Four months ago, Bree Clarke sat down in a wooden chair, surrounded by green flourishing plants and colorful artwork.
Clarke shared her excitement about the small businesses booming around her street in North Oak Cliff.
Outside her event space, Litte House of Bishop Arts, the sound of heavy construction equipment beeped and hummed.
Clarke gushed about events, workshops, and retreats she planned throughout the summer, in hopes that women would find a connection while attending.
And then everything changed.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit and small businesses across the country were forced to close their doors.
“When the world slowed down, that was my time to rest," she said.
And through that rest, Clarke found new ways to use her platform to share values she’s always believed in — long-before the year 2020.
"The Iman Project has been building this bridge of unity between people of all colors for a long time," Clarke said.
Now, after the beginning of a new civil rights movement and renewed support for local businesses, Clarke feels her voice is more accepted.
The Iman Project
Clarke is a Black business owner, mother, and wife who has celebrated diversity and unifying the community for years.
She founded The Iman Project to bring women together through various workshops including calligraphy, floral designs, painting, pottery, and planting.
Clarke's goal is to show "the power of diversity and how it can become a community."
Clarke says diversity is more than race.
"I feel that it is location, style, age, background," she says. “You have to know live diversity, breathe it, and I feel that we have kind of lost that touch. I feel like it’s just a word to use, with committees and the way corporates use it.”
That's why her business is built upon the foundation of welcoming everyone to the table.
'Getting the net pulled out from under'
Clarke describes herself as a walking second chance when reflecting on her time of serving one year in jail after failing to check in with probation officials. It was after her twin sons were born.
“I literally had to get the net pulled out from under me, to actually evolve and became who I needed to be," she said.
Once there, she met other women who had entrepreneurship ideas and experience but had no one to believe in them and push them.
"It's mostly that that's where I needed to be at that time. I wasn't better than them, we were just there and I liked to encourage them," she said.
Clarke made friendships with five other women who she still keeps in touch with today. They are all now small business owners.
Clarke says those small business owners have not returned to prison to this day.
"They had something they didn't even know they were capable of doing and it taught me that I am not better than anyone," she said.
Clarke says when she got out, it was a true shift and change. She credits her husband to be her saving grace through it all.
"I didn't want to ever go back."
But she says, if she would have never gone to jail, she wouldn't be the person she is today.
Clarke describes herself as someone who is still healing and through her healing is able to help her community.
'A seat at the table'
Clarke went from restaurant and club owner in Houston to a lifestyle workshop and event host in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
"As I grew and evolved, the name and the meaning behind The Iman Project grew and evolved too," she said.
The humble beginning stemmed from Clarke and her husband building affordable wood tables for families.
Clarkes’ dad taught her husband Carlos how to build the first table, which became her first piece of inventory.
They began to build and sell the tables on Facebook for an affordable price.
"Carlos and I have lived in our car and came from nothing and I wanted to make sure all families had the opportunity to come to the table, discuss what went on with their day and connect more," she said.
Now, even in her present-day virtual workshops, creating "a seat at the table" for everyone is at the core of everything Clarke does.
She says when she first started attending community events, she felt as though they were done as more of a trend and that organizers mostly sought ticket sales.
“I felt that it was more than brunch, it’s more than a conference or summit. It’s more than an all-white venue. It’s so much more than what we’re trying to put out. I wanted to create and show that women empowering women is more than a hashtag.”
Clarke says at the beginning of her career she struggled with feeling welcomed at her own table.
“A lot of the times while I was preparing a seat at the table I was unable to sit at the table because of who I once was.”
But she says your background and past does not define you.
Pivoting during a pandemic
Clarke is no stranger to facing adversity. That’s why when the COVID-19 pandemic happened, she reevaluated how to keep her business afloat and help others.
“I never forget my why and I never forget where I came from. I never forget just as quickly as you could have it, you could lose it all," Clarke said.
She shifted her workshops online and sends out weekly newsletters highlighting other small businesses. Within those newsletters, she also shares date night ideas and at-home school resources for parents.
Clarke says she never wants things to only be focused on her. That's why she partners with local florists and farmers when finding flowers for her new virtual workshops, Bree Blooms.
"When you have more than need, build a longer table, not a higher fence," she said.
Clarke reminds the community "hope and dreams are not canceled" during 2020.
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