Boston-native Fabiola “Fabi” Brunache discusses persistence through personal loss, her transition to Rhode Island, and how she was able to thrive in her entrepreneurial pursuits despite being one of very few minorities in the predominantly White Real Estate profession. — By Jess E.
An Entrepreneur is Born
Like many of us, when Fabi was 18 years old, she was told to go to follow the traditional path. “You’re told to go to college, and then find a good job with good pay, good benefits and that’s it,” Fabi said. “So after college, I worked at Fidelity Investment. I decided I liked the pay and the benefits and I enjoyed where I worked at the time. I thought that’s what I wanted.”
Fabi would eventually find out that this specific path was simply not going to work for her.
“From the time I was 18 to 24, I worked in corporate America,” Fabi said, “But one thing I noticed was that I could not stay at a job for more than 3 years. After three years I would get bored. And I think that’s a sign that you may be an entrepreneur at heart… when you just can’t stay at a job. It’s not that I was getting fired. I was simply ready to move on to something new, and so I did.”
Fabi has a creative mind. She’s also a do-er. When she has an idea, she doesn’t just talk about it. She turns it into reality. “I get bored, and then I start things,” Fabi said. “And I really think that’s the entrepreneur in me,” Fabi said.
“In term of modeling, I noticed there were only people who didn’t look like me,” Fabi said. “That’s when I decided there should be opportunities for plus-sized women.”
Fabi created and ran Voluptuous Beauty Pageant for 3 years. She wanted to empower those who competed in her pageants to love themselves as they are. “I loved how that pageant impacted their lives,” Fabi said. “It encouraged them to have more self-love and self-confidence.”
Finding Hope After Dealing with Loss
“I was loving running the pageant, and still somewhat enjoyed working my corporate job, and then I had a traumatic event happen,” Fabi said. “My father was diagnosed with a rare form of thyroid cancer. When he was diagnosed, he was given 6 months.”
“This is where I think my life perspective changed,” Fabi said. “ It changed how I think about my life, how I think about people, and how I think about what is and isn’t important.”
Fabi took it upon herself to serve as the primary caretaker for her dad since she didn’t have a family to take care of, like her brothers. She made the decision to take family leave time from her job to take her father to radiation and chemo therapy. “After some time, it started to take a toll on me,” Fabi said. “It was very difficult for me to see this person that I loved so much suffering, while I could do absolutely nothing about it.”
“It really puts life into perspective,” Fabi said. “It came to a point where sometimes, when I would hear someone around me complain about something trivial, or even something that in an ordinary day may seem like a real inconvenience, it makes you realize that we think we have problems, but we’re lucky to be healthy and to get to live another day.”
After a short, but courageous battle, Fabi’s father passed away. “That’s when a switch went off,” Fabi said. “And I started thinking that I have to do what I want because life is too short,” Fabi said.
She became a workaholic. She began designing clothes. She ran her plus-size women’s beauty pageant. She owned a store in Boston for a year.
Eventually, Fabi decided she did not want to live in Boston anymore. She made the move to Rhode Island to be closer to one of her brothers who had already relocated to the tiny state.
“I’m from Dorchester, and Boston is really diverse,” Fabi said. “So when I moved to RI, it was a culture shock for me because I didn’t see people who looked like me when I went to work, and when I went to the movies. I was working in East Greenwich, and the only friends I had were my co-workers who were predominantly White.
Navigating A New Environment: Rhode Island
After some time, I realized I would see them [people of color] in certain spots, but never together in one place,” Fabi said. “That’s when I started the RI Black Professional Meetup Group.”
“I did my first group at my East Greenwich office and three people showed up: 2 from RI and the other one from elsewhere,” Fabi said. “One of them was a student at Brown. He said Black people don’t drive more than 15 minutes in Rhode Island. I remember, I just looked at him like he was crazy. It’s 7 o’clock, I thought, and there really is no traffic.”
Fabi would soon learn that when you live in the smallest state in the country, if it’s more than 15 minutes away, that may be too much of an adventure on a weekday for most Rhode Islanders. Fabi eventually accepted this fact, and decided to try webinars. “No one showed up to those either,” Fabi said.
Then she scheduled a Meetup at the Marriott in Providence. “For that event, about fifteen people showed up,” Fabi said. “I was like OMG. They do exist! I realized my events needs to involve drinks and food, and need to be close to Providence.”
Fabi has been hosting successful Meetups for the Rhode Island Black Professionals group ever since.
Surviving & Thriving in the Predominantly White Profession of Real Estate
Fabi earned her broker’s license in Rhode Island to allow herself every opportunity in the field of real estate – opportunities she would not have been afforded had she settled on being an agent. Fabi soon realized she wanted to train others in real estate. That is exactly what she is doing now.
She has been extremely successful in this endeavor. However, it can be an emotionally-daunting journey for a Black woman in this predominantly White profession.
“I was in a room of 300 people,” Fabi said. “I was the trainer, and I would look out and see only three people of color in the entire room. That’s when it really sunk in, the lack of minorities in real estate – not just in Rhode Island, but in the profession period.”
“I remember being at a training in Connecticut. White people would walk in the room, look at me, and then say in a tone of disbelief, ‘Oh, you’re the trainer?’” Fabi said. “Sometimes it felt like I had to make them comfortable before they would relax. It’s sad.”
“I can’t pass as anything but Black,” Fabi said. “The first minute is always awkward. I would do one training per month as far as New Hampshire, or right in the Cape [Cape Cod], and also Connecticut. It was always awkward.”
“During a training in the Cape, the manager who booked the training came into the room while me and my colleague, who was White, were setting up,” Fabi said. “The manager goes and says hello to my colleague. I was standing right next to her, and at no point during the conversation did he acknowledge that I was there. I could tell my colleague noticed because she gave me that ‘I’m so sorry’ look.”
“That’s why I get extremely upset when people say racism doesn’t exist,” Fabi said. “You try to go to a training in my shoes, and then tell me that. Maybe it’s prejudice or maybe it’s just their perceived version of you. Whatever it is, you feel it, and it doesn’t feel good.”
Fabi often reflects on these experiences as she thinks about her parents’ own upbringing in Haiti. Fabi’s parents moved to the U.S. from Haiti in the 1980s.
“They both had a completely different upbringing than I did.” Fabi said. “When I go to Haiti, I see that everyone there is in the same playing field in regards to race. In Haiti, classism is a real issue. But here in the U.S., there’s classism, in addition to race, and just multiple layers of walls that you have to walk through to reach your goals. That’s why it’s important for us to see people who look like us in roles that we aspire to be.”
“In a good way, it breaks those stereotypes,” Fabi said, in regards to her work in the field. “But at the same time, it doesn’t feel fair that I have to prove myself every time I walk into a training. You really have to have a backbone to get through it. And that’s what I continue to do.”
Fabi grew up in a Christian home, and she is grateful for her encouraging father who always reminded her she could do anything. “I remember my Dad always telling me that if you want to do something, pray about it and go to school and just do it.” Fabi said. “My dad’s voice is always there telling me, ‘Oh you want to do that? Go do it. Who’s going to tell you no? Don’t tell yourself no.’”
Today, Fabi continues to tell herself ‘Yes’, and encourages others to do the same. “I’ve learned you can either let those tough life experiences make you stronger, or you can cave in and just live your life in misery, and that’s not what I’m going to do,” Fabi said. “That’s not what I was brought up to do.”
“My thing is…if you want it, just do it,” Fabi says. “Life is too short. Don’t wait for tomorrow. Don’t wait 2 or 3 years. Just do it.”
Thank you for the reminder, Fabi, that life is precious. Thank you for reminding us that we have to crash through some tough walls to see the fruits of our labors, but no matter how difficult it gets, we should never give up.
“Sometimes you may crawl. Don’t let them think that you’re small…cause it’s so worth the fall, when you land where you want to.”
– Tori Kelly
- Website: https://talkwithfabi.com/
- Instagram: @fabitherealtor
- Facebook: Real Estate Talk with Fabi
- Meetup: Rhode Island Black Professionals
LOOKING FOR MORE?
- Check out our list of resources for young entrepreneurs in RI.
- Listen to our special compilation of leadership podcasts for more inspiration.
- Participate in one of the many excellent Rhode Island programs for young people with big dreams.
US & OUR CULTURE
A blog that celebrates the diversity and the impact of today’s young professionals
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
– African Proverb