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They’re Chasing Their Own American Dreams

By Adam Orr Gaston Gazette

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Chlarissa Harrison launched "Xcite's Sweet Connections" out of necessity. Her son was coping with medical issues and she and her husband believed a small business could offer the flexibility they needed to support themselves and his treatment. The Harrison's story is one of several up and coming black business owners featured by Gaston Gazette reporter Adam Orr.

Gaston

She didn't fully realize it at the time, but a random, off hand compliment completely changed the trajectory of Kristin Jackson's life.

Polishing her nails in a Tucson, Arizona park, a then 20-year-old Jackson said she heard a young woman gasp and ask, "Oh my God! Who does your nails?"

Jackson, a Pima College student with designs on a career in social work, looked up and told her the truth, that she'd been doing her own nails and her friends' nails for years.

"She told me, 'Girl, you've got to go to school for this because you're obviously good at it,'" Jackson said at her Belmont salon, Lashing Out on Main. "And that started everything for me."

From that conversation, has flowed a 30-year career in the beauty space, with a current emphasis on eyelashes and eyebrows, skin care and makeup.

Jackson has bet big on herself at least three times, launching ventures in Tucson, Las Vegas, Nevada, and Belmont more than a decade ago.

She's among a group of people of color who have found Gaston County to be fertile ground for entrepreneurs looking to build and grow their own businesses.

When her Las Vegas business was hit by the Great Recession in 2009, Jackson said she decided to pull up stakes and find a community that hadn't been hit as hard by the crashing economy.

She had no real contacts or connections to the Charlotte area, but research convinced her Belmont was primed to grow.

She said she's found it to be her home.

"As a mixed-race woman, as a business owner, race never really entered into the equation for me," Jackson said. "Are you providing something of value? Are you good to people? Are you innovating? I've found that to be the most important questions."

Details matter Gastonia's Bernard Wright has found his hometown and the Charlotte metro to be a prime spot to grow what was once a side gig in auto detailing to a full-time operation for the past 15 years.

His Posterity Court shop specializes in helping everything from daily drivers to luxury rides shine.

"Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals - that's what you have to focus on," Wright said. "I think maybe I've had some people who have dropped by because it's a Black-owned business, but I think that's rare. You keep them coming back through your work, your reputation."

Encouragement from the former chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dan Rooney, after a detail job in 1997 convinced Wright he could, and should, build his own brand.

He finally convinced himself the time was right to go full time eight years ago, picking up NBA, NFL and corporate clients along the way.

"Making that jump was nerve-racking," Wright said, of leaving his steady day job to launch BWright's Detail Service. "At that point, we were coming up on the recession and every single day I had doubts I could make this work, but at some point you just have to do it. I think, for me, there was a point you have to say 'If I don't do it now, I never will.' So you make the call to just go."

He said the keys to his business has been to continually reinvest in his own training and to treat each job like his reputation depends on it.

"Because it does," Wright said.

A place to connect Chlarissa Harrison, who launched Xcite's Sweet Connections in Gastonia with her husband Coy Harrison in 2018, is firm in her view that treats like rolled ice cream are the perfect excuse to bring people together.

She believes that now more than ever.

Her family's venture grew out of necessity. Their son was coping with medical issues and they believed a small business could offer the flexibility they needed to support themselves and his treatment.

A mobile gaming operation paved the way for the family to take inspiration from treats they'd enjoyed while traveling - notably Italian gelato and rolled ice cream from Thailand - and offer them in Gastonia.

"I won't lie that starting something isn't scary," Harrison said. "But we felt it was worth it."

This summer, the couple has taken proverbial lemons and turned them into lemonade. After racial controversy erupted in Gastonia this summer, protesters led efforts to support Black-owned businesses, including Harrison's.

Being part of that conversation was unexpected, she admitted, but it also offered an opportunity to focus on community building efforts like Gaston United.

"What we've learned, good and bad, is that 'cancel culture' is strong," Harrison said. "Especially on social media, and that is a shame. If people don't talk to each other, if they don't go to the source, then the wrong things get communicated. At the core everyone really wants the same thing - to love and be loved and to have opportunities. That's what we're focused on and the business gives us a platform to have that conversation."

Striking out on his own For Anthony Gallant, there was a moment - despite his six figure income - his corporate marketing job became almost too much to bear.

With his face smashed firmly against the glass ceiling, he raided his retirement account and scraped together every penny he had to launch his own local State Farm Insurance operation in Gastonia.

That was in early 2009. Welcome to the recession, kid.

Everything that drives the insurance business, home and auto coverage, was essentially toast, Gallant laughed. It took some four years for him to fully realize his gamble was going to work.

"You stay humble because I don't think you ever really lose that sense of who you were, where you were and remembering how hard you prayed every single night for this thing to work," Gallant said.

In Gallant's view, Black and minority business owners sometimes struggle with the perception their message won't be received equally by the public.

"We don't want to be canceled out," Gallant said. "We want the same opportunity to present ourselves, our value, to the public. I have this really great product or service, let me tell you about it. Real or perceived, I think sometimes we struggle with that."

He supports ongoing efforts by Gaston County leaders, including the hiring of Pearl Burris-Floyd as the county's new equity and inclusion officer, to evaluate programs and services and the way they're delivered in minority communities.

"If it's approached intentionally, that's a fantastic idea," Gallant said. "You have to have buy in from the city and the county, but if the goal is to make sure everyone has equal access to things like bidding for contracts or grant applications, it's a smart move. Being intentional about increasing diversity is not going to hurt us. It's going to make us stronger."

___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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