Wilmington native Brian Dickey is a confident believer in the merits of hard work and perseverance. “I know what it’s like to start from the bottom, and I know what it’s like to have to build your life up all over again.” There’s no question that Brian has lived out this belief with his own work ethic and drive to succeed. Starting out with broken down tools and a borrowed truck, in the last 15 years, Brian has successfully started and operated two businesses: Gifted Hands Services, a local property maintenance company, and since last year, Sweet D’s Cuisine, which has been described by Brian as being a family-friendly place that’s already built a reputation for their delicious glazed croissants.
According to Brian, he inherited his entrepreneurial spirit from his family. “My mom had a restaurant in the Sea Breeze area when I was little; I remember running around the restaurant when I was small. My dad had a painting side hustle and he did property maintenance for his wealthy friends. They were young and following their dreams while still managing to properly take care of their kids.” And when Brian ran into trouble with the law as a teenager and found it difficult to find work to support himself, he was given a chance to learn from his uncles and run their business for a time.
When Brian decided to venture into starting his own business in Gifted Hands, he attributes his managing to endure the difficult early days to two things: his “don’t quit” attitude and his faith. “‘No’ wasn’t an option. There were a lot of nights when I’d have to work all night and then work all day, and a lot of days where I’d have to be out there jump starting my buffer in the rain. We didn’t take out a bunch of loans–we built from scratch. As African Americans, most of us haven’t always had what we’ve needed, so we’ve improvised. I didn’t even have a business plan at the time. Just a grind.”
“I couldn’t go back to what I was doing before that because that’s not what God wanted for me,” Brian said in reference to how his faith kept him going. “I couldn’t stop because He was pushing me; he was propelling me. God was there the whole time.”
“I had no one to ask my questions about starting a business and about understanding finances like how StepUp Wilmington does for people now. Mistakes–bumping my head–was part of how I learned. But I did prepare in ways where I didn’t even realize what I was preparing for. I invested so much money into equipment that my wife thought I was crazy, but when the opportunities came to jump from just two clients to 30, I was ready.”
Brian notes that being a Black business owner in Wilmington certainly has its difficulties, but that he’s been well equipped to navigate it. “Wilmington’s landscape is something like 80% white; as minorities that’s meant a pretty big gap, so a lot of our Gifted Hands clients are actually located outside of the city. The standard has to be the same between Black and white businesses, and we have to be able to beat that standard.” Brian believes that, while growing up in a predominantly white Monkey Junction had its hardships, it also taught him a lot about both the nature of racism, how it’s taught, and about “code switching”–communicating with people from different cultures and backgrounds.
As a member of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA), a network of nonprofits that unites to encourage and learn from one another, Brian believes in and lives out the organization’s core values of Relocation, Redistribution, and Reconciliation. Relocate to live among and bond with those you serve, redistribution of resources, and reconciling members of your community despite their differences. “They ain’t seen nothing yet,” Brian says about his plans to further live out these values with his future projects. Drawing comparisons to other organizations such as StepUp, Brian says that he’s working to figure out ways to build up people’s lives through employment, transitional housing, and homeownership. “People just need someone to walk with them and to be there when they feel like giving up. I know because I’ve been there.”
Brian’s advice for others in Wilmington, especially those in the Black community, looking to become entrepreneurs? “We can’t ever think of ourselves as not being good enough. We can’t accept excuses. We have to support one another’s businesses, we have to invest in our youth, and we have to have grace. We have to dare to be different, and we have to remember that we are not secondary–our time is now.”