What’s your name, where are we, and what’s your hustle?
My name is Geneva Joy and we are currently in the Crazy Plant Bae shop in Tremé, New Orleans. I own my own business now selling Ghanaian Waist Beads and I’m a comedian.
What was your first job?
My very first job was helping my mom and other mothers in the church with catering, starting at 7 years old, peeling hundreds of potatoes. I grew up just me and my mom. My mother worked several jobs, selling dinners and plates, catering at weddings, and at different points she was a bus driver, a school security officer. I grew up in Philly and growing up all my friends and I all grew up with poor working class parents. We were excited or anxious about getting working papers.
How did you wind up working through a temp agency?
Right after 9/11 I worked for a temp agency, Kelly Services. I got assigned to a job at the federal Air Marshals office in New Jersey answering phones. I was 20 years old. My job was to take the call if they had any kind of issue, they would call a hotline I’d answer. Part of my job would be to filter out calls. All of the staff were armed. That was at the time my boyfriend was dealing with his case, he was just out. The Black workers came from the Philly temp office and the white workers came from the Jersey suburban temp office. The temp office drug tested us [Black workers] first, not the white workers, and we had to take long typing tests.
It paid well, about $17 an hour, but it wasn’t worth it. I didn’t feel safe. I was 20 years old, and once there was a scheduling conflict and a big white man sat me in a chair, yelled in my face, and I’m all the way in Jersey. It was terrifying. He had a gun, he was an Air Marshal.
I did deal with the temp agency a little longer because I knew I needed that check next week, because he [my boyfriend] needed money on his books, or we might need to go pick him up, what’s he going to do when when he comes home. Or all of it, that was intense.
What did you do after the temp agency?
After the Air Marshalls I got a job helping to open Philly Ikea. I was team Ikea then, I wanted to work my way to design. It was all about making sure workers had options. Ikea had nap rooms for workers built in, all around the floor. They had a kitchen, our own private level, and it was two dollars for the whole buffet. Just seeing a job care after the temp agency job with the Air Marshals was heaven. But it was only $9 an hour. And there was a person in HR who would attack me based on my hair wraps. She said I couldn’t wear hair wraps if it wasn’t religious. She was a Black woman saying I couldn’t wear a hair wrap, saying it was unprofessional. That’s why I’m a big supporter of the Crown Act, a law to fight discrimination on hiring, mainly protecting people who don’t have straight blonde hair, people who get discriminated against in professional settings. It used to really upset me, at the time I was the only natural person in my family.
You mentioned staying with the temp agency longer because your boyfriend was locked up, how has criminalization affected your working life?
I had a long-term boyfriend, he’s still family now. Right before I met him he had been incarcerated. I was working at Ikea and transitioning to promotions work. I had to be his advocate, he has epilepsy and is very quiet. One time they [the court] marked his as absent even though he was there, and they wound up sending sheriffs to my house. They kept him for about a month that time.
It was always fees. His charge was simple assault. Overall, he dealt with that for six years. I went out to county court with him, called sick out of work, and talked to the judge myself. He had seizures in prison. I had to go advocate. My mom and I advocated for him to receive disability.
It [my boyfriend at the time being jailed] clouds your judgment on your options, because it was like what was I going to do. I did feel stuck, I did feel like I had to figure it all out. His thing settled by the time I left Ikea. But the everyday daunting pressure of surviving especially when you’re working class – because it’s one slip up before you guys can’t maintain it anymore.
I also wasn’t raised with my dad. My biological father was in prison the majority of my life. He was in jail from ’84 to 2006. He went in when he was 23 or 24. He was out until 2015, but then was caught on a parole violation. From what I understand he was in a car accident that wasn’t his fault, but he didn’t have a license, because he wasn’t eligible to get a license. There were other periods when he had parole violations for not showing up, he couldn’t really make money. All of us were giving him money and paying fees.
How did you get involved with your hustle?
I started to get into freelancing and marketing, I was able to take jobs and take time to rest. I was considered a brand ambassador, this was before social media. I would get hired by marketing agencies mainly at special events. Freelancing meant bouncing around. I was trying to be a liquor girl, I was working as a cigarette girl, the Hennessy girls gave out free shots at bars, and I wanted to be that. For Philly I was too big to be a liquor girl. If I was in the South, I would be able to do it. In trying to find out how to be a liquor girl, I found a whole world of promos. You made more money doing promo work, but you were completely on your own. I would constantly fill outW9’s, but I learned so much about products and talking points and branding.
I started two little side businesses after I moved to New Orleans. One was hosting adult bingo. The other was selling waist beads. And I finally became a liquor girl in New Orleans. My body type was accepted here. It felt really good to get a job I didn’t get before just for my body. Once I was here in New Orleans, my main hustle was selling beads. I built a relationship with beaders in Ghana.
The day they shut the city down for COVID I had $68 in my pocket. I had just found out I had diabetes. The fear was if I’m going to have to survive on ramen, am I going to lose my eyesight. Little things happened. I was able to explain to unemployment how I made my money.
How do you define the hustle? What do you love about your hustle?
The hustle is definitely defiance. It’s my path to freedom. I rather make my own money and roll with the punches, then go to an office and have people look at me like I’m not good enough. I’m supporting beaders in Ghana. I’m doing adult bingo in three different bars in New Orleans, I get paid as the entertainer. I started doing comedy here. I can hire my comedy friends. I learned all of that through the promo market. I learned how to market myself. I got sick of having to answer to answer to people who just got an internship or are fresh out of college at big marketing firms but didn’t know how to work anything on the ground. I wanted to be the person to set up the promos.
What is the role of cooperatives?
Hustle Village was the coop idea that we are all trying to work on. I got involved because I wanted to build a store, but not having good credit, not having the ability to get a mortgage, that’s when I got hooked up with Toya and Cooperation New Orleans. I knew if I needed this, other people needed this, needed a place to be. Cooperatives come from a lack of other options, what we could do is figure out how to get grant money together. A lack of resources creates the ingenuity, it’s the whole idea of helping others helps yourself.
Any final thoughts?
These jobs aren’t set up for your prosperity. Exchanging your physical labor for your livelihood never works out well. The struggle is so unnecessary with the amount of abundance in the world that we’ve been taught to believe isn’t for us. What I love about New Orleans is that we hustle so hard. People work dangerous jobs for nothing and that breaks my heart.