Ebony Marie Chappel considers herself a Naptown girl through and through. After spending most of her childhood on the west side of Indianapolis, the proud Virgo ventured to Ball State University to study telecommunications in 2007. However, when she graduated in 2012, her post-graduate visions didn’t quite come to fruition right away. Rather, Chappel waitressed full-time at a local restaurant and worked part-time at the Madam Walker Legacy Center.
“I graduated and kinda took a very unorthodox path for my career,” Chappel says. “I am definitely the type of person that does things differently. I just kind of have my own way of going about things.”
In the sparse free time she had left, Chappel flooded her calendar with whatever freelance gigs she could get her hands on, while still volunteering in the community and being heavily involved in her church.
She ended up getting her big break with the Indianapolis Recorder newspaper in 2013 as an assistant and worked her way up to editor-in-chief. In 2017, she decided to go the nonprofit route, which brought her to her current position at Leadership Indianapolis as its program and communications manager.
We grabbed some time on Chappel’s busy calendar to chat about her humble career beginnings, the power of volunteering, and the career philosophies that she follows day-to-day.
How’d you land your job with the Recorder?
A mentor of mine introduced me to the president of the Indianapolis Recorder and they did not have a job for me when I first got there. I was going there to see where I could help and also gain some professional experience. I still had my job at the restaurant and was working double shifts six days a week.
I would have to arrange time off to be able to do other things. I had to come to a decision, really, for myself. What is more important to me right now — keeping this job at the restaurant or really trying to take a chance on myself and pursue what would turn into a career? And that’s ultimately what I had to do. I would go to the Recorder and do whatever I could help to do. Then an opportunity came up to be an assistant to the president. So, I just asked for a meeting with her and I said, “Would you consider hiring me as your assistant?” My role quickly morphed into so many other things.
How did you start freelancing?
The beginnings of it actually started when I was in college. When I was at Ball State, my friends and I would create things together, like we did documentaries in college. We had to tape what we wanted to be able to do, and those tapes cost money, and we didn’t always have money to be able to do that. So, we would hustle and come up with different business strategies to make the money to buy tapes to then create our art. When I came home from college and wasn’t able to find a job quickly enough, I just started doing the hustle again. Honestly, it started out of necessity and out of survival, but at this point, it is still just a way for me to live out my dreams and tell the stories that I want to tell about the world. That’s really what my main focus is with it, informing and educating the community. Today, I’m just really inspired and driven by that, so that’s why I continue to do it.
What’s your advice to others who are interested in starting a freelance business?
Whatever it is, go for it because you never know what that thing could turn into. And now, we live in a day and age where you can use free resources, like using social media. You have no idea where that can potentially go. And we’re all driven by connection and communication. Just using all of that stuff to your advantage. I think it’s just so important—and never giving up. There is never going to be a perfect moment where you’re not busy or you have all the equipment. Just start where you are and just see where it takes you.
You were a waitress for a period of time after graduating from college. How do you think that impacted your work ethic?
Working in the service industry taught me so much. It was a constant hustle. You had to be creative and quick on your feet and be able to work with all sorts of people. It was one of the most demanding experiences I’ve ever had but I appreciate it for what it was and for all the folks I interacted with.
What I took away from that experience is that teamwork is integral to success as well as playing your role to the absolute best of your ability. Everyone has something to bring to the table and it’s important to figure out what your thing is and make the most out of it.
What philosophies do you use as the foundation of your career?
Philosophies that are at the foundation of my career are simple. Truth, justice, and equity are at the core of everything I do.
Who’s a woman you admire?
Alpha Blackburn, because she is just so freaking cool. That is the easiest way I can put it. I admire the fact that she is not afraid to lead with her personality and her style. When Black women are allowed to be themselves, wonderful things happen. And it should be the case more often. I just really like that about her. I love just the fact that she was able to do so many different things with her life and share all of these different gifts with the world.
You’re also a public speaker. What would you say to someone who is shy or nervous about speaking in front of others?
The thing is, all of the stuff that you’re worried about, most people do not care. Nobody is analyzing you as hard as they think you are. And if they are, then those girls are mean girls. You should not worry about those people that are being overly critical of you because you can’t do anything with that energy anyway. So, just focus on the people that are there to hear from you because there are people that really care about what it is that you have to say…that will take you far.
You’ve lived in Indianapolis for most of your life. What are some of your favorite things to do in the city?
When things were safer, I really enjoyed eating out. I love Petite Chou for Sunday brunch. I also like Bluebeard, Chef Oya’s The Trap, Mikado, and the Oaxaca taco truck. I also like taking rides on my bike around the city to different places, and I’m looking forward to meeting up with more bikers in the future.
What’s a fun fact about you?
I am a cat mom and licensed minister.
Samantha Kupiainen is a regular Indy Maven contributor.