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Show 037

Pushing Through the End of the World with Brittany Rhodes

In Taste For Tenacity, Show 037, we hear from Black Girl MATHgic founder Brittany Rhodes. Brittany opens up about entering the job market in the height of the recession, data-driven storytelling, and the role of serendipity in business.

Transcription

0:00  

This is Taste For Tenacity show number 37. 

0:03  

Support for this podcast and the following message come from Bow Tie Advisors. We run the numbers so you can get back to running your business. 

0:13

Welcome to the show that answers the question that plague students and professionals alike. What should I do with my life? To determine your greatness, follow me to the pathway of more success. Each week we interview entrepreneurs. Invest in things that you understand. Professionals, it’s just believing in yourself and your abilities, and artists that have followed their pool. You can’t be scared to push the infinite. This is what we need from Ben Trela as multimedia. This is Taste For Tenacity.

0:44  

What is going on everybody? My name is Ben Trela. And this is Taste For Tenacity. This week on the show we hear from Brittany Rhodes. Brittany is the founder of Black Girl Mathgic, which created the first and only subscription box designed to increase math competence and decrease math anxiety in girls on a third through eighth-grade math level. She’s the resident math tutor at the downtown boxing gym youth program, co-chair of the Detroit Public Schools Community District Alumni Advisory Council, and a board member of the Detroit Food Academy and the Connection Network. She’s a proud Detroit native where she currently lives with her husband Oscar. Brittany, welcome to the show. 

1:25  

Thank you for having me, Ben. That was a wonderful intro. Never quite heard it like that. 

1:30  

I feel to take a new spin on it. Yeah, I have to admit the downtown boxing gym is easily one of the coolest programs that I have ever heard of. 

1:40  

It’s pretty awesome!

1:43  

And I’m sure we’ll unpack later how you got involved with it, I’m sure and understand a bit more. But first, let’s sort of wind the clock back to I think you know, around age 18-ish end of high school. What was your plan for plan quote-unquote, for after graduation Did you think you wanted to go the university route? Did you have some sort of entrepreneurial itch to go elsewhere? Where were you at in terms of what you were interested in? So, at the end of my high school career, I knew I was going to college. My mother is a retired Detroit Principal. So, education was non-negotiable in my household and I always knew that I was going to college and I really didn’t think there was no other path for me, it was college. So, at the time, I was headed to Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. And my plan was to be a dual degree major at Spelman College where you spend three years studying science. So that could be Math or Physics or Chemistry or Computer Science or something else. And then you go to a partner University for two years and get an Engineering degree. So, I had it all figured out. I was in the Detroit area pre-College in Engineering program from sixth grade to 12th grade and this was before STEM was just, you know, exposing kids to engineering. 

3:06  

Yeah.

3:07 

And so that really birthed my desire to study in that field. And I was like, Okay, I’m gonna go to Spelman. I’m going to major in Computer Science. And then I’m going to go to Georgia Tech, which was one of the apartment institutions and get my other bachelors and computer engineering. And I didn’t know what I was going to do after that, but I was like, this is my plan. That was the short term vision and that’s all you need it. 

3:30  

Yeah. So what drew you toward because that’s a two-degree program.

 3:36  

I Didn’t do that. 

3:37  

Okay. Okay, gotcha. 

3:38  

I switch gears in my sophomore year. So what happened was, I’m a tad bit older. And at the time coding was not sexy like it is now. So, for me Computer Science, it just did not resonate from this sitting and programming and little to no interaction with other human beings. I was like, I don’t know about this. But I was always, I always loved Math from for as long as I can remember. And funny enough, I always tell this story when I was 16 my mother suggested to me, she said, ‘Why don’t you major in Math when you go to college?’ And I was like, who would do that? Like who goes to college and just major in Math like they’re doing, it’s math. And then three years later, I was calling her telling her that I was changing my major.

4:27  

Did you have a good, ‘I told you so moments?’

4:31  

Even now, and I tell this story, as part of how my business came to be, she gets her little smile like, yeah, that little, ‘I told you.’ 

4:41  

Yeah, yeah.

4:42  

Okay. So, what do you think you didn’t like about that initial program, that two-degree program that balanced science with engineering? What about it that didn’t really interest you all that much? 

4:56  

Well, the calling was the first piece but I could have theoretically just changed my major to Math and still done the Engineering piece. I really got into Marketing when I was in college. Yeah, I somewhere along the line while I was in Atlanta, right so, you know, there’s all kinds of nicknames that one is they call Atlanta the Motown of the South. So, you get so engulfed in this entertainment world even though I wasn’t really in it but you know, we will see so obviously celebrities at the mall or just like walking down the street like one day I saw Spike Lee just walking around campus as one does. He did graduate from our one of our neighboring school, so it wasn’t too crazy, but I just really got into it. And I say I want to do something marketing related, but I didn’t know what exactly. And I I also knew that no matter what I ended up doing in life, that Math having a Math degree was served me well because of the analytical and critical thinking and logic skills that come out of studying mathematics and I was trying to figure it out. And I say, Okay, I don’t think I want to go to the engineering route anymore, but I didn’t go too far. I’m still a Math major. Yeah. And there’s a lot of opportunities there.

6:11  

Okay, so now you’re you decided, all right, engineering, coding, not for me, not the right go. So, then you have this interest in Mathematics from when you were younger. What sort of pushed you toward committing to a four-year degree in Mathematics. 

6:30  

It was really just knowing that there was so much that I could do with it, even though I didn’t know exactly what but I knew that because when you study math, you are studying problem-solving. You are studying how to prove a point. Yeah, literally. Yeah. You are studying, you are building your analytical thinking skills, your critical thinking skills, you’re using a lot of logic to arrive at solutions. So, there are all these things that you gave out of studying math that the workforce is also looking for in their employees. And so I knew that I could connect the dots. And if I wasn’t able to connect the dots in terms of going into corporate America, which is what I thought I would do at the time, I was like, I can always teach, even though I never really wanted to teach in the traditional sense like I never envisioned myself in a classroom. But I knew there, you know, my mom was like, you know, there’s a shortage of Math teachers and I even applied an interview with Teach for America. They didn’t pick me and everybody was like, Oh, you’re gonna get it? Because like, there are nobody, no one’s teaching Math. And they were like, actually, no, thank you. But I tried it. So, that really was what pushed me towards committing to a mathematics degree was just knowing that it was fair for me, well, no matter what I wanted to do.

7:54  

So, now you’re studying mathematics. It’s more in your lane and more what you were looking for. So, I wanted going back to school after graduation, right? What was going through your mind as you started to wrap up your undergrad? And did you go back to grad school right away? Like what was that timeframe like?

8:14  

No, there there was a two-year break. The interesting thing, so I had several marketing internships when I was in college I interned for I don’t know the name now, but at the time, it was Universal Motown Records, they have probably merged and morphed into something else at this point in time for Sports Illustrated there on campus, entire program, and then I also interned for the TV, show a different world. And I’m going to date myself at the time they were coming out with A Different World on DVD. That’s one of the ambassadors for that program. But even with my experience at this time, because this was when I graduated from college in 2006. At this time, we weren’t where we are now as a society where we’re using, we weren’t as data-driven in terms of user numbers and math to tell the story from another perspective. So, like from a storytelling perspective or a marketing perspective. So, when I was applying for jobs, I was getting a lot of, well, you are a math major, like, how does this help? Yeah. And I’m like, Well, I know I have friends who are like Psychology majors and Econ majors. And they weren’t psychologists or economists. So, I’m like, I don’t really know how to make this connection here. And so I knew because I had studied pure Mathematics, and I had some classes where it was more applied, but I wanted to really round that out. And so I started looking into business school. And, you know, typically the advice is, you need to work at least three to five years minimum before you apply to business school. But I just like to, I like to take a risk sometimes I study probability for a long time, you know, uses the word bears always a chance. Yeah. So, I was looking for MBA programs. And I forget, I was googling something like mathematical marketing because I really wanted to bridge this gap for myself and for other people that say, hey, you can have a Math background and use that critical number skill to make marketing decisions and help companies you know, better understand other things. So, I was googling mathematical marketing. And finally, Carnegie Mellon’s MBA program came up, and I was not 100% I was familiar with Carnegie Mellon, but not I didn’t really know too much about it. And so I was researching, researching, researching, and I discovered there was a young lady I believe she was a first-year MBA student at the time. She was two years ahead of me. My high school Renaissance here in Detroit. We didn’t know each other. It was a very small school. So, I remembered her face. Yeah. And I cold emailed her. And I was like, this program looks like exactly what I’m looking for. They had an analytical marketing track. That’s what it was called. And she invited me to come out for the College or for the University Diversity weekend. And I went, and I was like, I want to go here, like this. Yeah. And in the interim, so that there was a two-year gap. I was tutoring Math. I worked in new Business Development for a little while, but nothing just really, aside from my tutoring because I’ve always loved tutoring, but that was my side job. Yeah. In terms of my, the full-time work I was doing nothing just really was resonating with me, and I didn’t really know what to do with that. And I said, You know, I want to round out this really pure Math background with some applicable business skills because I want it to my angle at the time was to get a Business degree and then open up Math tutoring centers in underserved communities. That’s what I wanted to do initially. So I applied Carnegie Mellon only graduate school, I applied to because I was so confident that I would get in I was actually just lazy. You know Business School applications are very involved. And I was like, I don’t feel like writing these essays because it was like five or six essays just for Carnegie Mellon. Geez, I was like, we’ll see what happens. That’s enough. Yeah. Then I got it. Yeah. 

12:34  

Which worked out for the better. And you mentioned it before. You’re trying to bridge these two very different worlds together. Not just for yourself, but for others. How did that work? How were you delving and sort of playing in two very different fields?

12:54  

I got to Carnegie Mellon, it all makes sense. If people are familiar with Carnegie Mellon. They know that it’s a very quantitatively rigorous institution. Carnegie Mellon and MIT are like, you know, like the two schools where it’s like, if you’re super quant-focused like these are the schools, you know, you should be looking at. So, even to start my MBA program I had to take I believe we caught it base camp, I might be forgetting the name, but basically a summer math course. And I had a Math degree already. And they were like, Yeah, but you still need to come take this message. So, one of the things that the Carnegie Mellon MBA program prides itself on is using data to make to drive decision-making across various, what’s the word? I’m looking for various disciplines. So, finance, as you mentioned, accounting, marketing, product development strategy, you can use numbers and data to really inform all of those pieces and to help businesses be as effective and efficient as possible. And so being in that program really connected the dots for me, it was like, Okay, I can have a strong Math background and really understand how to look at a marketing decision and the data that you have around that decision, whether it’s rolling out a new product, and doing surveys and looking at the data from the survey perspective, I took a data mining class, which was really interesting. So, we’re analyzing large, very large data sets and pulling out patterns and saying, and translating those patterns into stories and into information. qualitative information says, okay, here are three recommendations on how to move forward with this particular situation or this case study based on the data. That’s like a market research class. I don’t remember what I did my project on but you know, using I really love that class to just again, creating a story around that not what the numbers are telling you. So, being in the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon, that was really what allowed me. It really solidified and merge those two worlds together for me, and it was real validation, like, okay, yeah. New outlet. Yeah, for sure. 

15:24  

So, now you’re bringing these two worlds together. What were you hoping to do with that outside of the school environment?

5:34  

My soul, my short term goal at the time was to get my MBA and become an assistant or associate brand manager for a consumer-packaged-goods company. So, you know, it’s like, oh, I might go to Kraft or Procter and Gamble or maybe even Biaggio, you know. However, I went back to Business School in 2008. And if anyone follows trends, we all know that that was the year that the world kind of ended this time. Yeah, yeah. So, when I graduated in 2010, I didn’t have a job lined up. And when you go to Business School, you go to get a job, like that’s what you’re there to do or start a company, right? Like that’s what you got to do. And I wasn’t the only one in my class, but we were the minority but they did tell us the Career Center they told us this is probably the highest percentage of unemployed graduates that we’ve had since it had been a while because of the climate at the time, right. We were watching people’s signing bonuses get recent day Wall Street. People who are interested in investment Banking had to maybe switch over to Corporate Finance because the opportunities are drying up. Yeah, I’ll never forget I went to a conference. I believe it was in my first year. And it was a career conference. So, there were all of these different businesses and organizations and companies they’re hiring. And I remember the Lehman Brothers table was just like it was everybody else was there but they and I just had that in my head. I can still see it like it was yesterday because that’s where we were. That’s haunted. It was. So it was a very interesting time. And then I was younger. So, I was 25 when I graduated, and I don’t regret going back to school when I did, but I do think that that probably didn’t help me in that climate, right to be less experienced. And then also to be coming in as essentially a career switcher. Yeah. So, that was a really rough time. I ended up moving back home to Detroit and I was on my mother’s couch every single day. One LinkedIn and I was cold calling, cold emailing cold messaging. I went to two career conferences, one interviewed for unpaid internships in New York sleeping on my classmate’s couch. I was just doing whatever I could something yet to find something and I’m always very transparent about just about everything but I don’t think that I was clinically depressed but I was definitely situationally depressed like it would be some days my mother would come in from her job and I was just burst into tears like it’s such a rough day. Yeah, cause in all the while I’m interviewing, I’m interviewing so much at one time I pulled up she saw my computer on the save cover letters I had because I always tailor my cover letters to whatever position I was applying to definitely tip the resume, right, pro tip. Always find a real quick person’s name so put on the cover letter. 

19:02  

Yes, those are my two favorite cover letters.

19:07  

All my saved resumes and she was like Brittany closed that, I can’t do it. So, it was a very interesting time. And it’s finally now just all making sense. Almost 10 years later.

19:21

Yeah, so what did you wind up finding as your first gig or job after graduation? 

19:31  

My very first job, it took me nine months I said I could add a baby.

19:38  

I’m not sure that would have helped with the stress.

19:44  

My very first job was with a company called Daymon Worldwide. And Daymon serves as basically, they become the private brand arm for big-box retailers. Okay, so the account I was on the Dollar General Account. So, I was hired to be a business analyst, basically for Dollar General because the way Daymon works is they are on-site at the clients’ headquarters, basically infiltrated into their organization.

20:15  

Yeah. 

20:16  

And so I was running, I did a lot of sales, that’s all I remember is the lookups and pivot tables, and basically what my role was to look at. So, the private brands like when you go into Target, I believe there’s this caught up in $1 general. There was this Digi baby or Digi home. So, all of these private brands that you see in the store, store brands if any of us know them by. My job was to run reports for the various suppliers who are supplying those items and saying, oh, and again, analyzing data to tell a story I’m pulling from my Math background. Oh, this week, this skew was down 20%. Let’s look into why Oh, the name brand competitor had their similar product on an end cap, or they were running a sale this week or they had a coupon. So, looking at trends over time, okay, this item didn’t do so well. Let’s go on we go to the store on the bottom shelf. Yeah, you know, one looks on the bottom shelf.

21:21  

So, you had to have a knowledge of the business you were looking in, and then leverage that to figure out what was going on with some of these products. 

21:31  

Yeah. And just in and I would literally run reports, interpret them and send them to the various suppliers every single week, every week, which seems like a good usage of your degree and of your interests, right, because it’s bringing together both the marketing side and understanding how to create the narrative, but also interpreting the data right in very sometimes intense ways to get to those conclusion. 

21:59  

Yeah, it was a lot of data.

22:00  

Yeah, I can I get the feeling of like eyes glazing over staring at Excel for 15 hours and eventually just got to shut the thing down because it’s been too long.

22:11  

I’m just really glad that iPads were out cause I used to be having to find karaoke in my cubicle and it was just helped me get through the day. I learned a lot.

 22:23  

I’m a chronic work dancer so I can’t get out there. Yeah. So, you’re spending time working with Dollar General at you said Daymon Worldwide?

22:32  

Yeah, but I worked at our general’s headquarters. 

22:34  

I used to joke with people and tell them I worked at the Dollar Store. Yeah, so you’re working at the Dollar Store

 22:44  

And it was in Nashville, so I moved.

 22:46  

Okay. And that’s another thing for anyone who’s not familiar or might be on the younger side. There was a lot of moving to find opportunities going on. Absolutely. So now you’re in Nashville. What did you move into next? How long did you stay with Daymon and ultimately working at the Dollar Store? And what caused you to move on and where did you move on to?

23:11  

So, I was there for about 14 months. Okay. So a little over a year, I realized very quickly that traditional corporate America was not for me. As idealistic as it sounds, I was just like, man, the work I’m doing every day is not really moving the needle on issues that are really affecting people, especially people like me, and I, I didn’t have that warm fuzzy every day when I went home. And at this point, minus the nine months that I spent looking for work, I had been gone from Detroit for about eight or nine years in everywhere I lived I was defending Detroit, I mean everywhere. As soon as I will meet people, and you’re just having regular small talk and they’re like, Oh, where are you from? And I would say Detroit and just a thing. Like just people’s nerve and gall are, like, fascinating to me, but in a really bad way. I’m just like, I can’t believe people will say some of the things I was at are just things I wouldn’t say to people, right. Like, I just don’t have it in me to say certain things. But people would just say stuff like, oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. Or, oh, like, you must have a gun or you know, just whatever stereotype. You’re right, like, they will come with that. And at a certain point, I just got really tired of it. You know, I was born and raised here. I had a wonderful childhood. We had grass. Like all my friends, we all went to college or made something of ourselves. So, this narrative that was being perpetuated to some degree still is being perpetuated today. I grew very weary of it. And I felt like I wasn’t in a position to be wary because I wasn’t here. It’s like how are you going to be defending when you’re in Nashville, you’re in DC or you’re in Pittsburgh or you’re in Atlanta. And so at that point, I said, you know what, it’s time to go home, Fairpoint. And that’s what I did.

25:24 

So, what did you, did you have a job lined up for you when you got back to Detroit or did you sort of just making the decision to move in hope something would fall into place? 

25:35  

No, I didn’t do the ladder because as we talked about before those nine months were traumatizing. Yeah. I had enough. And I also had a large period of unemployment actually, when I graduated from college, okay, in terms of like, full-time gainful employment. I was always doing something. Yeah, I did promotional marketing, which I think is a great side hustle for anyone listening especially younger folks, where you get to work for these really big brands, like, you know, you see people passing out free gum on the street or there’s a new flavor of some like Dorito, the Red Bull. Yeah, I did all that and they pay you very well, you know, so I was doing that, but that was in between college and grad school. But anyway, so I was like, no, we are not going to gamble this time. So, what ended up happening it was very serendipitous very much in Divine Order. I got a fellowship, I apply for two fellowships. So, one is called Education Pioneers, which I highly recommend for anybody listening if you are interested in that type of work, and Education Pioneers as compared to Teach for America, but you’re not in the classroom. You’re working for an education-driven organization office.

 26:55  

Okay, essentially, like a non-profit or some other third party entity, that’s interacting with students and interacting…

27:02  

with education, policy, organization or you could be working at a school but you’re not in the classroom to be back office. So funny enough, my fellowship ended up being with Teach for America. And what happened was, I saw I had to apply for Education Pioneers and I also apply for Challenge Each Right, which is another fellowship I highly recommend. I had applied when I found out about Education Pioneers. I did not know if I had gotten challenges right yet. And they told me that there was a year-long Education Pioneers fellowship and then there was a summer one. I had got selected for the summer one when this, it was May, it was like April or May. I got selected for the summer one. I didn’t know whether I was going to be doing challenges right at the time. So, I guess I did kind of a gamble because I accepted it knowing that if I didn’t get a chance to try out I will be doing that for the summer. I was gonna be right back out trying to figure out what I was going to do.

28:03  

Yeah, you made the best decision, basically.

28:06  

But then a week later I found that I got accepted into Challenge Detroit. So I when I left Nashville, I went to DC for the summer, which was a blast. Very expensive. I was like, I can’t live here but this is wonderful. I slept in my cousin’s basement for two months. And then I went home to Detroit. So, this was 2012 and I started my year-long fellowship with Challenge Detroit and I was placed at Focus Hope.

28:33  

Can you get a bit of background? Can you tell us what Focus Hope is? 

 28:37 

Yes. So, focus up is a non-profit one on the west side of Detroit. And they really centered their organization around three main thrusts, so, jobs, food and education, and that look a ton of different ways. There’s a food center for senior citizens. They have one of the preeminent machines is training, skilled trade programs for Metro Detroiters, and then there’s a lot of education. I have an Early Childhood Education Center on-site. And what I was doing at the time was supporting entrepreneurs, small businesses, essentially in that in the neighborhood. So provide I was at my title was Business Development Specialist. So I was making sure that we were connecting the entrepreneurs and the small business owners in that particular in our boundary with opportunities that were coming out of the city of Detroit or through other organizations. And then I also manage the Prosperous Detroit Entrepreneurship Training Program, which works to find kind of our hidden entrepreneurs. So, those who may not necessarily be downtown or in midtown, but they’re in the neighborhoods and they’re doing great things and they just need a little more formal training. And they also through that program had an opportunity to get microloans. So I manage that for a year.

29:58  

Okay, so

 you were sort of being like, to oversimplify it, sort of like a switchboard operator for all these different opportunities, figuring out the right spot to plug things and now I kind of met to jump forward but I kind of want to start to move closer toward where we were today. So around when did you start working with Focus Hope?

30:20  

This was 2012, so, the Challenge Detroit fellowship and against anyone listening highly recommended there. They are as believe they’re in their eighth year. I was in the first year which is crazy. This was 2012 to 2013. It was only a one-year fellowship. 

 30:36  

Okay. So, now 2013 is your time with  Focus Hope is winding down. And that’s a non-profit. Right? So did you want to see in the non-profit sector? Did you want to move back into Corporate America or some hybrid that would better fit your interests?

r  30:53  

Focus Hope was trying to identify funding for me to stay they were not able to identify bullet-time funding. But they did invite me to come on in a contract position actually to continue a project I had started or helped start, I want to say, I was the one the only one who started it but help start which was a co-working space for the entrepreneurs that share we were supporting on Focus Hope’s campus. So, that was happening. And then also at the same time, one of my good friends from childhood, he was just starting a Sports Agency, sports agent business on managing NBA NFL players. And he asked me to help him with a few things and then the Detroit Food Academy. He was aboard on one now. They have reached out to me to see if I will be interested in executing their crowdfunding campaign for the summer. So, I was like, let me get an LLC.  That was what I did and I was like, hey, I’m a consultant. It sounds like working for myself for a little while.

32:04  

Yeah, in a good little spin.

32:06  

Then Challenge Detroit hired me. So, this is 2014, hired me to be the program manager for, I forget what year so I won’t even try to remember what year of the program it was. Bu,t basically my job was to create the experiences that the fellows were having when they were working with the non-profits that the model, the Challenge Detroit Model supports, which is basically serving as consultants for non-profits once a week for the duration of the year. So, I was responsible for setting up the challenges with the nonprofits making sure we had a space reserved, executing the agenda, hiring speakers. So, literally, all aspects related to program management. I was responsible…

32:56  

You are running the show.

32:59  

I guess you could say I was running the show in terms of the day of, okay, because I did actually have to create one of the shows. 

33:08  

So, you were.

33:13  

That was not the ED, though, the executive director.

33:16  

Gotcha! Okay, so, then fast forward a bit to Black Girl Mathgic. Now, where did this idea come from? And what made you decide to kind of pull the trigger and dive in headfirst?

33:31  

So, I feel like I’ve had this idea inside of me my whole life. I just didn’t know it was going to look like this. As I mentioned, so, with all of the various interesting career gaps and jumps and hurdles, and craziness, Math tutoring was always my side hustle. So no matter what I was doing, whether I had a job when I didn’t have a job, I was always tutoring math. And about four years ago, I started tutoring at the downtown boxing gym. The downtown boxing gym is unique in the sense that prior to that my Math tutoring experience was very one to one. So, I’m a private and home tutor, I go to your house I sit with you, the student at the table and we do Math. Yeah, we do Math. Now, the gym, we have today, don’t quote me. Think about 100 students, and we serve children from eight to eighteen. So, with me being the resident Math tutor, we do have volunteers who come in regularly, but not everybody is able to help especially our middle and high schoolers with like Algebra, Geometry and those kinds of things. So, with me being the resident Math tutor, when I am there I usually have several students I’m working with

34:47  

No longer one to one.

34:49  

And they have the nerve sometimes. I make fun of them in a joking way. You know, some of them get a little territorial. So, they see me working with somebody else, that’s what you’re doing today. I know, multiple people at one time. But anyway, I noticed very quickly, it was just very much a pattern that I noticed in mathematics at its core is the study of patterns. Some very adept at recognizing a pattern that my middle and high school students, a lot of times when they said, oh, I need help with this pre-Algebra, Algebra, this Geometry, it actually wasn’t the Algebra or Geometry that they need to help with. It was a basic Math. So, it was the part where we’re supposed to divide by negative three on both sides and maybe you didn’t master the rules around dividing negative numbers or fractions, dividing fractions,  fractions in general. Just throw a lot of kids off and adults to decimals. manipulating, you know, using the number line. Just things that they should have been able to master at a younger age for whatever reason they had not mastered it. And this was not just one district. This was not just one city. This was across the board. And around the same time, well, I guess fast forward or rewind maybe a year. When I first met, who is now my husband, when we first started dating, he had about four subscription boxes that he was subscribed to, because he doesn’t like to go out and shop. So, he had a box sending him clothes, which he still gets every month. He had a bag sending him food. He even had a bag sending him sunglasses, and I was like, you know what, Michigan? We don’t really need sunglasses every day. It’s actually out today, but like we don’t usually see them. So, that was my introduction to the subscription box model. I was like, How convenient is that? Right? Like you can just subscribe and get this box full of stuff or get this box full of food and you don’t have to spend hours at the grocery store. So, I just admired it, I think tucked it away. And for our listeners, I think it’s really important for me to share that I actually had a subscription box idea in 2015 that I worked on for a little while, but then I ended up saying that it wasn’t going to work. It was, at that time, they were coming out with a lot of clothing boxes for women. And there were two four-plus size women. I’m 5’10”. I have always had trouble shopping, it is kinda lot better, but to find long enough sleeves, long enough shirts, long enough pants. So, I was like, I’m going to do a subscription box for tall women. Would have been very capital intensive. And I was like, okay, not the move right now. But I’m going to tuck away all of the knowledge that I’ve learned through this process and maybe something will come around later. So, in effect, it did, three years later. And I was looking at the landscape of subscription boxes, a really beautiful model was growing exponentially. There were a lot of STEM boxes, a lot of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics boxes, sending kits and crafts and things to children and I’m looking through them and I’m doing my research and my due diligence and I’m like, nobody is focused on math. like everybody’s saying that their STEM subscription box, but there’s no M. And I was like, this is a problem because yes, I’m biased because my background is in Math, but also if the goal right if the push is towards getting the United States higher up on a lot of these lists with countries and education pieces, and also to get more of our kids involved in and engage with STEM. If they don’t have a solid foundation of basic Math, they are not going to engage or succeed… 

39:00  

Even if they’re intimidated by it.

39:02  

Exactly. If you don’t have the confidence, I’m not going to really fully engage in something as a child if I’m not confident, and in fact, I’m going to run in the other direction nine times out of 10.

39:12  

Even today, it’s tougher.

39:14  

Yeah, as an adult, for sure. And so I said, I’m gonna make a STEM, I’m gonna make a Math stem box. And I chose my name based off of a popular term in the Black Community called Black Girl Magic. And as I was doing my research, I noticed in my own experiences, to be really validated with real data, that there was a wide confidence gap between boys and girls so, you know, they tend girls and boys actually tend to do the same in terms of their Math levels

39:50  

Like performance. 

39:51  

Yeah, performance-wise, thank you. But when you ask, typically, so, obviously not all the time, but when you ask a girl will rate herself lower and the point average and a boy will rate himself higher on average. So, there’s this confidence gap that’s very well documented. Yeah. From a gender perspective, then you look at it from a race perspective, also very well-documented and also very glaring between Black and Hispanic children and White children. And there were some studies about the disparity in terms of other races and ethnicities, but in our country, right, that’s kind of what we’re dealing with. And so when you put the two together, black girls black and brown girls are literally at the bottom rung of the ladder. As a black woman who knows how to work very well with black children. And I’m not saying that to say that I only exclusively work with black children, but I just know how to reach them and to make the Math make sense from where they see. I was like, I want to make something that really shows really, really highlights To a young black girl that she can be a master, just like anybody else that she has what it takes, and that she sees herself very clearly in this narrative. So, that’s how I came up with it.

41:13 

Yes, sort of shifting where that young woman falls in this confidence ladder, right? Because if you have the technical proficiency, but you don’t believe in your ability to actually execute on it, you’re never going to practice it. 

41:28  

At all! And there was an article that just recently came out I was amazed and they hit high math, confidence, and high math skills combined. So, the not high, low or low, high, but high was the difference between a $55,000 salary and I believe in $194,000 salary. And they also oddly enough, they use that to show the disease outcomes for lupus patients. For those who have high Math confidence, high Math skills where I don’t even want to quote myself but double-digit percent lower in terms of their need to take medication. Then people who were high-low or low-high.

42:14  

 Interesting! 

42:15  

So, this is Math confidence and high Math confidence. High Math skill is affecting our earning potential and apparently our health and our well being. Yeah!

42:25  

Fascinating! Okay, I was floored.

42:28  

Yeah. And so this is primarily a box for young women of color. Is there a push to have a box for young men of color? Or is this, are you really trying to stay and double down on your understanding of young female struggles?

42:46  

Well, that’s a two-part answer. So, the Black girls of all backgrounds and ethnicities with the name and the imagery there is a focus on girls of color because they sit at the intersection of these pervasive racial gender gaps, but I do have subscribers who do not identify as black and they love it. Because not only is their girl getting this really fun, real-world Math experience every month and this cute little purple box that I ship it in. But she’s also saying women who don’t look like her. And women from a race that, you know, has had a lot of unique struggles, doing really cool things and being really successful with mathematics. And, you know, we know through our own experiences as well, again, as the data always points to the data because it really does help validate this, that when children of a majority are exposed to positive images from a minority, they are more empathetic human beings. They are more compassionate. They are more prepared to become global citizens in our society, so there’s really no downside to it. We are definitely going to extend this to the boys. I have gotten so many boy moms, is messaging me on Instagram and emailing me or commenting on Facebook. I really love to see this for the boys and I’m like they’re coming. We know that not all boys are confident in their Math ability, but we know that girls are much less likely to be confident. So, I was like, we had to start with the girls first. But we will be launching the boy box next year. 

44:28  

Awesome!

44:29  

Yeah, so you started sort of with the most underserved. Yeah, like the most negatively exposed group.

 44:36  

Definitely, a perfect way to put it.

44:38  

Having the highest impact as early as possible. 

 44:40  

That’s right!

44:41  

In that’s really cool too because it’s sort of an unanticipated benefit where you’re fostering empathy or fostering understanding, of people that don’t look like you, maybe not have the same background as you and that seems like You know, yes, it could have you could have seen that coming, but it kind of seems like a very positive, unanticipated benefit.

45:09  

For sure there’s a really good article that Stanford Social Innovation Review wrote out highly recommended. It’s called the Curb Cut Effect. And it basically talks about when they created curb cuts right in the sidewalk. Those were initially created for people who were in wheelchairs disabled and couldn’t maneuver over a curb. But guess who else benefited from curb cuts because pregnant or not pregnant women, but people with children, babies pushing strollers, may be pregnant women, too, people traveling who are rolling their suitcases, people who are walking to the grocery store and taking their grocery cart. So, basically, the premise of this article is that when we saw for those who are considered the least of us, everybody wins. 

45:54  

Fascinating!

45:55  

So, this is my curb cut.

Unknown Speaker  45:56  

Yeah. And that’s a great spot t to pivot into the second portion of our show, which focuses on getting actionable advice from your experience. So, the first question, the first quick hitter we have here for you, what is one of the key takeaways from your career, so far?

46:17  

One of the key takeaways is that even if you are an inexperienced where people don’t necessarily understand your background or your work experience is very varied, it’s not linear. That can serve you really well when it’s time to start a business. Because right now I’m in a startup, so, I am doing all the things. I am a solopreneur, my mother and my husband are very helpful. But at the end of the day, it’s me. So, I am doing everything I’m running my social media, my black romantic social media pages. I am shipping, I actually when I leave here I’m shipping a box that never made it to a customer even though I shipped it last week. It smashed in the system. So, I’m problem-solving all the time. I’m doing my email marketing. I am curating all of the items for the box. I’m reaching out to vendors and connecting with vendors. I’m doing just about everything. I just had an opportunity to do that, as I mentioned, to bring on an accountant and someone to help me temporarily with social media, email marketing, but all of the experience, that’s why i said earlier, it just started making sense, right? Because all of the experiences is depressing and as painful as they were in terms of my professional background while I was going through them. It has literally come full circle because I’m using everything to run this business and proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish so far.

 47:52  

Yeah, sometimes you don’t know how things are going to come back to you

47:54  

You never know, you never know.

 47:56  

Love it! Now, what is the one piece of advice, just one, that you would give to your 20-year-old self? 

48:06  

That’s a great question!

48:10  

The one piece of advice I would give my 20-year old self is to read the book that your mother gave you, which was the Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. She gave it to me when I was 20. I didn’t read it until I was 25. And it completely changed my outlook on life.

48:36  

Well, and so that, I mean, it’s like you’re reading the questions from my paper. What is one book or resource that has helped you along in your journey?

48:44  

I would definitely say the Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.

48:51  

Serve that one update on a perfect little platter.

48:55  

Love it! And lastly, where can people find More about you out Brittany.

49:03  

Yes. So, on Instagram and Facebook, I am blackgirlmathgic, also on Twitter and it’s a B L K G I R L M A T H G I C and my website is a Bitly right now because that is another thing I’ve been working with a graphic designer. My website, my actual real website is almost ready but right now I’m selling my boxes on what is essentially an Etsy for a subscription box and so it’s a marketplace and it is B I T dot L Y  backflush excuse me, Black Girl Mathgic.

49:41  

Love it! Awesome! Brittany Rhodes, founder of the Front Wall Founder of Black Girl Magic, and all-around just social entrepreneur and advocate. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you,

 49:55  

Thank you, Ben, the same.

49:57  

And that does it for our show with Brittany Rhodes, co-founder of Black Girl Mathgic. Now, one cool thing that I found throughout her story is that because she came from a Mathematics background, she’s really focused on data-driven storytelling, meaning she’s able to interpret what the numbers are saying and create a narrative around it so that other people can understand those same principles and really see what’s going on behind the surface. And the fact that that story is data-driven means that it’s much more concrete, and can have much stronger impacts than if you just kind of spin something up out of thin air. We also talked a lot about serendipity and the fact that you can’t get lucky if you’re not in the right rooms to begin with. So, one of my favorite formulas or one of my favorite definitions of luck is luck equals opportunity plus preparation. And that really breaks it down into components that you can actually control. So, the opportunity is being in the right room at the right time, it’s talking to the right people. And it’s serendipity. Ultimately, it’s that randomness. But the other portion is preparation. And preparation is really where we can flex our muscles. Because we can spend time studying and becoming really good so that when those conversations happen, we’re ready and we can actually speak intelligently in those rooms and in the situations that luck ultimately will stem out of in the long term. At the beginning of her story. Brittany also mentioned that she entered the workforce at a point in time where the world was ending and Brittany’s story is one of pushing through the end of the world. That’s all we got for this week’s show. And thank you so much for listening. I hope you all had a wonderful series of holidays, and it was pretty busy, I’m sure but that is also half the fun. We’re going to go ahead and get out of here from Taste For Tenacity show number 37. This is Ben Trela. Thanks for listening!

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