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East Atlanta’s Hidden Gems

Every day we have a choice. We can support an up and coming podcaster, try a new family-run restaurant, join a boutique gym started by a local fitness champ or we could keep giving away our money to the handful of giants who already control so much of our commerce. Our daily decisions impact the kind world we live in; if we want a world where small businesses are growing and artists and creatives are thriving then we should support them with our time, money and attention. We’re proud to highlight inspiring creatives and entrepreneurs each week in Hidden Gems series.  Check out some of East Atlanta’s gems below.

Danielle Smith

From as far back as I can remember, I loved to draw. I have filled up many sketchbooks just doodling with pen, charcoal, watercolor, oil pastels. I just loved art and loved to experiment with it. That led me to taking as many art classes as I could in high school, which then led me to get my Bachelors of Fine Arts from Georgia Southern University. There I concentrated in 2D arts, which included painting, drawing, and photography. I even had the opportunity to take a study abroad program to China and Vietnam where I got to travel for two weeks studying photography. Truly one of the best experiences of my life. After graduating is when I moved to Atlanta. After some time of working in restaurants and having fun not being in school for the first time. I met tons of great people in Atlanta and enjoy live painting at festivals and local concerts. After a few years of not quite finding my footing in the art world, I decided to go back to school. I attended Portfolio Center, a graduate certificate program that is designed to help you build a portfolio and skills for working in the industry. Read more>>

Kevin Lee

I started my martial arts journey since the age of seven in WuShu and Taekwondo when I used to live in Taiwan. After a couple of years of training, I began my other martial art training path in Aikido when my family moved to a different town in Taiwan. Years gone by, my family moved to United States when I was 12 years old and I was able to continue my training in Taekwondo with a school club. I had a lot of fun training Taekwondo, but I wanted to branch out my martial arts training. I passed by a local martial arts academy when I drive to school every morning. One day, I have decided to step in to check it out. That’s how I found my current teacher, Sifu Francis Fong. Sifu Francis has been a great mentor to me. Not only he’s taught me martial arts, but also a way of life. I was able to expand my martial arts training to different disciplines including, Wing Chun, Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do, Filipino Kali, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, Savate, CSW, MMA and Silat. Read more>>

TR Gifted

I got my start in music when my older brother composed and wrote my first song when I was only 12 years old. Right then and there, I realized that I had a passion for music that I could not ignore. I spent the next couple of years writing and studying various genres of music to get a feel for what sound I wanted to go for. After exploring different genres, I realized I wanted my music to be “the melting pot” of genres. I did not want my music to fit inside of just one box; I wanted my music to transcend the traditional norm of what a genre consists of. Read more>>

Sky Sérene

I was born in Brunswick, GA and raised in Atlanta, GA. Growing up, I’ve always loved music. It was 6th grade in middle school when I actually realized I had a voice and could write music. As young as I was, I was training my own voice. I would sing my favorite songs, take it and sing it in my own unique way. I would sing songs like Get it together by India Arie If you love me by Brownstone, Diamonds and pearls by Prince and many more. I would also teach myself techniques when I would use my singing voice. Like, finding my own sound, articulation, runs and more. When it came down to writing music, I’ve always been an awesome writer throughout school. But, I also applied that to writing music. I don’t find it difficult to write music. It just flows through me. As of today, my voice is stronger and ready to bring something different to you all. I am working on new music I have never released. So, I am looking forward to this journey. Read more>>

Victora Bianca

I was a young, troubled girl growing up on the eastside of Atlanta, GA simply looking for an escape & I discovered reading. My daddy had a closet full of books in our living room that I would take full advantage of while my brothers were outside playing. Reading made my troubles go away & made my dreams of better days more vivid. Like a lot of us, growing up in the hood with limited resources wasn’t easy, but we were taught to make a way & that’s what Hood Healing Poetry is all about – making something out of nothing. “Healing the hood one poem at a time.” My love for reading transformed into a new love of writing when I reached grade school. English was my favorite subject. The library was my after school hang out. My teachers always reassured me that I was a great writer because of my ability to tell a story at just a young age. Outside of the classroom, I would write fiction horror stories on notebook paper & staple them together like a book. At lunchtime, I’d pass it around the lunch table to my friends for them to read them. Read more>>

Eric Williams

Growing up, you never know what you’ll do with your life and how far you’ll actually go. I’ve always dreamed of being in the spotlight whether that be for my talent or for my intellect; maybe both. I moved to Stone Mountain, Georgia back in 2007 for a second time. I graduated from DeKalb Early College Academy in 2011 with an Associates degree as well as my high school diploma. At the last minute, I chose to go to Savannah State University and had a blast. I later graduated Cum Laude with my Bachelors of Science in 2014 having made life-changing memories. Through trial and error of finding my way, I finally became an AmeriCorps Service Member in 2016 at a wonderful school previously located in Clarkston, Georgia called Georgia Fugees Academy Charter School. For two years, I was able to meet different families from various countries while continuing my goal of making lasting connections. While working here full time, I was able to graduate from Argosy University with a Masters of Public Health degree. Read more>>

Deborah Gonzalez

The relevant part of my story begins on Nov ember 9, 2016 the day after the presidential election. The result hit me hard as I read a text from my daughter that morning – “Mom I’m scared.” It felt as if everything I had told my daughters as they grew up was a lie – that the America that I knew no longer existed and in its stead was a racist, white supremist patriarchy. As I wrestled with the depression a friend invited me to a retreat of the local Democratic Party. While there, it seemed they were all talking about needing to replace the current state legislator, but no one would commit to run. I remembered my father’s words “if something needs to be done and you are the only one who can do it, you have a duty to step up.” When I got home, my husband asked how did the meeting go? I told him I was running for office and without missing a beat, he said “whatever you need.” Read more>>

Scott Thomas

Scott Thomas founded Sky360° Aerial Media in 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia after spending two decades in professional media production. Although originally an Atlanta native, Scott spent years working in different media markets across the country and has also traveled the globe extensively, creating and producing exceptional content for brand marketing, business development and entertainment sectors. Scott returned to his hometown of Atlanta in 2017 to work in the rapidly expanding entertainment industry and quickly realized how drones and unmanned aircraft could deliver creative media options as well as incredibly detailed data that in most cases simply could not be captured any other way. In 2021, Sky360° Aerial Media has become one of the nation’s leading pioneers in aerial UAV and drone-based imagery and data collection. Sky360° provides a true start to finish solution including flight planning, aerial imagery, data capture with advanced processing and analytics enabling partners to capture maximum value and critical insights. Read more>>

Mychal Pickens

I am currently a Vice President of Sales for one of the largest Logistics and Supply Chain providers in the World – Schneider (www.schneider.com). As a native to Atlanta, I was proud to be raised in the South Metro suburbs which were predominately middle to lower-income surrounded by a tremendous amount of culture and diversity. My goals and ambition to succeed in life were highly driven by a passion to ensure that I was able to maintain a similar lifestyle or better post-graduation from college. Upon completion of my Human Resources based curriculum as an undergraduate student at Georgia Southern University and later a Master’s program graduate at Keller Graduate School, I only pursued employment with companies who chartered Core Values which mirrored those which were important to me. Within the organizations, I have been employed, and most specifically with my current employer (Schneider), I have had numerous opportunities to leverage my position(s) towards reaching back into the community thru volunteerism, Diversity and Inclusion charitable sponsorships, Non-Profit Organizations Sponsorships and College recruitment among many other ventures. Read more>>

Chapelle Nichole

Television has been my best friend since I was a small child. I was the only child by my mother until I was 15 and growing up in my grandmother’s home did not leave a lot of room for me to get into much, so my imagination and television kept my mind busy. I would constantly reenact what I saw on the screen and try to mimic their emotions. Being alone forced me to create my own world and I played every character! Even currently, I sometimes have to playback movies and shows that I watch because I’m so wrapped up in studying the character’s expressions and recreating in my head how I would do it differently or better, if possible, that I miss the storyline! When I was young, my mother took me to audition for the role of “Olivia” for The Cosby Show! Let’s just say I was amazing, but I wasn’t ready. You’re welcome, Raven LOL. I have always been so intrigued in the art of acting. Growing up, I was afraid to pursue acting because I would often doubt myself or fear the backlash of teasing from my peers. But I would always get my time to shine in front of my family and friends by reenacting something we all saw or heard. From as far back as I can remember people would always tell me, “Your personality belongs on TV!” or “You deserve your own show, you are hilarious!”. Still, I was too afraid to go for what I loved to do but the thought never left me. I literally think about acting EVERY SINGLE DAY!. Read more>>

Imp

I got started doing what I do today on a demo copy of FL Studio and sharing raps with my peers in high school. As I progressed into college, I got lucky in that I found like-minded individuals who wanted to make music for the sake of making good music. Not exactly the most exciting story, but it’s the truth. From there, it was just a matter of networking with various folks in my local scene and on the internet and finding what avenues I can venture down to present my art to larger audiences. Read more>>

David Queener

Photography has always been a part of my story. As a kid, I remember my father investing in a camera and spending time in a dark room, so our family photo albums are filled with memories from my childhood and beyond. Which is one of the main reasons I gravitated to photography, from my college years to having a family of my own, I always wanted to capture those memories that highlighted the best time in our lives. As my children got older this hobby of mine grew, especially when they started high school and start playing sports. I also did things like cover prom and senior pictures for them but I never considered starting a business until 2017. I was experiencing some of life’s hardships and focusing on photography provided an outlet. I guess you can say I used it as a coping mechanism which led me to fall in love with the art all over again. I began taking classes and studying the heroes of our craft. The more of the art I was exposed to, the more I was determined to learn. Eventually, friends and family members hired me to do portraits, which brought me here today. Read more>>

Almesha Gude

My journey as a REALTOR® I want to say honestly started as a young girl and my G-Ma would take me and my cousins riding around to look at mansions on the weekends. I was always so intrigued (even now) by the different home styles and often wondered what they were like inside, also how they came about acquiring such beautiful homes, lol. Life events happened and I got pregnant while in high school so I wound up going in a different direction than my dream and desires. As time went on, it was always something in me that kept pushing me to get into the real estate industry, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, so I started researching the different career paths and talking to others but I was scared because I understood it was a job where you had to create your own clientele and I couldn’t count on getting paid every two weeks. So being comfortable and thinking I was too late in the game was holding me back. I had been praying for a change to be able to work for myself but also be able to financially provide for my family and create generational wealth but I didn’t just want to go into another corporate job setting, I wanted to continue following my purpose by helping others but to include doing what was always a passion for me. Read more>>

Zonja Brooks

I got my start in the driver education industry by mere accident. I went in to interview with a long-standing driver education company in 2000 for an office assistant position. Albeit, I ended up showing up on the day interviews were being conducted for driving instructors. I continued with the interview that day as normal and got hired. After that day, I never looked back! Being new to the industry, during the early years I gained a lot of knowledge and made a lot of mistakes; however, the most valuable lesson I learned proved to be that learning to drive is a life skill that must be taught according to the student’s individual learning style. It was this reason, I was able to turn the next 13 years into my passion. In 2015, I decided to begin my journey first through self-employment to being a small business owner. I began Pitch Driving Solutions Driving School at the end of 2019 because the driving industry needed to transition to the use of more progressive teaching methods. Read more>>

Paula Novelle

Back in May 2017, My partner and I purchased an old rundown, small house in Scottdale, GA, which is unincorporated Dekalb County right next to N. Decatur, Clarkston, and Avondale Estates. We repurposed the house built in 1941 with a large backyard into an outdoor artsy venue. We gutted it and found original shiplap wood under the sheetrock. We changed the layout and installed new plumbing and electric wiring. The new layout has a private living space for me similar to a master bedroom or studio apartment (private bathroom, bedroom, and office) and the front part of the house is the public washroom, guest/green room, inside conference space. More details here: https://www.heck.house/layout-of-heck-explained. We are still in progress of “art-ing up” the venue. In February 2020, Heck.house, Inc obtained a 501c3 non-profit status. Read more>>

Bobby Stephens

I first had an interest in DJing when I was 12 and first saw the movie Juice. When I got to college fall of 2001, I started working for WGHR which was the school radio station. That gave me unlimited access to the studio and DJ equipment. It wasn’t long that me and my roommate started checking out the equipment and DJing college parties. We also hosted a radio show known as “The Hazard Zone”. I left the school in early 2004 and started DJing anywhere I could from strip clubs to school dances. In 2005 I released two mixtapes Slizzard and Slurred 1 and 2. They were my rendition on the “chopped and screwed” sound originated by Houston legend, the late DJ Screw. In 2016, I was introduced to Saga Boss by a mutual friend, and I was reintroduced to radio becoming part of the multi award-winning DTTO Show. From 2016-2018 we collected 4 ATL Hottest awards. In 2019 and 2020, I was crowned ATL Hottest DJ. In March 2021, I started DOPE Enterprise with comprised of a weekly podcast as well as DJ and hosting services and merchandise. Read more>>

Gisele Makani

I was born in big family and everyday we ate a big meal and my mom had to ask all the girls to be in the kitchen to make meals 2 or 3 times a week. When I joined my church, New Jerusalem Dream Center (NJDC), we had a lot of activities and tended to always have an issue in regards to the food for these events. I then took the initiative started to make food for all the events in my church. From there, I found out there was a need in our community of a caterer and by God’s Grace, I started my own catering business. Read more>>

Khaliah John-Baptiste

My story starts off in 4th grade, I was introduced to film by helping out with school news every morning. Then from there, I started working at my church helping out in the sound/video department and learning more about the film industry and the different departments. However, it was not until high school when I realized that I wanted to have a career as a director in the film industry. I went to Dekalb School of the Arts Highschool and there, I had a concentration in the media/film department. In high school, I got to work on so many projects ranging from music videos, documentaries, and also short films. I directed two short films in high school which were also selected in the film festival at my school. After graduating high school, I got accepted to Georgia State University as a Film major. Even though I love directing and that is my main focus, I also do photography as well which has helped me develop my skills in the film industry. Read more>>

Mary Mbaba

I began practicing yoga in 2005. It was the summer after undergrad and I did not have a job so I moved back home with my parents. My little sister had a Nintendo Wii and this was the device that I used in my first yoga practice. Since then, yoga has been a part of my life as a means to reduce stress, anxiety, and other negative mental health symptoms. 16 years later, I am now studying ways – as part of my doctoral dissertation – to increase Black people’s participation in yoga practice. I completed my first graduate school program at Emory University Rollins School of Public Health from 2010-2012. This is where I began research working with criminal justice populations, individuals at risk for HIV, and substance users. My master’s thesis focused on the pre-determining factors influencing suicides in jail. When I graduated with this degree (MPH) in 2012, I moved to Washington, D.C. to continue my career as a social and behavioral health researcher. Here is where I published research on and worked with 1) opioid-dependent populations and 2) Black gay, bisexual, and same gender loving men. Read more>>

Skylar Remick

We’ve all heard the classic tale of the small-town kid trying to make it big in the city… Mine is something of a parallel paired with a pinch of unintentional rebellion; I say rebellion loosely, as my once perceived “non-traditional” approach to life seems to have become a new normal; “Traditional” is subjective anyway, right? I had my fair share of “move-arounds” before I landed here in Atlanta, and here, my desire to create found the soil to thrive. I found myself immersed in an environment of artistic minds, curious friends, and limitless inspiration. As a visually stimulated person, I’ve always been fond of capturing the imagery that soothes my ever-racing mind; I’ve given this practice a phrase, “creative masturbation,” or the act of satisfying the chaos of creative thought through content creation. So, if you haven’t yet gathered, I am a photographer to some, but to me, I’m merely a person sharing my perspective. Read more>>

Tashaya Cutliff

I was introduced to painting almost 14 years ago when my parent’s house in Orlando, FL burned down. The incident made the news which followed with a ton of contractors reaching out to offer their services. My parents met with a few different companies & made their decision to go with a particular company who in the end ran off with their money and left us to complete the final work. I was approximately seven months pregnant with my amazing son Gabriell at the time, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to get my hands dirty. And that was the first time I picked up a paintbrush & roller and got to work. Fast forward, I moved to Atlanta, GA a little after having my daughter Asia. I found myself at a crossroad working full time for a cable company in the comfort of my home & working part-time as a mobile hairstylist. I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit & I desired to be a full-time entrepreneur & thank God my dear friend Jenelle Brown who I met through my hair business “Cha Chas Picture Perfect Hair” presented me with an amazing opportunity to work side by side and teach me the business aspect of running a painting company. Read more>>

Chase Harris

I’m a 24 years old photographer trying my best to impress the 15 years old photographer version of myself. I have never worked as a photographer but I spend majority of my time taking photos. When I was younger, I spent so much time on YouTube (still do) learning everything I could about photography. I owe my love for documentation and sharing to YouTube. I would try things out until I found something that matched who I am as an artist. This is still the case today, but I have a better idea of who I am and am much more successful at taking the photos I want to take now. We’ll see where this ideology takes me in another ten years. Read more>>

NancyJeanette Long

A native of Fort Worth, Texas, my artistic career began at an early age when I began painting with my mother on Sunday afternoons. Surrounded by art books, paintings and sculptures at home, I always knew I wanted to be a painter. My early influences included Picasso, Cezanne and Matisse for their daring use of paint to communicate beyond the surface of objects in our everyday world. But, as happens to many of us, my life took me in another direction. I attended Texas Christian University, University of Texas, Indiana University and East Tennessee State University, where I studied languages and received advanced degrees in French, Slavic Linguistics, and Early Childhood Education and took “a few art classes along the way”. After completing my degrees, I came back to a formal study of art at University of West Georgia in Carrollton and taught art at The Heritage School in Newnan, Georgia. Read more>>

Tianna Avant

I went to Georgia Southern University (the real GSU) for fashion design while also interning with a tailor shop here in Atlanta. The shop I interned for was a suit company dedicated to men, similar to most suit companies, and while that was really dope, I had an even brighter idea up my sleeve. Everyday in the shop I noticed the women who wanted to buy a nice suit would come in and not have the same experience as the guys as far as comfortability. I noticed the feeling of estrangement from most of the women who walked in. They simply did not feel like they belonged no matter how much we tried to provide a great experience. A light bulb went off in my head one day and that was the moment Avänt, Inc, was born. Avänt is a luxury custom suit company specifically for women. My idea was to create a comfortable atmosphere for fashion-forward women who enjoyed wearing suits, same-sex couples who preferred wedding tuxedos instead of gowns, and brilliant female CEOs. Read more>>

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