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What’s Brewing? with Teto Wilson

When George Floyd was mur­dered last year, the hor­rif­ic act and result­ing unrest moved all of us to learn more and talk more about racism, and then think and act dif­fer­ent­ly. Like many of you, at Bell­mont Part­ners, we devot­ed more resources and atten­tion to our diver­si­ty, inclu­sion and equi­ty efforts. One thing we can do as sto­ry­tellers is uplift and ampli­fy the mean­ing­ful work entre­pre­neurs from oth­er walks of life are doing in our com­mu­ni­ty. For exam­ple, thanks to friend and col­league Katie Wal­ter, we were intro­duced to the Minor­i­ty Busi­ness Growth Alliance (MBGA), a non­prof­it found­ed last year to help minor­i­ty entre­pre­neurs thrive by pro­vid­ing con­sult­ing sup­port and con­nec­tions to busi­ness resources. Through the MBGA, Katie was work­ing with Teto Wil­son, a North Min­neapo­lis father of four and founder and CEO of Wilson’s Image Bar­bers and Styl­ists, Image Renew­al Organ­ics all-nat­ur­al skin and hair care line and Image 73 appar­el line. With a pas­sion for renew­ing his com­mu­ni­ty and empow­er­ing Black achieve­ment, Teto found­ed Wilson’s Image Col­lege Schol­ar­ship, a schol­ar­ship and men­tor­ing pro­gram that helps North Min­neapo­lis African Amer­i­can schol­ars pay for col­lege expenses.

Katie intro­duced us to Teto, and we’ve be work­ing togeth­er ever since, help­ing Teto sharp­en and share his sto­ry. We recent­ly chat­ted with Teto, to talk about what he’s been up to and share the inspir­ing work of one of the most dynam­ic, gen­er­ous and ded­i­cat­ed ser­i­al entre­pre­neurs and com­mu­ni­ty sup­port­ers we’ve ever met.

You’ve found­ed mul­ti­ple busi­ness­es in North Min­neapo­lis. Can you tell us a lit­tle about them?

I start­ed Wilson’s Image Bar­bers and Styl­ists in August 2007. Oth­er than giv­ing out great hair­care ser­vices, I did­n’t know exact­ly what it was that I want­ed to do to impact the com­mu­ni­ty, but I knew I want­ed to do some­thing and I knew that North Min­neapo­lis was the place that I want­ed to be, because some of the great­est needs are right here.

In 2017, I start­ed Image 73, my appar­el line, to cre­ate some­thing that peo­ple can feel good about, some­thing that peo­ple can feel inspired to wear or inspired by. That’s the rea­son why I cre­at­ed the logo, Up Your Image. If you have neg­a­tive thoughts or images about your­self, Up Your Image is real­ly focused on start­ing inward­ly and chang­ing how you think about your­self, how you see your­self and how you feel about your­self. It’s a holis­tic approach to chang­ing how you see your­self, because it starts inward­ly, but then it goes out­ward. I also start­ed the Black Love Rocks line which is about com­mu­ni­ty, about African Amer­i­can peo­ple feel­ing good about them­selves. Due to all the things that have hap­pened to our com­mu­ni­ty in this coun­try, it’s just about embrac­ing Black love, and so that’s where that logo comes from.

And as far as the Image Renew­al Organ­ics skin care line, I start­ed it in Sep­tem­ber 2019 and it’s just a nat­ur­al exten­sion of the bar­ber­shop. We’re into hair care, so skin care and hair care prod­ucts just nat­u­ral­ly fit right along with it.

What first inspired you to cre­ate these orga­ni­za­tions and what keeps you going?

This might sur­prise a lot of peo­ple – I love to cut hair, but that’s not my pas­sion. My real pas­sion is com­mu­ni­ty, and own­ing the bar­ber­shop and being there on a dai­ly basis allows me to be in com­mu­ni­ty and con­nect­ed to com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers. It just feels nat­ur­al to me that every­thing I do has become such a part of who I am. Get­ting up, com­ing to the bar­ber­shop, open­ing up for com­mu­ni­ty to be involved, that’s just who I am by nature, and the entre­pre­neur aspect of it, it’s just who I am. My mind is con­stant­ly rac­ing on dif­fer­ent things that I want to do. Just that con­stant cre­ative think­ing and the desire to do more.

Your bar­ber­shop also serves as a com­mu­ni­ty hub. Can you tell us about some of the events you’ve host­ed in the past year and why they’ve been impor­tant for the community?

Before the pan­dem­ic, we host­ed con­ver­sa­tions on impor­tant top­ics includ­ing edu­ca­tion, police and com­mu­ni­ty rela­tions with local lead­ers like the Min­neapo­lis Pub­lic Schools super­in­ten­dent, Min­neapo­lis’ chief of police and the Hen­nepin Coun­ty sher­iff. Also, we’ve had sev­er­al busi­ness-to-busi­ness info and resource shar­ing events that cre­ate oppor­tu­ni­ties for com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers. Back in ear­ly March of this year, I along with six oth­er com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers got togeth­er in the shop, and host­ed a con­ver­sa­tion about COVID, the vac­cines and the impact on our Black com­mu­ni­ty. We host­ed it on Face­book Live because peo­ple were not com­fort­able being back togeth­er indoors again at that point.

We had anoth­er COVID vac­cine con­ver­sa­tion about a month ago spon­sored by the Min­neso­ta Depart­ment of Health and record­ed by Sure­CAN Pro­duc­tions. It was a con­ver­sa­tion with me (I’m vac­ci­nat­ed), a local doc­tor named Dr. Zeke McK­in­ney, and my daugh­ter, who had­n’t tak­en the vac­cine, and she was­n’t com­plete­ly closed off to it, but she was­n’t com­plete­ly open to it either. We had an oppor­tu­ni­ty to voice our dif­fer­ent con­cerns, con­cerns we’ve heard from peo­ple com­ing in the bar­ber­shop, includ­ing why some Black peo­ple were reluc­tant to take the vac­cine. Dr. McK­in­ney answered our ques­tions and took time to under­stand the community’s concerns.

Mov­ing for­ward, we’re work­ing with the Min­neso­ta Depart­ment of Health to host a series of events called Shots at the Shop, where peo­ple can come into the bar­ber­shop to get vaccinated.

What should peo­ple know about North Minneapolis?

I’ve been in North Min­neapo­lis now since 2007 with my shop and liv­ing in North Min­neapo­lis since 2012. It’s an inter­est­ing place to live. There are pock­ets of joy mixed in with the chal­lenges of liv­ing in the inner city. I don’t like to real­ly high­light the chal­lenges, because it’s all over the news. I think peo­ple need to know that even with the chal­lenges, there’s a lot of good that hap­pens here. I live here, my shop is here, and I give schol­ar­ships out to peo­ple right here in North Minneapolis.

There are a lot of orga­ni­za­tions here in North Min­neapo­lis, for exam­ple, church­es, oth­er bar­ber­shops and salons, non­prof­its, small busi­ness­es and com­mu­ni­ty con­cerned peo­ple and jus­tice advo­cates that do a lot of com­mu­ni­ty work. They don’t get the spot­light like the neg­a­tive does. If peo­ple spend time here, they would real­ize all the good that hap­pens here.

You are one of the busiest entre­pre­neurs and phil­an­thropists we know. You also start­ed the Wilson’s Image Col­lege Schol­ar­ship – tell us more about why you start­ed it and how is it going?

I start­ed it out of a need. Watch­ing my daugh­ter go through the process of try­ing to find and apply for schol­ar­ships, I thought about oth­er fam­i­lies in North Min­neapo­lis that deal with some of the same things or may not even know about some of the oth­er schol­ar­ships. The Wilson’s Image Col­lege Schol­ar­ship may not pay for your entire school, but it can come in handy to help get peo­ple to the next lev­el. I’m a North Min­neapo­lis African Amer­i­can res­i­dent and busi­ness own­er, and it makes them feel good to know that they received the schol­ar­ship from my orga­ni­za­tion and then that can also help them think about pay­ing things for­ward once they’re in a posi­tion to do so. We’ve giv­en out nine schol­ar­ships at $10,000 total, with one stu­dent a repeat from her first year to her sec­ond year. The goal this year is to give out eight $1,000 schol­ar­ships. We’re plan­ning a cer­e­mo­ny at the bar­ber­shop where there’s a full pan­el of judges and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers that can come in and cel­e­brate the stu­dents get­ting the awards in late July or ear­ly August.

You were recent­ly rec­og­nized by Twin Cities Busi­ness as a Notable BIPOC Exec­u­tive. (Con­grats!!) What does this mean to you?

I’m very appre­cia­tive and it feels good to be award­ed for the work that I want to do any­way. It’s an oppor­tu­ni­ty for peo­ple out­side of this com­mu­ni­ty to see that there are good things hap­pen­ing inside of the com­mu­ni­ty for peo­ple that live in the com­mu­ni­ty, not some­body that’s com­ing in to be a sav­ior and leaves once he’s done his good deeds. It’s an oppor­tu­ni­ty to shine the light on some of the good work that’s hap­pen­ing here – it spreads the mes­sage fur­ther, so oth­er peo­ple hear about the schol­ar­ship and hope­ful­ly will feel inspired to donate to it.

Tell us about your broad­er work with MBGA and how that’s been of val­ue to you?

In busi­ness some­times we just don’t know what we don’t know. There are things that I just don’t know how to do in terms of scal­ing up and try­ing to get my prod­ucts in more places beyond the bar­ber­shop, or to have an online and in store pres­ence from a major retail­er. MBGA helps me to under­stand things that I had no clue about before. Now after almost a year of con­nect­ing with so many dif­fer­ent peo­ple and talk­ing to experts from this field or that field, it has giv­en me an oppor­tu­ni­ty to know where I need to go and the things that I need to do. The MBGA has helped shine a light on how to do busi­ness more effec­tive­ly and more effi­cient­ly. It also expands your cir­cle and gives you a big­ger team, and a lot more per­spec­tives. I real­ly think to be an effec­tive busi­ness own­er, you have to have a broad net­work that come from all sorts of dif­fer­ent back­grounds that you can learn from each oth­er, and the MBGA has giv­en me the oppor­tu­ni­ty to con­nect with so many dif­fer­ent peo­ple. I think it’s a phe­nom­e­nal orga­ni­za­tion and we’re look­ing to do more with them, so it’s pret­ty excit­ing. Just imag­ine, we would­n’t be hav­ing this con­ver­sa­tion had it not been for MBGA com­ing togeth­er. It has been total­ly amaz­ing work­ing with them, start­ing off with MBGA founder Mary Rapa­port and then stretch­ing out to all of you.

How can our read­ers sup­port the work you’re doing in the community?

There’s always an oppor­tu­ni­ty to donate to the schol­ar­ship pro­gram, and spread the word about it. Even­tu­al­ly I want to open up the schol­ar­ship beyond North Min­neapo­lis to help fur­ther the impact to reach more students.

Last but cer­tain­ly not least, What’s Brew­ing for you?

I absolute­ly love kom­bucha. And I have two favorite beers — Stel­la Artois and Dos Equis.

 

Thank you, Teto, for being such a pos­i­tive com­mu­ni­ty leader, sup­port­er and friend, and for shar­ing your per­spec­tive and wis­dom with us – it’s been an hon­or and priv­i­lege part­ner­ing with you and learn­ing from you as you con­tin­ue to expand your busi­ness­es and non­prof­it and make our world a bet­ter place. Stay tuned for more Q&As with busi­ness and mar­ket­ing lead­ers as we reflect more on the role of com­mu­ni­ca­tions and PR.

1 Response
  1. Thank you so so much for cap­tur­ing the best from our con­ver­sa­tion. I tru­ly appre­ci­ate this fea­ture and look for­ward to con­tin­u­ing to wish with you all

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