Expanding opportunities for Black people in traditionally white spaces has never been an easy endeavor. The unspoken rules and politics of these spaces have led to an extreme lack of diversity, especially in places that many deem to be affluent.
The yachting industry is no exception to this. But for Sheila Ruffin, “The Boss” of Soca Caribbean Yacht Charters, she’s taking on the challenge of expanding the yachting industry to more diverse audiences.
“I wanted to create Soca Caribbean Yacht Charters to expand the yachting industry to persons of color as well as millennials,” said Ruffin in an exclusive with MADAMENOIRE. She is eradicating the preconceived notions of how Black people are viewed in this high-end industry. According to Ruffin, African Americans and Hispanic Americans contributed 222 billion to the travel market in 2019.
“I keep on telling the yachting industry that people of color have the money not only because the research says it but because I am around these people,” Ruffin continued.
Ruffin is a graduate of both Hampton University and Howard Law School and she believes her ties to historical Black colleges and universities have contributed to her success as the boss of Soca Caribbean Yacht Charters. She admits that Hampton has her heart but also appreciates Howard Law for the qualities that the school instilled in her.
“In the yachting industry, I am surrounded by established white men. So I have to constantly walk in the room or on the yacht, or at the yacht shows like I belong and I do that because of my HBCU experience,” said Ruffin. “When you have the history of the alums when you have the backing of your family members from Hampton and Howard Law to support you and tell you that you can do it, It’s just the spirit of it all that makes me continue to be a unicorn in an industry that is not as open to diversity.”
Ruffin knows firsthand what the impact of an HBCU education can do not only for the careers of young students but for their growth as people.
“I know at HBCUs you get those kinds of family discussions. Advice that you didn’t think you would learn in college,” said Ruffin. Hampton and Howard Law has instilled in me a confidence that I’m not sure I would have received anywhere else…Both of them have had an imprint on my life and they continue to have an imprint.”
These qualities have helped Ruffin continue to succeed as the boss of her yacht business after challenging times in the pandemic. The business has been forced to pivot in multiple ways in order to continue to serve the public.
“People are afraid to travel, especially when you have had loved ones who have passed away from COVID or gotten severely sick from COVID,” Ruffin stated. “People’s Mindsets are very fearful and I cannot try to convince people who have gone through that trauma.”
Soca Caribbean Yacht Charters started offering day charters to places like Miami, St. Lucia and Jamaica. They also focused on branding that they are a more intimate and safer cruising alternative while customizing each experience to their customer.
Despite the challenges that have arisen. Ruffin is establishing herself as a Black entrepreneur in a unique field and making sure that she’s given her respect.
“I push myself even further as an entrepreneur, I think outside the box even more, I’m more creative. I find myself having to pivot more,”
“I need people to realize who you are dealing with. I’m not just this Black girl in the white industry. I’m an attorney so don’t try me,” Ruffin stated. “You gotta kind of be a shark when you’re in an industry where you’re extremely underrepresented to be able to stand your ground.”
Soca Caribbean Yacht Charters wants to expand its reach soon and partner with hotels. As for Ruffin herself, she wants to start a nonprofit for youth to learn about boating, sailing, environmental law and anything else dealing with marine life. Maybe these experiences will help open the door to more Black entrepreneurs in her industry.
“I see myself being the boss of that company, and having yacht summer camps and having little girls who are bougie like me getting their nails done on a yacht,” said Ruffin. “That to me would be amazing.”