“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” – Maya Angelou
Carmella Williams, the “Hair Lady”
In her final reflection as part of the Healthy Community Partnership cohort for the National Leadership Academy for the Public’s Health, Carmella Williams assigned herself the alias “the Hair Lady” with the superpower of never giving up, no matter what. For the June Partner Spotlight, we are highlighting Carmella Williams, who serves as a HCP’s Steering Committee member and partner on the Mahoning Valley Food Access/Community Store Initiative Team.
While it is true people may know Ms. Williams as “the Hair Lady,” the many hats she wears and lives she’s touched demonstrate her work and her impact is layered and multi-faceted. But in each and every instance, Ms. Williams exemplifies Maya Angelou’s definition of what success looks like: to love what you do, how you do it, and most importantly to love yourself above all else in the process.
Ms. Williams is the founder and operator of Carmella Marie Natural Hair Care Products and Deep Roots Self Care Company, the executive director of the Intentional Development Group, and the director of the City of Youngstown’s Microenterprise Program. For several years, Ms. Williams shared her time and talent with the Youngstown Business Incubator as the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and the Director of Women in Entrepreneurship.
No matter which of these roles she’s representing, she always centers herself and her work around core values that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion; that celebrate the accomplishments of Black and women-lead initiatives; and that create spaces that nurture new leadership.
Mane Event: Ohio’s Largest Curlfriend Event | September 2021
As she says so well about herself and what she does, “[Carmella Marie] brings value and sells hope.”
Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, it is not a surprise that Ms. Williams has chartered a career path for herself as a leader. Beginning almost ten years ago, Ms. Williams decided to transform her passion of helping women realize their value and potential into a business by hosting “Let’s Talk Hair” Sessions. These gatherings led to the inspiration for her to develop a full hair care line for women with textured hair. The Carmella Marie product line has consistently received glowing reviews and has won 2 NaturallyCurly.com Editor’s Choice Awards. These sessions also grew into several large, successful gatherings that became known as the Mane Event: Ohio’s Largest Curlfriend Event.
Last year, Ms. Williams secured her first big box retail opportunity at Giant Eagle Churchill Commons in Liberty. In total, there are now five retail outlets selling Carmella Marie products.
One of the more recent endeavors and new hats Ms. Williams has come to wear is the Director of the City of Youngstown’s Microenterprise Program. This is a new resource offered through the City of Youngstown with the support of CARES Act pandemic relief dollars. The mission of the program is to: distributes Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) CDBG-CV funding to local Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI) businesses or businesses that meet the LMI job creation requirement, to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus and other pandemics.”
Through this role and her previous roles at YBI, Ms. Williams has advised and assisted “over 250 businesses, created/retained over 100 jobs & helped small businesses gain access to over $2 million in capital and over $2 million in awarded government or private contracts.”
Carmella Williams at the OCDCA 2021: Business of Food Justice
Another new hat and endeavor reinforcing this emphasis on equitable economic development as well as investment in health and wellness is the formation of the Intentional Development Group (IDG), which houses and supports the Mahoning Food Access Initiative. The Mahoning Food Access Initiative is led by the Mahoning County Food Access Coordinator, Sophia Buggs, who is also IDG’s Director of Environmental and Food Justice. The Mahoning Food Access Initiative includes support for the Mahoning Valley Community Store initiative through assisting with business plans and capital investments in participating small businesses as well as organizing Urban Wellness Market outreach events. In 2021 and 2022, IDG’s Mahoning Food Access Initiative organized a series of Gardening 101 workshops created specifically to reach and support Black farmers/growers, new farmers/growers, and others who are not yet growing or farming but have the passion and persistence to learn.
In addition to the IDG’s Mahoning Food Access Initiative, Ms. Williams has deepened her personal and professional commitment to a holistic approach to success by launching Deep Roots Self Care. Deep Roots is a Youngstown-based company that sells fresh cold-pressed juices and a variety of houseplants. What are the connections between juice, plants, and hair? Ms. William explains that, “The juices are a ‘collagen booster’ that can help improve people’s skin and hair health, and are also meant to promote a healthy immune system by helping people get more healthful foods in their diet. The stress reducing plants can help people maintain healthier hair and skin.”
Stress’s impact on our physical selves is no joke. In Harvard Health Blog, Neera Nathan, MD, MSHS reports that, “Studies show that both acute and chronic stress can exert negative effects on overall skin wellness, as well as exacerbate a number of skin conditions, including psoriasis, eczema, acne, and hair loss.”
Carmella Marie Saturday Walks to Reduce Stress & Tension
Ms. Williams doesn’t just talk the talk, she walks the walk–and invites others to walk with her. As a part of her commitment to promoting health, health equity, and connections, she’s organized two community walks on Saturday mornings. The first was held at Lake Glacier on Youngstown’s westside. The second and current walk occurs every Saturday morning at 9:30 AM beginning at Deep Roots’ storefront (822 Billingsgate) on Youngstown’s southside, near the historic Lanterman’s Mill in the beautiful Mill Creek Metroparks.
So whether she’s walking in the park, talking about hair care, pulling together a business plan, or pointing out the benefits of philodendrons, Ms. Williams is leading by doing. By showing others in the community how to be successful by loving what you do, how you do it, and who you are. This approach rooted to core values like diversity, equity, inclusion, fairness, and opportunity and sustained by self-love is necessary to carry out the type of transformational change needed to move the Mahoning Valley forward.
The Partnership is grateful to have Ms. Williams at our table, leading by example, and showing us all what can be possible if we have the resolve and don’t allow ourselves to give up.