5 Under 40: Christèle Parham
Christèle Parham, 36
CEO of Ham Designs and Cofounder of Macon Black Tech
Tell us about your job and why you chose your career field.
Growing up in Haiti and as an immigrant, at an early age it was ingrained in me that if one person in my surrounding was not okay, we were all not okay. Whether I was in my grandparents’ house in Jeremie, my uncle’s house, or my parents’ home, we all shared things equally, no matter if we were related or not.
As I got older, that really fueled me to consider the aspect of community as a whole and what can I contribute to society holistically.
I grew up with a family full of entrepreneurs. I knew at a very young age I would be one, just didn’t know when. As Ariane (my husband) and I started our business, we were looking for a community ourselves where we would not be judged as we were figuring out entrepreneurship as founders of color. We found community in various spaces outside of Macon and decided it was necessary to create a safe space for founders of color to navigate through technology as we were sensitive to what pain points might look like for us.
Tell us about your activities in the community, especially what you’re most excited about.
I’m most excited about the upcoming events we have in the pipeline for Macon Black Tech. I can’t spill the beans yet!
As you look to the future, what are your professional and personal goals?
My personal and professional goals intertwine.
Oftentimes I get asked, “Why am I focused on creating a safe space for founders of color? Why not everyone?” When we look at data on a local to national level, the pipeline for access to resources for founders of color is not braggable. This is not to minimize the work that many do, which I’m grateful to see and experience. We have a historical reminder there is so much more work to be done.
My goal personally and professionally is to make a dent along with other changemakers where we can level the playing field, where we provide access to resources for innovators, creatives, and technologists of color locally, where they can show up on a global market amongst all races to have access to the same jobs, where they, too, can provide for their family.
Although this is a big, hairy goal, I firmly believe that we’re on the right track.
What are you personally committed to accomplishing in Macon and why?
Besides the previous goal answered above, just showing up authentically as myself (quirky, introverted, and passionate) while holding space for others to walk in their zones of genius.
Right now, what is the best thing going on in Macon?
The activations of diverse initiatives in music, art, start-up communities.
What have you learned about yourself or people during the post-2020 era (taking into consideration COVID, Black Lives Matter, economy, etc.)? What do you hope people will do in response to any/all of our current events?
This is a multi-layered question that we might not have enough room for.
As a Black woman entrepreneur in this era, I have learned to preserve my energy to promote healing to still show up in uncomfortable spaces in the heart of us remembering George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many.
During COVID, as a non-healthcare practitioner that works in the healthcare space, having lost loved ones and still processing how to navigate in this new space, I am doing my best to navigate in a space to think about community holistically.
I am learning to be gentle with myself and others as this virus has impacted every aspect of life, not just health (the economy, law, and so much more).
To be candid, these last few years have brought a lot of loss. Although many use the word “lost” metaphorically as the beginning of a new chapter, it is also scary. I think humanizing people’s experiences of how they decide to show up is something to consider, and in a stress-inducing era, we have to remember to be gentle with ourselves and others within our communities.
What is your vision for our community?
To create a space of empathy where decisionmakers can create a room of healing for us all. Healing brings collaboration where we can nurture our economy and our story.
I’m grateful to see how we are growing in our community. One thing that I’m learning about growth is to listen when it is uncomfortable. In my work experience in innovation and community-building, holding space shows up a lot. Holding space means auditing our processes and surroundings in our workplace, where we hang out, on our boards, in our initiatives to see who needs to be at the table. It is not only important to bring diverse voices to our tables but to additionally listen to see what we can unlearn in the process. It is one thing to bring diverse voices but create room of healing so that we can grow in trust and create cross-sectional collaborations across markets to impact our community as a whole.
What needs to change to encourage continued progress in our city?
This is a tough question. The only thing I can think of is creating more rooms to be nimble.
You want to know what kills innovation and progress? “This is not how we do things here,” or in some instances (not all), “This is not going to work.”
When you talk about Macon to people who don’t live here, what do you tell them?
It is the place to be! Macon is serendipitous and magical!
What does it mean to be a good leader?
To be sensitive to different voices and create avenues where the marginalized have a safe space. When systems have been around for generations and you are intentional about creating a safe space, that is an uncomfortable process. But innovation doesn’t thrive in redundancy.
Being a good leader means creating holistic opportunities for individuals within our communities to thrive and grow for a better future for our community and generations to come.