By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
For Carmen Mays, one of the most difficult parts of leading the Grow with Google Digital Coaching Program in Birmingham was that she couldn’t tell anyone she had the position.
“I actually found out the week before Christmas  that I had been chosen for it, and the hardest part was waiting a month to tell everybody else,” she said of her position with the multinational technology giant. “This program is designed to be in person, so it is a bit difficult to get people to commit to virtual classes because they are over [the pandemic] … and are ready to get back outside, but I think it is a great investment by a company like Google into our market.”
As a digital coach, Mays offers at least three virtual workshops per month that can address several different topics, including bookkeeping, project management, and many others.
“We cover a range of topics, from soft skills to hard digital skills,” she said. “I’m sharing business development advice and business strategy advice, as well as instructing people on how to use different Google tools, [such as] Google Analytics, Ads, Sheets, Docs, and Drive, and YouTube. We have a library of content to choose from, and I will [conduct] multiple workshops to get people where they need to be.”
The workshops are intended to foster growth and improvement among Black and brown businesses and entrepreneurs, “but I tell people a lot of this stuff is just useful. Talking about digital skills for everyday use or how to optimize energy is useful for everybody,” said Mays, 35, who in 2017 founded Elevators, a consulting firm that offers virtual, in-person, or hybrid events; program design; and strategic advising to creatives of color.
Black Joy Bazaar
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Mays came up with an idea to help business owners who needed space to create and connect with customers.
“I saw that Black creators were among the hardest hit during the pandemic, particularly people who sold their goods at village markets, farmer’s markets, or tabling events,” she said.
Partnering with Urban Impact Birmingham, Mays presented the Black Joy Bazaar last September on Fourth Avenue North, where the public shopped in an outdoor setting while social distancing.
“By that point, we had better information about COVID-19, [so we used] that to our advantage and put on an outdoor market for Black creatives,” she said. “I chose the 21st of September not only because of the [1978 chart-topping] Earth, Wind, and Fire song but also because it was summer-ending and we were transitioning into fall, [so] I wanted to do something that was joyous because the summer of 2020 had been terrible. … One of the things that was important to me was that even in the midst of this chaos, Black people still have and experience joy.”
At the event, about 10 different creatives and small-business owners were able to set up shop in the Historic 4th Avenue Business District and sell their goods, which included jewelry, candles, paintings, apparel, and more. Black businesses in the district were open during the event, as well.
“I knew the mental and emotional toll that summer 2020 had taken on so many of us, from the pandemic to the killing of Black people at the hands of police, so … it was a place for us to support each other and have joy,” Mays said. “It was also a protest because joy is a protest that says, ‘You can’t steal our joy! No matter what you do, we’re still going to be the people that we are.’”
West End Native
Mays was born and raised in Birmingham, and grew up in the West End community.
“My parents are originally from [the Titusville neighborhood] and, since my grandparents were from there, I went to [Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School] there,” she said. “I spent a lot of time in both places, … [including spending] a lot of my after-school afternoons at the Titusville Library. … Most of my childhood was playing outside, going to the library, walking to the different stores for my grandparents.”
Mays, youngest of three, stayed busy by participating in basketball, soccer, volleyball, track and field, softball, dance, and other extracurricular activities. After attending Our Lady of Fatima, she went on to John Carroll Catholic High School and graduated in 2003. She then went to the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH), where she majored in foreign language with a concentration on Spanish and international trade; she also was initiated as a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated.
Her interest in international trade came from her time at the Titusville Library.
“My mom and I would watch the Travel Channel a lot, and I would go to the library and look up places that I saw on television. … I became really enamored with Spain and Spanish culture,” said Mays, who interned with an international freight-forwarding company, learning how goods were shipped around the world.
Mays graduated from UAH in 2006 with degrees in business in international trade and foreign language. She held positions at a local bank and then for a contractor at an automotive company before deciding to enroll in the public administration graduate program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). After earning her master’s degree in 2012, Mays spent five years away from Birmingham, working in the Carolinas.
“In North Carolina, I worked for a county government as a budget analyst putting together the county budget and monitoring spending in departments,” she said. “In South Carolina, I was the minority business coordinator for a city, where I managed all of the Civil Rights programming, as well as minority business development.”
Not Your Average Career
Mays, who is not married and does not have children, returned to Birmingham in 2016. During the time she was moving, she started Elevators “by accident,” she said. “I didn’t intend to start my own business. I wanted to take a break from the traditional workforce and then just go back to [the traditional workforce].”
Describing the birth of Elevators, Mays said, “I was home, and there was this week being planned by other organizations that didn’t include Black folks. So, as a protest and sort of a troll, I decided to put on the first three Elevators events concurrently with the other events that were planned in the city, except my events were centered and focused on Black and brown creatives and entrepreneurs. … My events were highlighting the people they were overlooking and excluding.”
After putting on four events for creatives and some nonprofit organizations, Mays knew she had something.
“It wasn’t hard for me to be creative,” she said. “The difficulty came when I was raising money to execute what I wanted to do and working to get people who were older to understand that what I was doing was important and worth funding.”
Despite challenges, she gained support from clients, family, and friends. Since starting her business, Mays has hosted workshops to help small businesses grow, helped increase exposure for minority creatives, and demonstrated the importance of increasing diversity at the table.
“I’m asking [clients], ‘What do you like to do? What are you passionate about? What are your God-given talents?’ [Then I say to them], ‘Let’s figure out how to make a living doing what you love.’”
To register for Carmen Mays’s Grow with Google Digital Coaching Program courses, visit g.co/digitalcoachbir. You can also get more information about her at www.elevatorson4th.com and on Instagram @elevators_on_4th.