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My GRCC Story: Phalesha Kyes worked to be successful, and now empowers other BIPOC, female businesses

June 29, 2023, GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- It’s an hour before Book.ish, a book fair for adults at the Center for Community Transformation in Grand Rapids, and Phalesha Kyes is on the phone.

“We’re having to make a little pivot,” she says. “But, yeah, it’s going well. We are getting it done.”

Those last five words could be on the business card for her eponymous company, By Phalesha Events. No matter the event she’s planning, she brings a getting-it-done attitude to the job.

Those words are also a bit of a life motto for Kyes, who has overcome more than many in the journey to becoming a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color), female entrepreneur in Grand Rapids.

In 2019, just prior to the pandemic and prior to starting her own business, she was working for a local foster care agency, and she had a chance to write a letter as part of an outreach campaign to state politicians.

In it, she wrote movingly about her lived experience in the Kent County foster care system, including the trauma of being separated from her parents.

“When my three sisters and I were removed, we were placed in a shelter and then eventually separated,” she wrote. “We never had an advocate or someone working consistently with us through the process. We had multiple caseworkers, counselors and placements. Our journey left a deep scar on who we are today.”

Still, she persevered. She found some healing and stability as a student at Lowell High School, where she moved as a ninth grader, and she found more stability at Grand Rapids Community College, where she began in 2009 after graduating high school.

“I was the first one in my family to attend college,” she recalled recently. “I didn’t know anything about student aid or scholarships, but because I was a ‘Ward of the State,’ I was able to attend GRCC for free. And so, I did. It was one of the best choices I ever made.”

Kyes earned her associate degree in arts, but, she said, she dabbled in English, psychology and communications to get a taste for what she liked.

“Given that my credits were paid for, I had that freedom to do so,” she said with a smile.

During the time she attended GRCC, she was also working full-time and was considered a full-time student due to the number of credits she was taking. As a result, she said she didn’t get involved too much at GRCC outside the classroom.

“However, the friends I met in my classes, I’m still friends with today,” she added. “And the teachers were friendly, the guidance counselors were extremely helpful when discussing what classes to take and how to transfer when the time came. I’ve always struggled in school, so having the ability to get help through tutors or the open lab was a tremendous help as well.”

After graduation she worked in insurance and then foster care and then started By Phalesha Events in September 2021.

“I pulled my favorite things from all of my prior jobs, including customer services, event planning and public relations, and formed my own,” she said.

Now, almost two years into running her own business, Kyes can’t imagine anything better.

She does nonprofit, corporate, community engagement and even personal party planning. And while her business card says “We do the planning. You enjoy the event.”, she readily admits that in her line of work, the enjoyment her clients experience often comes as a result of her ability to adjust on the fly.

Book.ish was an example of that. Though there were some last-minute wrinkles she had to deal with, when the event began it went off without a hitch. And Book.ish had an extra bit of pressure, Kyes said, as she was both planning it and also was one of the co-hosts, with Nye Aririguzo.

We Are Lit GR, a multicultural bookstore, provided all of the books for sale and all of the vendors and performers were reflective of the BIPOC community. The event also was a fundraiser for The Diatribe, a Grand Rapids based nonprofit. Indeed, the event was a microcosm of her larger approach to business and life.

“My mission is to empower and collaborate with as many BIPOC and female vendors as possible for every event,” she said. “And it’s important for me to represent organizations that don't have the resources to host events or grow their brand due to barriers.”

That emphasis has roots in her personal identity. Feathers on both her business card and her body remind her of her Native American heritage, a heritage that in turn reminds her that she has a responsibility as a business owner to give back. As a result, she offers a nonprofit discount and donates a portion of her proceeds to local charities, often works on events for causes that resonate with her and sits on the Board of Directors of Mel Trotter Ministries.

Her GRCC days still influence how she approaches work and life, she said.

“I was a full-time student, worked, had relationships and friendships and extracurricular activities,” she said of that period in her life. “I had to learn how to balance all those things, how to give each the appropriate energy and time to each and find time for myself too. That skill is something I’m constantly working on, but I can absolutely say it started during my time at GRCC.”

And, she added with a laugh: If GRCC ever needs help planning or managing events, I’m available.”  

This story was reported by Phil de Haan.