Carmen Mays didn’t set out to start a business. In 2017, she hosted three events for artists and entrepreneurs of color after she felt Black and Brown creatives were being overlooked in other events for local innovators. Birmingham residents started asking her to host more events, and soon local companies and organizations were requesting her help with making their programming more inclusive. And so Elevators on 4th was born. Elevators is a consulting agency that works with communities, companies, and organizations to build an equitable entrepreneurial ecosystem in Birmingham by focusing on creatives of color. Recently, Carmen, a West End native, was also tapped to be the Birmingham digital coach for Google’s Grow with Google program, an initiative created to provide free training, tools, and in-person professional coaching to Black and Latino small business owners. We are honored to introduce our latest FACE of Birmingham, Carmen Mays.
What kind of work do you do as a consultant?
I do strategic advising, talking to companies about diversity and equity. Some of it is changing their mindset but also charting a course to incorporate equity into an ongoing plan. We also do program design. When folks are ready to do any type of programming that incorporates or serves Black and Brown creatives, we’ll design it for them. And the last piece is the experiences. We work with organizations to create and produce events that focus on serving or utilizing Black and Brown creatives.
You were recently selected by Google as the Birmingham Grow with Google Digital Coach. Why did you want to be a part of this program?
We don’t have consistent, credible entrepreneurial programming in Birmingham. This would be Google-stamped and backed education and opportunities for folks, so I was all on board with that. It demystifies and democratizes a lot of information around Google particularly when we get into sessions about Google Ads and Google Analytics. It really gets into understanding how these things work.
What was the inspiration for the name of your company, Elevators on 4th?
Elevators was named after one of my favorite OutKast songs. In Big Boi’s last stanza of his last verse, he explains what the song is all about: “We moving on up in the world like elevators/ Me and the crew, we pimps like ’82/ Me and you like Tony! Toni! Tone!/ Like this, East Point and we gone.”
“Elevators” is not only OutKast’s origin story but also an explanation of its values of collective uplift. The last line is a nod to where they are from, which also inspired the “on Fourth” part of Elevators’ legal name. That refers to Birmingham’s Historic Black Business District. Elevators is about the collective uplift of BIPOC (Black Indigenous and People of Color) creatives with the acknowledgment of our entrepreneurial roots in our hometown.
You’ve hosted several events through the years such as music events like Gucci Mane Day and art exhibits like “Blk And.” Tell us about the event Black Joy Bazaar that you hosted last year.
Black Joy Bazaar is an event I wanted to do on the 21st day of September, not only because of the Earth, Wind and Fire song but also to celebrate the change of season. Summer 2020 was hard. We hadn’t had any joy. I wanted to get folks outside in a space where they could see people and shop, listen to music, and eat and didn’t have to be burdened by all the things we were working through — the election, the murders, COVID, the economy.
I think joy is a protest, particularly for Black people and other marginalized folks. The basis of Black Joy Bazaar was to create a space where Black joy could thrive and also give an opportunity to Black makers to come out and sell since they hadn’t been able to sell anything with all of the markets being shut down.
What’s the biggest mistake you see companies make when trying to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion?
They keep trying to hack it. They’re looking for a quick fix. They think that if they hire a diversity officer or do one or two programs this should yield results so they’re not constantly getting dinged in the media for low numbers. But that’s not how this works. You have to invest in this over time and make a long-term commitment because this is a problem that’s hundreds of years in the making.
What do you like to do for fun when you’re not working?
I’m obsessed with dance. I used to dance, and I’m a big fan of Alvin Ailey. It’s been a part of my life since I was a little girl.
I am big into hiking. I’m a board member at Red Mountain Park. I am always actively encouraging people, particularly Black folks, to go and walk. And I’m getting back into biking.
My parents are Black RVers. I love going on trips with them and putting up my hammock and eating grilled food and kayaking.
My youngest nephew is 7, and he’s also into the outdoors, so it’s easy to go bike riding with him or walking on a nature trail. And we share a love of Legos.
What’s the best advice you have to give?
The best advice I have to give is something my mom told me: Don’t take yourself out of the game. Don’t psych yourself out of an opportunity. You go and you let them put you out or tell you no. From that evolved the idea that I’m just going to go for it. And I’m not just sitting in the corner happy to be here. I’m fully engaged at the table. Show up and ask for stuff, and you might get it.
Other than faith, family, and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Buffalo Rock Ginger Ale, Conecuh sausage, and Bawse Lady red lipstick by The Lip Bar.
Thank you, Carmen!
Read more interviews with our Birmingham FACES in our archives!