Gina Barilone has overcome many challenges to start her own business. (Courtesy photo)
Gina Barilone has overcome many challenges to start her own business. (Courtesy photo)

Ginna Barilone’s friends know all about her Mzz B Productions, a business she started after a sudden and painful divorce two years ago. But what many probably don’t know is just how this Haitian immigrant started an entertainment company that’s taking Maryland by storm, with less than $500.

“I created a website and designed business cards,” Barilone said. “I knew I needed the educational piece so I had to quit a dead-end job and I went back to school to earn a second degree in business management and a certification in entrepreneurship.”

Mzz B Productions, which has selective band combos, is a fee-based entertainment company that offers dance and other styles of bands and solo performers, including Barilone who’s performed at weddings, casinos, and various other locations in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia and the District.

The company’s “MELo” band consists of an electric variety of local musicians who perform jazz, Latin fusion and a blend of songs from artists such as John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis and others. They perform at parties, weddings, private events and a host of other functions.

But the business hasn’t been all glitz and glamour for Barilone — particularly as a black female business owner.

“It’s challenging as a black woman living in Maryland and being a full-time student. I don’t qualify for any loans or funding,” she said.

Then, there’s also the lack of financial backing and expertise that other established entertainment companies possess, Barilone said.

Barilone also has had to contend with stereotypes. While growing up, she’d been told that Haiti was the poorest country in the world and that many who hailed from that nation rarely accomplished anything useful, she said.

“Some days, my sisters and I fought with black and white kids our age going to and coming from school,” said Barilone, who grew up in the Queens borough of New York City. “At some point, I stopped telling people where I was born, [but] I had to carry my green card everywhere … until I eventually became a U.S. citizen.”

Barilone, who immediately noted that she’s proud of her Haitian heritage, points out that her father spoke six languages as a school principal in Haiti and her mother is a second-generation niece of former Haitian President Florvil Hyppolite, who served in that capacity from 1889 to 1896.

While it didn’t begin as she initially envisioned it would, Barilone’s entertainment business has started to flourish. This year, she finished second in the Business Innovative Competition at The Community College of Baltimore County after previously winning the Dundalk Idol and Baltimore Idol contests, which is now called “The Voice of Baltimore” competition.

“In one year, I went from booking 15 gigs, to having a total of 37,” Barilone said. “My business began with a passion, concept and a mission.”

Barilone has also displayed a philanthropic side, introducing a $500 scholarship program named “Mzz B’s Music and Dreams Scholarship,” which she awards to four students majoring in business, music and audio productions.

Ultimately, she hopes her business’ success will allow her to give out 25 scholarships per year.

“Philanthropists inspires me. I believe that we are all philanthropists if we tap into our humanity and forget about self-interest for a change,” she said. “I’ve had to reflect on the countless challenges of being a single mother raising children. My daughter Jade now 26 and my son Jordan, 22, motivates me,”

Barilone said being a philanthropist is something she hopes will inspire her children.

“Through giving, they will become better human beings and appreciate life through a whole different looking glass,” she said. “I have always pushed my expectations because I had to and I continue to push to find new ways to inspire myself through art, creativity and music.”

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Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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