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Small Business Roundtable: The Challenges Facing Black Business Owners Today

With Dr. Quiana M. Shamsid-Deen, DSW, LMSW, Chelle Dockery, Dianna Rose, and Brenae Leary

29 minutes

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Time management, attracting customers, hiring the right talent—these are the topics that are on the minds of business owners today. This session brings together Black business owners to talk about the top challenges they’ve encountered and the strategies and solutions they’ve employed to overcome them.

On the Yelp Blog: Hindsight is 20/20. Learn what these successful entrepreneurs wish they’d known when starting their businesses.

Additional resources

Dr. Quiana M. Shamsid-Deen
Dr. Quiana M. Shamsid-Deen, DSW, LMSW Owner of Supreme Burger
Chelle Dockery
Chelle Dockery Owner of Solo Creative The Marketing Co.
Dianna Rose
Dianna Rose Owner and CEO of Jars of Delight and Essential Kitchen
Brenae Leary
Brenae Leary Associate Director of Communications at Yelp

Brenae Leary: Hi everyone. My name is Brenae Leary, and I’m an associate director of communications here at Yelp. And I am so excited to be moderating today’s Small Business Roundtable with these phenomenal Black women entrepreneurs. Quiana, Chelle, Dianna, please join me on the virtual stage. There we go. Ladies, why don’t we start with some introductions? I’d love for each of you to introduce yourselves, tell the audience a little bit about your business and what each of you do. Diana, why don’t you start?

Dianna Rose: Hi. It is so good to be on this panel. I’m so excited just taking the energy from our initial call. Super excited about this. Been thinking about you ladies for the past two weeks. And I’m Diana Rose. I’m the founder of Jars of Delight, a zero-waste catering company based in New York City, and also the executive director of The Essential Kitchen. Really the first Black owned and operated Essential Kitchen, community kitchen here in Southeast Queens, New York.

Brenae Leary: Awesome. Quiana, what about you?

Dr. Quiana M. Shamsid-Deen, DSW, LMSW: Hi, I am Dr. Quiana. I try to have to make sure I add that for myself. Dr. Quiana Shamsid-Deen, and I am a serial social entrepreneur. But we’re here on today for the rest of our aspect of that, rather than going through a resume. Me and my husband own and operate Supreme Burger, which is based in Decatur, Georgia, but it is one company under a parent company of Supreme Foods worldwide, where we have two brands, Supreme Fish Delight and Supreme Burger, all based within Atlanta, Georgia. We’ve been in restaurant services for 40 years now, which was established by my father-in-law, Shamsid-Deen, and we’ve continued it as second generations going forward. So we’re excited to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

Brenae Leary: Thank you for joining us. And Chelle, why don’t you round us out?

Chelle Dockery: Hi, my name is Rochelle. I am the owner of Solo Creative, a digital marketing agency based in Minneapolis. I started about three years ago with advertising, marketing and building websites. And I guess that’s it for now.

Brenae Leary: That’s it? That’s a lot. Well, Chelle, marketing is always one of the most requested topics of our summits since we started them three years ago. They’re one of the hottest topics. So I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you for a few tips for the entrepreneurs listening in. What’s one piece of marketing advice you think everyone should know?

Chelle Dockery: Oh, absolutely. So if there was one essential piece of marketing advice that everyone should know is the importance of understanding your target audience effectively. That would involve research, gaining deep insights into your demographics, your user behaviors, their preferences, their pain points, what are their struggles, and how can your business offer support to them? And I feel like once you truly understand that information, once you truly understand you’re a target audience, then you’ll be able to create content, you’ll be able to tailor your messaging, you’ll be able to reach them on a more personal level.

Brenae Leary: Amazing. Hope folks are writing that down. And on the other end of the spectrum, Diana, when we talked last week, you mentioned that you’ve never invested in traditional marketing and word of mouth was so crucial to how you grew and continue to grow your business. And you also have a few businesses. So curious, how did you leverage word of mouth to grow Jars of Delight and Essential Kitchen? And most importantly, how do you think about your team when it comes to keeping the wheels turning because you have so many businesses happening and [inaudible 00:03:32] at the same time?

Dianna Rose: Yeah. And that’s a really good question. And I’m often asked that when I say I haven’t spent any marketing dollars in the seven years that Jars of Delight has existed. And I think it’s a combination of two things, right? And being prepared and in the right place at the right time. So when I was asked to cater our first big catering event, it was strategic. It was a business event where we had like-minded business owners who have their own events, have their own summits and conferences. So having a really great product, a beautiful product, it was very easy for the participants that were there to refer us. And that just led to consistent referrals. And showing up in my best self in my business was one of the ways that we didn’t have to spend any marketing, which was great. As for Essential Kitchen, the same thing. That was also another strategic move.

I first launched a farmer’s market in 2020, and a good, I would say, 90% of my kitchen clients are my farmer’s market vendors. So the kitchen only exists because we did a poll, and we knew that we already had a captive audience and a captive market. So there, there’s no need to spend dollars on marketing for Essential Kitchen, but we did spend a lot of money for the farmer’s market, because that was a hard pull and a hard lift. But in regards to my team, we do have a marketing manager for the farmer’s market, solely for the farmer’s market. And she just does such a great job at that, and figuring out what our community wants and needs. So that is just how we are able to not do marketing, but at the same time spend money on marketing as this is a circular operation that we’re creating.

Brenae Leary: Got you. And Quiana, for some of the entrepreneurs in today’s audience, I’m sure they’re thinking about new locations or expansion opportunities, and Supreme Burger is an amazing family run Black-owned franchise, which I cannot underscore enough how phenomenal that is. Can you share with us how you’ve grown the business while balancing testing new models, testing new revenue streams, like the corporate catering and the food truck?

Dr. Quiana M. Shamsid-Deen, DSW, LMSW: Yeah, so I’ll start with saying that the model of just, we have a franchising model. And so the franchising model had already been established by my father-in-law 40 years ago, and so we just kind of expanded upon that. What I would say is bringing in the social aspect, which I think is my gift to that, is just really highlighting that the foundation of growing the business has been based on just impacting an ecosystem of Blacks. Right? So giving opportunities to African-Americans be able to have something that’s their own, that they can grow for themselves, but not just for themselves, for their families and for their community. So it’s really about planting that seed, right, of kind of just infiltrating this Black ecosystem, if that makes sense. So that’s kind of our way of approaching it when we’re trying to grow and expand, we’re approaching those who are looking to have something for themselves.

We’re approaching those looking for some way to, who wants to continue on legacy. They’re building on legacy, they’re building on a model, and they’re building on something that their entire family can be a part of, and not just their family, but their community can also support. So that’s really kind of been our approach as we’ve been growing and expanding. We’re in 15 locations now, and we were in 25, but as the market turned in 2008, we had to do what you got to do. So now, but we’re still in 15, we’re still standing despite that. And how many African-American companies that are employer companies can say that they’re still here 40 years later? So we just kind of build on that legacy and build on our commitment to growing an economic ecosystem for Blacks.

Brenae Leary: Beautiful. One thing I did want to ask you, Quiana, because last week we were talking about AI. It’s one of those hottest topics on the news. You’ve got companies launching drive-throughs powered by AI, and there seems to be a new hot take every day. And when you’re thinking about small businesses competing with those bigger brands who can, at the drop of a dime, adopt the new, latest, greatest technology. How are you guys thinking about AI and all of those emerging technologies?

Dr. Quiana M. Shamsid-Deen, DSW, LMSW: So you definitely bring up a huge point which is keeping up, right? Because not all of us have the resources to keep up, and so we got to do it one step at a time, just to be honest with you. Because we just don’t have it like that to be able to put it in all locations, in all systems like a McDonald’s and a Burger King. We want to get there and we need the community to do that, just throwing that out there, but we don’t have it. And so we did start one, we started little by little, and we actually just implemented a self-ordering kiosk in our Supreme Burger location in Decatur. That was one way of figuring out how can we step into this space, learn this space already behind on a learning curve, right?

So we’re behind in that space, put that in, see how that works, and also utilize that clover system that now allows you to use AI that’s embedded in those systems for marketing pieces, for text communication, for even social media, being able to do it for social media, coming up with captions and kind of lessening that time. But it also helps with just inventory, things that you can kind of just AI and calculate without having to really be hands-on. It allows you to free up that space, but also allows you to free up some space when it comes to just your capital. You don’t need to have that many hands-on people when it comes to just the cashier aspect of it. They can focus on the actual product and the quality of the product. So it’s something that we’re testing now and we’re getting involved now, we’re behind, but we’re trying to catch up and get there, we’ll be where we can, utilizing the resources that we have access to.

Brenae Leary: Got you. So we have AI and emerging tech as we think about it, running the business operation. And I would love to dive in a little bit more into some of those new social media platform, Chelle, as our marketing expert on the panel. It feels like just last week everyone was talking about Spill, then there was Threads, and don’t get me started on X. How should small businesses think about leveraging those different platforms? Do you need to be on everything? Do you need to be on everything all the time? Any tips or tricks to alleviate how folks may be feeling overwhelmed with all of these new platforms and figuring out which and where, and what time and what days of the week they should be posting?

Chelle Dockery: Absolutely. That is a great question, I hear it all the time too. So while these new platforms are exciting and new, they can also be overwhelming. So I definitely encourage you to at least try it, but if you feel that you do not have the capacity to manage it, then just don’t. Don’t feel, I hope that it gives you pleasure and understanding that you do not have to be on every single platform. And one thing I do want to mention is to really access to the relevance. So do your research on the platform, see if this is a platform where your users are even there. Is your audience there? Would this be a platform that they would use? Can you leverage this platform? What’s the purpose of it? What features do they have? Start small if you can, at least test it out, see if there’s some content that you can create.

Marketing is also all about testing and adapting. So if you create some content, you start small within your capacity, you can manage this content. You’re creating videos or you’re creating carousels, however you’re doing it, if that works for you, continue doing that and then test to see how your audience is responding to it. If you’re getting great results with it, continue with that. But if you’re not, reevaluate and assess things, and see if that’s a place that you need to be. But I also think that you would have the best luck in just using one platform at a time, one or two platforms at a time, really focusing on that audience and building community on that platform, and then spreading yourself out once you have capacity to do so.

Brenae Leary: Great. So we shouldn’t all feel bad that if we don’t all have X accounts just yet, or a Threads accounts.

Chelle Dockery: No, don’t feel bad. If you want to test it out, if you want to go over [inaudible 00:11:18] test the platform out, see if you can do it. But don’t feel like you need to be everywhere all at once because you’re not nurturing your clients doing that, or your customer’s doing that. If you’re on Instagram, and then you’re on Threads, and you’re on TikTok, you’re creating so much content, it’s not authentic. You’re trading quality over quantity, and people really good quality content that they can resonate to, they can relate to. They want to be able to communicate with you, they want to know you. Social media is about building community, so start with building a community with the platform that you have already. And if you feel you have the capacity to manage more, then take it on.

Brenae Leary: Got you. Diana, Quiana, any thoughts about social media or which platform?

Dr. Quiana M. Shamsid-Deen, DSW, LMSW: I’m learning from my girl, Chelle, with that. Because, especially being in restaurant business, it’s all about, now you’re just in an era where everything’s about what’s trending. So it’s not even so much about, “Is it good?” It’s, “Who’s going? Who’s there? How many times do I see it posted? What does the review say on Yelp?” It is all of these different things that you kind of have to combat, and trying to manage which one or how many, or what’s the right play when it comes to marketing, it’s a challenge.

So she’s actually, when I told her this, when we had this conversation that you kind of relieved us a little bit of feeling like we have to be on everything. It’s okay to focus on one and just build that up, and if it spreads, it spreads. But right now, we just don’t have the capacity to do it all, so. But I do know it’s necessary, and I do know that that is the new marketing tool, it’s what’s on social media and who’s talking about you at the end of the day. And so I appreciate the advice that she gave, but it also helps with now how we pivot on how we utilize it to benefit us.

Chelle Dockery: Absolutely.

Brenae Leary: Definitely. Well, slight topic change. Community and giving back has been such a theme of today, whether it was the conversation with Jonathan Jones earlier today talking about mentorship, or what the 15% Pledge was doing earlier in the Art of Scaling panel. I’m curious how you guys think about community and giving back with your own small businesses. Diana, why don’t we start with you?

Dianna Rose: Yeah. Community is everything. So my degree is in community health, and it’s so amazing sometimes, I say, in awe to think that I was a pre-med student and took a course in chronic and communicable health, or chronic and communicable diseases, and switched my major that day because I saw how important that community piece was. And being able to now operate businesses that is rooted and grounded in community is such a privilege and a blessing. And I really try not to take it for granted. But again, the farmer’s market launched in the middle of a pandemic on August 15th in 2020, and that was because it was really active resistance at the time. Because in Southeast Queens, we had one of the highest rates in regards to death in relation to chronic and communicable disease.

And as we started to do the research, we saw that there was a true correlation between chronic and communicable disease and the access to healthy and fresh food. And with not having a farmer’s market in our community, we were just like, “We need one.” And we launched a farmer’s market in relatively a very short time. And since that, as we have transitioned from the urgent need to start a farmer’s market, now thinking about the economic development in a predominantly Black community, community is still rooted and grounded in it as we have kind of shifted from that need of trying to save our community from death to now trying to establish an economic wealth machine through the farmer’s market.

So that has led to the Essential Kitchen where we utilize that space for community events. Right? Unfortunately, in the vicinity of the kitchen, there are three homeless shelters, women-children homeless shelters. And we just host a ton of events, like we’ll open up our large loading gates and we’ll just have events for the kids as a shelter. Because we’re in a industrial area, there’s nowhere for them to go. And we’ll participate in food drives, and any way that the kitchen can provide support for the community, but the community knows that farmer’s market is there for them, the kitchen is there for them. And again, it’s just been a blessing to be able to leverage economic stability in our community, but also just be a real place of community. So that’s what I’ve been experiencing in the past three years with both ventures.

Brenae Leary: That’s beautiful. And I actually grew up in Southeast Queens, so even thinking about that neighborhood and I’m thinking there’s a farmer’s market there makes me so proud and excited. And when I was there in the ’90s, I can’t even imagine that existing. So I think it’s so beautiful that you’ve launched that and been able to sustain it throughout the pandemic. Quiana, Chelle, any stories of small business and community and giving back for you?

Dr. Quiana M. Shamsid-Deen, DSW, LMSW: I’m just going to throw out one thing. I’m from Queens too, but that’s okay. So we are going to go back to the panel at hand. Yes, but for community. Community is a foundation of why we exist in the first place, right, and so we would not be standing, we would not be here as a business if it was not for community. It literally is the pillar of how we’re able to still be afloat. So one of the things that we’ve done, especially within COVID, we’ve had a nonprofit for 25 years. It’s now Supreme Family Foundation, it was formerly Youth Vibe. And we pivoted in, well, when did COVID start? 2020 now? Because I can’t keep track. But we pivoted to Supreme Family Foundation because we did realize and see that there was an issue with food insecurity. How that came about was we were actually contracted by DeKalb County for our business because we had to close. Right?

We had to close for three months. We’re in a restaurant business and they’re saying no one can come outside. So we had to literally close for three months. And in that, we were reached out to by DeKalb County government to figure out, “Hey, we have opportunities for you to deliver some meals to our seniors because they can’t come out and we got to get them something to eat.” So that was the opportunity for us to kind of repurpose our employees and still have them be able to make some money during that time, because no one was doing anything. And so we started delivering meals out to Metro Atlanta, and we were literally at a height of probably about, in total, 800,000 meals were being delivered. And so in seeing that, we saw that there was a niche community that was not accessed, did not have access to that same food.

So we decided to do our own program, which is allow Meals on Wheels to kind of serve the Muslim community that my husband is from. And in that, we were doing 15,000 meals a week. And so we’re in the food business, we have people who are purchasing from us, but now we kind of live in this model of a purchase with a purpose at the end of the day. Literally, we are here because you are the reason why we’re here, and so it’s ingrained in who we are. Services is who we are, and services are existence, and it’s something that we are excited about doing. It fulfills us, it gives us joy to do it, we’re going to continue to do it. COVID is still here, but regardless of COVID being here, food insecurity is still a major issue. And so as long as we’re able, we will consistently make sure that we are always serving first.

Brenae Leary: Beautiful. As we sort of round out to the second half of today’s panel. I can’t believe how fast it’s already going. I did want to ask, what’s one piece of advice you guys wish you knew when you first started out in your journey as an entrepreneur? Chelle, why don’t we start with you?

Chelle Dockery: Oh, sorry. I was going to go back to the community engagement part. I wanted to…

Brenae Leary: Oh, yeah, please do.

Chelle Dockery: So Diana and Dr. Quiana, thank you so much for what you guys do for the community. It’s amazing. I love hearing your stories, just listening to you and how you guys make such an impact. I just want to say thank you for that. And just also to mention that my one way that I love to give back to my community here in Minneapolis is through my in-person workshops. And so, like she said, small businesses are the backbones of our community, and they all need marketing, and they all know that they need marketing tools and resources. So they don’t have the big budgets like the bigger companies have, they don’t have the tools and the resources. So through the in-person workshops, I’ll give them tools and resources and tips on marketing and trends that are happening, strategies in order to create content and plan your content so that you are able to show up on multiple platforms if you create a strategy and you plan your content out, have tools and platforms that you can utilize to help you optimize your content.

Those in-person workshops have, we have food, we have offered professional photographers taking your headshot photos, so that you’re up to date. There are other entrepreneurs there to connect and network with, and lots of opportunities come from that. So I did want to just [inaudible 00:20:19] in that. One piece of information I wish I knew before starting my business would be definitely research, research, research. People always say, “Go, start a business. Do it.” No, you need research. You need tools, you need a team, hire a team. You can’t do everything by yourself. I tried that and that was not good, but you need a team. Your job is to run your business. You’re not the social media manager, you’re not the marketing, you’re not the accounting, you’re not HR. You are a business owner. So hire your team, hire people to bring it together and help you reach your goals.

Brenae Leary: I love that. Math is not my religion, you’ll never see me in an Excel spreadsheet. Know your lane, respect it, and hire the people that know what they’re doing.

Dr. Quiana M. Shamsid-Deen, DSW, LMSW: [inaudible 00:21:10], absolutely.

Chelle Dockery: Yes, absolutely.

Brenae Leary: Dr. Quiana, what about you?

Dr. Quiana M. Shamsid-Deen, DSW, LMSW: I’m going to piggyback, because you are only as good as your team, you cannot grow alone. And especially as Black-owned businesses, we need collective collaboration just to move from this space of surviving to actually thriving. We need commitment to actually have a greater cause outside of ourselves, and people have to see themselves in the bigger picture. They have to be able to see the mission and to see the vision and see themselves in that so that you all can grow together. It has to literally be something that we’re doing collaboratively. So I would absolutely say to just be mindful of who you have in your team, because your team can either build you and help you grow, or they can attach and kind of bring you down or keep you down.

So I like to say I was introduced. I’ve been introduced to entrepreneurship for the last eight years, because I was definitely a social worker for 15, by my husband. But now that you’re in it, there is a level of freedom that you just probably never even knew you didn’t have until you kind of see the doors that can open from entrepreneurship. So I would say just because you want to access that freedom, to be mindful of who you surround yourself with and make sure that you’re on the same page as it relates to just that mission and that vision and that goal, and where you want to go, and what y’all collectively want to do together, because they’ll commit through it all, through all the grind. They’ll commit if they believe, and if they don’t believe, they’re just there for a check. You got to be able to tell the difference between the two.

Brenae Leary: So true and so important. Diana, any words of wisdom you wish you’d known when you first started out?

Dianna Rose: I would say just be honest. There is just freedom and power and honesty when you’re starting out. Right? Because the idea is you want to look like you have it all together. You want to look like you are on it. And the reality is sometimes you don’t, especially when you’re starting out, and there’s an authenticity that without even knowing that your true customers, your true core fan base, your true followers will appreciate. And I feel like if there was less pressure as entrepreneurs to portray this sense of perfection, I think a lot of people will, even when they fail, have a little bit more faith in themselves to try again. So for me, I think just being honest about where you are, if you need help, say you need help. If you don’t know, say you don’t know, because you can’t learn if you’re not honest in that way.

And I feel like that I’ve learned a lot in the latter part of my journey just by being honest. And as somebody who’s been doing this for almost eight years, you would think that I would have it all, all, all completely all together. But the reality is I don’t, there’s still so much that I don’t know. And I appreciate that because that keeps me humble and that keeps me hungry in wanting to know. So just be honest. There’s a lot of people out here that don’t know, they act like they know, but they don’t know. And I’ve seen that firsthand, like, “Oh, well, I thought you knew what you was doing.” But you don’t really know what you’re doing either. So nobody knows what they’re doing, so just be honest and just ask for help. Ask for help soon and often.

Brenae Leary: Yes, Diana. There are some people, they make a profession out of being strong and wrong, and you just got to know the difference. Well, we have few minutes.

Dr. Quiana M. Shamsid-Deen, DSW, LMSW: That’s a word.

Brenae Leary: We have a few minutes left on the panel. So I thought we could switch gears to a few lighter questions. So I would love to know what books, podcasts, music, do you guys listen to start your day for a productive morning?

Dr. Quiana M. Shamsid-Deen, DSW, LMSW: That’s a good one.

Dianna Rose: Yes.

Dr. Quiana M. Shamsid-Deen, DSW, LMSW: That’s a real good one because I haven’t in a while. And you’re probably telling on me right now, that I need to…

Dianna Rose: So sorry.

Dr. Quiana M. Shamsid-Deen, DSW, LMSW: …. get back on it. It’s funny that you say that because I literally just designed a self-care book, self-care planner, and I’m like, “Okay, now let me get into it and actually use it.” Because it looks really good, I did a good job with it. Now I got to use it. So I had to get back on it myself. But before, I used to work out when I had time, I would work out in the mornings, I made sure I got up, got my kids fed, took them to school, and went straight to the gym. That was my time, that was my thing before I started anything else for the rest of the day. And then summer jacked it up, because the kids are back home. But I’m going to get back on it.

Chelle Dockery: I would piggyback after Dr. Quiana. I absolutely love yoga. I look forward to it every day. That is my practice, that is my time to myself. That one hour that I can commit to myself, I absolutely love waking up to that. Another thing I love to do is play jazz music. It’s so soft, it gives you a feeling, it sets the tone for the day, something soothing playing. That’s how I like to start my day. I cannot miss yoga, I would be so sad if I did. And right now I know it’s old, and told some people I’ve already read it, but I’m reading Viola Davis book, and it is amazing. I did not know all these things about her. So now just knowing her on a deeper level as an actress, I just love her even more.

Brenae Leary: I have that book on my list, so I’m excited to dive into it. Diana, what about you? Any tips or things that you’re reading?

Dianna Rose: I was just going to say that I’m going to add that to my list as well. So for me, definitely as soon as I wake up, it’s prayer for me every single time. If I don’t pray, then I try not to talk to anybody throughout the day, because it is not going to go well. So prayer, I read my Bible religiously, it has, for me, every answer as an entrepreneur in there. So I’m always tapping into what the word says, and just a reminder about who I am apart from being an entrepreneur. Right? Just being humble in that way and grounded in that is always great, because sometimes I be wanting to respond, and the Holy Spirit be like, “No, no, no. No, no, no.” So that’s good for me.

And then sometimes I just like quiet, no TV, no radio, no music, just quiet. Especially getting up early before my kids wake up, because I’m a mom of two boys, a 14-year-old and a six-year-old. And they don’t care if you are a entrepreneur, they don’t care what you do. They don’t have no respect or regard for what you do. They just know you as Mom so…

Dr. Quiana M. Shamsid-Deen, DSW, LMSW: They don’t care.

Dianna Rose: They don’t care, they really don’t. I’m on [inaudible 00:27:58], “Mom, can I get something to eat?” Like, “Okay. I was going to [inaudible 00:28:03] over there.”

Dr. Quiana M. Shamsid-Deen, DSW, LMSW: They do not care.

Dianna Rose: They don’t care. So for me, it’s just sometimes, just to be quiet and just to be still. It feels so good. And yeah, I try to get up really, really early, around 5:00, six o’clock, before everyone else is really up and bothering you, and the demands of the world kicks in. So it’s always praying, reading my Bible. And of course, you have to have coffee because if you don’t have coffee, is it really like, “What is happening?” So that’s it. That’s usually it.

Brenae Leary: Yeah, I love that. And I love hearing how you guys think about self-care, whether it’s having the planner and figuring out how you’re going to use it, or having that coffee in the morning, or prioritizing the yoga. On that note, that is the end of this wonderful conversation and there were so many gems dropped today that I will be thinking about for such a long time. So thank you ladies for making the time to join us as part of today’s event.

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