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"A 'Karen' and a black business woman"

Episode #11: A ‘Karen’ and a Black businesswoman.’

MWAW Life Happens Podcast

Posted 7/1/2020 Length 00:37:24

Hi, I am Karen Kilian, founder of two Northern California Bay Area women’s business networking groups, Marin Women at Work and Sonoma Women at Work. Our Mission, to create a community of successful women in business. We are SOCIAL-we connect through luncheons and collaborative events, we are ACTIVE-we gather for hikes and golf, and WE CARE-many of our members have/and or support non-profits!


An open direct conversation with a middle-aged, middle-class Karen and a successful Black businesswoman. Please take a listen as this is a conversation between two friends, colleagues, and business owners and may just help some heal, others to understand and connect with the African American community.

Episode 11

Today’s subject matter is so important and so prevalent, especially right now. We will have an open discussion on some of the things you may be thinking out there in the world. Letitia and I have a deal that I can ask insensitive or what may be seemingly insensitive questions so that she can correct me. The goal is to understand better how Caucasian women can work with Black women to support and understand what they are going through right now and in their lives in general.

Please welcome Letitia Hanke as our guest in this podcast. Letitia and I met through a mutual friend, Melissa Prandi. Letitia joined the group to support small businesses and women in business as she represents a successful large commercial business. Letitia has been a beam of light since she joined. Listen to the podcast:

Letitia’s Background

Letitia is the CEO of ARS Roofing, a commercial and residential roofing business operating in Sonoma, Marin, and San Francisco. Letitia has been in the roofing industry for 25 years.

Letitia Hanke also has a non-profit organization -The Lime Foundation (named after her son Emil).

Letitia’s parents moved to Lake County when she was five years old to provide a better life than what they had as children. Letitia started school there at a K-12 all-in-one. About 800 kids total in the school, with only six Black kids in the entire school. Many of the kids in her school had never seen a Black kid before. Letitia was bullied, mentally and physically, for years from ages 5-9. Kids would call her every name they could think of, especially the “N” word. It was RAW and really bad, and adults turned a blind eye. She would hide behind a big oak tree to eat lunch, but one of the music teachers came over and invited Letitia to her class to eat lunch, put a trumpet in her hand, and taught her how to play the trumpet to stop the kids from bullying Letitia on the playground.

“This random act completely changed my life forever.”

Letitia fell in love with music and learned how to play the trumpet from ages 8-9. She was invited to play in the high school band at 9. She made friends with the high schoolers, and they would stick up for her. This meant a lot and built up her confidence. It changed everything.

Letitia has stayed in music since, learning to play the piano, drums, and started singing. After high school, she headed off to Sonoma State University to be a rockstar but was broke- gigging, working three jobs, and going to school full time. She decided to land one good-paying job and started working for a roofing company when she was 19. Over the course of eight years - Letitia rose from receptionist to office manager, manager, then to field supervisor. Her boss taught Letitia how to roof so she could get her license. When he retired, Letitia started her own roofing company in 2004.

“It has been challenging with people not wanting to shake my hand or open doors for me.”

Letitia has dealt with being a female and Black in a male-dominated industry - encountering sexism and racism. Letita rises to the challenges and the adversity placed in front of her and is a successful businesswoman today. Hear her worst and best experiences as she catapulted her business and her fears as a mother of her young-adult Black son. We speak candidly as I question how we all can support her and our Black American and African American communities - as friends, family members, and colleagues. Letitia doesn’t have all the answers for everyone. She is her person with her own experiences, but it is discussions like these that we hope you will also initiate within your circles. Reach out, educate, and engage.

Resources discussed

Don’t forget to check out The Lime Foundation

Donate to support these programs

  • Turner Arts Initiative - for young people who have faced adversity like bullying - a creative and performing arts after-school program.

  • Senior Healthy Living Program - teaching seniors how to eat and live healthy through nutrition and exercise.

  • NextGen Trades Academy - educating young adults ages 16-24 on the construction trades and financial literacy over a 10-week course. Local contractors have hired 73% of 94 total students who graduated. Currently, the program is looking for more females to start the academy.


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