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With the growing number of hate crimes specifically targeting the AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) community, I feel unsafe walking alone in public. And anti-Asian hate crimes are increasing at an alarming rate. According to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, hate crimes against Asians increased by 339% in 2021. Cities like New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles have seen increases in hate crimes that exceeded 2020 levels. In early March , a man was arrested in New York City for committing hate crimes against seven women who identified as part of the AAPI community. In the space of two hours, he brutally beat, elbowed and shoved Asian women between the ages of 19 and 57.
I cannot stop the tide of xenophobia sweeping our country on my own, but I can become more personally aware of my own surroundings and take steps to protect myself.
As I return to the world after periods of isolation, I work on becoming more aware of my own personal safety. “Awareness of your surroundings and making critical adjustments is the most important thing when traveling alone in public,” Josh Katz, Krav Maga Instructor and Director of 419 Strategy, shared with me. “If you’re on the phone while traveling, make sure the volume isn’t too loud and only use an earphone. When entering a public area, be aware of who is with you and be ready to leave if you feel unsafe to leave. Finally, if you find yourself walking down a dimly lit street, take out your earbuds, turn on your phone’s flashlight, and stay fully safe. Many people feel better when on the phone with a friend they feel insecure, but it ties your hands and distracts you from your surroundings. Your friend won’t help you, but your senses and instincts can. You just have to give them space to work at full power.
Following Katz’s advice, I was looking for ways to feel more confident when I stumbled across Roq Innovation, the maker of Headlightz beanies and headbands, dubbed one of them O The magazine’s favorite things in 2021.
“As someone who liked to go for an evening jog after my kids were in bed, safety was my top priority,” says Raquel Graham, CEO and Founder of Roq Innovation. “I needed a light to see where I was going, not a headlamp.”
The compact Headlightz headband is hands-free and features an innovative bright white LED light that is lightweight, detachable and rechargeable. Choose one of three brightness levels, and the battery lasts between about 1.75 and 8 hours. It’s super easy to charge (no loose cords), comfortable and soft, and fits both my kids and me. It comes in a range of colors. Most importantly, it increases your visibility – you can see where you are and where you are going.
“My mother is 76 years old and lives alone,” says Graham. “She’s of Asian descent and it’s amazing and scary how much hate we’re seeing right now. I’m glad to have a product on the market that can make my mom and all of us a little bit safer.”
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Here are three lessons Raquel Graham learned in building her groundbreaking invention and company:
“I solved problems that made my life easier”
Graham’s company started in 2014 as an experiment. “My kids refused to wear scarves in the cold Chicago winters,” she says. “So I made a prototype for my kids that they love. Other parents stopped to ask me where I got this scarf. I knew then that I had to bring it to market.”
Graham developed this first product, NEKZ, with no retail or manufacturing experience. Her first account was Follett, who helped get her products into NCAA schools across the country.
After finding success with NEKZ, she founded her company, Roq Innovation, and hasn’t stopped inventing ever since. “My number one piece of advice is to look for problems and solve them that make your life easier,” says Graham. “Because if it makes your life easier, the solution you find will help solve problems for a whole group of people.”
Also see: How this first-generation American founder is taking on fast-food giants
Credit: LX Management
“I studied Home Shopping Network tirelessly before joining”
Graham has been a success on the Home Shopping Network (HSN) for six years and is one of the longest running black owned businesses represented on the network. But her success didn’t come overnight. She studied and watched HSN tirelessly so she was ready before she was there.
“I’m obsessed with products and how they can improve our lives,” says Graham. “I looked at everything I could on HSN, studied the segments and formats and thought about what story I would tell with my own products.”
She recalls coldly emailing HSN and never hearing a reply the first time. When the opportunity to be part of the network finally arose, Graham was ready as she had been preparing for this moment all along. “You have to be ready when the call comes. And if you make an effort, the call comes.”
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“I left money on the table”
After all, one of the biggest lessons Graham learned the hard way is when to turn away from opportunities. “While retailers are gaining support for supporting black-owned businesses and having them represented on their shelves, the reality is that many of us are unable to fulfill orders,” says Graham. “We don’t have access to the necessary funds. When two major retailers come knocking at the same time, I don’t have the resources to supply the product in such large quantities. And I had to leave money on the table. “
Graham hopes more retailers will work directly with banks and help provide financing options to support small business owners. “These are the kind of allies we need to see more of. When you see black-owned companies leaving money on the table, don’t just let them go. Help develop the solution with them.”
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