THE HILL – A Latino-American and an African-American student have come together to form a culturally conscious, award-winning business idea that promotes awareness of science careers, and the two are headed to New York to pitch it.
They are Nayla Nava and Maya McGregory. Their company, Afrospanic Atmosphere, is a line of bi-cultural apparel and accessories that encourages blacks and Latinos to pursue STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics).
Afrospanic Atmosphere also encourages science through an outreach program in which related topics are taught.
McGregory, 18, the African-American student, is a graduate of McKinley Classical Leadership Academy and is now a freshman at the University of Kansas. She lives in the Central West End.
Nava, 15, is a resident of Carondelet and is a sophomore at Grand Center Arts Academy.
The two met while working at the St. Louis Science Center’s Youth Exploring Science (YES) program at the Taylor Resource Community Center at 4900 Manchester Ave. near Kingshighway.
McGregory was midway through her business idea when Nava saw it and decided to join in.
“I saw that she was doing something to encourage her community and she was making T-shirts and designs, and I was like, ‘I like this,’” Nava said. “I like for people to get involved in their culture and empower their people, so I wanted to work with her.”
Afrospanic includes science-pushing T-shirts and earrings.
McGregory, home from college over the weekend, donned one of their T-shirts that has a silhouette of Africa with the words “Black Scientists Matter.” She also wore a pair of Africa-shaped earrings that have “St. Louis Science Center” written on them.
The same day, Nava wore a T-shirt with their company’s logo and slogan on it in Spanish: “Tenemos valor,” or “We have value.”
It was inspired by a Mexican man with whom Nava had a political conversation while on the way to work at the center.
“The thing that people don’t understand is that we have value, but they see us as nothing,” the man told Nava. “We are capable of a lot of great things.”
In the process of working together, Nava and McGregory learned a lot about one another’s cultures, differences and similarities and decided to mend the sometimes adversarial relationship between the groups.
“I’m really appreciative of that because there’s so much negativity between blacks and Latinos in America, but we’re really, like, the same, so we have the opportunity to bridge the gap between the cultural barriers in our communities,” McGregory said.
Adding to that, Nava said: “Both of our communities do their own thing to fight for our rights separately, but if we come together, it’s going to make an even more powerful and impactful fight for equality and the rights that we both deserve.”
Their socially aware business idea took first place in regionals for NFTE (Network for Teaching Entrepreneurs). The network brings together young entrepreneurs to pitch innovative business ideas to panels of expert judges, including investors and highly successful start-up leaders.
Thus far, for their business, they have been approved for a teen entrepreneur start-up in the amount of $3,300 from St. Louis Community Credit Union. They have received endorsement, formed a partnership with and served Youth In Need.
Afrospanic, which has already won them an all-expenses-paid trip to New York, affords them the opportunity to compete for up to $17,000 in prize money. They will also gain invaluable entrepreneurial experience.
Another science program student, 16-year-old Jada Pittman, who attends McCluer North High School in north St. Louis County, is also competing in New York. Her business, Bow’d Out, offers string musicians a custom-wrapped musician’s bow, encouraging individuality and self-expression.
“I am very proud of these young ladies,” said Lauren Patrick, their mentor at the center, who believes they have a good chance at winning in the finals. “They have put in a lot of time, effort, energy, creativity and passion into the business.”