS as a pharmacy technician.
Though he helped financially, and spent time with him on his breaks, I was carrying quite a load, doing it all myself. With my sister, Applemania, attending Florida A&M University and my oldest sister, Alfreda, relocating to Tallahassee during my college years, I was so blessed to have them a part of my support system!
But they too, had a life of their own. I had to develop networking and trusting relationships with others (college friends) to help me.
There were so many moments where I felt overwhelmed; with relationship issues, because me and Anthony Sr. had broken up, balancing motherhood, classes and work, times were I faced financial hardship and so many reasons why I could have given up…but I did NOT!
I kept going.
I was so interested in continuing my involvement at FSU as I did in high school so I became involved with the Black Student Union, Student Government and pledged in the Zeta Omicron chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. I was also a member of the Garnet and Gold Guides where we guided families and official football / basketball recruits during their visits at FSU.
Yes! All of this with a baby! Soon enough, on campus, I was no longer Altrichia Cook, but I became the “girl with the cute baby” It was all love and support. I would be a resource to other girls on campus that became pregnant and they would seek counsel from me about resources, grants they may have been eligible for, and other necessities to help them be successful as they saw me as a successful college mom.
I furthered my education by pursuing my Master’s degree at Florida A&M University. I graduated from there in April 2011.
I relocated to Lakeland FL and worked as a probation officer. I have always loved fashion and upon relocating, I started thrift shopping frequently. Between thrift shopping and ASOS.com for me, and RalphaLauren.com for my son, I was definitely a border-line shop-a-holic.
As I would purchase these vintage finds, I would create and re-create looks of the vintage finds and worked with a tailor to make these creations come to life. It wasn’t until March 2013, when I was planning to vacation to Puerto Rico, that I aimlessly searched for a high-waist swimsuit to mask my abdominal imperfections. Frustrated and unsuccessful, I took matters into my own hands and created my own high-waist design and had the tailor to materialize my idea.
Upon relocating back to my hometown which was NEVER my plan, and working as “misses officer,” I knew that I would not work as a PO forever. I had spent some time brainstorming about creating a business to create revenue for myself. I knew I wanted to (and still aspire to) establish a non-profit center/residential program for teen moms who are in need of direction, but I figured that would be more in my later years when I would be financially concrete.
So, I spent time thinking about establishing ideas to start a trucking company.
My father had been in that business since I was little and he made a great deal of money…then, I thought about starting a childcare facility. For whatever reason, those ideas went onto some paper and stayed there. I was not motivate because neither was my passion.
They were simply ideas of how I could make money and become rich. So when I saw the inquiries about my highwaist piece! Instantly, I felt an unction and I heard a voice from Heaven whisper “that’s it! this is your business!” I will never forget, I was sitting in my office on a Tuesday afternoon preparing to head to court and I heard I created a pic-stitch that said “Allusions by A.Lekay Highwaist Swimwear Coming Soon.”
What was an idea for me to mask my abdominal imperfections from childbearing, afforded me the opportunity to launch my very own business, Allusions by A.Lekay Swimwear. Utilizing social media, though I had an unplanned business, I was motivated and decided to move forward by researching, sourcing fabrics, drafting a contract with me and my tailor to get the ball rolling.
That platform to share and inspire was truly my passion. I decided that I wanted my brand to differentiate in a way that we would only offer highwaist style swimwear and be a lifestyle brand to empower women to be confident and to live life fierce and fearlessly just as I had done!
Becoming an international brand within a short span; having clients in England, Spain, and Ireland to name a few, I continued to wow myself by seeing how social media catapulted my brand, by learning to invest in myself, serving others and being fearless in reaching out and connecting with others. In addition, the good ole two words “thank you” have also been the moving force of the elevation of my brand.
These qualities have taken me far. Being a GIRL BOSS and servant is who I am, and who I have been since I can remember. This past July, Nicki Minaj graced the cover of the July issue of Cosmopolitan Mag wearing an Allusions by A.Lekay design.
All from my fearlessness to connect with some amazing people at Cosmo. So here I am, this 2 year brand, landing a major collaboration with an international medium and the Queen of Rap! This within itself reinforces my life’s mantra “there are infinite possibilities to those who are determined.”
As a result of my ability to create opportunity, my drive and willingness to serve others, I have been humbled and grateful to receive numerous awards and media mentions.
A Girl Boss indeed, however, I am still a servant mentor and community leader. In February 2014, I launched the Sweetheart Seminar, an empowerment seminar hosted on Valentine’s Day to empower teen moms to promote self-love and confidence.
I have a platform through my swimwear company and I will continue to utilize it to empower women and spread the notion that as woman, we must collaborate and NOT compete! I disagree with the colloquial saying that “it’s lonely at the top” because I believe that we can create opportunities for those that are willing to work hard and take them with you!
If I could leave readers with a piece of advice, I would simply encourage you to NEVER GIVE UP! In life, we are often times faced with ginormous issues and things that mean are designed to be road blocks in our lives, but it is up to us, to turn those roadblocks into stepping stones! To connect with others that can empower and encourage us to reach out highest potential!
I am Bene because I am fearless, I am a servant, I am professional and I NEVER GIVE UP!