“Kidpreneur” refers to a young person with a big idea. Nazhi (pronounced Nah-zhee) Forrest is that and more. As founder and CEO of a growing baking business, Nazhi Thee Baker, LLC, the 15-year-old hopes to raise awareness of a medical condition that her own family deals with: sickle cell anemia.
There is currently no cure for the disease. Nazhi and her sisters are each affected.
Sickle cell anemia, a hereditary condition in which there aren’t enough healthy red blood cells to carry needed oxygen throughout the body, is most commonly found among those with African ancestry. It gets its name from irregularly shaped blood cells that stick inside small vessels, slowing or blocking blood flow and oxygen, causing moderate to severe pain. Sickle cell anemia also increases the risk of infections and may lead to growth delays and vision problems.
As a little girl, Nazhi felt left out, dealing with a chronic ailment that restricted her activities, especially outside. Something as common as swimming in a pool had to be avoided; the chlorine would trigger symptoms. “The pain attacks felt like being stabbed over and over,” Nazhi says. “I just wanted it to stop.”
Her older sister has suffered two strokes related to the condition; the girls have endured many crisis situations. Her mother, Nashanta, explains, “They were on lots of medication, back and forth to the hospital. With the limits, it was like they lived in a bubble. They’d ask why they weren’t like other kids. Always lots of questions, but no answers.”
Then Nashanta discovered that their diet was part of the problem. Sitting with a holistic doctor, she learned that most of what they ate — processed foods, refined sugars, bleached flour — aggravated their condition. “My jaw dropped. I felt terrible, like I had contributed to their suffering.”
Switching to a healthier diet made a dramatic difference. Recently, when the youngest daughter’s blood was checked, zero inflammation was evident. “‘Keep doing what you’re doing,’ the doctor told me. He was shocked!” Nashanta says.
A healthy organic diet made Nazhi and her sisters feel better, but it did nothing to satisfy her sizable sweet tooth. Nazhi enjoyed baking; she began to experiment, first with peanut butter cookies. “I used raw peanut butter and organic ripened bananas for sweeteners. The cookies looked weird, but they tasted pretty good,” she says. Her personal favorite? “Coconut goddess bundt cake.”
As her baking adventures expanded, Nazhi shared goodies with her neighbors, eventually starting the business, Nazhi Thee Baker. “I want kids to enjoy treats that won’t make them feel worse.” Her company’s motto is “We bake with love, a little slice of healthy heaven.” Products may be seen and ordered at her website, www.nazhitheebaker.com.
Florida law allows individuals to use unlicensed home kitchens to produce and sell baked goods. A stickler for quality control, Nazhi does all the baking and packaging herself. She hopes to get into her high school’s business program to hone her skills. “Having my big brother as a business partner has also helped,” she says.
During cooler months, Nazhi sells her healthy goodies at the Port St. Lucie Farmer’s Market and various vendor events; she also participates in special events at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Miami. Proceeds return to the business or for back-to-school or annual Christmas toy drives. Nazhi and her family also give out TLC bags to hospitalized kids with sickle cell anemia containing information on prevention and coping strategies.
Designing the distinctive company logo was a joint effort. A young woman holding a cupcake wears a chef’s hat with a crown motif. Since the main focus is awareness, several “sickle cells” can also be seen. Beyond awareness and offering healthy sweets, however, Nazhi inspires kids with sickle cell anemia and other chronic conditions, giving them a sense of belonging.
A child of her times, Nazhi is active on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. She’s also been featured in K.I.S.H. magazine and on television with Good Morning Washington and Lifetime’s Live Life Forward with Adrian Paul. Nazhi and her sisters also manage the Sickle Cell Slayers page on Facebook to inspire and encourage others.
Why Nazhi THEE Baker? “‘Thee’ can mean God, or ‘one and only.’ I wanted to be a little different.” Nazhi certainly paints a different picture of what it means to deal with chronic disease. “I want other teens to realize that they shouldn’t give up on their hopes and dreams. I have sickle cell anemia and have been able to accomplish a lot. They should have confidence, too.”
Nazhi’s father works as a journeyman insulator to keep supplies on hand for Nazhi’s baking. In addition to supporting her mission by purchasing baked goods, sponsorship opportunities are available. This year, Nazhi Thee Baker Angel Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, has cut back on certain projects. “We don’t have any grants,” says her mother. “No one gets a salary. All money goes back into the foundation.”
The goal of most entrepreneurs, even kidpreneurs, is to make money. Nazhi is making a difference.
NAZHI ARI-ANNA DIOR FORREST
Lives in: Port St. Lucie
Occupation: Founder and CEO of Nazhi Thee Baker, LLC and the Angel Foundation
Family: Parents, Michael and Nashanta; brother, De-Armani; sisters, Shakarrah and Italiyah
Education: Sophomore at Treasure Coast High School
Hobbies: Baking, hip-hop dancing, raising awareness for sickle cell anemia
Who inspires me: Oprah Winfrey. “She’s such a positive leader, always telling people not to give up. I want to
Something most people don’t know about me: “People sometimes don’t believe that I have sickle cell because I’m so active.”