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Y’all, we made it. We walked in 2021 together (nah, for real! Here’s the Black Joy article from Jan 1.) Now here we are exiting together.

It’s crazy to me because the woman who wrote that piece at the beginning of the year ain’t the same woman who is talking to y’all now. This year, I leaned into the discomfort of stepping into my power and doing what’s healthy for me despite my loved one’s opinions. I changed so much I don’t even recognize pre-pandemic-Starr anymore. New phone. Who dis?

I’m sure a lot of you can relate. New Year’s is about setting goals for the future. But briefly looking back at the moments we overcame can give us the power to move forward. I say “we” as a nod to the more than 8,000 subscribers we have added to Black Joy fam over the year.

I set a goal for myself back in June to have 1k followers by 2021’s end. Guess I need to stop thinking small, huh?

After you take some time to honor this year, I want to help y’all reach your 2022 goals, too. So I’m bringing back two Southerners who made some big moves after our previous Black Joy interview earlier in the year.

We are always here for the growth 🌱. Help someone with theirs by forwarding this newsletter to your pals who want to glow up next year.

— Starr

Hogoè: the luxury mogul 

When Cardi B gave a shout out to luxury handbag designer Hogoè Kpessou, the 23-year-old Florida college student excitedly screamed into her pillow.

After daydreaming about a celebrity sharing her purses, Cardi B retweeted a TikTok of Hogoè’s new leather tote saying, “I love…I want.”

Since then, pre-sales for the tote bag, which drops next spring, have soared. It was also a morale boost for Hogoè, who was suffering through a spell of imposter syndrome at the time. After seeing Cardi’s retweet, Hogoè gave herself a bathroom pep talk.

“I was like, ‘You definitely got this. Like, at this point, you have no competition but yourself,’” Hogoè said. “It gave me more attention, but it also reinstated my own sense of confidence.”

Hogoè is building an empire off her own name, which made her a target for bullies after her family moved from Togo in west Africa to Jacksonville, Fla. Her signature bee emblazoned bookbags have sold out multiple times. The last time we chatted in June, she was just about to launch two new bag collections.  In six months’ time, sis is about to hit seven figures, according to Business Insider. She was also featured in Forbes’ “The Green Book Guide” for Black-owned businesses. Hogoè doesn’t want to be known for bookbags alone. So she has expanded her brand to include a clothing collection and a self-care line full of candles, soaps and body butters. The candles are made by her friend, who runs All Around The World Candle Co. Hogoè said she wants her circle to get in on the success.

“If I eat, I want everybody else around me to eat, too,” Hogoè said.

Throughout our conversation, I heard many affirmational gems that anyone can use to hit their goals for the new year whether they are an entrepreneur or not. Here’s a rundown of the sage wisdom Hogoè has gained over the past year and how it will carry into 2022:

Respect the timing of your success: Hogoè is well aware that she is entering a saturated industry during a time when we as Black people are saying, “Hey, luxury is for us, too.” Piloting a new brand can be a little daunting in this space. Hogoè found herself obsessing about her brand’s success and comparing it to other Black-owned luxury brands.

“It wasn’t until I looked up and was like, ‘Wait, these other brands have been doing this since like 2005, 2007, this, that and third. Why am I comparing my 2020 brand to them?’” she said. “I always have to tell myself like calm down. It’s OK. You’re on the right path.”

Productivity doesn’t define your worth: For 2022, Hogoè plans to continue grow her love in luxury designing and using her knowledge as a vessel to bring diversity to the fashion world. One way sis already does this is reaching out to dark-skinned models with 4c hair. She also wants to step up her interview game so she can show off her products during in-person talk shows.

Along with spreading the melanin magic in the luxury industry, another mission for Hogoè’s brand is to help spread the wealth to her family back in Togo. So Hogoè stays booked and busy. But next year, she wants to make she her personal well being doesn’t sit on the backburner.

“I don’t want to lose myself and be only establishing confidence in what I make or what I provide,” Hogoè said. “So getting into that safe space of growing in confidence for myself, by myself, and not all the things that I contribute.”

Real hot boy sh*t

This year wasn’t filled with the horrors of 2020, however I’m sure 2021 still had its surprises for many of you. But one person who kept up laughing was Raleigh, N.C., comedian Antonio (Tony) Neville.

His skits of the tales of Quarter-Brick High have consistently served good energy to his combined 3.8 million fans on Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. Now, Tony is raking in the rewards of his hard work the past six months. He’s been featured in Buzzfeed, got back on stage for the first time in seven years to do live comedy shows, struck a pose during New York Fashion Week and got into some real hot boi shit while filming a Nike commercial with Megan Thee Stallion.

While Hogoè had a lessons to share from the year, Tony decided to wrap his advice into one important tip: Take risks. Tony left college in 2015 to work on his craft. But before the fame, comedy was a side hustle Tony indulged in while working doubles as a server at a local restaurant. Tony decided to leave that job in February to do comedy fulltime. It was a scary move, and his employer wished him the best on his journey. But that decision changed the trajectory of his life.

“I’ve learned to not really care what people think about the risks I take,” Tony said. “I trust my gut with things, and if my gut is saying, ‘Hey, let’s forget what they’re saying. Let’s go for it and see what happens.’ Then that’s what I’m going to do. Sometimes it might not work out. Sometimes it might work out. You just you never know until you try.”

Here’s how taking risks changed the trajectory of Tony’s life this year:

Slaying it with Nike: Back in August, a Nike representative hit up Tony’s inbox and asked if he wanted to collaborate on a Nike project in California with all expenses paid. It wasn’t until Tony got on the Hollywood set that he was told Megan Thee Stallion chose him for the role.

He didn’t get a chance to meet Megan, but Tony still treasured the experience even if the filming process was long and demanding. Tony envisioned the character he wanted to be for the commercial ahead of time. But that planning went out the window. He switched outfits so many times he wasn’t sure what character he was going to do, what accent they would use or what facial expressions they were going to make.

Eventually, the director calmed Tony and told him to be the best character of all: himself.

“And I killed it,” Tony said. “Sometimes you have something planned and it’s just not going to go the way you planned it. You just have to, you know, snap back and do it.”

Tony, America’s next top model: After filming in Cali for Nike, Tony found himself on the east coast for New York Fashion Week in September. This happened thanks to a fashion show opportunity from Stevie Boi, a Manhattan designer who creates shades for celebrities like Lady Gaga and Beyoncé. While searching for a stylist for Stevie Boi’s show, word got out that Tony was in the Big Apple. So other designers decided to ask him to be a part of their shows.

The fun experience not only shaped the beginnings of Tony’s modeling career (which is something he wants to do in the future). The visibility put him into certain social circles. Which leads to our last point…

Queen B, is that you!?: There’s one mystery Tony really wants to solve: Whether or not Beyoncé is watching his videos. His first clue came from Beyoncé’s stylist Ty Hunter, who told Tony during New York Fashion week that Bey may know about him. Clue two: Destiny Child’s Michelle Williams is one of Tony’s TikTok followers. Clue three: Beyoncé’s cousin, Angie Beyincé, follows Tony on TikTok……so something is up.

Now, there’s one celebrity who’s clearly a fan of Tony’s. Memphis-born comedian and actress Leslie Jones actually slid into Tony’s DM after watching his videos, told him that she found him extremely funny and encouraged him to keep doing his thing.

Tony believes his relatability and good energy increased the demand for his work this past year. Whether its acting, modeling or doing a comedy skit on social media or on stage, his fans can trust him to come through with the joy.

“I look at comedy as an art. I feel like people come to me now for an uplifting moment and that’s a skill because not everybody can make you laugh,” he said. “No matter what I say or what I do, people just laugh. So I just take that and turn it into a form of art for people around the world to enjoy.”

May 2022 bless you with tons of Black Joy. See ya’ next time!