Meet 8 St. John’s Alumni Shaping the Future of Black Entrepreneurship

A collage of male and female black entreprenuers
By Toni Critelli

It is essential to recognize the significance of representation in the business world. The establishment of Black-owned businesses not only promotes economic empowerment; it also serves as a source of inspiration and motivation for future generations. In this blog post, we showcase the businesses of eight exceptional Black entrepreneurs. These individuals have made significant contributions in various fields, from reshaping the discourse on mental health to pioneering diversity in law and entertainment. They exemplify the transformative power of vision and dedication.

St. John’s University Alumni Spotlight: 8 Black Entrepreneurs Making an Impact 

1. Priscilla O. Agyeman ’16C: Redefining Mental Health Discourse 

St. John's Alumna and Black Entrepeneur Headshot

Priscilla O. Agyeman, a St. John’s alumna, is a visionary, creative entrepreneur, and mental health activist who founded Saddie Baddies in 2019. Her mission is to revolutionize the conversation around mental health, especially for marginalized communities. 

After recognizing a significant void in digital discourse catering to young Black, Latinx, Asian, Indigenous, and multiracial individuals, Ms. Agyeman embarked on a transformative journey to fill this gap and spark meaningful change. Her platform has cultivated a collective understanding of mental health by fostering engaging discussions, creative conversations, and unparalleled accessibility. Ms. Agyeman amplifies marginalized communities’ voices through guest speaking engagements, workshops, and brand collaborations. She champions a future where all people discuss, celebrate, embrace, and prioritize mental health.

2. Christopher Ambrose ’87SVC: Empowering Equal Opportunity for Success 

St. John's alum and black entrepreneur headshot

Christopher Ambrose is an exceptional St. John’s University alumnus who has been transforming lives with his visionary leadership for over three decades. With a wealth of experience in sales, marketing, executive coaching, and career development, he dedicates his life to empowering others to achieve their dreams. 

Through his nonprofit organization, Yes! Empowerment, Inc., he inspires and uplifts minority, women, and veteran business enterprises to new heights of success. Yes! Empowerment bridges the gap between potential and performance by providing tailored assistance, expert mentorship, and exclusive resources to these enterprises.


3. Ebony (Rentas) Beckford ’03CPS: Improving the Accessibility of Financial Literacy

Black female entrepenuer standing with books in her hand

Drawing inspiration from her money management experiences, a St. John’s alumna, Ebony Beckford, launched Fin Lit Kids in 2020. Through engaging children’s books and interactive learning tools, Ms. Beckford aims to instill financial literacy skills in children, particularly those from communities of color. Through her dedication to restoring generational wealth, she empowers children to navigate life’s financial complexities confidently and competently.

With a rapidly growing community and recent recognition, including a grant funded by UPS Ignite, Fin Lit Kids is poised for an even more significant impact. Ms. Beckford’s vision for the platform extends beyond the books and activities, with plans to explore opportunities in the Hoboken Public School District to develop a financial and media literacy curriculum. 

Related: Read Ms. Beckford’s full story: “Restoring Generational Wealth through Education and Empowerment.”

4. Danielle Brittany Hardy ’16CPS: Pioneering Diversity in Law and Entertainment

Black female entrepreneur standing in a blue dress

Music attorney and St. John’s alumna Danielle B. Hardy is the inspiring force behind Pursuing the Esquire, a mentorship program that empowers future minority lawyers of color. By providing personalized guidance and support, Ms. Hardy has transformed the lives of more than 100 mentees, paving the way for a more diverse and inclusive legal profession.

Being the first lawyer in her family, Ms. Hardy understands the unique challenges that minority lawyers face and the transformative power of mentorship. Through her commitment to inspiring change through mentorship, community service, and advocacy, she empowers future generations of diverse legal professionals.

This year, Pursuing the Esquire is thrilled to announce a new sponsorship and its partnership with the Association of Black Women Lawyers of New Jersey.

Related: Read Danielle’s full story: “Alumna Mentors Aspiring Minority Lawyers.”

5. Kelly Ifill ’13GEd: Championing Economic Equity 

Female entrepenuer and small business owner headshot
Image Credit: Cam St. Claire Photography

Ms. Ifill, inspired by the hardships faced by the businesses in her Brooklyn, NY, community, launched Guava in 2021. It is an online banking platform tailored to the unique needs of Black small-business owners. Guava’s mission is to make access to capital and networking opportunities more accessible. 

With over 3,000 members, the platform has become a vital financial resource for entrepreneurs across diverse industries. Guava’s networking hub, Huddle, is where members can connect, share knowledge, and access expert advice, empowering them to navigate the complexities of business ownership confidently.



6. Mikayla Lawrence ’20C: Bridging Academic Gaps and Empowering Students 

Black educator and entrepeneur teaching a class of young children

St. John’s alumna Mikayla Lawrence founded Kayla’s Tutoring Services  (KTS), driven by a passion for education and a commitment to bridging academic gaps. What began as humble tutoring sessions in her apartment conference room has since evolved into a thriving bilingual tutoring service serving families across the Washington Metropolitan Area and New York City.

With a track record of assisting more than 50 families, KTS has become a trusted resource for students seeking personalized academic support. Through individualized 1:1 or group sessions, KTS continues to empower students with the knowledge and skills needed to excel academically, ensuring students are included.


7. Delanique Amoy Millwood '21CCPS: Inspiring Diversity in Beauty

Headshot of St. John's Alumna Black Entrepreneur
Image Credit: Wholy Dose

St. John’s alumna Delanique Millwood recognized a lack of diversity in the skincare industry and decided to act. Through founding her company, Skintellect, she has created a platform that champions inclusivity, offering a range of clean, Black-owned beauty brands that celebrate and elevate Black beauty.

In addition, Ms. Millwood also encourages conversations about African botanicals and rituals, shining a light on the beauty and richness of her heritage. Her commitment to authenticity and diversity is changing the beauty industry for the better and inspiring people worldwide to embrace their individuality and redefine beauty standards.



8. Gordon Thomas ’79SVC: Leading the Charge against Alzheimer’s through Basketball

St. John's alum and black entreprenuer, standing with a young boy smiling
Credit: Greater Long Island

Gordon Thomas, a former standout basketball player at St. John’s University and a New York Knicks draft pick, has turned his love for basketball into a powerful tool to combat Alzheimer’s disease. Inspired by his personal experience with his father’s battle against dementia, Mr. Thomas established the Alzheimer’s All-Star Basketball Classic in memory of his dad. 

By harnessing the talent and energy of high school basketball All-Stars, his initiative raises substantial donations and fosters crucial awareness among young athletes and their peers.




Small Business Success: Lessons from the Founders

Starting a business can be a daunting task. However, you can take inspiration from successful entrepreneurs like Priscilla O. Agyeman, Christopher Ambrose, Ebony (Rentas) Beckford, Danielle B. Hardy, Kelly Ifill, Delanique Omoy Millwood, and Gordon Thomas, who have achieved remarkable success. Whether you plan to start a small business or are already running one, there are some valuable lessons that you can take with you on any entrepreneurial journey. 

1. Disrupt the status quo with innovation and purpose.

Do not settle for the ordinary. Instead, identify gaps in the market and develop innovative solutions that tackle real-world challenges head-on. Stay true to your vision and values, aiming to impact your community profoundly and beyond. 

2. Empower the next generation with mentorship.

Recognize the power of mentorship in navigating the complex world of entrepreneurship. By providing guidance and support to the next generation of entrepreneurs, you can foster a supportive ecosystem that nurtures innovation and leads to tremendous success. 

3. Drive positive change with purposeful solutions.

Make a real difference in the world by identifying pressing challenges your target audience faces and developing purposeful solutions that address them. By focusing on creating a meaningful impact, you can be a force for positive change in the world.

The Importance of Representation

Representation matters. The presence of Black-owned businesses fosters economic empowerment and provides inspiration and aspiration for future generations. By supporting and celebrating Black entrepreneurship, we contribute to a more diverse and inclusive business landscape while providing role models for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Final Thoughts

Remember the importance of celebrating and supporting Black-owned businesses beyond Black History Month. These inspiring stories highlight entrepreneurship’s positive impact on communities and inspire us to create change.

If you are a St. John’s University alumnus and a business owner or professional, consider joining the University’s Small Business Professional Group for monthly networking opportunities and to make industry connections.

Young female professional

Toni Critelli

Digital Content Creator

Toni Critelli is a full-time staff writer for Johnnie's Blog. Through engaging content, she captures the essence of the institution, its students, faculty, and alums.