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Conversations with the Inspiring Leona Baker

Today we’d like to introduce you to Leona Baker.

Leona, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
West Philadelphia born and raised. ~ Will Smith

As a native Philadelphian, I grew up a Baker girl. Our block consisted of seven-row houses next to the world’s largest playground, Fairmount Park. My mother picked out her home. She wanted us to have access to the park daily and for us to be close to our grandparents. We literally lived down the street from them and Uncle Johnnie before he relocated to New Jersey.

One particular day, I remember being on the porch with my grandfather watching some of my neighborhood friends do “steps”. I jumped down to partake. I loved to dance and wanted to try it. My grandfather, however, called me over to him and said, “Leona Baker, you can’t do that.” When I wanted to know why I could not do that, he explained, “because you are a Baker girl”. Somehow I knew that I was different because of my connection to him. It separated me apart from my surroundings which included my desire to be whimsical at times without thinking about the ramifications, but he knew. Poppie protected me and all his granddaughters fiercely, even from ourselves.

My parents were married until the day my mother died but they were also separated for many years prior to her passing. It was my grandfather who stepped up to ensure my siblings, and I were not impacted by allowing us to live with he and Grandmom, on and off for years. At times, it was because we needed to, and other times, because we wanted to. Poppie was home.

In every lesson, as a child, my grandfather had a scripture to share in every moment. When I use to watch him work on things around the house or in his garden, he would quote scripture. “Whatever you do Leona Baker, do it with all your might. Colossians 3:23-24”. His love, strength, wisdom, and example drives me until this very day.

My grandmother, Leonie Poitier Baker, was my love and my namesake. My daddy, Leon Baker Sr., named me after him, his mother and my great grandmother. Grandmom was a very beautiful, humble, sweet and wise woman. She loved her family and could cook food that would render any man helpless. Essentially her biscuits would bring neighbors from around the corner to our door asking could they have some rolls to go. She was a proud West Indian from Cat Island, Bahamas. She often shared stories about where her superstitions came from and her cousin, Sidney Poitier. She was so proud and wanted to thank him for being an inspiration to our family. Who would have thought, I was blessed to do that for her here in Houston while she was still living.

My parents are very unique. They loved hard, disagreed hard, and are two of the most peculiar people I have ever known. I remember being a child and saying to myself, “Mommy and Daddy just don’t know how to be married like Grandmom and Poppie. Yet, I am truly blessed to be their daughter, and I am still reaping blessings because they are my parents. I am number two out of my parents union, The Baker Four, Deborah, Leona, Leon Jr., and Marion. Daddy also gave me two brothers, Lamar, Marquis and my youngest sister Cassaundra through other relationships during my parent’s separation.

I have a host of cousins that I refer to as Bakers and Brownies, from both sides of my family. I must say, cousins, are truly a gift. I have memories for days. My uncles were also instrumental in helping to raise my siblings and I. Two of them, Uncle Shermie (Sherman) Baker and Uncle Azor Baker never had any children, and there is nothing they would not do for us. In fact, every time I see my uncle Azor he has something for me and reminds me I am his Brown Sugar, the one and only Brown Sugar.

With that being said, I was destined to be free of a poverty mindset. As a child, my life was not perfect, and our family had our fair share of issues, but we had all of the basic essentials needed to have a happy and quality lifestyle.

Although I was not raised being taught about how to acquire wealth for generations, it was my education and my desire to want more “Freedom” that would lead me to taking steps to do what I love to do while systematically building wealth in the process. It was through exposure that my mother also planted so many seeds.

It was the prayers of my grandparents and parents that carried God’s favor in my life. It was my church, Second Baptist in Houston Texas, that exposed me to single parents in variations, culturally and socioeconomically speaking. This helped me to understand my situation and to be better prepared for the many barriers coming my way. It was Inspire Women that helped me to regain my spiritual focus when I felt broken and bruised from life happenings as a woman.

Why does this matter and what is the connection to my business? Resources. For almost 26 years, I have been a single parent, and the resources I acquired along the way changed the trajectory of my story. I know what its like to be on welfare, food stamps, leap over every barrier, transition off of section eight to purchase property, go back to school, raise exceptional children and shattered just about every statistic attached to the “Black Single Mother”.

I know what its like to have almost a perfect credit score just about my entire life and then having to rebuild that because I became a single mother for the third time when my relationship ended, and my daughter was two years of age. All hell broke out, my employment shifted, my car broke down, every appliance in my home was breaking down, and so many things were changing all at once. I had to pull an extreme amount of weight for my family by myself. Lesson learned. Move on and get it done. With this mindset and experiences, Plans of Action Houston was conceived.

To understand the scope of a new industry and to build properly, eventually, I transitioned out of the non-profit sector and into the educational sector to have more time with my daughter and build Plans of Action Houston, an educational platform. Although I have a few clients, I am in phase one of building behind the scenes and look forward to sharing with the world how my business will benefit them and others during my launch August 2019. This is my passion and part of my purpose as it is extensive.

Mission Statement: Plans of Action Houston exist to empower our ever-growing multicultural communities through exposure, education, and resources for all.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
It has not been a smooth road to becoming a small business owner here in Houston, TX. I love Houston and its definitely fun being single in the city after a 5-year hiatus focusing on my daughter and myself. Houston is home for me unless the love of my life shows up and has different plans to help take our life to another level.

Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States of America. The medical center leads in an exemplary standard for medicine in this nation. In fact, in 2018, according to the US News World Report, Methodist Hospital is the best in Texas. I can personally attest to the life-saving treatment my Daddy received from Memorial Herman Memorial City Medical Center. I am truly blessed to say, I own a home in the Energy Corridor which is the second largest employment center in the region and brings people from all over the world to work and help fuel this economy. In a few years, according to Dr. Stephen Klineberg, the rest of the world is going to look like Houston, demographically speaking. When it comes to how people identify with Houston, its also known as the bible belt, Black Meca, Big heart, the land of milk and honey and more. I was blown away to see all of the Black-owned businesses and Black people in leadership on all levels. That exposure was a game changer for me because Philly was still segregated in some instances by neighborhoods and you really did not think of it that way until you were exposed to other environments.

As destiny would have it, and in true Leona Baker form, I relocated to Houston August of 2005 right as Hurricane Katrina was quickly approaching. My cousin Ryan, Coleman Ferebee, led the way by inviting me to visit with my sons one year for Christmas. We brought the snow with us from Philly only to walk around with no jackets on her in Houston. We were SOLD!

However, it was a bumpy ride getting employed with all the current competition and then displaced Katrina survivors. I would eventually work for Workforce Solutions as an Employment Counselor and later received a promotion as office Facilitator. It was actually Priscilla Smith who told me, and everyone, that I would have my own program someday or business. She appreciated my work ethic and always encouraged me. I still have relationships with many of my Workforce Family till this very day including my supervisors Kevin Rodney and Jacqueline Slade.

Since I had the desire to do more, I moved on. I wanted to work for myself, so I started Consultanting. Eventually, I secured a position to work with Dr. Maya Angelou. With a team of two, Hugo Mojica and Taneisha Lawson, as the Director of Development, I raised $25, 000.00 for the Brilliant Lecture Series my first week of employment courtesy of Marcus Davis of the Breakfast Klub. The team could not believe it and thought I was joking initially.

The rest was God’s favor and strategy because I did not know a lot of people, but I made my way known because I believed in the purpose behind the event. November 2008 through February 2009 I raised over $190,000. Not including all ticket sells. One thing I can say, Houston in its rare multicultural form showed up and showed out! Oddly enough, I do not have any photos with my muse, Dr. Maya Angelou, but I have a lifetime of memories, photos with she and my volunteers, true intimacy and love from her one on one. I also wanted to honor my supervisor’s request at the time, not to take any photos until we took one as a team, but she was not feeling well and had to leave abruptly at some point after she spoke.

Moments with her were priceless. In fact, I entrusted her with my best friend from church at the time, Bridgette Nabors. She was her personal assistant for the night as my duties were many. I sat with her backstage the entire time. The most powerful moment between us was when she thanked me while crying tears of joy. The Church Without Walls serenaded her. Their performance was moving and powerful! Her thank you was not ordinary. It was like she was literally taking in every moment in a way people who are dying do. I only know that, because my mother did the same thing when I played the piano for her a few days before she passed away. That look of “Taking it all in was in her eyes”. Dr. Maya Angelou was not concerned about anything else but that moment.

Later, I moved on to GCCSA, Gulf Coast Community Services Association, the largest Community Action Agency in Texas. That was a blessing and my opportunity to deliver from a programmatic standpoint while meeting many challenges and stringent deadlines with a passion to empower others.

After working there for less than two months, I established a partnership with Dote Inc. raising over $30, 000.00 of in-kind donation and Andrew Green, donated $10,000.00 of non-restricted funds for families in need which GCCSA matched with $10, 000.00. I had to manage my day to day duties while overseeing that project simultaneously but it was worth it. Over 400 people descended upon the House of Blues to partake in a Free Community Concert. Erin Stevenson performed, along with many other performers. Many dignitaries and community leaders such as Wanda Adams were in attendance as well.

As the Operations Manager, I was the first Manager in the history of the agency to develop a program. The Here and Now Program for Women. I was elated and contacted Ms. Felicia Young, mother of Vincent Young, Houston’s famed quarterback although he played for the Tennessee Titans. She and I met when I worked for BLS. So many lives were transformed, from Senior Citizens, middle age women, young women and more. I even met my mentee, Brittany Ray there. She asked me to mentor her, and I told her once I left the agency I would. During one of my seminars, they had to turn some of the ladies away because there was not enough room. They did not anticipate those numbers. I believe at the time the room occupancy was 400 people. A few more major experiences that led to a mindset of building included creating the module for the Ascension to Skills Scholarship Program with HCC. My budget initially started at about $600,000. The program did very well so my budget was increased and we exhausted over $1 million in scholarships.

Fast forward, I was once again, a “dedicated” single mother when my daughter was three due, and I needed to change lanes. All my baby had was me, and life had to move on. For the first time, I understood the value of time over money in a major way. My plan of action allowed me to do something I loved while having more time with my daughter and focusing on my purpose. Mission accomplished!

What should we know about Plans of Action Houston? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
What sets Plans of Action Houston apart is my commitment to being a lifelong learner, my courage and connections. There is no cookie-cutter approach for providing services. Some things we all need as business owners are exposure, coaching, collaboration, connections, and developing. Who coaches the coach? I would say I am learning from some of the best here in Houston.

Within the last few years, I have learned from and/or been developed by Denise Hamilton, CEO of Watch Her Work, CleRenda McGraddy of Project Push, Kristi Jackson of Women CEO Project and Jonathon Sprinkles, The Connection Coach. I appreciate the passion that all of these local leaders possess and how they literally poured into me and others in need of the information they possess.

As an Educational Consultant, I will be meeting people where they are in order for them to have the best quality life possible. Typically, I have worked with people in poverty, but my services will provide anyone wanting to advance and that surpasses poverty, that covers all. One of my roles is an Action Coach in which I to help launch businesses and with their growth expansion. One of the recently developed businesses I helped to establish is with Girl GLOW Up. Sherri Smith-Norwood is a 16-year educator, and her program is going to impact girls in a phenomenal way! Her Project Manager is my amazing friend, Kohisha Blaylock. I want to help as many educators as possible to launch their businesses to help supplement their income or to provide another avenue they desire as a natural transition. We should not have to lose the best educators because they are not receiving the six-figure salary that they deserve and could earn elsewhere.

If people are serious about supporting me or educating themselves on what I have to offer, then hopefully they will attend my launch next year, tentatively scheduled for August 2019. At that time, they will learn about POAH service delivery module and may request my business plan if they are interested in becoming a sponsor or serious contender as an investor. For now, let’s just say we specialize in educational services. I am only taking on a few projects that I feel I can not pass up in order to prepare for the launch properly.

Last year, I sponsored my 25th Class reunion, Overbrook High School Class of 1992 #Overbrookpanthers. I was blessed to have major sponsors such as TMT Shi of May Weather Promotions, Orange and Black Media and more just to name a few. It was a blast essentially since my Best Friend from Philly, Kori Crenshaw was on the committee with me. This year it was an honor to work with Dr. J, Jacqueline Howard Carr, CEO of STEM Bridges Houston as the Action Coach for her launch, Inaugural Gala, and Awards Ceremony www.stembridgeshouston.com. Both events sold out, and sponsorships were provided for some attendees.

I am most proud of being a sponsor. The next sponsorships that Plans of Action Houston will provide is to support entrepreneurs, small business owners, and non-profit organizations wanting to attend Presentation Power which is one of the programs created by Jonathan Sprinkles of Sprinkles Inc. Presentation Power is a high energy level conference that teaches corporations, individuals, entrepreneurs and more, the art of connection which is needed to help businesses to become sustainable and profitable. I am beyond excited about this partnership because I personally experienced Presentation Power 2017 and benefited from the information and contacts. Jonathan also works with the best and brightest in his industry and beyond. All I can say is google him or check him out at https://jsprinkles.com/, come and join us at the conference so you can connect and collect.

I am also encouraging corporations or anyone who would like to attend to purchase tickets specifically from this link http://getpresentationpower.com/poahouston/ . When they purchase tickets from this link, it makes it possible for individuals requesting a sponsorship to attend the conference. How will they know they are using the correct link? They will see my logo. How do people acquire the sponsorship? Email your request to info@plansofactionhouston.com. If you ask for it, while the opportunity last, I will approve it.

The current rate to attend Presentation Power for three days is $797.00. Rightfully so when considering all the 3-day amenities, learning opportunities and connections alone. Jonathan works with some of the best and brightest individuals in the business of connecting and communication. However, with me wanting to provide resources for all, I am grateful that Mr. Sprinkles and his team, essentially Lorrie Gonzalez, are supporting POAH through a partnership. With Plans of Action Houston sponsorships, individuals only pay $250.00. When is the event? Friday, February 15, 2018 – Sunday, February 17, 2018, at the Hyatt Regency Houston/Galleria 2626 Sage Road Houston, TX 77057. Yes, three days of learning about the art of connecting!

Many books, people, business owners, and entrepreneurs have inspired me along the way. I will provide a list of books at my launch. As it relates to my family, my cousin Perry Baker is one of the greatest Rugby players in the world. My cousin, Dallas Baker, won Super Bowl XLIII as a member of the Steelers against the Arizona Cardinals and currently coaches for Marshall University in Huntington WV. My Uncle, Johnnie Baker Jr., and aunt, Valerie Baker, have been married for over 20 years. On Sunday, November 4, 2018, Platinum Kiss Enterprises and Baker Films Inc. hosted Uncle Johnnie’s movie called SOULS, a faith-based film. It was viewed at 8:00 pm at the At AMC Theatre Loews-Cherry Hill New Jersey and yes he SOLD OUT! #Bakergirls

As it As it relates to celebrity, Will Smith is my number one inspiration. To see where he started from and to have been a part of his journey is major for me. We both attended Overbrook High School in West Philadelphia but not at the same time. I met him through my best friend, Fredeia James. Her sister, Gena, from West Oxford Street, was one of his first girlfriends and favors his first wife, Sheree if you ask me. He definitely had a type back then. Will was always smart, funny, generous, and handsome.

He would take us to Fairmount Park in Mr. Will’s Truck, and we would have a blast. I watched their love story unfold, and I knew he was in love with Gena by the way he looked at her. That is my first point of reference to watching young love unfold as a child. My favorite Overbrook Panther is my friend, Malik Rose. He is not just an extraordinary athlete but an amazing humanitarian and more. John Roberts aka lit John is another Overbrook Panther and an amazing musician. He has an extensive portfolio and insane work ethic. He has toured extensively with Janet Jackson as her drummer and is the epitome of beats on drums.

My superhero will always be Poppie. My number one motivating factor in life has been my children. Calena Baker Wallace is an avid reader and possesses so many talents. She is a true gift. My sons also remain the apples of my eyes, but they are grown and gone and pursuing their passions. Calvin is a disabled USA Army Veteran pursuing business ventures while attending HCC. Christian is a Music Major Educator at SFA and has been on the President’s list too many times to count. His Senior Recital is scheduled for December 1, 2018, at Stephen F. Austin University. You can catch him on facebook live during his recital! Christian Crawley. He is unmatched, one of the most talented black rising flutist in Houston, Texas and beyond. Both my sons have many accolades, medals, and awards. I am so proud of them both.

What do you feel are the biggest barriers today to female leadership, in your industry or generally?
Barriers to female leadership include pay inequality, limited circles, lack of opportunity, limited support and self- sabotage.

On an average, in some industries, men receive $160.00 more than a woman weekly. This has been an ongoing issue prior to and since the Women’s Rights Movement. As it relates to an opportunity, how can we shatter glass ceilings if we do not have a pedestal to stand on or a ladder to climb up?

Women have to step outside of their circles in order to receive all that God has for them. When I first relocated to Houston, Diandra Scarver was on a date at the Red Cat Jazz Café here in Houston. I was sitting by myself when she approached me about my hair. She was my first friend and Best Friend for years after that conversation. It did not matter that I was not on a date. We connected.

I know three women this year who have disconnected from friends or business associates just because someone who was in their circle told them to. A true friend or serious business partner would never make you choose sides or miss out on a business deal just because their relationship or business did not work out. Now, do not get me wrong, if you know someone is doing something immorally wrong and you connected them to a business or person, then at that point, you have to inform them of duty. Other than that, do not restrict yourself to your circle or the farthest you will go is literally 360. One of the goals for every woman in business should be to rise with no limits to their ROI just as long as you are standing in good character, ethics, and integrity.

To not provide a woman with an opportunity “just because”, is the same instinctual behavior that supports the mindset that we are less than, not worth the investment or incapable of performing at a level of excellence. Without opportunities, we remain voiceless and faceless.

Support is something we all need. My dearest friend Kimberly Elder and I support one another. She is an Engineer and a single mother like none, I have ever met. Without second thought, one of my sisters and my number one Ace is Yashica Watson. She is Calvin’s and Christian’s paternal Aunt. She has always supported me without question and loves my children as her own. As a Black single mother, and all single mothers regardless of your race, ethnicity, nationality, culture or customs, specifically speaking as such to women who may be in the same situation as me, please listen.

Regardless of who will and will not support you, keep God first, move forward and believe in yourself. The people who should support us more than anyone are the men in our lives such as our fathers, husbands, sons, brothers, cousins, the fathers of our children, and more. However, that will not always happen. Yes, we need our men to help us and not necessarily because we are damsels in distress, but because their energy and protection give us an added layer to become more of who we are destined to be without carrying extra weight God did not intend for us to have to carry without them. They can also help make life more enjoyable and meaningful. Not to mention, there is protection that comes from being connected to the right men in your life. Again, if you do not receive this support, move forward and watch God do what a thousand men refuse to.

Self-sabotage is a mindset. You have to be careful of protecting your sensory gates. What are you watching? What are you eating, What are you listening to? How do things in this world appear after experiencing the power in your touch? Always know your story is unique. You are not on other people’s time clocks and just because you fall down does not mean you should beat yourself up with words, thoughts or actions. You are a businesswoman so handle your business and never let your business handle you.

Pricing:

  • Action Coach Services, $150.00 an hour
  • Launch Service Fees are 30% with your connections
  • Launch Service Fees with my connections is 50%
  • Additional products, services and fees will be avaiable after the launch

Contact Info:


Image Credit:
1. National Hispanic Professional Organization, NHPO with Leona Baker, class III
2. Kristi Jackson, CEO Women Project and Leona Baker
3. Dr. Maya Angelou with Volunteers
4. Leona Baker and Sisters in Christ at the Inspire Women Annual Conference
5. Sidney Poitier and Leona Baker
6. Overbrook High School Class Reunion 1992 Committee Members: President, Quia Schell Parks, Vice President Ebony Sapp, Secretary, Robert Cartier, Treasurer, Kori Crenshaw, Honorary Members, Leona Baker and Malik Rose
7. Plans of Action Houston Networking Event Philadelphia, Committee Members: Kori Crenshaw with Rosenbaum and Associates, Ontaria (Kim) Wilson the Actress, Director and Choreographer, Winn Taylor the Entrepreneur, Tamia Williams Matthews the Nurse, Ardell McDuffie the CEO of Orange & Black Media and Joey Za Za Zazalino the Community Liasion with Philadelphia, PA
8. Deborah Baker and Leona Baker
9. Felicia Young Ministries with Leona Baker and Women from the Here and Now Program
10. Marcus Davis with The Breakfast Klub, laolu Davies, Catherine Flowers, Scott Brogan and Leona Baker
11. Hispanic Performers with the Here and Now Program for Women
12. Marina Angelica Coryat, CEO of Refined Communications, Leona Baker and Thelma Mi Mi Scott

Getting in touch: VoyageHouston is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

5 Comments

  1. Glenda

    January 20, 2019 at 2:19 am

    I love your story! You are an inspiration:)

    • Leona Baker

      February 8, 2019 at 1:15 am

      Thank you! My apologies for the delayed response. I didn’t realize the interview was live until today.

  2. Barbara Burr

    February 9, 2019 at 5:52 am

    What a dynamic woman! Your abilities and experiences inspire me. Proud to know you.

    • Leona Baker

      February 14, 2019 at 2:51 am

      Thank you Ms. Barbara! You are an amazing woman as well.

  3. Gwendolyn Traore

    September 2, 2019 at 9:01 am

    I loved your interview Leona. It was extremely well done. I’m so proud of what you have accomplished and how with God’s help your family has overcome great challenges.#Bakergirls

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