Updated: Jan 22
There is no way around it — the statistics are grim. About 64% of students cannot read at the proficiency level required. This means that most students will either drop out before they graduate or graduate and become adults who are not proficient in reading.
Star Jackson, the founder of SerenelyStar Publishing, recognized this as an educator teaching high school English. She created her publishing company to encourage young people to gain mastery over their reading abilities. And with mastery comes an increase in self-confidence, and with confidence, students will feel ready and prepared to graduate high school, step into their careers and attend college.
What's the biggest fear you had during your business journey?
Star struggled with imposter syndrome. When she began her self-publishing journey, she feared that her book wouldn't meet the standards of other authors. She fell into the comparison trap, paralyzed by the idea that her book wouldn't be worthy enough to be on bookshelves. After achieving her dream of publishing her book, Star wanted to give her students the same sense of accomplishment and confidence. But she wasn't sure if they would benefit from becoming self-published authors.
She said, "Would it just be another thing to accomplish? To get over that, I think the data helped me overcome that fear. Because once I saw how students improved their literary skills and how enhanced their vocabulary. The pride they took in seeing something with their name on it and how much effort they put into making sure it was the best possible manuscript they could develop—I think that's what helped me get over the fear as well."
What's the biggest risk you've taken in your life thus far?
Star didn't have a major publishing company backing her. She had no idea what she was doing or what she was building. She questioned if she went the self-publishing route, would her book sell, or would people even care about the mission? The unknown was incredibly risky while fighting against the constant intrusions of self-doubt.
Tell us about a major setback in your business and how you recovered.
Funding is a significant setback for SerenelyStar Publishing. Star's business model is unique because she helps emerging young authors publish their books versus adult authors. She said, "It's difficult for people to kind of buy into this because a lot of people have never heard of a self-publishing company that helps students. It's more so a thing where it's individualized towards adults or young adults who are defining their role within the literary space. I guess it's one of those things people aren't necessarily willing to bank on for kids just because it's not familiar ground for them."
The tricky part is that literary agents typically work with authors with either an established audience or experience under their belts. Most agents need to know that the author and the book will sell. Eventually, the buy-in comes from people who understand the mission and those who are committed to closing the literacy gap and seeing young people excel in reading and writing.
What are you most proud of when it comes to SerenelyStar Publishing?
Star is most proud of her students' achievements. She said, "I would say the fact that I've helped so many students graduate high school and go on to college and then, in addition to that, receive scholarships. I've taken students on college tours. I would say anything with post-secondary education because it goes beyond reading and writing. So helping students advance in life is one of the things I'm most proud of."
Describe what it was like preparing for the pitch competition.
This was Star's first pitch competition. She watched many of the Black Girl Ventures past pitch competition videos on YouTube to prepare for the competition. She said, "...kind of knowing what to expect maybe with questions and how I should prepare my speech and just different elements of my pitch deck—just getting all those things together beforehand, I think that's what allowed me to feel more comfortable.
I won't lie and say I wasn't nervous, but I definitely felt like the nerves were put to ease once I met everyone. Everyone was so welcoming, and they were just really sweet and nice. So it made it that much easier to stand up in front of the crowd and pitch. It was just a wonderful experience from beginning to end. Everyone was so courteous and respectful; it felt like a sisterhood, so I really appreciated it."
The most helpful part of the experience was pitch practice. Not only did Star get a chance to practice her pitch and receive feedback, but she also was able to prepare for any potential mishaps. She said, "I think they covered all bases in terms of making us feel very comfortable, and it kind of helped also to build your confidence as well."
She advises those looking to pitch at a competition: "Just go for it. I would also mention as a point of emphasis is just developing that confidence and understanding whatever you have as far as your company—as long as you're pushing your mission forward and it's making an impact on those around you, go for it. If it's uplifting the community, shoot your shot. Just continue to be consistent within your business and keep the end goal in mind."
SerenelyStar Publishing plans to use the pitch funds for the operational part of its business. Star will purchase her students' ISBNs since many of them are done or almost completed with their manuscripts. Some of her students need illustrators for their books, so she plans on hiring a few. Next is copywriting the students' material and helping some students submit trademarks for their businesses.
Star is already signed up to pitch at another pitch competition in Dallas.
What's the most critical lesson you've learned about business?
Star has learned the power of networking. She believes entrepreneurs underestimate the power of being in a room full of people that can help push your business forward.
Star said, "Just providing that ecosystem for growth is important and I think putting yourself in positions to make power moves are essential to business growth. Because sometimes, someone may not have the answer, but they may be connected to someone who does. So if you put yourself in the position to be around the people that can continuously grow your business, I think it puts you at an advantage."
What do you think is an important skill or asset you need to be successful in business?
Star believes every entrepreneur needs to develop interpersonal skills and communicate effectively. She considers being able to converse with people at all levels in the business world makes all the difference.
She said, "If you're able to walk into a room and discuss your business with ease, and people feel like, okay, this is something that they can stand behind. It makes the biggest difference in the world because, as we know, you said, social capital is vital. It's necessary. You have to have it in order to put yourself in a position to win this game.
So I think understanding the importance of always having something to offer as far as being communicative with the people around you and being personable and friendly—all of that stuff ties into just continuing to grow your business."
Support is not always given to women of color in business. When has this shown and hurt or disappointed you the most?
Star said, "I would say initially, sometimes the immediate reaction to some people's awareness of your business can be to say, well, that's not relevant to me. And because many of the students I serve are low-income, high-poverty area students. And that may not be a priority for those who didn't grow up this way or don't have children who live in these areas. The initial pushback is what hinders the progress within your business if you're looking for whether it's funding or whether it's opportunities to be able to have a seat at the table.
I think that initial reluctance to help or assist is usually one of the biggest hurdles or obstacles that businesses face for Black and Brown women because we can't necessarily get our foot in the door. So we end up just saying, you know what, I'll create my own. I don't need a seat at the table. I'll make my own table. So that usually is the result."
How do you measure success?
Star looks at success through the lens of her students. Success is seeing the smile on her student's faces when they accomplish something like publishing a book for the first time and taking pride in that. Witnessing her students go from meeting an expectation to mastering an expectation is a success.
She said, "For me, what brings joy to my heart is just knowing that I'm making an impact and that they'll take many life lessons with them for the rest of their lives. And it is the difference maker and students saying, I don't know if college is right for me, and then deciding later on, I know I have to go to college. I measure success through the mastery of students elevating themselves in their lives."
Her students are still in the manuscript phase, but 37 have well-developed manuscripts.
What's the most exciting part of your business?
The most exciting part of Star's business is watching her students speak on interests that have surpassed their grade level, using elevated vocabulary and speaking at a college level while also using deductive reasoning skills. This solidifies that her students are learning and going beyond what they've learned.
What do you think the future holds for Black and Brown women entrepreneurs?
Star said, "I think Black and Brown women are the future of business. We are creating so many spaces and so many opportunities. We're opening so many doors. We have resources that we're sharing. I think we'll dominate the space. I mean, we're already on our way. Knowing the statistics of how many Black and Brown women open businesses each year proves to the world that we are here to stay.
We're not folding. We're not leaving. This is really going to be a space that we take over. And I'm just excited for what's to come because all of that will be wonderful to see. When you can have students, kids, or anyone in general just turn on the TV and see Black and Brown women represented at all levels of business, it gives you something to shoot for.
Rather than just saying I want to involve myself in entertainment. Because many of our students think, oh, I can just be this basketball player, football player, singer, rapper, and actor. It goes beyond that. You can be an entrepreneur and start a business that can impact and change the world. So for me, that's the most rewarding aspect of it.
If you and I were speaking 3 years from now, what would it take for you to be over the moon about your progress?
In over three years, SerenelyStar Publishing company would have 200-300 students who have self-published their books, graduated high school, attended college, or are in their careers. The company would have documented proof that students have had results and have been positively impacted.
Being a business owner is a tough job. How do you take care of yourself?
Star steps away from her business. She enjoys having moments of solitude and reading a good book. She spends the weekends unwinding and relaxing.
What's your favorite quote or mantra?
Maya Angelou, "Love is many things but one thing it's not and can never be is unsure."
Malcolm X, "Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today."
J. Cole, "If I'm betting on myself, then I completely double down."
What's a good book or podcast would you recommend?
Book: Tupac A Rose That Grew From Concrete
Podcast: Balanced Black Girl
What's your favorite business hack or app that you can't live without?
Slack and Canva.
Name one food item that you have a hard time saying no to.
What's next for SerenelyStar Publishing?
Serene Scholar Publishing is focusing on the publication of its students' manuscripts. Some students are developing their own small writing companies so they will support them in that process. Star plans to enter more pitch competitions to raise more funds and gain access to more resources. She is also developing their curriculum. Star would like to branch to the different areas in Texas to support students outside of the Dallas area. She plans to branch out and elevate.
Any last words…
Star said, "I just want to say thank you to Black Girl Ventures. I appreciate the opportunity to have been selected as one of the pitch participants. Thank you so much for being so welcoming and making the competition not feel like a competition. It really felt like a sisterhood, like when it was all said and done, taking pictures with the girls, we exchanged info.
I just appreciate that you guys were so willing to offer this to not only myself but all of us because, again, when we don't have spaces to do these types of things, it slows down our progress in developing our business models. So thank you, guys, so much for everything that you've done to help me, my company, and all those around me as well. My students would say thank you too if they were here,"