Have a genuine heart for change: Don’t jump on the bandwagon of a trending topic because it looks cool or sounds fun to do. Instead, personally resonate with your mission and/or goal; it will be easier to invest your time, energy, and resources into the heavy work you will be up against.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chanel West.
Chanel West is a South Side Chicago native with a love for travel, tacos, and tequila- in that order. She is an Aries, an avid book lover, romance enthusiast, and self-proclaimed taco professional. When she isn’t using all her creative energies for her brand “Chanellie”, she is either jet-setting off to a new adventure, hanging with her besties Raven and Linda, spending time with family, or at a good Sunday brunch with unlimited mimosas.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us about how you grew up?
THANK YOU for having me, seriously. This is an amazing opportunity and I am humbly grateful to share my story. I grew up on the south side of Chicago to a single mother of 4 kids. We didn’t live in the best neighborhoods but also not the worst either. My mom did what she could to keep us from getting trapped in the element of the street lifestyle and that often kept us from being stationary for more than a year. I used to call my family traveling gypsies because we literally moved at least once a year until I left to live with my uncle my senior year of highschool. My mom never wanted to settle for mediocre when it came to her kids so we often moved so we could be in better areas.
I grew up being the oldest of four kids. My mom started her own transportation business when I was five years old- leaving her corporate job one day on her lunch break and never coming back. She always tells me how she bought her first school bus with her last 100 dollars from Paige Transportation and had two kids starting out as her first customers for her first school season. I guess that’s where I get my drive and ambition from because I will invest my last dollar into myself before anything else.
My mom wasn’t home a lot growing up so I had to babysit and help raise my siblings. I became like a step-in mom and would often be the person they came to when our mom wasn’t home. It was a lot of pressure honestly and it did make me miss out on a few things other kids had experienced, but I don’t regret it. I understood that if our mom didn’t go out there and hustle, we wouldn’t eat or have the nice things we asked for. The bright side about being at home with my siblings most of the time was we had the house to ourselves and would have so much fun doing things we shouldn’t do until we heard that loud transmission of our mom’s van parking out front.
Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
This is a good question. I’m an avid reader and have been since I was a child. I used to get books for Christmas as a present and not as punishment. The first book that came to mind is my favorite book, Coldest Winter Ever by Sistah Soulja. She is one of the best African-American Adult Writers and I have been a fan of her work for years. Literally ask anyone from the hood if they read that book and I bet more than half would say yes. I remember reading that book in sixth grade in Mr. Ali’s class after it was passed around to me like illegal contraband.
I love that book because it showcases how far someone will go to make it out and keep themselves there. While my upbringing did not exactly mirror the main protagonist, Winter, I could relate to her fight for protecting her family, their assets, and not succumbing to the unforgiving street life they desperately wanted to control. It is something I always thought about, even into adulthood. I would ask myself questions like “How much do you want this?”, “How far are you willing to go to get what you want?”, “What are your limits?”. Every time I ask myself those questions every now and again, my answers change because my determination and drive heighten. It was only recently that I finally understood the lengths people go to get what they want and what they are willing to lose for it.
You are currently leading an organization that is helping to make a positive social impact. Can you tell us a little about what you and your organization are trying to create in our world today?
I started a business during the COVID-19 pandemic that catered towards selfcare. I initially did this as a way to de-stress and find ways to stay busy during quarantine. As an extrovert, you can only imagine what being in the house for weeks on end does to you mentally and emotionally. I took back to my hobby in highschool of making handmade, natural bath, beauty, and body products that had roots in my African ancestry. As a Black woman, I moisturize with natural butters and oils that are indigenous to Africa for my healthy skin. I started making bath salts, body butters and skin oils after experimenting with things I enjoyed and it eventually grew into a business organically.
My mission was to create a self-care brand that highlighted my “extra” personality while reflecting my alter-ego “Elle Woods” from Legally Blonde. Chanellie came into existence naturally. During a global pandemic, you can easily get caught up in the stress, paranoia, and hysterics of the pandemic. People lost jobs, wages, and sometimes their mental health. I created Chanellie as a way to assist in promoting moments of peace in a fun, frilly, and fabulous way that was not only healthy for the body but fun to do.
However, I did not want to simply promote self-care but also create opportunities for employment and trade for Black men in my community and those akin to it. Growing up out south in Chicago and living in cities across the country with limited opportunity, I saw one commonality- people who looked like me turning to poor options that kept them in the same cycle. It made no sense to keep this narrative of holding people accountable for their choices when their choices weren’t of quality to begin with. You have BIPOC people literally traveling outside their community, sometimes two-three hours away, for employment opportunities where half their wage goes to just getting there. This not only taxes their financial health but their mental and physical health as well.
I grew tired of standing on the sidelines, waiting for businesses to see the value in investing in our community. I decided to do things myself and create a business that would hire Black men from my area and give them not just employment but opportunity to learn a trade and skill that can be transferable. My goal is to one day partner with a community college in the area to allow the individuals that will be employed by Chanellie the chance to earn college credit in an aligned subject that would give them an opportunity to earn certification, credentialing, or a future degree towards their future.
Can you tell us the backstory about what originally inspired you to feel passionate about this cause and to do something about it?
I’m a Black woman from the south side of Chicago. All the world knows about Chicago is “Chi-Raq” and baby, we don’t claim that nonsense. Outside of the historical and systemic oppression that created the blueprint for the current crisis we have with our inner-city neighborhoods, we don’t have quality choices for people to choose from. When people have poor options, of course they will choose the least favorable one that gives instant gratification.
All we are trying to do in the hood is make it. That’s it, that’s all. I won’t let anyone disrespect the hustle and ambition of my community because despite what the narrative says, it’s simply people wanting to create a better life for themselves and their family. Chanellie was born as a quality option for people to choose as means to an end while also being a symbol of hope for future businesses to feel the need to also invest in often marginalized communities. It’s so much untapped talent that given the right resources, could do amazing things. They just simply need the chance to do so.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
The most interesting thing that has happened since starting my business is honestly how it was founded. I was living in Jackson, Mississippi at the time and was living with a guy I had known for fourteen years at the time. We met on a fan fiction website of all places and our friendship moved from offline to text and phone to us finally meeting up. We hit it off right away, or so I thought, and ended up moving in together.
Fast forward to May 2020, I’m confused as to what to do during this global pandemic. I can’t travel, I can’t work on the Non-Profit I just started in November 2019 because it’s based in travel, and I don’t want to teach anymore because I was burnt out after 4 ½ years. I decided to take up my hobby of making bath, body, and beauty products and decided to entertain the idea of mass producing it for other people. I tell my boyfriend at the time and he literally laughs in my face. He was so discouraging and unsupportive of my ambition, even going as far as to telling me I wouldn’t reach my goal of being my family’s first millionaire by 30.
A fire ignited in me that had never been lit before and I decided to file for my LLC and start my business the next day. I’m an Aries and the last thing you want to do is to tell me I can’t do something. I will not only do it well, but do it in spite of you to make you regret speaking doubt on my name and reputation.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
This is my favorite question. One thing about Chanellie is we shy away from partnering with “influencers”. We believe that the best people to hear about our products are our Kittens themselves.
One kitten in particular reached out about how she was super excited for the Kuma-Chan DIY Kit she was receiving in the mail because she had been having a really hard time with her home life and needed a break. She explained that there was a lot of stress concerning a family member’s health atop of her being a full-time essential worker and it was taking a toll on her mental health. She wanted to let us know that all her bath products she purchased previously along with the DIY KIT she ordered made her very happy and encouraged her to practice more self-care.
Just getting that type of feedback makes me so happy and emotional because Chanellie isn’t a large, faceless conglomerate corporation. Chanellie is the dream of a little girl from the south side of Chicago that hand makes all her products and started her business in her best friend’s kitchen. It makes me so overjoyed to know that real people are benefiting from Chanellie the way I had hoped they would when I first had the vision.
How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I define “Making A Difference” as being a creative thinker that goes against the grain for justice. Whether you are an activist, business owner, teacher, lawyer, healthcare worker, or fast food manager; what you do everyday is an opportunity to create a difference in someone’s life.
Whether that be writing a positive note on someone’s receipt, teaching in a new, play-based way, providing kind, friendly service, or marching in the streets in front of city hall, every day is an opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life- big or small. Every wave was once a small ripple.
Many young people would not know what steps to take to start to create the change they want to see. But you did. What are some of the steps you took to get your project started? Can you share the top 5 things you need to know to become a changemaker? Please tell us a story or example for each.
This is an excellent question and to be honest, I had to think about it for a second.
The top 5 things you need to know to be a changemaker are as follows:
- Have a genuine heart for change: Don’t jump on the bandwagon of a trending topic because it looks cool or sounds fun to do. Instead, personally resonate with your mission and/or goal; it will be easier to invest your time, energy, and resources into the heavy work you will be up against.
- Have Courage: If what you are fighting to change was easy, it would be done by now. It takes courage to go against the status quo and establish a new routine. You may sometimes do it alone but everything grows from a single seed.
- Celebrate your small wins: Whatever you are looking to change or create, be sure to celebrate the small victories along the way. There will always be something to do, somewhere to go, or someone that needs your help. Take time to celebrate the small milestones of your accomplishments because you deserve it.
- Let your personality shine!: There is only one you. So what if what you want to do has already been done. How can YOU do it your way and make it even better? How can YOU put your stamp on this particular project? Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Someone may not always remember what you did, but how you made them feel.
- Believe in yourself: I don’t care what anyone says, the first step to doing anything is the one you make on your own. You can have the world cheering for you but it will mean nothing if you aren’t your own cheerleader. Believe in yourself, your talents, your gifts, and your vision. Everything else will fall into place.
What are the values that drive your work?
The values that drive my work are simple actually.
They are: Faith, Family, and Hustle.
I walk by faith, not by sight. That means, I believe in my gifts, talents, ambition, and my personal, religious faith when making decisions. I don’t worry about the next person or the next thing because what is for me has already been written.
My family is the driving force to my ambition and determination. When you are raised by a single parent and you watch them struggle, you want to do anything you can to help. My mom refused to allow me to work in highschool because she said my only job was to get good grades so I can get into a good university. Now, I’m using those degrees to build a business so she won’t have to struggle another day in her life.
Lastly, my hustle is something I hold as a core value. If you don’t have the grit and determination to fight for what you want despite all obstacles, then you don’t want it bad enough. You will pull fire out of thin air if you needed to if you were on the verge of freezing to death. That is hustle: making the impossible possible with sheer will and creativity.
Many people struggle to find what their purpose is and how to stay true to what they believe in. What are some tools or daily practices that have helped you to stay grounded and centred in who you are, your purpose, and focused on achieving your vision?
You will be tempted, most definitely, to make an equivalent exchange. Sometimes, it sounds pretty and alluring but what is it costing you? For me, ways I remained centered in who I am as Chanel West is to center myself around the people who know me best and constantly affirm my purpose each day through written and spoken affirmations.
The people closest to you will always keep you humbled- my mother especially will check me if I even raise my voice higher than hers. The people that know you, the real you, will always remind you of yourself and who you are. Having a good team, a genuine team of people that sincerely want your success, will always keep you from getting lost in the flashy lights, chaos, and commotion. They know the real you and will love you regardless of the outcome.
I’m also a huge advocate of positive thought and a healthy mindset. I verbally affirm my intentions through prayer and then write them on my wall (because I’m a visual learner) as a healthy reminder. Constantly surrounding yourself with your goals and saying them aloud daily in whatever way feels best for you makes them real and alive.
In my work, I aim to challenge us all right now to take back our human story and co-create a vision for a world that works for all. I believe youth should have agency over their own future. Can you please share your vision for a world you want to see? I’d love to have you describe what it looks like and feels like. As you know, the more we can imagine it, the better we can manifest it!
I love this question! As a former Educator of 4 ½ years, I always told my students to be the change they wish to seek. It sounded cliche but it’s ultimately true.
I would love to see a world where we have a healthy representation of all philosophies and identities. I would love to see a world where we normalize the beauty in our differences and celebrate them together without one feeling outshined by another. I want to see our youth not being afraid to lead the charge in changing the status quo with their imagination and creativity. I want to see people having the chance to live comfortably without having to fight one other for slim opportunities. I want to see new ideas in technology, education, healthcare, housing, and infrastructure become the blueprint for a more cohesive society that doesn’t separate us based on socioeconomics . Lastly, I want to see more equity over equality for better opportunities that will ultimately uplift large populations into better positions of security and stability.
We are powerful co-creators and our minds and intentions create our reality. If you had limitless resources at your disposal, what specific steps would take to bring your vision to fruition?
If I had limitless resources at my disposal, I would do so many things. I will use my community in Chicago as an example. The first thing I would do is buy the neighborhood homes and create affordable housing for all that is scaled on income ranging from free housing to 30% of total income. I would then give incentives for residents of higher income brackets to move into these communities without gentrifying housing.
I would COMPLETELY fund our public education system with ample resources, materials, and PLENTY of quality, highly trained staff that will promote a curriculum that is constructivist and Project-Based while integrating social-emotional learning (SEL). Classroom sizes will decrease to meet Early-Childhood Student-Teacher ratios while the school day will implement break times in between classes.
I would dismantle the current local political structure and create a more equitable representation according to community and identity. I would finance small businesses from 70% BIPOC business owners to create larger scaled opportunities that would positively affect the local community in terms of recreation and employment. I would provide free two-year degrees and certifications to all families with heavy emphasis on STEM and Art/Technology.
I would establish a Youth Board that provides insight into creating recreational and educational opportunities in partnership with businesses throughout the city. I would fully finance Mile Square Health Center as the primary healthcare provider for our community by offering free primary care and mental health for all- regardless of income. I would provide free low-energy modes of transportation for all that do not emit carbon emissions
Those are a few things I would personally do on a local level. On a larger, Federal scale, I have a more grand list.
I see a world driven by the power of love, not fear. Where human beings treat each other with humanity. Where compassion, kindness and generosity of spirit are characteristics we teach in schools and strive to embody in all we do. What changes would you like to see in the educational system? Can you explain or give an example?
This is the question I am most EXCITED to answer. As a former teacher, what our students need is to learn how to develop and build 21st Century Skills that involve healthy communication, collaboration, and ability to lead and take direction without reacting by intense emotion. Many of our students, especially lower-income students, are in environments that do not promote healthy social and emotional skill development. This leads to adults that guide their behavior on emotional reaction rather than logic. Children are malleable and learn through direct interaction with their environment- whether it be in the home, school, at the grocery store, in the car, etc. Creating environments for children to learn toxic behavior is how we perpetuate toxic behavioral patterns.
Children learn and create neural networks based on how they see and perceive the world and their place in it. Daily interactions and observations of the world around them create a template for them to follow and internalize as the standard. In order for us to create a more loving society, we need to lead by example through our own daily interactions with one another and instill the skills for our students to interact with one another in a healthy, non-threatening way.
We need to have social-emotional learning (SEL) be a core subject throughout our children’s academic years. SEL moves beyond recognizing emotions but how to use those complex emotions we as humans feel and direct them to healthy actions that do not harm ourselves or others. Communication is one of the biggest factors in creating conflict. Teaching children how to healthy express themselves verbally and non-verbally gives them the power to navigate in their space and environment to better understand situations and choose the best response.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
One thing I would tell young people about why they should consider making a positive impact on society is that if you don’t, who will? Personally, I got so tired of waiting for opportunities that I decided to create them myself. I refuse to allow my black brothers, cousins, friends, and other BIPOC like them feel like they have to beg for a job from a business that doesn’t even value them. So, I created Chanellie. I specifically target Black men- specifically formerly incarcerated- to gain employment and skills.
It all starts with YOU. What do YOU get so frustrated with? What do YOU get upset about? What do YOU feel needs to happen? Lastly, what are YOU going to do about it?
Don’t be afraid to take action and take charge in leading the way for positive change. You never know what you may cause to happen as a result.
Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
To be honest, unless you have the direct line upstairs, the only person I would want to have lunch with is my son, Isaac Henry Taylor Dilworth. My son is my inspiration for everything I do. I gave birth May 20th, 2016 at 24 weeks pregnant to a beautiful baby boy. I promised before his transition on May 30th, 2016 I would make him proud to call me his mother. My only goal was to be able to give him the world. I want to tell him about all the good he inspired me to do and all the love I have for him, I give through what I do.
So please tag anyone you know that can make that happen. I would do anything to see my son one more time. Maybe Aunty Oprah can call someone with her amazing finesse.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I would absolutely love to connect with all you amazing kittens out there! You can find me on Instagram, Tik-Tok, and Pinterest using @lovechanellie and our website at www.lovechanellie.com
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Thank you for having me! I loved every moment of this experience.