Spotlight on Ferene Paris Meyer

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Current Town: Burlington

Years in VT:

Industry: Storytelling

Business name: All Heart Inspirations

Business contact:

Tell us a bit about your background before arriving in VT.

I worked in higher education, which was part of my work when I came to Vermont. I was Ferene Paris Meyer, this first generation student who was really dedicated to paying it forward and being immersed in an environment that fed a first generation college student. Higher Ed was one of my first passions and callings, and I worked with new, first year students most for the most part, as a Residence Hall Director and director of orientation. I feel like what I do with [All Heart Inspirations] now, locally and globally, is what I got to do in a very intimate way on a college campus. I am really thankful for those years because a lot of my students and their stories I’ve collected over 15 years really stayed with me. I’m really thankful for that time, being immersed in spaces where youth were just trying to figure themselves out and reclaim their identity.

What do you enjoy about being a business owner in VT?

I love that I can literally manifest or ignite anything that is speaking to my heart. Whether I’m sitting at the bar at Hotel Vermont and I start talking with a community member and something is expressed that speaks to me or something about their story, I can take agency to shed light on that. I think especially as a woman of color, as a black woman in Vermont, being able to ignite these ideas that I feel are important to my community, that’s everything. I love more than anything that I get paid to be unapologetic about my truths about our lived experiences of marginalized stories. All Heart is meant to be very fluid…to hopefully inspire folks to either attend to themselves more or attend to each other. The topics we talk about are fluid, but it’s always going to be something that I can speak from the heart about.

What are some challenges that you’ve faced as a business owner living in VT? How have you worked to overcome the challenges?

First and foremost, [the greatest challenge is] trying to vision ignite and make your business successful. In this state is something that is always weighing on the mind, as it’s a predominantly white state, and trying to figure out how I fit into this narrative that exists here in Vermont, it comes with a lot of work. I want people to believe in [my work], and as a Black woman in particular, I’ve tried really hard to dismantle the head game that I think can happen sometimes. “Is this enough? Is this worthy? Am I going to be seen?” 

I literally stopped working full time for the University of Vermont on June 30th, 2020 and I went into full time entrepreneur mode on July 1st, 2020. I did not take out a loan. I literally used my own spare labor to just make this happen. When I first started [All Heart], I was like saying “yes” to a lot more [opportunities] than I would have wanted to because you just never know what that flow of income will look like, with some months looking very abundant and then other months are not as packed. As I wrap up my second year, I feel like I’m learning that balance. You need to create a buffer because the universe is always going to drop something on you, and I want to be able to say “yes” to that – something that would feed my soul, that aligns with my purpose. 

The [other challenge] is, it’s exhausting work. Storytelling is such an emotional withdrawal. I’m constantly exposing the most tender parts of myself, to create a moment for people to encourage them to be vulnerable. And as an empath, it takes a lot and I’m learning more and more of what I need to do in order to recall recalibrate myself to restore to rejuvenate because it’s it’s just such a withdrawal, the work is very rewarding and it deposits back but if it’s not depositing back as much as it’s withdrawing, I’m gonna be off balance. 

What opportunities do you see for your industry in the future? 

I feel like we can reframe everything – storytelling is part of a lot of the work that people do. Marketing is nothing but storytelling. Assessment is storytelling. Even when you go out for dinner, there’s a narrative behind your meal and how it was curated. In this [storytelling] industry, we can continue to create credit infused artistic moments with storytelling into these everyday life moments. And then it invites people to think, “What is stopping me from [storytelling] when I’m at home, breaking bread with my family? For us to really take a moment to slow down and share with each other what’s on our hearts?”

That’s the hope long-term, is realizing that we’re all storytellers. We’re all authors of our stories, and we need to take up space and share them or else stories get lost as we’ve seen. They get whitewashed, they get retold in a way that’s actually not how I told the story. We’ve got to be authors, agents over that. I see storytellers in the community helping us create space for that.

In what ways could the community or state of VT support BIPOC businesses?

I can speak to what I’ve appreciated as a BIPOC business that has been really helpful. What helped me launch in some really abundant ways was organizing. People who had access to space were generous with letting me use their space. August First, for example, during the day it’s a bakery, but they allowed me to use their space when the bakery was closed. I was able to use it to teach my storytelling classes. I was able to use it to feature soul food storytelling events. I was able to use it to do rum cake pop-ups when I needed to raise money for Juneteenth. That was amazing. [The owners] made a statement, and said moving forward, “This space is available when not in regular hours for BIPOC organizations to use.” 

Another thing that is awesome is just the reposting [on social media to spread the word about our events]. [Vermont has] some really established businesses here that have quite the following. It’s everything for them to “tag” or “repost” our content, which costs people nothing. Those are some ways of uplifting and centering BIPOC work and initiatives.

What do you wish others knew about living in VT that you’ve discovered?

We are here. Brown and Black people exist. Here. We are here. We have beautiful numbers all over the state. We’re not all just in Burlington or Winooski, we’re in the rural parts, too. That is so important to know, because [oftentimes, BIPOC] move here thinking, “I’m going to be the only.” There are such beautiful Brown and Black communities that are doing what they can to not just survive, but to create a life where they are thriving. That is something that is ours to have. And I say that out loud more and more because too often, we can default to survival mode. We [as BIPOC] are doing what we need to do to exist. But what about thriving? What about savoring life? 

With the [murder of] George Floyd, so many things popped up out of that for [BIPOC]. Because of Unlikely Riders, I ski now! I go to events at the Conscious Homestead. I see Juniper Creative murals throughout my drive through the community. I’m coming to networking events hosted by VT PoC, where I see other professionals of all melanin hues. That’s a gift, and that is magic. I think maybe that’s why I’m just so grateful because the pandemic really did shed light for me on what exists here.

Are there other things you’d like to share with the Vermont BIPOC community?

During the month of May, I am collaborating with the Center for Women and Enterprise on Sister Hive, which is a small collective of black women entrepreneurs. We are hosting a mind, body and spirit series for BIPOC women and non binary entrepreneurs tending to their mental health. I’m really excited about this series. May is Mental Health Month and I think too often we do not tend to that part of ourselves, which has a huge impact on how we can show up as professionals and how we can show up as entrepreneurs. It’s a three part series. I’m also performing the week leading up to Juneteenth, as well as on Sunday evening of Juneteenth as the keynote speaker [for Burlington’s Juneteenth celebration]. I’m also performing in the Black Experience, which is highlighting black artists on the Saturday [prior]. If anybody wants to help [with Juneteenth] I’m crowdsourcing to do a second round of Sailing Celebration for Black Vermonters.

Why are you a member of the Vermont Professionals of Color Network?

I am a member of this network because it makes me feel as if my story exists. I have enjoyed [being a member] from the first event that I went to, at Skinny Pancake [in 2019]. I remember walking in and thinking, “I don’t know half the people in this room.” I thought, “look at our community. It is such a beautiful, vibrant thing. We are here.”

Since then I’ve looked forward to it when you have an event, and it was awesome and to [attend] now as my own entrepreneurial person. I feel like I’m growing, as your organization has been growing. I’m evolving and transforming as you all do too. Y’all make me feel as if the story of my existence and our collective existence really matters. I love that and I believe in it. There’s reciprocity in this relationship. So that’s why I’m part of the network.

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