Jacquelyn Clemmons, a birth and traditional postpartum doula, certified breastfeeding specialist, and author and has spent the past 20 years helping families from various backgrounds and ethnicities to have the care they need as they experience the joys of birth and the challenges of nursing. Jacquelyn founded Okionu Birth Foundation, which assists new families with weekly meal delivery and weekly group support for 6 weeks, to build on her passion for improving the lives of individuals and families.
What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
Jacquelyn Clemmons: To me, entrepreneurship means sacrifice and freedom. By choosing to work hard and sacrifice in certain seasons I know I will obtain the freedom I desire, not only for myself but for my loved ones. It is also the ability to pave my own path and show others they can do the same.
How did your company come to be?
JC: My company Is literally a dream come true. As a birthworker and maternal health advocate, I am in the trenches with families discussing their pregnancy and postpartum needs on some level almost daily. One morning I awoke from a very detailed dream outlining how I could serve families at a higher level and positively impact perinatal mental and physical health. When I wrote out everything I’d seen, it came together like a puzzle piece. The vision was distilled to address the two most common areas of need most of my clients expressed – meal support and mental health support. Okionu Birth Foundation was birthed that day.
How has your business changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
JC: My current business model was created during the pandemic. Instead of in person services, we’ve created a system that supports meal delivery and online group support. One of the unexpected connections was that despite a pandemic, postpartum families need to be resting, bonding, and healing at home anyway in those first few weeks. So, what started as an accommodation for COVID, quickly became the template for our services moving forward.
What is your proudest and darkest moment so far?
JC: One of my proudest moments so far is bringing awareness of the importance of perinatal mental health and meal support to a national radio platform. Receiving feedback and support from those who listened in and shared with others let me know that folks were having conversations with their loved ones and family members and that’s a part of what we need to shift the culture.
One of the darkest moments I’ve experienced so far is coming to the realization that there are strong systems and processes in place that serve to perpetuate inequity, especially in the postpartum support space.
How is your company changing the landscape?
JC: Okionu Birth Foundation is changing the way postpartum families experience this vulnerable season. By providing meals and group therapy support we are letting families know its ok pause and that they can and will be supported during those first six weeks home. Delivering meals to both parents provides grounding, nurturing wrap-around support that says, “Hey, we know your navigating a tough season…this is one less thing to worry about.” Providing culturally sensitive group support for both new parents separately also provide a safe space for folks to hash out their feelings and frustrations without judgement. We are changing the landscape of how the postpartum season is viewed and experienced. Instead of dreading the hormonal shifts and deficiencies often associated with postpartum, we are shifting the narrative and experience to a deeply nourishing and community supported one.
What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
JC: I wish I knew how Important the team is in building a strong, sustainable organization. My previous entrepreneurial endeavors were as a solopreneur. I quickly learned that I needed a strong team who excels in their Individual lanes to help build and expand the vision.
What advice/credo do you live by as you grow the business / what is your professional and personal mission statement?
JC: My advice is “Seek to Serve but Charge Your Worth.” Often in service-based businesses or community minded organizations we see a “poor, righteous teacher” mindset. While I value and understand the desire to immerse yourself in the experiences of the people you serve, I also now know I can be far more efficient in service when I am financially, emotionally, and spiritually stable. It’s Important to be a good steward over your time, energy, and resources.
Where do you find inspiration when faced with challenges?
JC: When faced with challenges I remember those who came before me. They endured hardships I can’t even imagine. It gives me motivation and increases my mental toughness when I begin to think that things are getting too hard. I also look to the future; I keep my children’s faces at the front of my mind and think about what legacy I want to leave for them. Not just financial, but the legacy of determination, going after your dreams, while in service to your community.
What does “success” look like for you? What do you think will help you achieve it?
JC: “Success” for me is positively impacting the postpartum families we serve for generations to come. Reframing postpartum support and expectations and having that knowledge passed on to future generations Is a huge success. Continuing to bring the conversation forward will help us achieve this. Funding organizations like Okionu Birth Foundation and other businesses providing these services will be key. Both Cultural and Financial shifts are key.
Has personal or professional “success” changed for you since the COVID-19 pandemic?
JC: Yes, personally I have been able to better manage and assess my needs during the pandemic. I was able to eliminate major stressors and add back in only what Is nourishing and helpful for myself and family. Professionally, it has also been a great season. I’ve been able to connect more readily with likeminded peers and resources since things have shifted to a virtual format. Opportunities that may have taken longer to get to have become more readily available during this time.
What’s it like to work alone or with your partners? What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams?
JC: YOU NEED A TEAM! As an entrepreneur who is also a parent, I cannot overstate the importance of a team. Working alone is the fastest way to increase stress and burnout in your life. I’d encourage my fellow entrepreneurs to assess their strengths and where they work most efficiently, build your team around those areas and interview folks to make sure they are also working in their zone of genius. Build from there and create a culture that celebrates and encourages everyone LOVING what they do.
Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day? How has it changed in recent months?
JC: My most grounding ritual is starting my day with prayer. Before I get out of bed each morning, I am expressing gratitude for that fact that I awoke to see another day and asking for guidance on how I should allocate my energy and time for the day. After about 30 minutes of quiet time and a cup of tea, I begin my day.
What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as, as in, what do you want your legacy to be?
JC: As an entrepreneur I’d like my legacy to be one of service, strength, and commitment to growth. No matter where someone meets me on my journey, I want them to always be able to say I continued to grow and serve…no matter what.
What is a quote or some words of wisdom that help get you through the tough days?
JC: KEEP GOING. Its super simple, but that’s the message. No matter what, KEEP GOING.
Have you experienced mentorship in your career? Do you feel it was easily available to you?
JC: More recently in my career, I have experienced mentorship. It wasn’t always as easily accessible as it is now. I do believe that the pandemic, social unrest, and the ability to connect online more has shifted this reality.
Who are the people who have mentored or influenced you in your life or career? How has their influence changed the trajectory of your entrepreneurial journey?
JC: Makisha Boothe, founder of Sistahbiz, has been an amazing business coach and mentor for me in the recent months building my organization. She was able to share the challenges she experienced starting a non-profit and guide me through, so I didn’t have to make the same mistakes. James Oliver, founder of Parentpreneur Foundation has also had a tremendous influence on my journey. His organization has provided me with invaluable insight and resources to help me grow and cultivate my business on another level. The Mentor Makers program has connected me to amazing mentors I’d otherwise never have access to which has provided me with valuable insight, feedback, and perspective. As you can see having mentors who pour into you as you grow can really be a game changer.
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