I just think when we approach people, we need to have kindness and humility.
—Virginia Githiri, Ph.D.
As we find ourselves in the heart of Black History Month, it’s time to shine an extra bright light on Black Americans doing amazing things. Though we have a number of incredible small-business owners of color in Bloomington, there is one who really “pops.”
Virginia Githiri, Ph.D., not only holds four degrees and teaches at Indiana University in the School of Public Health, she also owns Bloomington’s only gourmet popcorn company, PopKorn Kernels with a Twist.
The idea for PopKorn came to Githiri in 2007 at a Super Bowl party, when the Indianapolis Colts won the championship.
“I’ve always been that I-wanna-do-something-different (person),” says Githiri.
She found a way to make blue-colored, blueberry-flavored popcorn for the party, in honor of the team’s colors (among other less-thematic flavors). The snack was an instant hit and her community encouraged her to monetize her creation. Within mere months, she had dreamt it, built it, and started running her business.
One year in, however, Githiri decided to pause the endeavor until she was better-equipped to make it successful. After a near decade-long hiatus, Githiri reopened shop in 2016, with a surge of support. Since then, she has weathered a storm of transitions, from moving locations to opening (and closing, and reopening) a kiosk in College Mall. Today, PopKorn has a storefront at 122 S. College Ave. in addition to the mall kiosk.
Though the 2020 pandemic brought economic difficulty to many, it proved to be a fruitful time for the PopKorn team. Maintaining business through online orders and contactless pickup, the store saw its first six-figure year.
“I think people were just buying just to make sure we stayed open,” says Githiri, of the success.
But since then, revenue has continued to grow. The company offers popcorn snack bags in-store, online, or at the mall kiosk, as well as party-sized bags, subscription options, and merch for popcorn lovers everywhere. Githiri is proud to be IU’s preferred popcorn provider and hopes that title one day includes athletic events, which is presently a feat just outside of her operations.
‘A natural motivator’
Popcorn isn’t all this academician does off-campus, though. Githiri is also a certified Integrative Wellness Coach, life strategist, and motivational speaker, as well as a multimedia recording artist and social media influencer, one might say.
What does that mean? An Integrative Wellness Coach helps clients take a holistic look at their health and lifestyle. As a life strategist, Githiri says she helps clients “when they are struggling to know what their zone of genius, or what their talents are.” Githiri describes herself as a “natural motivator,” a skill that undoubtedly aids in life coaching. She says of her work, “I get people to coach themselves, but you have to be a good listener to do that.”
She also utilizes her motivation skills in her online presence, sharing what she calls “Sunday-spirations” and “Wisdom Wednesdays.” As the names suggest, on Sundays, Githiri posts videos roughly 30 seconds long that feature inspiring thoughts; likewise, on Wednesdays, she posts thought prompts that are designed to teach her audience. You can find Githiri on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
On top of everything else, Githiri is a recording artist. She produces a podcast called “Moments of Introspection,” which features prompts and anecdotes to look inward and practice self-improvement. She also writes, records, and produces gospel music. She hasn’t recorded any music since 2015, but she hopes to get back in the studio this summer.
How does she do it all? Githiri is the first to tell you she knows herself. She knows her strengths, her resources, and her boundaries. Speaking of boundaries, Githiri is adamant about hers. When working hours at the university are over, she closes her IU.edu email account and doesn’t reopen it till the next day. In the time between leaving campus and going to sleep, Githiri starts her “second shift of working,” often devoting 9 p.m. till 1 a.m. to her other business endeavors.
“I do sleep, but probably about an average of five hours per night,” she says. Githiri boasts of her ability to function well on such relatively low levels of sleep. She continues, “I’ve just got to have movement.”
An active member of her community, Githiri also sits on the board of the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce.
“We discuss what’s going on in the Bloomington community in respect to governance, and we make recommendations,” Githiri says. “It’s really just an advocacy group for small businesses. There are a few other people who are affiliated with IU in various capacities. About half are other small business owners. We’ve got attorneys, we’ve got some CPAs. We’ve got a good mix of people with expertise and experience.”
The 2022 Census reports that only 4.4 percent of Bloomington’s population is composed of Black Americans. There are 60 black-owned businesses (BOBs) in the Bloomington Chamber’s Black-Owned Business Affinity Group, and likely more than this to choose from when you want to support local BOBs.
Githiri says that if there’s one thing she wants people to hear, it’s this: “Have a curiosity when you want to engage with someone that is different than you. Enter with humility and just listen. I just think when we approach people, we need to have kindness and humility.”
She continues, “I think there’s a lot of assumptions that come into play, concerning minoritized populations, and then we go into the room with our assumptions, thinking that our experience is so much better or greater or safer, because of what we’ve read. And that is often not the case. It’s just not.”
Throughout all she does, Githiri is quick to credit the people who surround her. She says she “would be remiss to not acknowledge that it takes people.” From her church to her mentors and mentees, from her friends and family to her students and customers, from those who support her to those she supports, there is community to be found in every corner of Githiri’s life. She says her various communities “keep me focused, they keep me laughing, they keep me encouraged.”
Githiri believes strongly in the power of prayer, and one of hers is, “Let me be impacted, and let me impact. Every day.” That desire for impact is evident in the way Githiri speaks of and to other people.
“I believe that love is the most powerful energy force that we have. I’m talking about love that is uncompromised, that is not attached to an expectation, no. I’m just talking about ‘I love you because you are a human person.’”
Loving others is a pillar in Githiri’s life, teaching, and work.
She says, “I just think that if you can’t live life that way, do better.”
More Local Black-Owned Businesses
This directory is provided by the Black-Owned Business Affinity Group at The Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce. Links provided where available. (If you would like your business listed, or if you have a link for your business below that isn’t included, please let us know at [email protected]tonepostmagazine.com.)
Clothing & Tailoring
Sheer Elegance Draperies, Blinds & More
Soloman & Company, LLC
The Guarden, LLC
Kira D Productions
Reach High Consulting
Tribe Consulting, LLC
Author, Breanya Houge
Bridges Early Childhood Center
Renaissance Leadership Achievement Academy LLC
Food & Delivery
The Cabin Restaurant
Carson’s BBQ & Catering
Chef Lee – In Your Home
Driver on Deck
Eric Gordon’s Greek’s Pizzeria
JDs Taste of Chicago Food Truck
PopKorn Kernels With a Twist
Hair & Beauty
Angela’s Ebony Hair Design & Barbershop
Bling by Bre
B-town Beauty Supply
Empress A’Shauntess Natural Hair Studio & Barbershop
Independent Brand Partner Neora Rhythm Beauty Products – Marsha Washington
Razors Image Premiere Barbershop & Beauty Salon
Red Carpet Cuts
Southern Indiana Family Practice & Rejuv Aesthetics
The Waxing Studio II
Health & Fitness
Southern Indiana Physicians Family & Internal Medicine
Attorney, William Morris
Attorney, Alphonso Manns
Attorney, Megan Lewis
Mental Health & Wellness
CET Posse Therapeutic Horsemanship Foundation
That’s The Rub
We Are Relationships
First Class Life
First Class Life Podcast
Lindsey Vertner, Motivational Speaker
Music & Productions
DJ Cruze CTRL
Resilience Productions, Inc.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
Conviction to Change Publishing
Taxes & Investment Services
PJ’s Tax Services
Key to the World Travels, Sarah White
More from The Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce
How to support Black-Owned Businesses
- Use your buying power to support minority-owned businesses.
- Contact your federal, state, and local representatives.
- Take stock of diversity in your own business operations.
- Share these businesses on social media, podcasts, blogs, etc.
- Ask what is needed.
- Write and share a review.
- Extend and expand opportunities for mentorship and sponsorship.
Resources for Black-Owned Businesses
- Black Business Association: Founded in 1970, the Black Business Association (BBA), headquartered in Los Angeles, the oldest active ethnic business organization in the state of California, has been committed to ensuring that African American and other diverse business owners benefit from our advocacy efforts to impact, improve and implement policy that improves access to contracting and procurement opportunities with the public and private sector, in addition to providing access to financial resources.
- Black Enterprise: a website and magazine that provides Black business owners with information about minority business news, trends, and education, as well as opportunities to network with other Black entrepreneurs. Black Enterprise focuses on supplying resources and articles targeted to the specific needs of Black business owners, with content geared towards small business news and financial growth.
- Black Founders: creates an ecosystem that stimulates tech entrepreneurs and fosters economic growth for Black business owners. Black Founder’s “Gust” system connects Black-owned startups who are currently raising money and actively looking for investors with a collection of investors around the world. The organization also connects business owners with networking, workshops, conferences, and hackathons.
- Black Owned Everything: takes a more modern approach to the idea of Black-owned business directories by curating photos and products from Black-owned businesses via a popular Instagram account. Businesses that want to be featured can register with the service and then photos from their Instagram may be promoted for free to a much larger audience.
- Bloomington Economic Development Tool: Find local information to help your business make smarter, faster, better decisions.
- City of Bloomington — Boards & Commissions: Through a variety of boards and commissions, established by the City of Bloomington, citizens can provide input on the policies that shape their government and their city. There are currently more than 30 boards and commissions that advise the Mayor and City Council on a vast array of issues. To apply to a board, go to https://bloomington.in.gov/boards.
- City of Bloomington Business Academy: The City of Bloomington believes that a thriving business community enhances the quality of life for citizens. These are resources are for businesses ready to operate in Bloomington.
- City of Bloomington Business Resources: Local government must take the lead in envisioning and creating a thriving community, identified by the health of its environment, the vitality of its economy and the equity among its citizens. Creating such a community requires cooperative participation from both the public and private sectors. This section describes the City’s approach to business and sustainability, and the resulting economic development initiatives and business incentives.
- Indy Black Chamber of Commerce: The leading advocate for Black-owned businesses in central Indiana
- Minority Business Certification — By Black: The U.S. Black Chambers, Inc. has developed ByBlack as the only national certification exclusively for Black-owned businesses. ByBlack provides Black entrepreneurs a way to reach new customers and unlock opportunities to secure contracts with large potential buyers.
- Trainings: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Events
- U.S. Black Chambers, Inc.: Also known as The National Voice of Black Businesses, the U.S. Black Chambers (USBC) provides leadership and advocacy for economic empowerment of Black-owned businesses. They create resources for a network of African American Chambers of Commerce, which can also be accessed directly on their website. These include free digital training courses and tools, webinars, podcasts, programs and events.
- U.S. Small Business Administration continues to help small business owners and entrepreneurs pursue the American dream. SBA is the only cabinet-level federal agency fully dedicated to small business and provides counseling, capital, and contracting expertise as the nation’s only go-to resource and voice for small businesses.