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MelaninCon Celebrates Black Excellence and Entrepreneurship in D.C.

MelaninCon Chief
MelaninCon Chief Operating Officer Donovan Woodberry checks out the Modernish vendor booth. (Ja’Mon Jackson/The Washington Informer)

By Sam P.K. Collins

Local entrepreneur London Ward recently spent a few hours on a Friday afternoon connecting with like-minded people and spreading the word about Snob Nails Technician School, a Temple Hills, Maryland-based school for aspiring nail technicians.

Dorian Kirkwood (second from left) of Krown Media speaks during a panel discussion at MelaninCon 2023 with entrepreneurs Abu Sillah (left) and Jerome Lewis (second from right). (Ja'Mon Jackson/The Washington Informer)
Dorian Kirkwood (second from left) of Krown Media speaks during a panel discussion at MelaninCon 2023 with entrepreneurs Abu Sillah (left) and Jerome Lewis (second from right). (Ja’Mon Jackson/The Washington Informer)

Ward, a nurse-turned-nail technician, launched Snob Nails Technician School in 2020. She did so after opening two nail salons and embracing a career change that allowed her more flexibility and a substantial income increase necessary to raise a special-needs child. 

In the first year of the Snob Nails Technician School’s existence, Ward provided training for several young people at a low cost. When grant funds ran out, she pivoted to selling t-shirts, press on-nails, book bags and other Snob Nails paraphernalia to subsidize what she considers a lucrative education.

On Sept. 8, she showcased some of those items during MelaninCon, a multi-day event at Arena Stage that attracted and united Black millennials of various professional backgrounds around the common goal of celebrating Blackness and tackling the litany of challenges facing the Black community. 


Ward said that, by exposing Black people to career advancement opportunities in the nail tech industry, she’s playing her part in fulfilling that mission. 

“We’re a huge minority in the nail tech industry,” Ward said. “There’s a lack of education and mentorship, and we’re the most creative but have the least funding. That’s why I need to find a way to get students and make [my classes] affordable. This skill has made me a seven-figure earner and live life on my terms. I’m not scared to give the know-how.” 

MelaninCon: A Chance to Celebrate and Push Further 

Ward counted among more than 100 young people who converged on Arena Stage during MelaninCon, what founder Donovan Woodberry described as a “Celebration of Us.” 

On Friday, participants flooded the lobby of Arena Stage to network with one another. They later listened to panel discussions centered on brand cultivation, navigating the Black business landscape, financial planning, holistically addressing youth crime, and mental health. 

Brandon Andrews, a casting director for ABC’s Shark Tank, gave a keynote address intended to shed light on the equitable relationship between entrepreneurs and investors. 


Throughout the weekend, MelaninCon took to the D.C. streets during a feed-the-homeless events along Benning Road in Northeast and in McPherson Square in Northwest. Participants also flooded the photo booth and danced the night away at a Black Excellence Gala that featured Black-owned spirit brands. Other seminal moments brought participants to Audi Field and La Vie in Southwest, and Pop Social in Northwest. 

In reflecting about MelaninCon, Woodberry said that the three-day function highlights how he has grown in his love for D.C.. 

Woodberry has called the District home since leaving University of Louisville in 2017 to immerse himself in what he described as a unique Black urban experience and build upon a flourishing career as an influencer, fashion designer and model. He called the District a significant change from what he had encountered as a young adult at a predominantly white university. 

“I like D.C.’s sense of culture and [being able to] see the different types of Black people — those in the hood, those in government, and those from out of the country,” Woodberry said as he further explained the inspiration behind MelaninCon. “I thought about our problems and created panels around that. There’s a wealth gap and it’s hard to collaborate with people so I wanted to create the flame of positive Black influence on the community for collaboration.” 

Andrews, senior impact strategist with Values Partnership, expressed similar sentiments about the young people who attended MelaninCon, saying that melanin represents the diversity and uniqueness of the Black race. 


In the spirit of collaboration, Andrews spent a portion of his keynote address offering to help connect entrepreneurs with resources that will help them expand their business ventures. 

“Donovan has brought people together for years and it’s good seeing the work culminate,” Andrews said. “Our community has wonderful ideas and entrepreneurs and this is another reminder. I’m always looking for people who are passionate in how they show up. It’s important to know that when they’re with investors, it’s value for value.” 

For One Person, a Trip Well Worth It 

Kharisty Akins traveled more than 1,300 miles to attend MelaninCon and further explore her calling as a life coach. 

On Friday, Akins, a resident of Dallas, sold copies of her book “When Never Happens: How to Navigate Life When the Unexpected Occurs.” She said the book builds upon her community work by highlighting her healing journey and showcasing how she’s been able to overcome the challenges that life has thrown her way. 

For the rest of the weekend, she connected with other entrepreneurs while getting more of a feel for a city she said is ripe with opportunity for Black people striving to make a way. 


“The support for Black business is through the roof,” Akins said. “The support brings awareness to become a better person. I’m meeting people from different walks of life and educating myself about what they got going on. It’s a two-way street and I’m learning to take my business to the next level.”

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