Entrepreneurs, much like immigrants, often bring fresh ideas that stimulate minds and the economy. For Tracy Garley, the pursuit to create products and services and help others learn and succeed is innate. As Co-Founder + CEO of GoFundHer.com, Founder of City Girls Big Dreams, Zarkpa’s and Head Chef at “Culture in a Bowl,” she is redefining any lazy misconceptions of who immigrants are. Growing up in a time when immigrants were running Motor City, whether it be the gas or restaurant industry, Tracy was surrounded by the work hard mentality, and the dedication and drive that immigrants bring. Detroit is a melting pot with a storied past, and Tracy has worked endlessly to be a part of their and New York City’s developing future.
When Tracy was living on the West Side of Detroit, there was a mass exodus from the city to the suburbs. And while she didn’t feel safe in her neighborhood, she knew the move to the United States and leaving behind her 14 year war-torn country of Liberia was a blessing and lesson. In the summer of 2002, Tracy’s parents were celebrating an American Dream accomplishment, buying their first house on the West Side of Detroit. At that time in Detroit, kids would ride their bikes and go to Belle Isle Park, an island full of educational and recreational activities like an aquarium and “a cultural classic and necessary for any Detroiter.” However, this side of town left her family and neighborhood traumatized after three of her dad’s friends left the party and were shot. It was a memory that brought her back to her childhood in West Africa. “I was born in the civil war in West Africa and my parents had to grow up at such a young age. By 1993, we had to leave Liberia and moved to Ivory Coast, I remembered speaking French at a very young age. In September 1997, I remember when we first got back to Liberia and my mom told me I was home. I couldn’t believe what I saw. I remember seeing bullet holes in buildings and thinking to myself, ‘wow this country looks nothing like the last country I came from.’” But by December 30th, 2000, Tracy arrived at JFK Airport in New York City and saw snow for the first time. “I was excited and scared at the same time. Here I was this little girl from West Africa Liberia coming to America. That’s when I knew God had brought me to the United States for a reason.
“My household was like any African household…where my parents brought Africa to America.” She’d often say ‘no’ to her parents’ request to become a nurse and she instead worked on cooking Liberian dishes with her late aunt Phyllis and focused on going to school for International Business. Then in 2014, Tracy opened the doors of her first business, “Zarkpa’s” in the heart of downtown Detroit. The store was a 25th birthday gift from her parents and decided on Zarkpa’s because it is the namesake of her paternal grandmother in Liberia meaning “debt-free.” As the first new retail clothing store to open in the city of Detroit after it had to file for bankruptcy, Tracy made it her mission to ensure they were open everyday and that they brought energy to the downtown area. “I collaborated with other entrepreneurs to host events such as ‘Positive Tea Party,’ ‘Sip & Shop,’ and pop-up shops. Then in 2017, I decided to move Zarkpa’s to e-commerce, with a focus on exposing the world to the intricacies and diversity of West African fashion through custom apparel, handbags, and accessories.”
Shortly after this successful venture, Tracy was enjoying an evening run on the Detroit River Walk when she looked at the skyline of Canada and Detroit and the phrase, City Girl with Big Dreams popped up in her head. “I did what any millennial would do, checked on Instagram to see if the name was available.” Thus another business began, where Tracy would showcase the vibrant and thriving side of Detroit — hosting popup shops with other women entrepreneurs and operating an all year round entrepreneurship internship with college and high school girls. “I was using my power and didn’t even know it; that’s what happens when you want other women to win.”
With that, she created gofundher.com as a sister company to CGBD — both dedicated to the causes of girls and women. Dedicated to supporting powerful ambitious girls and women to achieve success through financial literacy. They direct deposit funds to these women and through the success of these two companies, are able to create a real and sustainable financial platform designed by women, for women. “We are here to enlighten, empower, and inspire women’s dreams to come true.” Tracy’s life centers around inspiring others to chose their dreams, and being a Black woman, means everything to her. “I want to be an example for other little Black girls out there and let them know they can’t do anything if they put their mind to it. And it is okay to be the first one to do something, that is what leaders do. We start trends.” Part of the leadership Tracy wants to bring to others is back in Liberia, where she hopes to open a factory for her West African clothing store, Zarkpa’s. “I want my team and I to teach young women different business skills and help them get on their feet and start living their dreams with money in their pockets.”
When the pandemic hit, Tracy was cooking at Vegan Love, making vegan African food in the East Village. It was then her business partner and herself came up with the idea for a virtual internship, one that focuses on the financial technology platform. 5-8 girls and women are mentored for 12 weeks, where the aim of the program is to increase female representation in the tech industry — who make up only about 25% of the jobs available. “Interns are able to harness our support system and leverage that network into personal success. This translates into a potent circle of women nurturing and empowering each other. We seek to foster a flourishing environment of empowerment, social justice, and diversity for both our employees and our members.”
Tracy credits God for her entrepreneurial spirit and drive to help others. “Faith means everything to me, I remember as a young child watching my mom fasting and teaching me about the Bible at a very early age. By the age of 13 I already knew the power I had. I am so happy my parents allowed me to be myself and walk in faith with everything I do in my life.” Now living in a desirable neighborhood in Queens, New York, she focuses more on her life missions. “This was all God planned for me and I am so glad I listened. My journey to New York City was not easy, but I am so happy I took a leap of faith.” God gave Tracy hope and a future, and she is passing it forward, this Women’s History Month, and every day in between.