Monika Mathews opened the squat, cylindrical container, scooped out a bit of lavender-scented cream and rubbed it into my hand.
She instructed me to cup my hands near my face and breathe in… 1,2,3,4,5 … and breathe out.
The cream — not lotion, she emphasized — is meant to nourish the skin. The scent is meant to nourish the soul.
Mathews is the founder of QueenCare, an organic skincare line that’s run out of a boutique in Columbia City. The storefront is small, with products lined up on shelves, and the office area where she met this reporter is up a treacherous spiral staircase.
“We create a new product every month,” Mathews said.
QueenCare is the profit-making arm of the growing empire that Mathews founded almost two decades ago — an empire that stakes a claim for Black people in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood and empowers young Black women and men to do the same.
Mathews has already created a nonprofit that seeks to create community and promote healing for Black girls and women. Now she’s expanding, offering six internships to Black women in sales, administration and retail management. It’s all part of a long-term strategy to build capacity within the community not just through professional skills, but through self-care, Mathews said.
“It’s a self-love revolution,“ Mathews said.
Sixteen years ago, Mathews incorporated the Life Enrichment Group (LEG), a nonprofit that went into local schools and worked with students to provide academic support.
“I saw a need and started volunteering to fill that need,” Mathews said.
Stereotypes against children of color are numerous. Mathews wanted to disrupt that cycle and bring culturally relevant help to the students in her neighborhood. It was meant to provide academic support, but the project grew into more.
Mathews founded the Young Queens group, which operates out of South Shore PK-8, Garfield High School and Cleveland High School. There, young Black women and other young women of color work to build community and skills in a world that devalues them.
She also secured funding to run a program that brings high school students to colleges for visits and tours, an attempt to get young people who might not think that college is for them to envision themselves as students in higher education.
From that point, it was a natural evolution to offer the internships, Mathews said.
On Niya Thomas’ first day as a retail management intern, Real Change was there to interview her. She was on break from Virginia State University, a historically Black university, where she was studying business management.
Thomas was no stranger to customer service.
She’d been working at her father’s Philly cheesesteak shop since she was young. But this was her first chance to get a look behind the curtain. The experience is about more than learning how business works, she said.
“It’s self-care, self-love, sisterhood,” Thomas said.
At QueenCare, she has a chance to learn about the pricing and marketing that goes on behind the scenes of most shops.
Mathews’ product and project has attracted support from local government and funders who see the value of investing in local organizations. United Way of King County awarded LEG a grant through its Youth in Business program, and Mayor Jenny Durkan announced that Dec. 8, 2018, was QueenCare’s day, in honor of acquiring their own retail space.
Success hasn’t slowed Mathews down in the least. She wants to expand from working in schools to founding one and establishing a transitional housing facility for young people. She has plans to grow QueenCare and found outlets in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and even Nairobi, Kenya.
“This is my legacy,” Mathews said.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC
Read the full June 19 - 25 issue.
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