“I don't go to the top by myself, I bring my community with me."
Julissa 1

Persistence and sharing are attributes that come to Julissa Prado naturally.

When she was 3, for example, she cried and stomped and begged for a bag of M&M's. Surrendering to her tantrum, her mom gave her the bag of colorful chocolate candies. There in the house, while they had company, little Julissa went around handing out M&M's to everyone, one by one. “Here's one for my tia Princess, one for my cousin Titi, one for my cousin Alvaro…” she went on and on until her bag was empty. “Now everyone is happy!” she said and went back to playing — leaving her mother speechless.

Prado, the founder and CEO of Rizos Curls, is still on that type of time. She knows that she has a responsibility to her community. Born and raised in a predominantly Latinx neighborhood of Mid-City, in Los Angeles, the Mexican-American entrepreneur still carries many values instilled by her parents.

“My parents raised me in thinking you are nothing without your family, you are nothing without your community,” she shares with CHICA. Her parents didn't fail to remind her that those around her, like the lady who sold pupusa and the immigrants working long hours, were the respectable CEOs and role models to admire.

Julissa stepped into the hair business hoping to create a formula that best fit not just her hair texture, but everyone else in her community who had curly, wavy and coiled hair. Many who aren't aware of Mexico's Afrodescendencia and Afro-mestizo communities have questioned her ethnicity because it isn't the stereotypical Mexicana look we see on TV.

Her parents come from Veracruz, Mexico, a city known as the reggaetón capital of Mexico for its Caribbean influences and love for salsa and merengue, as well as having one of the largest Afro-Mexican populations in the country. Concerned with the great lengths everyone went to just to straighten their hair, instead of wearing it naturally, she launched the all-natural product line that is now a community filled with Rizos Reinas (curl queens).

“I grew up with this idea of sisterhood, I call it chismosa [gossip] culture, where, like, sharing is caring, and we don't keep things to ourselves. We share it with others, and we bring each other up as we climb, that's where the name the Latina Ladder comes from.”

The Latina Ladder “Lift as We Climb” series features panel discussions organized through her company's #RizosReina Tour 2019. The tour is catered to the community of women, Rizos Reinas, who support her brand and are vocal about what their needs are. “I don't go to the top by myself, I bring my community with me…. Part of why I grew so much is because of this outpour of support from other business owners.” She wants to pay it forward by creating platforms and spaces for a range of Latinas.

The series aims to empower the #RizosReina community around the country by educating current and prospective founders and businesswomen. “My goal is to bring inspiration for your goals. The biggest barrier for me was not seeing an example.”

One reason for creating the diverse series was the lack of representation she saw in panel events she attends, including Latinx ones. “I go to so many events, and there are so many white Latinas, and I'm like, Are you kidding me right now?”

Though they are Rizos Curl events and she is moderating, for Prado, it is less about her and more about highlighting the panelists. “It was important to me to not be a one-woman show…. I wanted to create this space, create this platform, to spotlight other local entrepreneurs in all of these cities.” The Ladder events took place in Miami and Puerto Rico this month. And they're set for Los Angeles on July 25 and New York City August 15.

Julissa at the Miami #LatinaLadder event. The event will also take place in Los Angeles July 25 and August 15th.

Bringing the event to Puerto Rico was especially important. “Out of all those cities, Puerto Rico needs it the most, because I feel like so many companies forget they exist.”

After the island was decimated by Hurricane Maria, the lack of electricity people experienced for months left women unable to straighten their hair. This motivated a population to embrace their natural curls. Thanks to Julissa's brand and the Rizos Reinas chismosa culture, women on the island were able to gain knowledge on hair maintenance, brands and resources.

Knowing this, she thought, “I can't do this and not include Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico has given so much to me that I felt it would be a disservice to them, to my business, and my mantra.”

With the Latina Ladder initiative, Prado continues to use her role as a leader in the natural hair movement to empower her own oft-marginalized Afrodescendencia to imagine new levels of entrepreneurship and cross-cultural connections.