Best In The Citi | Innovator: De Juana Lozada

DeJauna Lozado, Best In The Citi Innovator for 2022

De Juana Lozada has what she describes as “a bunch of degrees” and more than a lifetime’s worth of experiences. She has been a pioneer in diversity work – both as an employee for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board where she created the office of diversity, equity, and inclusion and in her entrepreneurial journey. She’s lived on two continents and has visited 46 countries.

But popcorn saved her life. 

After battling with an undetected illness that hospitalized her several times a month for years, draining her savings and prohibiting her from working her state job, she found herself down to her last $53 in late 2016 and needing to make a way to provide for herself and her family. 

So she bought some popcorn seeds. 

At first, she says, she was selling popcorn on the side of the road out of her $70,000 SUV. A week later, she was vending in front of Tony’s Jamaican on 6th St downtown. 

“I will always give props to Tony,” she says. “Tony didn’t know me, he didn’t know anything about me, I just said I needed a space to figure out if people even like this. He said for you, no charge. He didn’t know me from Eve.”

It turns out people did like her popcorn, which is known for its soul food infused flavors, like Big Mama’s Fried Chicken and Banana Pudding. Not long after she first set up shop on Tony’s lot, Lozada integrated the Central Texas Farmers Market, becoming the first Black food vendor the area’s largest market had ever had when she joined in 2017.

“I called them up and said, ‘I want to sell at the market.’ They said, ‘We have over 400 people on our waiting list, it’s not that easy,’ and I said, ‘how many of them are Black,’” she remembers. Two weeks later, she was in. 

My superpower has always been identifying holes and then coming up with a process or system to fix that hole

Now, Soul Popped is a million-dollar business, and she recently launched Good Trouble Gourmet, the nation’s only Black woman-owned popcorn fundraising company with the ability to raise funds nationwide. 

“My superpower has always been identifying holes and then coming up with a process or system to fix that hole,” she says. “I’ve never worked harder in my life, but I wouldn’t change this experience for anything in the world. It saved me, it saved my family. And it’s helped people in ways I never would have imagined.” 

Lozada was born into extreme poverty in Gullah-Geechee Country in the Carolinas. But she learned early how to innovate and use her talents to get her by. At the age of 9, she had a boot polishing business. She made $20-30 per week polishing boots at 50 cents per pair – quite a bit of money for a young girl in the 1970s. At 15, she went to her local paper and talked them into creating a job as a sports reporter.

“I always knew that I could use my talents for ill and wind up dead or in prison, or I could use it for good and just learn as much as I could and get as many skillsets as I could, whenever I could so that if I ever needed to call on them to make money legally, I could do that,” she says. “There were times I wasn’t sure I was going to be ok. I was 11 and homeless. By myself, without my family.”

But she has pushed through. Through adversity, through macro and microaggressions in the workplace, through failure, through health challenges that had her on the brink of death, she’s still here. 

“My struggle and my pain have taught me to be fearless. That doesn’t mean I’m not afraid – I’m afraid all the time about something, but the feeling that I’ll be ok, it’ll work out” is greater than the fear, she says. “If you’re a person of faith, you realize it isn’t you. It’s god’s grace and mercy in your life. It’s angels.”

we all are capable of creating our own reality.

Lozada believes everyone has a purpose designated by God – and a limited time to achieve it. 

She says hers is “a story about how we all are capable of creating our own reality.” 

“If you want better for yourself, you can have it. It’s not necessarily going to be free, and it’s not necessarily going to be painless, but you can still get there if you’re willing to sacrifice comfort and security to get there,” she says.  “I’m 51 years old, and I’m still on that journey of the things that I’m supposed to do and just knowing when you’re doing something is having that intuitive sense that ‘this is the thing that I’m supposed to be doing in this time and this space and this season.’” 

Lozada is still focusing on making an impact in her community – and popcorn has given her the liberation to do that. “I’ve had a lot of money, and I’ve lost a lot of money, and I realize how transitory money can be, especially in a Black person’s life in America,” she says. 

“People live chasing happiness – I don’t do that. Happiness is fleeting. For me … it’s about impact, it’s about legacy, it’s about ‘I was here.’ when I leave this world behind, I want someone to be able to say ‘my life was made better because she was here.’ And that is really what motivates me in everything that I do: Service, contribution, impact.”

 

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