Meet Emerald Mills
Emerald was born in Waukegan, Illinois. She’s a business strategist, culture builder and public health professional with almost two decades of cumulative experience. Emerald is also the founder and leader facilitator of Diverse Dining and events educational organization, whose mission is to cultivate courage, compassion and connection through meaningful conversations centered around diverse foods and cultural exploration. Diverse Dining strives to establish and maintain interpersonal and interprofessional relationships among persons of varying culture, economic, ethnic, political, racial, and social backgrounds. As a philanthropic initiative, Diverse Dining, which Emerald is now involved with full time is prominently been featured on Dear Milwaukee, On Milwaukee, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Spectrum One, Fox 6, Visit Milwaukee podcast and plenty of other mediums.
So why don't you tell our listeners a little bit about why you decided to start Diverse Dining?
I lived in Zion, Illinois. And it's just a very small community that was pretty diverse at the time that I grew up there. And when I relocated to Milwaukee in 1997, which was my junior year of high school, I kind of got a little bit of a culture shock at how separated it seemed that people were, particularly by race and ethnicity, but in other ways as well. I learned after living here for a while. So, I created a Diverse Dining as a solution to the segregation, racism. I really think even you know, cliques and just silos a solution to the silo problem that we tend to have where we have challenges connecting with people that are different from us.
Who inspires you? And why?
Martin Luther King and Oprah inspires me. People inspire me who just dare to do something different to break the mold. People who endeavor to find solutions to problems that seem that they have no solution are typically people that I draw my inspiration from. So, Dr. King, for sure will be one. There is another lady who is Joyce Meyer and I'm inspired by her. I am inspired by various different people in various different sectors, but mainly for the reason of breaking the mold or breaking past the barrier that is in place.
What advice would you offer to women that are starting their own business or considering doing it?
Well, I believe relationships are just key. And my business is focused around building authentic relationships. I really recommend that women are starting their own business, find spaces where they can be vulnerable, build effective partnerships and relationships with people who are like minded or who are supportive in some way or another of what they're endeavoring to start. And so, you can use that encouragement and support is fuel to keep going and to strengthen them when things get difficult.
Can you share with our listeners one of your favorite networking stories or experiences that you've had?
An event that I had when I first got started. The networking was kind of easy, but it was with someone who came to an event that I had hosted, but their event organization did some similar work. And so the young lady who came to the event and myself actually were able to meet for coffee, have a conversation about ways that we could possibly work together but ultimately had built a pretty close friendship as a result of it. We support each other and anything that we're doing and also have support in the work that we're doing. So that was probably one of my most recent favorites experiences.
How do you stay in front of or best nurture these relationships that you create?
One of the things I had to do early on when I got started in my business was investing in CRM, which is a customer management system. And that would help me to keep track. I know that is something that I'll have to probably continually advance and improve over time. But that one of the things that I do to help me out a lot. And then also really knowing on the onset what I need or what need I'm addressing for people to kind of help me prioritize the relationship.
What advice would you offer the business professional who is looking to grow their network?
I would really advise them to be courageous. And just put themselves out there. I think just having a conversation with people, finding similarity or some kind of way to compliment a person or just something that you enjoy doing that someone else may do. I'd also recommend going into spaces where you're uncomfortable, or spaces that are not related to what you always are part of or always do. By going to an environment where there are people who aren’t in my field, they're seeing what I'm doing, it's more of an opportunity or something that's new, they may not have heard of it. I think that is just another thing to think about when you're thinking about networking is who maybe has a related field or related need or interest, but it's not exactly the same as what I'm doing.
If you could go back to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell yourself to do more of, less than or differently with regards to your professional career?
I would tell myself to do less self-doubt and negative self-talk. I would do more risk taking for sure. More, just doing it and less trying to think about doing it or thinking about why I shouldn't do it or all the other stuff that we think about. And I would also do more networking. When you are confident in yourself and you're confident in what you bring to the table, then it changes the way that you look at networking. As I have something to offer you that is a value in service to you, and you have something that you can offer me that is a value in service to me, how can we exchange it?
We've all heard of the six degrees of separation, who would be the one person that you'd love to connect with? And do you think you could do it within the sixth degree?
I would love to meet, and I actually did meet her but I'm going to put myself on the spot and I'm working on you know rekindling that conversation is Jennifer Bartalotta. I'm definitely within six degrees of separation with her. I would love to meet the Bucks president Peter Feigin.
Do you have any final word of advice to offer our listeners with regards to growing and supporting your network?
I would just say you can do it. I know it sounds cliché, but I mean, just test it. You don't have to put a lot of money into ideas and concepts now so it's a great time to give something that is on your heart or something that you desire to try. Even if you don't feel like you have all that you need, be it support, the resources etc. I recommend that you move forward. I also recommend that it's important to build relationships to tap into your network and then expand your network so that you have the support you need around when times get challenging because they will get challenged.
How to connect with Emerald