BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT: MEET JEMESE CHAMBERLAIN OF CHAMBERLAND FUNERALS AND CREMATIONS
Ask most children what they want to be when they grow up and you’re likely to get responses such as doctor, lawyer, athlete or possibly even teacher. But how about funeral home director or mortician..? Not likely–at least not from most kids. However, from an early age JeMese Chamberlain knew she wanted to help people in what many might consider an unconventional way–as a death care professional. Today, she and her husband Kelvin own and operate Chamberland Funerals and Cremations. It is “the only fully-owned African-American death care service in the northern Dallas, Texas area.”
“For Kelvin and I both, it was a calling; there is no other explanation for it,” shares Chamberlain when asked about what lead her to become a professional in the death care industry. Speaking for herself and her husband, deciding to help others during one of the most vulnerable times in life was a decision that each made at early points in their lives– during very personal experiences with death. JeMese was just eight when her grandfather passed and Kelvin–who was not much older–was just 10 when he was confronted with the passing of a classmate.
From then on, they both made conscious decisions that would place them in the positions that Chamberlain believes they were called to do. It was during their schooling that the two met. In 1997 they earned their licenses in the funeral industry and in 1999 they married. From there, each of them worked with various large commercial funeral homes. It was that experience that Chamberlain says laid the foundation for what they would come to want for their own business. By 2009 the Chamberlains had had their two daughters, Kelsey and Katelyn. Due to personal decisions–like so many other mothers–Chamberlain decided to depart from the workforce around this time. Then in mid-2013, the couple learned that Kelvin’s current employer had been acquired. Through the years they had discussed and planned to someday own their own funeral home. With the impending acquisition, leaving them with an uncertain future, they knew that their dream was finally upon them. By the end of 2013, Chamberlain and her husband were the proud owners of Chamberland Funerals and Cremations.
Though the decision to become a death care professional isn’t necessarily the most conventional choice for some, it is indeed a very important professional and personal role that individuals like Chamberlain and her husband have chosen. The two had very distinct roles that they chose when entering into the business. For JeMese, it was a desire to nurture and take care of grieving families, friends and loved ones during a most stressful time in life. “I want to be the one who cares for families when they are crying,” she says. Meanwhile, her husband assumed a different duty. For Kelvin it is about honoring those who have passed in the most dignified and respectable way possible. As she shares, “[Kelvin] wants to be the one to take care of the bodies.”
“It doesn’t take much to celebrate a life,” Chamberlain points out. “Whether the person was Joan Rivers or the man down the block,” she continues. For Chamberlain, this begins with sitting with grieving families to learn about their loved one who has passed. For the families, Chamberlain provides logistical support, as it can be a difficult time for families to plan. “I can be more objective,” she suggest. She also serves as a sounding board. When families are dealing with the death of a loved one “it’s healing, being able to talk to someone in a safe place.”
Chamberlain observes that for many of her counterparts, entrance into the death care industry is usually by rite of passage, where many inherit the family business. For some it is an unrealistic ideal of glamour or even a quick path to get rich. She declares that she and her husband don’t agree with either. Although they have two daughters, it is not expected that the girls will assume the family business. Chamberlain is aware that her destiny is not necessarily her daughters’. “We encourage the girls to do their own thing. This does not have to be their path, just because it was our path.”
For those looking to enter into the death care profession based upon a superhero complex or desire to get rich, she says look somewhere else. “Funeral service is a humbled profession. I personally would not support a firm where the manager is living so large,” says Chamberlain, who says she finds her greatest fulfillment in knowing that she is helping others. In fact, before she and Kelvin started the business, they had a heart-to-heart. The two agreed that this was not a way to get rich, rather a sacrifice. They both believe that God has blessed them with a good lifestyle and as Chamberlain puts it, “If there is a void I don’t know what to tell you because you’re not going to fill it with things, but we don’t believe God has brought us this far to leave us hanging.”
Chamberlain admits that the blessing can also be very taxing. She says that it helps to have a spouse in the industry with her. At the end of the day, she knows that she has someone who understands exactly how her day went. “And then of course I have an occasional glass of wine,” she humorously admits. However, she points out that many death care professionals–if not careful–become abusers of some sort, be-it alcohol, drugs or even pornography to self-medicate the stress associated with the business. For Chamberlain and her husband it is all about faith. “I get through every experience with my faith. I believe even my life is … um how do I say it –I’m a believer!” she exclaims.
For those looking to enter into the industry, Chamberlain cautions to be sure that you are doing it for the right reasons, and know that it is not all about you. It is the entire staff who ensures excellent service. Excellence in service is a tenet that the Chamberlains strive hard to fulfill. As she puts it, “A hearse is a hearse and can be purchased anywhere.” It is indeed how you treat people.
While the funeral home business is not foreign to the Black community, Chamberlain is on her own personal mission to raise the bar. She feels that all too often within the Black community we settle for much less than what is available–or at least should be available–for the sake of cost or because that’s how it has always been done. Chamberlain believes that we can have peace of mind, honor our loved ones and do it with style and dignity. “It is our culture as a whole that our expectations are not as great, but if you come with high expectations [here] we are going to deliver.”
When asked about Minding Your Black Business she emphasizes that we have to be proud of each other’s accomplishments. If the community as a whole is to thrive, we have to get rid of that crabs in a barrel thinking. Chamberlain says the key is being able to give the next man a hand up, without holding our other hand out. She reiterates her own philosophy of service before self, “It’s like the sunset on the ocean, if you can just give yourself to others and seek God, everything else will fall into place.
To learn more about Chamberlain and Chamberland Funerals and Cremations visit the website.
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