Hello Queen!!! Can you please share more about your background journey and what initially inspired you to start ICANDO?
I was born in 1971, the third of seven children. My parents, Burnell & Barbara Sawyer, purchased their first home in the city of Compton, California the year that I was born, and this is where I grew up. The world has painted a narrative of Compton as a city of poverty, crime, and drugs. The truth is, most families in our neighborhood were two-parent middle class working families, just like mine. My parents set a foundation of faith in God early on and I believe our family is successful because of it. My parents both worked for Los Angeles Unified School District as well as my dad continuing his family legacy as an entrepreneur business owner with his brother.
My dad’s family owned several small businesses throughout the city of Watts and Los Angeles area. My parents worked hard and made great sacrifices to ensure we had a good and healthy life. This allowed them to be able to send my siblings and I all to private catholic schools from kindergarten through 12th grade. Our summers were filled with camping, road trips, amusement parks, family BBQs, etc. with our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Those are some of the best moments in my childhood. We also had theee best Christmas every year! Our family Sundays included church, where we all served in some compacity, and Sunday dinner at my parents’ home.
Now, I do understand that it wasn’t easy for my parents raising seven children, paying a mortgage, paying school tuition for us all, summer vacations, clothing and feeding us all, and even assisting with taking care of others in their families. But because of their faith in God and hard work, they accomplished the task of successfully raising seven children. I know that my work ethic, my passionate desire to serve, and my strong faith comes from them.
I attended St. Malachy Elementary School for grade school then to St. Mary’s Academy High School for girls, where I graduated in June 1989. I was accepted to and attended California State University Domínguez Hills in Summer 1989 where I majored in Business Administration with a concentration in accounting.
Well, after one year of college, I dropped out. I was 18 years old and confused about the what-how-where direction of my life. I was rebelling against my parents, I felt so lost and began to feel depressed. I just didn’t want to do anything. Of course at the time I didn’t fully understand what I was feeling, I was only 18. Some would think that if I had this huge family and church village, how could I be feeling alone and lost?
Truth is, no one really knew how I felt because I hadn’t expressed it, I didn’t know how. I now believe that it was fear of “leaving the nest” and now being responsible for myself.
Coming from parents who did everything for me, that was a hard transition, and I was rejecting it. As I was approaching 20, I met and began dating my now husband, Rob. I watched how he, coming from a different upbringing from me, was able to navigate through life on his own and build a life for himself. It motivated me to “grow up” and accept my transition into adulthood. I decided to go back to college part-time as well as work full-time. All the things the women of my village taught and instilled in me began to replay in my head. I felt like a seed growing and blooming daily into a plant.
I began to read Phil. 4:13 more often. See, that foundation that was laid never left me, it was the fear that I allowed to overpower my faith. In 1993, a gave birth to my only child, my son Rashad. The day he was born, my mindset about life instantly shifted. I was more determined than ever to finish what I started so that I can be an example for him. In a way I felt like he was my purpose. Once he became of school age, I began going to college full time. My husband and my parents helped lighten my load by tending to my son while I was attending classes in the evening. I successfully earned my college degree. It was the proudest moment for him to see me do it.
I earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration accounting all while maintaining roles as a wife, mother as well as working full time. As with most women, juggling these roles all at the same time presented many challenges but it was Philippians 4:13 that kept me inspired that I CAN do it. My faith got me through. It was also empowered women of the generation before me who encouraged, inspired, and empowered me to do ALL that I was purposed to do.
I come from a lineage of strong women. My mother, Barbara, has been my example of this my entire life. She has always been my utmost inspiration. Her drive and determination to conquer every challenge thrown in her path and still stand strong today. My grandmothers Aola & Ora were also my examples. I watched these three women conquer and overcome many obstacles. They instilled that same drive and strength in me. They affirmed me. They empowered and celebrated me. They pushed me to use my gifts and talents.
I am who I am today because of all of them. I believe that what we receive we must also be willing to give to others. Therefore, I knew it was my time to take what I have received and sow into others.
My favorite Bible scripture is Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. After my son graduated high school, I felt that lost feeling again because for all those years, he was my purpose and now he didn’t need me full time anymore. I thought “I have the family, the home, the degree, the career so now what do I do?”. I then began to ponder on my favorite scripture and really understand the meaning of it.
I had fulfilled my purpose of raising him but now it was time to find and fulfill my true purpose. It was in me all along because the scripture kept ringing in my mind. With this scripture as my driving force, my vision became clearer and greater which inspired and led me to create ICANDO.
What was the most significant turning point or realization that made you recognize the need to expand your mission beyond a small mentoring program for young women?
My vision back in 2017, was initially to start a small mentoring program for young women because I saw a need for that generation, and I remember ages 18 to 21 being my “feeling lost” years. I wanted to help other girls transition through that season of their lives. I was co-hosting a podcast talk show, “Let’s talk about it with Rasheeda”, with my sister-friend Rasheeda. During this episode we were interviewing the author of the book “Woman by Design”, Redelia Fowler. During the interview she mentioned that she’s also a mentor for women.
We clicked instantly and began to chat more after the interview ended. I was prompted (by God) to share my vision with her. She shared some words of wisdom as well as gave me her contact information. She also got excited and spoke life into me to follow this purpose for my life. I was shocked because she didn’t even know me. In my mind I spoke, “this is God Who sent her”. Well, I went about my way and didn’t reach out to her nor did I start working on the plan to fulfill this purpose. One day out of the blue, Redelia emailed me to check in and see how things were going and if I needed some direction on how to start. I expressed to her that I hadn’t really put more thought into it since we talked about it last. Well, she followed up with a 5-page long email with detailed instructions, resources for mentoring classes, scriptures, words of encouragement, etc. This email was loaded!
I couldn’t believe that this woman who only met me once took the time to put this all together in an email for me. Again, confirmation that it was God who sent her to me. I remember crying tears as I read through it. Tears of gratitude, tears because in that moment I felt so loved. Tears because I was so used to being a giver, that someone I barely knew had the heart to give of herself to me. I now understand that SHE was who God was planning to use to raise me in this next season.
She then began to check in regularly and finally told me it’s time to just do it. She suggested I start with a soft launch by hosting a small vision board party with 5-7 young ladies. In June 2017, I had my first ICANDO Vision Board Party. Out of the 7 I invited, three young ladies (Regina, Jada and Konya) actually committed and showed up to the party as well as my sister-friend Rasheeda who assisted me with set up as well as guiding the young ladies in creating their vision boards.
The party turned out to be a great success and the young ladies were excited and even inspired by one another. As I started to put my thoughts together and put things into place, I took a deeper look at my journey and each season of my life. See, Redelia was sent to empower me so that I can be equipped to follow my purpose of empowering women and girls. I realize that for girls to be empowered, we must be sure that women are empowered because empowered women empower girls. I also realized that there is a greater need to inspire ALL women in every aspect of their lives utilizing various tools/methods.
How do you incorporate the core values of truth, honesty, positivity, community, and passion into the work of ICANDO?
ICANDO strives to empower women to live in their truth, their authentic self. All our events, daily posts are all geared toward this as the result. So many women don’t see the power they have to really make noise with their gifts and their purpose.
In our groups and events hosted by ICANDO, we take pride in how we provide a safe space for women to be honest and transparent when sharing in our groups. Our ICANDO Women’s Book Club is a tool used to bring women together to share our experiences with one another in relation to the books we read. We find that we as women have more in common than not and can be of great support to one another.
Positivity is always the vibe with anything we do at ICANDO. I am strategic in my planning that we make sure to create a positive atmosphere in our space. Whether it be our ICANDO Women’s Walking Group, our annual conference, our vision board parties, etc. Many have given reviews of our annual conference and pop-up shop being full of positivity, love and such a welcoming community of women.
We have a heart for communities of women, especially women in shelters. We prepare what we call “bags of inspiration” every quarter and deliver them to women shelters in Los Angeles County. My husband and I have donated clothes and toys to shelters with women and children for years before launching ICANDO so this is something near and dear to my heart.
Another way we incorporate community is through our ICANDO Scholarship program. We have two types of scholarships that we award annually: ICANDO College Scholarship and ICANDO Entrepreneur Scholarship. These scholarships provide financial assistance to high school graduates as they begin their collegiate journey as well as to provide financial assistance to the up-and-coming entrepreneur. We have awarded these annually since 2021.
We also have our annual school supply giveaway, Thanksgiving meal gift card giveaway and our Christmas gift card giveaway, all for families in need.
I’ve always had a passion to serve others and ICANDO allows me to serve as well as inspire others to join us in serving. I always tell people I was born to serve, and it gives me so much joy to do so. “If I can help somebody, then my living is not in vain.”
Can you tell us about some of the transformative experiences or success stories that have emerged from ICANDO’s programs and products?
My belief that it’s one generation’s responsibility to bring up the next led me to bring my niece Malia on board at the age of 12, to launch her own collection under the ICANDO brand. It’s called Malia’s ICANDO Girl Collection.
Since she was a toddler, we’ve always noticed she had an entrepreneurial spirit. She’s the kid that would put a table in the front yard to sell avocados from the tree, lemonade and handmade jewelry designed by her. After I launched ICANDO in August 2020, Malia came to me and expressed that she wanted her own business too. She was so passionate about it. I was so excited and touched by this. I knew then that it was time to start legacy building. I asked her what products she’d like for her collection and told her to come up with a statement to be imprinted on tees for girls, write it down and give it to me.
She came up with “ICANDO Girls run the world” and “ICANDO girls pray and succeed”. This was the birth of her own collection of tees, bracelets handmade by her and more. At our 1st Annual ICANDO Women Empowerment Conference in August 2021, we officially launched Malia’s ICANDO Girl Collection.
Here’s the thing, Malia is an ICANDO Girl personified. She believes in herself and her ability to conquer anything. I watch her tenacity and it even inspires me. We host an annual ICANDO Girl Paint Party for little girls of all ages where they not only paint but we engage them in empowerment activities.
Our ICANDO Scholarship was initially only for college attendees. In early 2023, we expanded it to add the entrepreneur scholarship. We received submissions for the college scholarships but none for the entrepreneur scholarship. Well, because I know a few ladies trying to get their business off the ground, I decided to choose a recipient. One thing that I have been very intentional about since I created ICANDO is to hire small women owned businesses or women entrepreneurs to do the things that I will need for events, websites, etc. With that being said, I hired a caterer for the 2023 conference to give her an opportunity to not only make money but also showcase her work with hopes of gaining clients from the women in attendance. God put it on my heart to choose her as the 1st recipient of the ICANDO Entrepreneur Scholarship. As I was presenting the scholarships at the conference, I asked her to come forward and I surprised her with the scholarship award and check. She had no idea. She cried tears of joy, and it brought so much joy to me. For me, these are the successes and the most rewarding moments.
What strategies or approaches does ICANDO employ to foster confidence, boldness, and truth in the lives of the women it serves?
For every woman that enters our space, she is met with love and treated like royalty. I believe it’s more important how you make someone feel versus what you say. When you greet people with warmth you provide a comfortable space for them to receive inspiration. It’s also important to me to carry myself in a manner of class and professionalism but also be willing to meet people where they are. I am an encourager naturally so it comes natural for me to speak life into others to build them up and build their confidence. Our Women Empowerment Conference is the main approach we currently employ. Each year I choose a them geared towards empowering women with the tools needed to walk in their purpose, live freely and be successful in every area of their lives. I select speakers that are in alignment with the them based on what they do and their belief system. One common feedback that I get after each conference is, “I am ready now!”. Those few words lets me know the mission was accomplished.
How does ICANDO balance the focus on inner growth with the enhancement of outer appearance in its product offerings?
Everything we do is designed to build up the inner woman and girl. My belief is that even though you have it on the inside, it should also show on the outside. Whatever is happening with one on the inside will eventually show up on the outside. I always tell people if you believe it, wear it and be it.
I have always been a lover of tees with inspirational messages imprinted on them. I found that when I wear it, I feel the intent of it. I’ve always thought of it in comparison to a superhero putting on his/her cape or armor. They feel powerful and ready to take on the world. That’s exactly the intent behind all of our products, to leave women and girls feeling like they CAN do all things purposed for them.
Can you share some examples of how ICANDO has made a positive impact on women in need through its assistance to women shelters and donations?
Our “bags of inspiration” are filled with products from our brand to inspire and empower. I often write notes of inspiration and place them in each bag just to make it more personal, to give them hope. I am intentional about making sure we include not just toiletries but ICANDO journals, accessories, and lip gloss to make the ladies feel inspired, loved, and valued. The bags we use are our tote bags from our brand inscribed with empowerment and inspirational statements. This is so that the ladies can feel empowered each time they use the bag. The shelter managers always send a follow-up email to let me know the reaction of the ladies when they receive our bags and how it brightens their day.
What upcoming initiatives or projects is ICANDO currently working on to further its mission of empowering and inspiring women?
One of our upcoming initiatives is the development of our ICANDO mentoring program. The program will offer guidance to college students as they navigate through college as well as post-graduation in helping them facilitate their transition into their perspective careers. We will also have a sector geared towards mentoring women coming out of shelters, prison, or rehab because they will need guidance in developing new life skills, managing their finances, emotional support, empowerment, etc. We will also provide resources that may not be easily available to them. Lastly, a sector to provide mentorship for the beginner entrepreneur.
Another is our ICANDO Women Financial Empowerment Workshops. The plan is to host one in the month of January to begin the year and another in the month of June as a midyear check-in to provide further education and assisting with budgeting and spending. This will also be geared towards empowering women to tap into entrepreneurial endeavors as well as building generational wealth.
How do you envision ICANDO’s mentoring program evolving and expanding in the future?
I envision having a team of mentors with different expertise so that no woman will be left behind.
This would be a well-structured program which will help support the mentees in staying on track. It would also include opportunities for mentees who complete the program to come back and sow into incoming mentees from what they have received from the program. My big vision is to eventually have a building, a one-stop-shop center for all of our mentoring services and workshops. There will be a relaxing lounge area, a quite room for women who just need a safe space to be one with herself, and a coffee stand/shop inside for women to just come to share and gather with other women.
What is your ultimate feedback on being a woman of color in the community service industry, and how can our readers keep in touch with you and your company’s updates?
Being a woman of color in the community service industry has its’ ups and downs. The ups for me is that because I understand the struggles of people of color throughout history and of women in particular, I am able to show genuine compassion and serve with love from my heart.
The downs would be sometimes people won’t get on board to support if you’re not a “major company or organization”. But even with that, it’s so rewarding for me to be able to give back. I count it a BIG blessing.