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How Entrepreneur Nikeshia Young Started from Nothing and Built Two Thriving Photography Businesses

Nikeshia Young with Roots of Life photography in Fort Wayne Indiana

The path into entrepreneurship is never a straight one. It's more like a crazy roller coaster ride that has highs and lows and multiple twists along the way. From the life an entrepreneur lives before their business was even thought of to the conception of their business and the challenges of being a startup and beyond. This holds especially true for Nikeshia (Nike) Young, owner of Roots of Life Photography and Creative Roots Media, who has had to overcome many obstacles throughout her life to become the successful business owner she is today. Although Nike has had a rough journey, she still maintains a positive attitude and strives to make everyone around her laugh and smile through her bubbly personality and sense of humor. When we asked Nikeshia what her business is today, she said,

"I've been in business for 11 years in February, so Roots of Life Photography is the umbrella company. Roots of Life handles all personal photography, so I do maternity, birth, newborn, milestone, and family photography, engagements, elopements, weddings, senior photos, and destination photography. Creative Roots Media is a business under Roots of Life that handles the commercial side of my photography. So that's where I do real estate photography, corporate headshots, product pictures, business branding, and e-commerce."

To follow up on this question, we asked Nike what the word business meant to her, and she said,

"When I think of business, I think of an entrepreneur. I think the words go hand in hand. It's an idea, a way of selling something, and a way of creating. Honestly, it's a way of life that's not for the faint of heart."

Nikeshia Young was born and raised in Bryan, Ohio, a small town just outside of Toledo and home to the Dum Dum sucker factory, Spangler Candy. When Young talked about what it was like growing up, she said almost all her childhood memories included some form of trauma. She grew up with a father who was in and out of her life due to being an alcoholic, abusive, and spending most of her upbringing in and out of prison. Nike even shared a raw story with us about how her earliest childhood memory included a time when her father picked up a puppy and threw it through a wall. At the age of 10, she picked up a paper route as her first job, but when she was 11, she and her mother were involved in a tragic accident that would change the course of her life forever. On the evening of January 1st, nearly 20 years ago, Nikeshia and her family were on their way home when a drunk driver t-boned them. The drunk driver was an Amish man who passed out in a buggy, leaving the horse running down the street without guidance. The horse ended up running straight into the road, hitting Young and her family. The severe impact broke her mother's neck and paralyzed her from the neck down. After spending much time in the hospital, her mom was eventually transferred to a nursing home to receive around-the-clock care, and Nike was put into foster care. After bouncing around between different family members, Nike was placed with a family in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 2006.

A picture captured by Nike Young with Roots of Life photography of her daughter on a hot summer day washing their car.

When Nike moved to Fort Wayne, she was a freshman in high school. She attended Snider High School and at 16 Nikeshia moved into her own apartment. Shortly before her 17th birthday her mother was released from the nursing home into Nike’s care. After graduation, Nike received a scholarship to Purdue for veterinary school but ultimately decided to leave that dream behind and moved to upstate New York but eventually moved back to Fort Wayne. At the age of 20, she got married, but soon after the wedding, she realized that the man she married was abusive. She filed for a divorce and left, but this would now leave her homeless. She managed to get a third shift position at a factory, which allowed her to find a place to stay, and she began going to Indiana Tech for Early Childhood Development and Education. Soon after finally returning to her feet, Nike gained temporary custody of her newborn and 2-year-old nieces. After graduation, Nikeshia got a job at a local school as a preschool teacher, but when she got pregnant with her daughter in 2015, she was wrongfully terminated. The reason they gave for her termination was because a pregnant person shouldn't be in her position. This lit a fire underneath Nikeshia that would soon lead her to take her first venture into entrepreneurship as she opened a daycare and began taking photography more seriously.

We asked Nike if she remembers being interested in photography as a kid, and she said,

"Throughout my childhood, I always had a disposable camera. I have boxes of pictures from when I was growing up. I always wanted to capture the moment and memories. Some may say that's linked to my childhood trauma because I never knew when I would see my dad again. It was always hit or miss if he would show up, so I had a camera with me all the time to capture everything. I never thought of it as a career though, growing up I wanted to be a veterinarian because I love animals, but I was always taking pictures. My friends, even today, still make fun of me because I'm always taking pictures and videos, but you know what? That's all you're going to have when someone is gone. And that really hit me when my dad died. All I had left of him was the few pictures and videos I took. Now that I've had that kind of loss and impact, I live by that even more. I want to take pictures and be in pictures because that's all that's left when loved ones are gone."

She went on to tell us about the first time she ever picked up a professional camera, which was in 2013. She said that a close friend asked her to take pictures of their family, and after the shoot, someone told her that she could do this professionally, so she did!

Nike Young with Roots of Life Photography doing travel photography for an out of state wedding on top of a mountain

Nike began to focus more on a career in photography at the beginning of 2020 after she realized that she was spending far too much time at the daycare instead of being at home with her daughter. Towards the end of the daycare business, Nike was working from 5 a.m.-10 p.m. and only a little bit of time at home. So, at the end of 2019, she notified all the parents that she would close the daycare at the end of the year. In 2020, Nikeshia left her daughter's father, moved in with her mom to be her full-time caregiver, and took her freelance photography business full-time. When we spoke with Nike about that time, we asked her what the most challenging part was as she transitioned into this new career path, and she said,

"The biggest challenge I was afraid of was COVID, but 2020 was when my photography business blew up. I don't know if that's because COVID made people feel like they needed to capture memories or if it was because I wasn't spreading myself thin on two businesses, but either way, 2020 was when I really blew up. A personal challenge I had was being a single mom, a business owner, and a full-time caregiver to my quadriplegic mom. It was a lot. I was exhausted, stressed, burnt out, overwhelmed, all of it. And then Covid. So, it was rough at the start, but here I am. I'm a full-time successful photographer, and there are not many photographers that can say that because this is a cutthroat, very competitive, over-saturated business to be in."

Maternity Photography by Roots of Life Photography in Fort Wayne. Nike does all photography from maternity, birth, milestone, family and beyond

Since starting Roots of Life, Nike has accomplished many things that she never imagined were possible in the beginning. Her work has been published several times, including in multiple photography magazines. She won top 2% in the world in a 2019 photo competition and accomplished one of her biggest dreams of being a traveling photographer. Nikeshia has had the opportunity to travel to Florida, New York, Colorado, Virginia, Wyoming, and Italy. One big personal accomplishment for Nike was when she was able to pay for a trip for her and her daughter to go to Hawaii together and while she was there, she was able to fit in a few photography sessions. When we were talking about all the great things Nike has been able to do over the last few years, we started talking about what helped her stand out among the rest in such a saturated industry, and she said,

"I've had so many people ask what makes me different, and in the beginning, I didn't know (how to answer that question), but now I can say it's my personality. I know I do good work, but people keep coming back because of me. So, my personality stands me out. Most of my reviews are about how I make people laugh, feel relaxed, and have fun (during their sessions). My repeat clients all tell me the reason they keep coming back isn't just because of my work, but because of who I am as a person."
Owner of Creative Roots Media, Nike Young, captures beautiful real estate photography  for homes in Fort Wayne

As for the future of Roots of Life Photography, Nike said in the short term, she would love to do more real estate photography because she loves shooting houses. She would also like to expand on doing more business branding for other entrepreneurs. She said she loves meeting new people and hearing their stories. One of her favorite things is learning the why behind why a company got started and how it got to where they are now. In the long term, Nikeshia would love to be a National Geographic Photographer to fulfill her love for animals and nature. The biggest goal would be to shoot in Antarctica, Africa, and Alaska to capture content of the polar bears, take pictures of her favorite whale, the beluga, and photograph the Kodiaks. Her dream would be to one day shoot with her favorite photographer, David Yarrow. She loves his work in Africa and would love to learn and create with him. At the end of our conversation with Nike, we asked her what advice she would give to someone hoping to take on the entrepreneurial journey, and she said,

"Don't sell yourself short. Don't do free and cheap; your time alone is worth more. Especially as a photographer, but really any business, don't sell yourself short, and it does get better. Hold on for the light at the end of the tunnel. It does come; it just takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to get there."

If you want to see more of Nike's work or book a session with her, follow her on social media at Roots of Life Photography or visit her website at Working with Nikeshia has been a lot of fun, and we're so honored to have her on our team. Her genuine attitude towards every new business owner we send her to is unmatched. She goes into every shoot with the desire to learn more about everyone she encounters, and it shows in the creativity of her work. Everyone she has worked with for us has come back with such positive words about how comfortable she made them feel, how fun the shoot was, or simply how great of a person Nike is in general. We are so excited to see the future of Roots of Life and Creative Roots Media and witness the wonderful things Nike accomplishes throughout her career.

The Fort Wayne Business Journal teamed up with Nike Young with Rotts of Life Photography and Creative Roots Media to bring better quality photos to our articles. Hear the inspiring story of our photographer on the blog!

Thank you, Nikeshia, for allowing us to tell your story and being so open about what you've been through to get to where you are today. We are so grateful to have you with us at the Fort Wayne Business Journal and can't wait to keep growing with you. If you like reading stories about the people shaping Fort Wayne into what it is today, subscribe to our newsletter so you're always in the loop about what's happening here at the Fort Wayne Business Journal.


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