Home PeopleHoboken Girl of the Week Hudson County Women Making Waves {in Honor of Black History Month}

Hudson County Women Making Waves {in Honor of Black History Month}

by Jordan and Joelle Hernandez
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While we tip our hats to the different accomplishments from our favorite Hudson County gals all year long, we are shining a special light on the great work being done by black women throughout Hudson County in celebration of Black History Month. We caught up with some of these powerful, amazing ladies to learn more about how they are shaking things up and what their heritage means to them.

Sharae Nikai {Actress, Grey’s Anatomy}

sharae black history month women

This Jersey City native is now making a name for herself in Los Angeles as an actress and comedic writer. She is also set to guest star in June on Melissa McCarthy’s new Paramount comedy series, Nobodies.

What role does your heritage play in the work that you do?

Every part of my heritage plays a role in what I do for a living. How I look, sound, walk, talk, stand, make sense of things, etc. — all began and is influenced by being an African-American female from a working-class New Jersey family.

Ironically, on the first day of this Black History Month, I made my primetime debut on ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy”. Episode 1411 “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” is about Dr. Miranda Bailey, an African-American woman whose heart attack symptoms are being downplayed by a white male doctor. After booking the role, getting the entire script and realizing the episode would air during Black History Month, it occurred to me that who and how I naturally am can succeed in the primetime space. This is especially so now that more stories including folks who share my heritage are making it to the screen. So, I continue to wear my natural hair, basic makeup, “East Coast” disposition and even maintain the natural register of my voice when I take meetings or audition instead of going up a notch to sound more mainstream. That way, if I present myself as such, through my image when I act, or even my sensibility when I write, people who come from where I do get to be represented in television, which is my main focus.

The beautiful part of my heritage is that I can play many things because I was exposed to so much from young.

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Who is one person you admire and why?

I admire an entrepreneur, especially self-starters who take on an endeavor that is outside the realm of their upbringing. One of my best friends is celebrity stylist and natural hair guru, Felicia Leatherwood. She is an entrepreneur whose current business I watched happen from the moment she only pondered using haircare as a vessel for traveling the globe to speak with women about loving ourselves. There are no words for what it is to experience her business and others around us who created visions that have materialized and continue to expand. People like my cousins, Nicole, Danielle and Reggie DuPree, all Hudson County raised siblings and entrepreneurs with a cosmetic line, empowerment podcast and graphic design company, respectively. The amount of professional, financial, emotional, physical and, most importantly, spiritual, focus it takes to realize a dream of entrepreneurship is unmatched. So, I admire powerhouse people who take that on in their lives. Also, I admire children… because they DGAF.

Djenaba Johnson-Jones {Owner, Hudson Kitchen}

djenaba black history month women

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Originally from Texas, Djenaba made her way to Jersey City and became the founder and CEO of her very own company, Hudson Kitchen, that provides services to help food entrepreneurs grow their businesses.

What role does your heritage play in the work that you do?

It’s hard to say how my heritage plays a role in my business day-to-day. But I do try to live my life and conduct business following the lessons passed down through the generations in my family — treat others the way you want to be treated, education is the key to improving one’s life and always lift while we climb.

Who is one person you admire and why?

I’d have to say that a really admire my parents who owned a medical practice in Fort Worth, Texas. When I was growing up, I was able to witness the beginnings and growth of their business. Their example of hard work and dedication drives me today. They always stressed three things:

1. Walk like you have somewhere to go. In other words, walk with your head held high, with a sense of purpose confident in your skills and hard work.

2. Look for the opportunity, and when you reach that first opportunity, look for the next one.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.

Mariela Hill {Owner, Mari*s Pallets}

mariela black history month women

Owner of Mari*s Pallets, a Hoboken-based wood-pallet company, Mariela was driven by the arts from a very young age. She’s done it all — from studying musical theater, to getting her Master’s degree in elementary education, to hosting programs for Google, and acting in the city.

What role does your heritage play in the work that you do?

I’m definitely proud to be a woman in this day and age. I started my small business as a means to bring like-minded, educated women in a safe space to create art together. I’m proud to be a woman-owned minority business because I get to travel around and meet so many wonderful people and hear their stories. When we share a space we are all able to celebrate each others’ differences in a positive way! That means a lot to me.

Who is one person you admire and why?

I admire my Grammy Hill because in all the years I’ve known her I’ve never once heard her complain. She constantly practices joy and happiness in her life and it’s quite infectious!

Dr. Meika Roberson {Chief Medical Officer, CarePoint Health}

meika black history month women

Dr. Meika Roberson is the Chief Medical Officer of Care Point Health in Hoboken, Medical Director of Hudson Speaks {Hudson County’s rape crisis center}, Medical Director of a non-profit medical mission in Ghana, philanthropist, oh, and a writer for Hoboken Girl!

What role does your heritage play in the work that you do?

This question is hard to answer. I am a black woman, a black female physician executive. In that order. I was raised by two black parents. I was taught black history at the dinner table. I was taught about racism and inequality while being driven to school every day. I don’t know what part my heritage plays in my work, because it is me. Because of my Blackness, I may be more culturally competent than others, understanding the knowledge, skills, and attitude required to bridge cultural, ethnic, and linguistic gaps in healthcare. I also understand the power of my voice and the weight of the color of my skin when I walk into a patients’ room or speak to reporters or sit in the board room. Anyone who says they don’t see my color, doesn’t see ME. My father told me that I will always have to work 10 times harder because of my brown skin.

The greatest gift is when a patient gives me a hug and says “I’m proud of you” or a little girl says “I want to be like you when I grow up.”

Who is one person you admire and why?

George Jefferson. As I liken myself to Olivia Pope, I liken my father to George Jefferson. I admire, revere, respect, cherish and adore my father. Like George, my dad was on the shorter side as well as brash, arrogant, combative, swaggering, stubborn, but he was also smart, brave, kind, chivalrous, honest, loving, and devoted father and husband. Like George my dad was born in Harlem, in the projects, where he lived with his mother and 3 older brothers. He moved to Boston and became an ambitious entrepenuer who started his own accounting firm. I could go anywhere is Boston and say that I was Roy Neblett’s daughter and I was treated well. He didn’t miss any performance or game I played. He understood the importance of daddy daughter relationship and took time to nurture and cultivate it; and most importantly He believed in me.

Erica Jones {Owner, Turquoise Cup}

erica jones black history month women

Erica is the owner of the Turquoise Cup, Hoboken’s very own coffee + pottery shop, a unique place that allows people to get inspired, create, work, or socialize. The Turquoise Cup values and supports the community by selling locally sourced baked goods and coffee and showcasing local artists’ work.

What role does your heritage play in the work that you do?

This question required some self-reflection as I have never defined my business ambitions by my heritage.  However, it is not lost on me that I am one of few black business owners in Hoboken. Quite often when talking with people, there is a look of shock when it is learned that *I* am the owner. I am often asked if I have a partner, which I feel fairly-confident, would not be asked if I were white or male. While my background is not the focus of my business, it is in those moments that I am reminded, yet validated of the hard work, perseverance and creativity it took to get to where I am now. To that end, it has only been with the support of other women in our community that have helped me to navigate the many nuances of building a business, creating a career and having a sense of purpose and direction.

Who is one person you admire and why?

My mother is an educator and has always served others as a teacher and administrator. She was always very active within her sorority focusing on efforts to build and enrich her community. Being exposed to this sense of altruism helped me to understand the value within supporting one another giving back to one’s community.

Oneika Mays {Yoga Teacher, Massage Therapist}

okeika black history month women

You can find Oneika teaching yoga at various studios throughout Hudson County {SunMoon, Surya, Yoga in the Heights, and FlorYoga to name a few}. She is also a massage therapist and also brings her yoga-teaching skills to jails and prisons.

What role does your heritage play in the work that you do?

I think that by showing up as a Black bi-sexual woman anywhere in a space that is traditionally white it’s automatically assumed that I have a voice that speaks for a group of people whether that is true or not. I was raised with a strong sense of cultural pride and think that influences how I see the world and how I play a role in changing it. I care deeply about self-care for women of color and think it’s important to take time to connect with ourselves and spirit. In this active political-climate I think that taking care of your body and mind is essential. One of my favorite writers, Bell Hooks, wrote that love is an action word. I think I strive to do that by practicing the tenets of yoga and meditation I am loving myself. This creates space for me to send love out into the world.

Who is one person you admire and why?

I don’t just have one person I admire. My immediate and extended family has been an incredible support. The way that they live their lives with passion, pride and purpose inspires me daily.

Miquel-Catlyn Gabbidon {Digital Content Strategist, The Foundry}

miquel black history month women

This Jersey Girl {from Morristown to Jersey City} has the definition of a “cool” job as the digital content strategist for The Foundry {Time Inc.’s custom content studio in NYC} where she works with well-known brands like Travel + Leisure, Instyle, People, and Food & Wine. Miquel also started her very own lifestyle blog, Wait But Why.

Miquel shares:

I was born in Morristown, NJ and have lived in Jersey my whole life! However, I have a very diverse background that has taken me all over the world physically and virtually — my mother is Irish and Puerto Rican, with roots in Spain, France, and Ireland. My father was born in Jamaica and came to the US when he was 14 years old. My grandma had to leave her children behind in Jamaica for several years while she worked in the US in order to save enough money to sponsor them for citizenship. Ironically enough, my dad actually lives in Sligo, Ireland now with my step-mom who is Irish (and my four younger half-siblings).

What role does your heritage play in the work that you do?

Media and diversity have almost have a troubled past. Almost 40 percent of the U.S. identifies as nonwhite and women make up more than half of the population, but popular media outlets still remain mostly run by white males. I’ll be honest, it’s not something that I think about every single day, but it’s something that definitely affects me everyday. Not having a diverse media landscape can have effects on the individual and society as a whole. For me, it can sometimes make me doubt my place in a meeting or a conference when I can be the single person of color in the room.

But what’s important for me to remember is that my family worked so hard to get to where they were so that I could sit in that room, and know I belong and fight to make my voice heard. Part of my job at the Foundry is to also work with and find “influencers” or public figures to work on campaigns with our clients. One of the reasons I started Wait But Why, was because I really didn’t see myself represented in a lot of these people.

At first, it made me question myself — thinking there was something wrong with me and that I had to alter myself to fit their standard of beauty. But then I thought, “Wait, But Why Not?” Why can’t I be a public figure for other people with similar skin color, body types, lifestyle? Because of my diverse background and heritage, I believe I can better appreciate the diversity in us all and see the importance to share it. For me, no one is just a race, a nationality, or socio-economic status. So many different factors go into who I am as a person and I would never want someone to judge me on just one aspect. I think this point of view helps me in both of my roles, because on one front I am a living breathing embodiment of diversity in the workplace and I wouldn’t have gotten there without all the strong courageous men and women before me. And on the other front, I am taking matters into my own hands and creating a platform where I see myself represented and want to inspire others to do the same.

Who is one person you admire and why?

I admire the women in my family so much. I really could not pick one. Each of them are strong, independent ladies who have forged their own way in each of their lives. I know I got my strong-will and perseverance to work for what I want from them. Without them I truly would not be the same.

ENI {Singer, Songwriter, Record Producer}

eni black history month women

ENI is a lifelong Hoboken resident — as well as a local singer, songwriter, record producer, and vocal engineer. She records herself in her bedroom where she says she’s “usually alone and going crazy on the mic.” Then, she engineers all the pieces to sound super dope. She was also a Hoboken Girl of the Week last year!

What role does your heritage play in the work that you do?  

I would say that dancing is a huge part of my heritage(culture). As an Afro-Latinx we have a very flavorful taste in drum patters. We are always shaking our hips to something and that has influenced the way I shape my records.

Who is one person you admire and why?  

I admire my grandmother the most. She was brave enough to travel over to this country to give us a better life.

These are just a few of the MANY women that inspire us on a regular basis in Hudson County. It was pretty hard to choose! 

Who inspires you? Share with us in the comments.


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