The following is a guest feature from Carlene Woods, a Black entrepreneur and pastry chef. Once Carlene decided she wanted to be known for her baking, there was no stopping her. The Teachable creator and Black entrepreneur has been baking for over a decade and launched her online school last year. She now offers coaching and a home baker’s course to help bakers who are looking to learn online. We caught up with Carlene about her creator story for Black History Month.
Taking the leap to become a Black entrepreneur
I started baking a little bit over 10 years ago. In high school, I was voted most likely to succeed. But when I got to college, I was pregnant with my first daughter. So I was a cheerleader and I was pregnant and life hit me hard.
By the age of 21, I had two daughters, I was depressed; I was in a dark place. I was living at home with my parents. And I was just sitting on the couch every day just taking care of babies. And I was watching my friends walk across the stage, graduating. I’m like, “Oh my God, that’s supposed to be me.”
So what happened was, I started watching the Food Network. And I told myself, I said, “God, this can’t end like this. This is not who you called me to be. I know, there’s more. I know there’s greater.” So for Christmas, what I decided was to surprise my parents and go back to school.
And I remember someone told me when I was in college at Florida A&M, he said, “You’re not going to finish school the way that you think you’re going to finish school, but you will finish.” So I ended up going to culinary school. I went to culinary school for nine months, and I was so grateful.
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“I want to be known as The Cake Lady”
I ended up working with this woman at an externship. When you’re in culinary school, you don’t learn everything. It’s when you get into the field, you actually learn everything. When I finished working with her, I immediately launched my business, and people were just supporting me. And I was like, I want to be known as “The Cake Lady!” And so to this day, I’m “The Cake Lady.”To make a long story short, in August, I kept feeling like God wants me to produce something. I keep feeling like this overwhelming feeling of “produce something.” So I’m in Sam’s Club, I literally hear something that says, “teach.” And I’m like, “teach?”
For years, people have asked me “Carlene, can you teach me how to bake?” And I said, “You know what? That’s what I’m gonna do.”
Teachable is absolutely amazing. I figured it out, I launched my courses. I have a home baker’s course that I offer that has four courses where you learn how to cupcakes, cakes, icings, and brownies. And so I launched that as well in November. So all of this I was launching at the same time.
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When the Lord told me to do it, I got depressed, I got discouraged, y’all. So I know for me, it hits me harder when I don’t do something. And every day, I would just sit there like, “What am I supposed to be doing?” And it will hit me like you need to finish your courses, you need to do what you’re supposed to do. And I’m so grateful that I’m here now able to teach.
Stepping up to the challenge
When I originally did all of my videos, I actually rented out the kitchen to do them, because I really wanted them to look really professional in everything, the whole nine yards.
It was me, my two kids, and I had a cameraman. I was actually stretching myself from a comfortable place. So I’m talking and trying to do the videos. I’ve never done this before. It was it was “Wow.” What I thought was gonna take like four to five hours, you really need like a whole day to literally create this content. Because you have to wash dishes, and do this, and move around, and bake and all of these things.
But it was an amazing experience because I challenged myself. And many times if you don’t challenge yourself, you can’t change yourself. And so I’m grateful that I did challenge myself.
The perfect space
I just keep my worship music going and I’m praying. When I bake, a lot of people don’t know this about me, [but] I’m typically praying for the person and their families to be healed, their to be families reunited, you know, things of that nature.
Because love is food. When people eat, they want to feel the love. When you first walk in the door at a wedding, the first thing you see is the cake at the reception. And so that’s what makes me feel good: to be able to bring together a masterpiece.
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A lot of times, cakes are a lot like life, you know? People see the beauty of it when it’s put together, but they don’t see the layers [and] what it takes to build the cake. And so it reminds me a lot of life.
Never too late
God gave me a gift. When you have a trade, you’ll always make money when you can use your hands. The Bible says that I’ll bless the work of your hands. So when I go to sleep with no money in my bank account, God forbid, but I can get up in the morning and bake a cupcake I have $2, because somebody is going to buy it. And you can’t allow that dream to die. And a lot of times, we allow dreams to die. Because we feel like we’re too old now. We feel like we’ve missed that moment. We feel like time has passed us by.
A lot of times we feel like our friends, family, and friendship support us. But a lot of times, it’s the strangers that are going to support you more than your family and your friends. So you can’t worry about who doesn’t support you in the neighborhood. When there’s a nation waiting on you. There’s somebody waiting to hear your voice. There’s somebody right [now] ready to buy your course. There’s somebody who’s ready to buy your coaching. There’s somebody ready to see what it is that you have. What you ask yourself is: What do you have to offer? What do you have to offer that nobody else can do? And I believe that that will change your life.
What it means to be a Black entrepreneur
It means everything. My grandfather, he’s the president of the SCLC, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He walked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. My grandfather now has a statue in Birmingham, Alabama.
And it is an honor you know? Because we didn’t see this growing up. We thought we were supposed to go to college, get married, have children, and live life. But then again, you know, just being a Black entrepreneur is such an honor and a blessing. To let other women and other men know that this can be you. The world is waiting on you. And I want to encourage people: You are not alone. You are not alone in this journey.
This feature was reported by Nina Godlewski and edited for clarity.