From a business perspective, 2016 is a year of winning for the average black business owner in America. In recent years, the emergence of black-owned businesses has increased to a staggering 40.4 percent.
If you make your way to the Midwest, you will find local business owner Clark Howard who is part of that astounding statistic. Howard, 27 recently started his business, Wine & ASL where he combines his love for fine wine and teaching American Sign Language (ASL) in a very relaxed setting.
Tired of seeing the disengagement between the deaf and hearing communities, Howard decided to do something where he could bring both groups together in one setting for an evening of fun.
“The whole concept behind Wine & ASL is more so for the hearing community to get an idea of what the deaf culture is like. I think it’s very important for both cultures to be able to see how each interacts with one another.” said Howard.
Howard admits that he started Wine & ASL as a means to interact more with the deaf culture. But it was never his intention to make it a business as he just wanted to have fun with his family and friends and bring the two cultures together.
Although Howard was not born deaf, he slowly started to lose his hearing when he was younger and was declared legally deaf at age eight. It was at that point where he began wearing a cochlear implant.
A cochlear implant is an electronic device that replaces the function of the damaged ear. The implanted device does the work for the damaged parts of the inner ear known as the cochlea to provide sound signals to the brain.
Early on I had to learn to depend on myself. I knew that my family wasn’t always going to be around to protect me,” said Howard who also said, “I had to learn independence very young. My parents would always tell me that they weren’t always going to be around to protect me.”
Howard is not alone when it comes to being a functional deaf individual. According to Hearing Health Foundation, approximately one million people in the U.S. are considered functionally deaf.
As a functional deaf individual, Howard was able to start his first business as a photographer and image editor almost five years ago. Howard’s photography work has appeared in several publications and blogs across the country.
Howard’s ambition to be a business owner commenced when he was denied job offers in the past.
“There have been times when I’ve been denied jobs because the employer didn’t think I could properly communicate or that my hearing would get in the way of the job function.” said Howard.
With his current venture Wine & ASL, Howard now has a new goal in mind—to teach ASL. After being declared legally deaf, Howard began the tedious process of learning ASL which took him roughly six months to learn. He further excelled in the language when he was placed in a classroom setting that allowed him to interact with other students using ASL.
As a functional deaf business owner, Howard also appreciates the support he has received from local supporters and partnerships he has formed to make Wine & ASL a success. Howard partnered with a local business Sip & Share which is also a black-owned business that provides and creates various wine concoctions for class participants to enjoy.
“It was very important for me to cultivate Wine & ASL to what it is today because I want people to be more educated about the deaf culture and our language,” said Howard, who also said, “The moment I found out about the deaf man that was fatally shot by police in North Carolina, it made me afraid.”
Howard does have plans to bring Wine & ASL to other cities. He is currently looking to expand it to the city of San Diego due to the high diversity rate the city boasts especially within the deaf community.
Not only does Howard hope that Wine & ASL will take off in San Diego as well as other cities, he also hopes to someday be the voice of the deaf community.
“Give us an opportunity.” Howard proudly said as he believes his mission of educating the hearing community about the deaf culture has just begun.