Sheryl Wesley Connects HBCU Pride Across Media, Apparel, Travel and More
With a varied background in marketing, communications, and branding, Sheryl Wesley is an entrepreneur, content creator, and founder of HBCU Brand Partners, LLC. A graduate of Howard University, with a degree in communications and radio production, Wesley is a proud Bison alumna who is building brand platforms and global recognition for historically Black colleges and universities. Among her many projects are an apparel line, live and virtual events, and travel and tourism.
A native New Yorker, Wesley’s career has put her in the rooms of many influential leaders and pioneers across a diverse range of professions, including music, entertainment, fashion, and beauty. While at Howard University, Wesley’s secured her first position in the music and research department at the highly-rated WPGC 95.5 FM, an urban-leaning rhythmic-formatted station in Washington, D.C. During her college years, she also worked closely on the fledgling Hip Hop Summit under the leadership of her friend and mentor Haqq Islam, the founder of University Records, where she also worked.
During that time in the DMV (Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia), Wesley worked as a temp with numerous associated record labels under the parent companies of Universal, BMG, and Sony, now known as the Big 3, as well as with Whitewall Records, an independent radio promotions company in Baltimore, Maryland.
In 1998, she received a tip from a friend about a job opening at Bad Boy Entertainment, and eventually landed a coveted position as the personal assistant to founder Sean “Puffy” Combs. After Bad Boy, she became the road manager to R&B music sensation Carl Thomas, traveling first-class with him for three years on tour throughout North America, Asia, and the Caribbean Islands.
An enterprising thinker, Wesley launched Liaison Enterprises, where she provided a variety of administration and concierge services for senior executives and artists in the music/recording industry during her downtime on the road.
After more than three years of globetrotting, Wesley was ready to return to New York to explore other career opportunities in marketing and branding. She secured a plum position as the executive assistant to the CEO and president of Viacom Outdoors, now known as Outfront Media.
After Viacom Outdoors, where she learned a great deal about marketing and advertising, Wesley was hired for a series of key positions with high-profile and acclaimed fashion and beauty companies, including the former Simmons Jewelry Co., owned by Russell Simmons, Kimora Lee Simmons, and Scott Rauch, where she was the executive sales account director. Wesley also worked as a spa manager for Mamie’s Skin Care Center with celebrity esthetician Mamie McDonald. She later became a store manager for Lex & Jade, the now-shuttered elite boutique shop in the artsy neighborhood of SoHo in Manhattan that was owned by Veronica Lighty, wife of the late entertainment executive Chris Lighty. After Lex & Jade, Wesley joined the management team of Egami Consulting Group (Image spelled backward), a marketing firm linking brands to urban and multicultural consumers.
The day before Wesley’s scheduled interview with Global Communicator, she lost her father, Pastor Philip M. Wesley, Sr., from pancreatic cancer. A preacher’s kid and a daddy’s girl, she was making final arrangements with her mother, Gwendolyn Nadine Wesley, for her father’s service and wanted to proceed with the interview.
Philip Wesley was a pastor in the Seventh-Day Adventists denomination. “In our denomination, the church rotates pastors every three to ten years,” Wesley explains. “No one man can become ‘God’ to their church. No one pastor can stay at a church for 50 years. Seventh-Day Adventists have conferences throughout the world. Pastor Wesley was a part of the Northeastern Conference, which is based in Queens, New York. The Northeastern conference focused on churches from upstate New York to Connecticut and throughout Long Island, Queens, and Brooklyn. My dad was the longest-tenured pastor out of the Northeastern Conference with more than 44 years of ministry. My brother, Philip Wesley, Jr., now follows in his footsteps.”
Gwendolyn Quinn: Tell me about your apparel line, I Am Historically Black.
Sheryl Wesley: My apparel line, I Am Historically Black, is geared towards the African American lifestyle on Martha’s Vineyard and the significance of the HBCUs legacy. It’s also under the HBCU Brand Partners. I named it I Am Historically Black because I wanted to pay homage to HBCUs and its alumni that currently live or visit the Island. I launched the site in February of this year  during Black History Month, before COVID and before the protests.
Annually, I have the Legacy Week on Martha’s Vineyard, which is coined HBCU Week. Many alumni who visit the island don’t have a community when they come to the Vineyard. I Am Historically Black is a pointed and powerful statement. It represents Black people, Black culture and Black HBCUs, especially during this time of turmoil, upheaval, and uncertainty. In today’s Black culture, mostly everything is centered on the Black Lives Matter movement and HBCUs.
When I’m on the Vineyard, I also visit and introduce myself to the Black business owners to build a relationship. To acknowledge and promote their business or brand, I also ask for their approval to include their business name on my T-shirt designs during Legacy Week on the Vineyard. I simply say, “I would like to put your company name on my shirt, and if any proceeds come in, we can split it.” And everyone has been fine with it. I’m all about acknowledging, which is the reason Legacy Week on the Vineyard was created.
GQ: Tell me about some of your merchandising items on I Am Historically Black.
SW: My graphic artist and I are designing and selecting items for the website. Right now, I have a T-shirt with an image of an island-shaped Martha’s Vineyard with the wording, “I Love My HBCU,” and there are other T-shirt designs that are geared towards black businesses on the Vineyard.
GQ: Tell me about Legacy Week on Martha’s Vineyard. When and what was the purpose of creating this event?
SW: Howard University Alumni Association [produces] different events that are sponsored throughout the country. One of their signature events is called Bison on the Vineyard, which was started by alumni from the law school. Initially, it was a quaint gathering. Bison on the Vineyard was a six-day gathering and included alumni that were already vacationing on the Vineyard.
During its first year, Howard University selected Bison on the Vineyard to be designated as an official event by the National Alumni Association. Howard University’s [administration officials] selected me to be the chairperson for two consecutive years [2012–2014]. The annual gathering grew from a small group of people in the backyard with paper plates to an event with white tents and white couches with linen and china, a catered event with a DJ, and a PA system with fundraisers and panel discussions.
After my two-year term, the National Alumni Association brings in a new president, who brings in a new regime.
My first visit to Martha’s Vineyard was during the offseason in December 2012. Islander Carleen Cordwell is a year-round property manager, real estate manager, and caterer, who opened up her home to my mother and me, and we were struck with instant love of Martha’s Vineyard and its people. In 2016, I decided to create an HBCU branded annual event to include all the black historically colleges and universities, which is officially named Legacy Week on the Vineyard.
HBCU Brand Partners produces the annual Legacy Week. This year  was supposed to be our fourth year but, unfortunately, I had to cancel due to COVID. In March , we announced that we were not scheduling our July event. The early notice allowed alumni to get their deposits back or move their reservations to 2021.
Initially, Legacy Week started as a five-day event, which ran Tuesday through Saturday. Last year , it turned into a seven-day event that now runs Saturday to Saturday.
GQ: What other events or activities do you have planned for Legacy Week on Martha’s Vineyard?
SW: This year, we were supposed to align ourselves with Black Travel Movement, which is an African American travel group that goes all over the world. Black Travel Movement customized itineraries for people of color. Reggie Cummings, the founder of the Black Travel Movement, wanted to schedule domestic locations in the states and he wanted Legacy Week on Martha’s Vineyard to be one of the travel groups’ destinations.
Black Travel Movement has more than 380,000 members and Reggie has dedicated a page on Facebook named Black Travel Movement on Martha’s Vineyard, which I’m the administrator. We were looking forward to joining forces this summer, but hope to partner in 2021.
I’m also in the process of starting another platform titled Alumni Association of Color for alumni who have attended predominately white institutions such as Harvard University, Penn State, Temple University, the University of Maryland, and others. I would like to align this group with the HBCU group during Legacy Week. There are a lot of Black alumni who vacation annually on Martha’s Vineyard who did not attend an HBCU, so I want to make sure everybody is included. It’s all about diversity and inclusion, and we don’t want to leave anyone out.
GQ: What other trips would you like to plan for the alumni group?
SW: I would like to get my feet solid on Martha’s Vineyard and then I wanted to take it down South. Maybe we can do a Legacy Week in New Orleans because most HBCUs are in the South. In the next two years, I would like to do something more conducive to travel for alumni.
GQ: You are a Managing Partner of Experience Martha’s Vineyard, a digital magazine. Tell me about your latest joint venture.
SW: I have a partner [India Rose] who is the founder of Experience Martha’s Vineyard and a public relations and marketing consultant. India was born and raised on Martha’s Vineyard. She got married on the Island and currently resides there with her husband and children. India befriended me when she found out what I was doing with Legacy Week. Though she did not attend an HBCU, she was interested and impressed by what I was able to accomplish with no sponsors, no publicist, and no marketing dollars. Everything we did was grassroots and word of mouth.
Experience Martha’s Vineyard includes a list of the Black-owned businesses on the Vineyard. We have the Inkwell Community, where well-known authors, journalists, and storytellers from the Island or visitors who frequent the Island contribute articles to the magazine. I’m in charge of the HBCU Connection column. So many Black visitors come to the Island and we would like to provide them with other options to consider when supporting Black vendors and Black establishments.
GQ: Tell me about your other company, Executive Travel Agency.
SW: The purpose of starting the Executive Travel Agency was to connect national or international tourism boards to journalists of color. The press trips that are planned included a majority of white journalists.
I went to the New York Times Travel Show and as I was walking around, I wondered if these travel entities were interested in bringing entertainers to their countries because of my close connection to talent. I went to the Greece booth and they said we don’t want entertainers to come but we need journalists of color to join our press trips. I said to myself, “This is a new plateau. I know entertainers, but I don’t know many journalists.
I started researching the travel section of major magazines including Essence, O, and others. Then I reached out to them via Twitter or email and that’s how I started developing my roster of journalists.
I named the company, Executive Travel Agency because I have another company named Executive Talent Agency and I wanted to keep the branding similar. The acronym of the company is ETA, and the slogan is “What’s your ETA?”
For the National Tourism Offices of Greece, I vetted the journalists of color. I collected their writing samples and passport details. I never selected the journalists, but I supplied them with all the necessary information to better make an informed choice.
I am not classified as a journalist, and I wasn’t supposed to go on a trip, but I had a great relationship with the director of tourism for Greece of North America, she asked me to come on the trip and to find a media outlet that I would publish my travel story. I called Len Burnett at Uptown magazine and asked him if I could cover on behalf of Uptown and he said sure.
GQ: As a content creator, what are some of the other projects you are working on?
SW: Pre-COVID-19, I was freelancing with various projects. My partner, Khalil Moses, and I were planning a non-virtual party for Q-Tip’s 50th birthday celebration [April 10th], and due to COVID, the event was canceled. During COVID, Khalil and I decided to start a platform named The Sonic Café. We book and manage DJs for virtual events, and that’s how The Sonic Café was born.
GQ: For The Sonic Café, who are some of your clients?
SW: We approached Time Out New York magazine, which is now one of our clients. We book DJs for Time Out New York Instagram live sets on Fridays [at 5:00 p.m. ET] and we hashtagged it #FlashbackFridays. To date, we secured DJ Maseo of De La Soul, Lord Finesse from Diggin’ in the Crates Crew, Stormin’ Norman of Sundae Sermon, and many others. Time Out New York has never activated their live Instagram account before as well as many other companies. We are in negotiations and discussions about several other projects.
We all have to thank D-Nice!
GQ: Do you have any final words?
SW: Yes. If you have an idea or vision, create it, and develop it. You have to nurture it and it will get bigger and better. Also, you must be consistent, keep the faith, and stay focused. If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will.
Gwendolyn Quinn is an award-winning communications strategist and consultant with a career spanning more than 25 years. She is the Chief Content Officer of Global Communicator. As a contributor, she has penned stories for NBCNews.com, Black Enterprise, Essence.com, Huff Post, and EURWEB.com.