Meeting entrepreneurs who are so clear about their purpose, is infectious. Spending time with them, elevates my mood and leaves me feeling like anything is possible.
Junita is one of those entrepreneurs. If you ask her about why she started Junita’s Jar, this spirited woman gets a very serious expression on her face, looks you straight in the eye and says: “I never want another woman to feel like she can’t talk about the abuse she may be suffering from an intimate or domestic partner.”
Junita has known since she was 12 years old that she’d own her own business, she just didn’t know what it was. As a strong-willed girl growing up in St. Paul, she was always fascinated by creating something out of nothing if that something didn’t exist.
Her grandfather owned a barbershop and her mom started a nonprofit, so she witnessed entrepreneurship in her family. In my experience with entrepreneurs, there’s commonly a family connection to that lifestyle. As a kid, if you witness your parents or close family members running their own business, it tends to be an easier leap to make because you’ve seen it with your own eyes.
Junita was closest to her mom’s entrepreneurial experience, witnessing her success as an owner. Junita’s mom was a fulltime mom until the last of her 8 children started Kindergarten. Then, she returned to school and started her nonprofit, Family Values for Life. Junita and her siblings helped out when needed and are able to proudly say that Family Values for Life is best known for a Back to School Community Event on the Eastside. They filled a whole parking lot with tents of vendors donating supplies to kids to start their school year right. Junita and her siblings worked alongside their mom at this event and saw what was possible at an early age, even if she didn’t realize it until later in life.
To understand how a precocious 12-year old girl declaring her future entrepreneurial endeavors to the current realization of that declaration as the owner of a mission-driven cookie company, you have to understand Junita’s experience surviving domestic violence.
Married for 14 years and a mom to 2 amazing children, to the outside world, her life looked good. But the painful reality is that she was slowly losing herself to emotional, verbal and physical abuse.
As the years passed, she wanted to leave her marriage, but she didn’t know how to get out. Nobody talked about relationship violence and the more isolated she felt in her situation, the more she started to believe it was her fault. “If only I could do (fill in the blank) better, things at home will improve.”
She didn’t talk to her family about it and she didn’t talk to friends because of the “perfect couple” perception. So, she decided to look to her church and her faith for counsel. Unfortunately, the church let her down. At the time, the message delivered was to “pray more” and then things would turn around.
One day. she hit her lowest point and she went for a run and didn’t come back. She checked into a hotel, not telling anyone so she could try and figure out how she could leave with her kids. She ultimately was able to leave and has been on her own for 5 years!
Her personal experience with violence in her marriage laid the foundation for her mission-driven cookie company, Junita’s Jar. Baking cookies brought her peace because it connected her back to her childhood when her grandmother used to come over and prepare meals every Wednesday. It was during these meal preps that Junita would hear all the family stories.
The process of baking became therapeutic because it was an escape from her marriage. Pulling the ingredients, mixing them, putting the formed cookies in the oven and then sharing with her kids. She had control over something in her life and it felt terrific.
She took this process and made a product she could sell to fund her true calling to help people. The program she started is called “Cookies & Conversations”. She works with student leadership organizations on college campuses to host a two hour event discussing relationship violence. Junita brings a panel of experts in domestic and intimate partner violence. She invites a representative from the medical community, a therapist and a survivor. After their presentation, they leave time for Q & A and that is the most engaged portion of the event, revealing to her that it’s something people need. People need to know how to work with the medical community whether it’s for their own mental health or to reach out when they are in danger. These conversations must be had.
“That’s the crazy thing about purpose. I articulated mine when I was 12 years old, but it wasn’t until I felt like I had nothing to give the world that I was able to pursue it. I think it’s because I never lost hope.”
Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
My dad. He was a man of few words, but he as a very wise man. He died at 58 and he had this deep wisdom. He could listen to what was going on and always give a good solution. I was the first daughter to get married in the family, so I’m the only one he walked down the aisle. Because he died so young, he didn’t get to see the impact he had on our lives. Even though I never told him about the abuse in my marriage, looking back on some of the comments he made, I believe he knew.
Would you like to be famous? In what way?
My dream is to be a world-renowned speaker to inspire people to move beyond their comfort zone to create change. So, if that’s famous, sign me up!
When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
This morning in the car with my son. The Hamilton soundtrack. He knows every word to every song on that soundtrack.
Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
No, but I want it to be peaceful. I want to go to sleep and not wake up, but not now! Maybe when I’m about 110.
For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
My family and my faith.
If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
I don’t think I would change anything. I wouldn’t be the person I am without the experiences that I’ve had.
What do you value most in a friendship?
Trust, but you better be funny!
Share an embarrassing moment in your life.
Just one? I have a good embarrassing and hilarious story. Because my dad worked for an airline, we flew everywhere as kids. Back when we were traveling as a family, you could bring a lot of bags. We traveled with everything, so many bags. On one particular trip, as teenagers, we were going to a church convention and then to Mississippi to see family. We brought a bag of catfish on ice back to Minnesota with us. When we were riding up the escalator, the bag burst and catfish went everywhere! We were mortified and all of us kids just scattered away from my mom because we were so embarrassed.
What is your most treasured memory?
On what became the final father’s day that my siblings and I would physically share with my dad, we sat by his bedside, reminiscing and sharing stores. I was 10 weeks pregnant with my son and was lucky to be able to share the news with my dad. He didn’t live to meet my son, but I gave my son his name.
If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
The mind. Well…I don’t know. It doesn’t say I’d be senile. I’d work that body.