Like many business owners struggling during pandemic shutdowns, Franklin Ward had been contemplating shuttering his wedding and special event planning agency, FRWD Style. His business focuses on helping Black, same-sex couples tell their love story through beautifully curated celebrations. But Ward found himself suffering from an overwhelming feeling of imposter syndrome in Chicago’s heavily competitive event planning industry.
But when Ward (also known as Franklin J.) got an invitation to attend the “Black Parade Route” luncheon last weekend hosted by superstar Beyoncé Knowles-Carter’s public charity foundation BeyGOOD, he jumped at the opportunity to be in communion with more than 100 other local small business owners.
“I was just happy to be in the building,” said Ward, who had months before applied to attend and for a grant. He figured he wasn’t getting any money.
But Ward was given the surprise of his life when his name was called as one of 10 recipients of a $10,000 business grant from Beyoncé.
“When they called my name, I just felt an overwhelming sense of validation,” Ward said. “To be seen for my work to be given this exposure has re-lit a fire under me to keep going. This journey isn’t isn’t done yet. It’s a reminder that there’s still so much in store for me.”
Ward said he walked away from the luncheon, which featured Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child, feeling empowered and reminded of his purpose: to make his clients feel seen and validated on their special day. One of the first things he’ll put the grant toward is an updated website to make booking easier.
Another winner is Monica Abernathy, owner of A Polished Work nail salon in Greater Grand Crossing. She plans to use her $10,000 to expand her brand’s digital footprint and e-commerce presence.
For Abernathy, the award came just ahead of her business’s 10th anniversary and will help alleviate the increased cost of doing business in a post-pandemic era. Known as a self-care oasis, Abernathy said A Polished Work was “created to provide access to quality self-care on Chicago’s South Side where women can have the opportunity to support, encourage, empower and connect.”
Abernathy regularly opens the doors of the space for community events like school supply giveaways, clothing drives and holiday gift drives and employment open houses.
LaToya Hinton-Howery, another grant recipient and CEO and Research Director of Next Innovative Clinical Research, said similarly that the grant will allow her to expand the brand’s reach.
Hinton-Howery launched Next Innovative Clinical Research in 2018 to make clinical trials more accessible to communities of color and to educate the public on the importance of participating in clinical trials.
Currently, Hinton-Howery operates her business on-site at a facility in Houston, but the grant will allow for her to finally open physical space in Chicago.
“Just two months ago I secured a lease for space in Chicago,” Hinton-Howery said. “The grant means everything to me and will help me finish things like putting floors down, getting cabinets installed, and making sure that my staff has what they need for when we start doing studies next month.”
Aside from the money, all three business owners agreed that not only did they walk away from the luncheon with $10,000 for their business, but they also left feeling empowered and inspired.
“I’m a college dropout from Illinois State but as I progressed in my career I’ve always strived for more,” said Hinton-Howery. “This was a reminder that you could drop out of school once, make a mistake, but you can always redeem yourself.”
Samantha Callender is a digital reporting fellow for WBEZ. Follow her across socials @OnYourCallender.