Leah Baker, with her mother, Tia Baker, holds the first-place trophy she won for baking at the Taste O’ Da Burgh competition. (Photo by Jacquelyn McDonald)

Leah Baker, with her mother, Tia Baker, holds the first-place trophy she won for baking at the Taste O’ Da Burgh competition. (Photo by Jacquelyn McDonald)

Eleven-year-old Leah Baker stepped up to the podium as one of the morning speakers at a recent “Unstoppable Girls” workshop, and the Afro puff on top of her head helped raise her 4-foot-9 frame up above the mic. With poise, clarity, and grace that belied her tender age, she addressed the room of girls, most her age and younger, with only a handful any older. She spoke about being bold and going after their dreams, and told them to do it even though they might be afraid.

The irony of Leah being a “Baker,” as relates to her family name, lies in that she is a Baker twice. She is the owner and operator of a cupcake company—“Cupcake’s Most Wanted—It would be a crime not to eat ’em.”

“She is an extraordinary example of what young people can do when they are allowed to dream,” says Kate Dewey, president of the Forbes Fund, who met with Leah and her mom to discuss ways they might be able to assist in building the business. “Her vision of selling cupcakes and sharing the proceeds with kids with cancer speaks volumes of her abilities, her character, and of what someone can achieve at a young age when they are surrounded by people who tell them to dream.”

Taking after her mom and great-grandmother, who were bakers in their own right, she’s been in business for just over a year and a half.

“My sister actually inspired me to try this business,” Leah shares. “We were making a cake one day and it was pretty tasty, and then a few weeks later, my friend and I were baking red velvet cupcakes for a Valentine’s Day party at school when I thought to myself that I wanted to start a cupcake business.”

That was at the end of 2013.

By March 2014, she had her first customer —a man who purchased a dozen sweet potato cupcakes. It did not take long to outgrow her mother’s kitchen in their Hill District home. Tia Baker, Leah’s proud “momager,” works behind the scenes making sure the business matters are handled. After looking into some commercial kitchen options, they secured space in LaDorita, a shared commercial kitchen in Sharpsburg.

The larger orders were increasing rapidly and she had gained a retail opportunity in the Ujamaa Collective Boutique on Centre Avenue, so acquiring the commercial kitchen space was a timely move.

When she is not filling orders or accepting speaking engagements, Leah indulges her other passions, dancing and playing the flute. She performs with a dance team called TCDC and has been dancing for about three years.

Her cupcake business is not just a hobby, she says.

“I see this going very far, going worldwide, traveling different places with the cupcakes, having my own store with a bakery on one side and a restaurant on the other, and, of course, creating cupcakes for kids with cancer.”

A fifth-grader at Liberty School in Shadyside, she is a great student, according to her mom.

“Leah came here ready to do big work in the world,” Tia Baker says. “I can only take some of the credit. From day one, she’s been self-driven. She would say, ‘Mommie, I want to do this’ and then do it. She’s committed to this business and is passionate about dancing. I’ve watched her on any given Saturday having to bake, perform, and go give a talk somewhere; and she would do it. I have, however, never stopped telling her she is a powerful human being, and what she thinks and says can happen in her life.”

Each month in the New Pittsburgh Courier, McAuley Ministries will sponsor an article highlighting the positive contributions of an African American youth—male or female. We welcome community members to suggest a young person to feature in this monthly column.

Criteria include:

• Youth and young adults, ages 12-23

• Documented evidence of leadership or achievement in community service/volunteerism; leadership or achievement in their classroom/school; creativity as an artist, musician, dancer or filmmaker; success as an entrepreneur; leadership in advocating for social justice and equity; and/or achievement in corporate or nonprofit arenas

• A resident of Allegheny County.

Readers who would like to suggest a youth for this feature should email GenNext@pmhs.org.

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