Skyla Barber is done with high school. She graduated from Memphis Virtual School on Wednesday night. As are thousands of other local high school graduates, she moves on to apply an answer to this question: Now what?
Myriad factors come into play as the area’s high school grads chart what they are going to do next and where.
Skyla has been working toward her answer for years. At 18, she has by self-description been an entrepreneur all her life. Many know her as the CEO of her online clothing and accessory company, ShopRichDoll. Now – post-graduation – she’s set to officially start real estate school.
“I’ve been studying and practicing, but I cannot take the exam until I get my high school diploma,” she said the night before walking across the graduation stage at the Cannon Center under the gaze of her business-minded/entrepreneurial-supportive parents, Michael and Janice Barber.
“After I get my real estate license, I can pursue my career in real estate development. …
“I’m actually going to major in construction management. … The real estate license is just going to get me hip to the real estate lingo, that real estate background.”
If you’re picking up that Skyla will be attending college as she is building on her real estate interest, you’re right. Her choice is the University of Memphis – a practical switch from an earlier intent to attend Georgia State, which was one of several universities to offer her a full ride.
“But now I work at Allworld (Project Management) and … I didn’t want to give that up. I’m already connecting and learning a lot,” she said. “I just made the decision to stay home, learn all I can while I have this good opportunity then maybe in a year transfer somewhere else.
“But right now, I’m trying to buckle down and focus.”
Drawn to real estate development, “basically building different buildings and stuff like that,” she praises Allworld’s Senior Project Manager Daryl Lewis, noting “that’s what he does. He’s been a really good mentor and advisor. … I don’t want to leave and give that up for another internship that might not have the same connection. … I’m actually really learning. I don’t want to give that up just to go somewhere else and maybe not have the same experience.”
By self-description, Allworld Project Management “provides a full range of project and program management services from conception to completion.” Michael Hooks Jr. serves as owner and CEO.
“Skyla is a natural,” said Hooks. “I’ve been knowing her, knowing Mike (Skyla’s father), friends of the family … grew up in the same neighborhood for years. Skyla and my daughter went to the same school for a short period of time.
“She was always academically superior and entrepreneurially gifted. She mastered e-commerce early. When folks were just getting a grasp of it, she was ahead of her time. She has an eye and gift for product selection.”
Allworld has a training program, with Skla’s internship customized because of the family connection.
“We typically don’t provide training programs for students that young. Ours is more geared toward college students. It’s part of (Allworld’s) culture to provide that training. It’s a win-win. We have projects where college students and some high school students can add value to our … work.”
Nurturing entrepreneurship, particularly among African Americans, is extremely important, said Hooks.
“And more so important these days because some of our generations think it just happens with a snap of the finger. So, they need to see the hard work and dedication that goes into entrepreneurship to be able to reap the fruits of the labor.
“I want them to understand that it takes dedication. I want them to hear our story that it just didn’t happen overnight. And that there are still challenges every day. That we are constantly – as the Bible would say – getting ready for the next storm,” said Hooks.
“But we are doing that with preparation. And we are doing that by learning from the last storm we went through, where we need to do to be able to get through the next one.”
To some degree, that means rolling with the punches and embracing change and opportunity. That’s the way Skyla sees her decision to forgo her deeply-held desire to attend Georgia State in Atlanta.
“I was ready to experience something new. A new city outside of Memphis, but it came down to not what’s going to be the most fun, but what’s going to be the best option as far as my career and opportunities that I have.”
Though not as originally planned, Skyla soon will be learning in Atlanta as she alters the course of her clothing/accessory business.
“I’m doing a re-branding. I’m going to Atlanta for a week and in about two weeks to take a class, where I’m going to learn how to sew, design, and embroider; an all-in-one class. So, then I can start designing my clothes from scratch. …
“I’m maturing and I’m turning everything around and I’m going to rebrand it to my name – Skyla Jay – and come with a more mature, but still hip and edgy look.”
Skyla’s entrepreneurial inclination has family roots.
“I’ve been an entrepreneur the majority of my life,” said her father, Michael. “I’ve worked some jobs, but the majority of my living has come from being an entrepreneur, creating several businesses from trucking, to credit repair, to mortgage finance. Anything I could make a potential profit from, that is a legal entity, I would look into it.”
Barber’s great-grandfather was a businessman.
“He owned a ranch (a 27-acre farm); he was an entrepreneur. … You name it, he grew it. And he sold it.”
Working with his great-grandfather as a little boy, Barber became intrigued about owning his own business and working for himself.
“The thing about our Black culture which is a problem today is that we don’t have enough entrepreneurs. … And this is not just in Memphis. …We have to start owning something. Our culture works for too many other cultures.”
It wasn’t difficult to pass the entrepreneurial spirit to Skyla.
“Kids are intrigued, kids are curious. If you’ve got something that intrigues them or that (makes them) curious, they’re going to fall right into it.”
From that point forward, it’s a matter of supporting them, including making sure they do the footwork, said Barber.
“Once she learns the footwork, then she learns the business. Once she puts that one foot in front of the other, she’s gonna keep walking. That also builds confidence. …And while you are young, go out and meet as many people as you can that own businesses, that do things. …
“Skyla is a very outgoing person. She’ll be fine. I still want her to go to school. Once you get your education, start back on your business. But keep working your business.”
Skyla is on course.