Interview with Ashley Kay Smith

Photo by Jacque Julien

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself, including how long you have been in Snohomish County.

I’m a Black woman who currently lives in Lynwood. I work for Edmonds School District as a College and Career Readiness Specialist. I’m also a basketball coach; I coach girls basketball for Meadowdale High School. I’ve lived in Snohomish County for 15 (not consecutive) years.

I own Ashley Kay Photography where I have the pleasure of capturing special moments and turning them into timeless photos for my clients. I am also a public speaker and community organizer, and I volunteer with the Youth Development Program (YDP) through the NAACP. I run Snohomish County Black Women, a Facebook group where we offer a community that is a safe space for Black women to discuss important issues and celebrate Black joy. We also offer events and opportunities to connect outside the virtual environment.

Q:  You’re also a Black business owner, which you already mentioned. Can you share what led you to create Ashley Kay Photography and your other business ventures?

As a kid I always enjoyed photography, I got my first camera, probably at age 10 or 11 and I would take pictures of everything! As well as, the first thing that I do when I come over to people’s houses is to look at the photos on the wall or the photos in their albums. So, photography has just been a thing that I have loved and in the last year and a half I finally was like, “you know what, I’m going to buy a camera, stop playing around…buy an actual camera and start this. And it’s been great! Meeting new people and capturing long lasting memories!

Q:  What was the hardest part of starting your own business? Do you have any advice for current/future Black business owners?

One of the hardest parts for me was seeing established photographers, especially other Black female photographers, and feeling like I wanna be like them and wondering how do I grow a business like that? But, it was really learning and taking things step by step. Even in the last year and a half, seeing the growth in the photos I take, how I edit photos, and how my clientele has grown so much! Last week I had a consultation with someone, no one referred me, they posted they were looking for a photographer, went to my website, thought I was great, and they booked me! So today I have a wedding to do!

The advice I have is just to find your niche. Also, investing in yourself. Find a mentor, use Facebook Groups to learn and network with people. I’ve done that a lot, I’ve been able to network with Black female photographers across the world and get inspired!

Q:  What is one black business you think we need in Snohomish County?

More food! Also a community center for students to be able to go to where they are not being kicked out or policed. A place that just allows them to be themselves, especially here in Lynnwood, because we don’t have that.

Q:  Would you share one goal you have for the future, and one hope you have for racial justice in Snohomish County?

My big goal is that one day I will be able to travel for both photography and speaking engagements. My current goal is to open a studio one day.

My hope for racial justice in Snohomish County goes back to students. I just want our black students and students of color in Snohomish County to feel seen and wanted and to know that their dreams matter here. That they can see themselves in government, in schools, etc.

Another thing I would say – I just came back from Georgia and the people were so nice there! I talked to a gas attendant for like 10 minutes – I never do that here! So I also hope we can create a welcoming environment for all that live, work and do business here.

Q:  You’re the inspiration behind us creating Black Snohomish County, how does that make you feel? Can you tell us about what inspired you to start the original list of Black Snohomish County Businesses?

You know…it makes me feel like I have made a difference, because I do a lot of different things and to know that people are inspired to make something I did bigger – that is awesome!

I was inspired because being on social media I see posts all the time of folks saying, “I’m looking for this!” Rather than people having to post every day or however often, why not create a directory where people can do a one stop shop. I don’t exactly know what a Green Book is, but I’ve heard about them, and how they would tell Black folks where it was safe for them to go and that was pretty much what I wanted to do. I wanted to get the Black owned businesses and churches – because that is the first thing people look for when they come to Washington. People want to know where can I go to church, where can I get my hair done, and where can my child go to school. I just thought “let me throw a directory together where people can be like ‘ok – this is great, I can start here’.

Also, there was so much happening in Seattle and I wanted to let folks know… Black folks live up here! You don’t have to go all the way to Seattle to get what you need. And I have met so many wonderful people!