A Shoulder to Lean On
“I believe that once you have, then you have to help, and that’s exactly how I’ve lived my life.” As a child, Renee lived in housing projects in Brooklyn, where her family and neighbors coexisted in a close-knit community. “If you didn’t have sugar, you could go next door and ask for it.” Renee’s childhood left a lasting impact on her ambitions. Growing up in an environment where she experienced having less and seeing those around her not only provide support where material comforts fell short, but work hard to rise beyond their situations, Renee realized she was meant to do the same. Renee later received a job with the city, yet as a newlywed and life-long Brooklyn resident, she wanted to find a way to provide more for her future with her wife and to support the borough that had raised and shaped her. Thus, her entrepreneurial journey began.
Putting the Wheels in Motion
As a woman of color, Renee knew that passivity was not an option in achieving her entrepreneurial dreams in a nontraditional role. She began selling socks out of her car and installing candy machines in stores. In 2008, Renee founded Brooklyn Born, a vending machine and food truck company primarily serving the East New York community, a low-income neighborhood in Brooklyn. With machines in public facilities such as shelters and afterschool programs, Renee ensures that each one offers several healthy options and leaves petty cash for individuals in need to use. The food truck is managed primarily by Renee’s wife, Kelebohile, a long-time chef. When not renting it for an event, Renee and Kelebohile use the truck to bring healthy, affordable meals to East New York residents.
In need of financial support, Renee was referred to Accion by TD Bank. The loan she received enabled her to purchase a vending machine for a community center in East New York, reaching even more residents in the area. This brought Renee to a total of 14 vending machines and one closer to her goal of 50 throughout the neighborhood and borough. “The support I received from my loan consultant was professional, patient and thorough.”
Lessons to Live By
Renee also runs a mentorship program called Children’s Entrepreneurs Opportunity (CEO), where she gives several children from East New York a hands-on education of running a food truck to inspire their own entrepreneurial dreams, incorporating personal lessons into her mentorship. “From being a little girl without a voice to working in a nontraditional role, I learned to be more assertive. I don’t sit on the edge anymore. I tell the girls, “there will always be barriers, but you have to find a way.” Renee and her wife have also collaborated with their church to bring free meals to homeless youth in lower Manhattan. “There’s nothing like bringing joy to someone and seeing it on their face. I’ve always felt that even a small but significant change can change the world, which is something I try to do all the time.”