For Mario Bowler Sr., it's always been more than just "business" in his professional life.
You can see it in his role as assistant director of Lion Link Customer Experience which supports various aspects of recruitment for his alma mater, Lincoln University, a historically Black university in Pennsylvania or as the founder of a young small business, Juneteenth Joy LLC.
Mario, a small business and personal TD Bank customer, has been fortunate enough to see the fruitions of his efforts on a regular basis. Most recently, Mario got to see it firsthand during the 2023 graduation ceremonies at Lincoln University. He spoke with Natshera Richardson whom he met in 2015. At that time, her daughter, Taylor Richardson, was in 8th grade and attending her first college fair with her mother. Mario called them to the table and gave them information and tips to start the college search process. He emphasized that although Taylor was quite young, it wasn’t too early to practice interactions with college recruiters at college fairs and to learn about options to help make the right choice for herself later.
"There's a lot of personal drive that goes into that process of caring for students and their families as a recruiter," he said. "We know this is not just business, this is a whole experience for the family."
That family followed Mario's advice, and the young woman decided to attend Lincoln University and graduated this year.
“I was walking through the crowd and a mom called me”, Mario said. “She said, ‘Mr. Bowler, I don’t know if you remember me, but you spoke with my daughter and me in 2015. It was our first college fair, she was in 8th grade, and you gave us tips on what to do. She eventually chose Lincoln University, and she is graduating today’. Wow, what a feeling."
Mario grew up in the Philadelphia area. He credits his upbringing to his desire to help others, which was further strengthened by his experience at Lincoln University as a student. Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) are a family tradition, as Mario's wife Stephanie, is a graduate of Tuskegee University in Alabama, and their son, Mario Jr., also graduated from his father’s alma mater. Stephanie’s parents attended Tuskegee Institute in the 1950’s. Other family members have attended Alabama A&M, Alabama State, Cheyney University, Fisk University, Florida A&M, Hampton University, Howard University, Kentucky State, Morehouse College, NC A&T, Southern University, Spellman University and Xavier University. Both sides of the family have attended HBCUs.
"My HBCU experience has completely elevated and changed my life from the very beginning, from the time I walked on campus," he said. "I felt that I was in a place that saw me greater than I had seen myself. That's what I needed. My HBCU experience has been like a tree that continues to bear fruit throughout my life."
In his enrollment management role, Mario thinks about the man who inspired him to reach new heights-his father, Francis "Frank" Bowler. His father was raised by relatives in different households and faced difficult challenges at an early age. Despite these challenges, Mario’s father earned a GED, served in the army, retired from the police force as the department’s first African American police officer and went on to marry and start his own family. Due to his entrepreneurial spirit, he always held multiple jobs, waxed cars, and became familiar with electronics.
"When working with students and families, it's like I'm recruiting my dad, like I'm trying to find him and make sure that everyone has an opportunity to fulfill their potential," Mario said. "I'm a recruiter at heart, so when I recruit a student, I recruit hard because I believe Lincoln University is one of the best colleges to attend. But I understand that students ultimately decide, and I am then quick to tell them that I want to see them in school somewhere."
A strong belief in self and community spurs creation of new business
It's that strong belief in himself and his community nurtured by his family and alma mater that has influenced Mario to register the “Juneteenthjoy.com” domain about 15 years ago. It came to the forefront again in the summer of 2021 after President Joe Biden signed the bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday so Mario trademarked the name ahead of major corporations. Mario had been attending Black business conventions for many years and often thought about starting a business centered around Black food and culture. Today, JUNETEENTH JOY® sells gourmet popcorn, candles, and mints.
"For me, it was a matter of how we help celebrate it." he said. "I work with students and I'm at an HBCU, so that was kind of a recipe for me to help, to pour in, and contribute to Juneteenth. That's how Juneteenth Joy came about. We think about simple products that have some degree of a celebratory nature. Right now, we are in the early stages, but we expect to grow a lot."
Mario was a long-time TD personal customer when he decided to expand his relationship with the bank to become a small business customer.
"I have known and worked with Mario and the Bowler family for several years and I am very excited to see Juneteenth Joy grow and make an impact in our communities," said Melissa K Dupre, TD Bank Store Manager in Exton, Pennsylvania. "Their passion and dedication in creating awareness around Juneteenth is truly commendable."
Mario expressed his positive feelings about TD as well.
"TD Bank has been great - my interactions with my local store have been great," he said. "Just like during my son’s search of colleges, I watched how staff interacted with my son and wife. I do the same with those whom I do business with. I watch how they interact with my son and wife. TD Bank staff has been very good and courteous. I've noticed their diverse staff too. It makes a difference."
The HBCU Festival at The Mann
Mario was among the many people who attended the first-ever HBCU Festival Presented by TD Bank at the Mann Center in Philadelphia. The free festival was a community event celebrating HBCUs, that included celebrity appearances, marching bands, educational workshops, and students from across the country sharing their HBCU experience.
He was grateful that TD sponsored such an event and had this response when asked why HBCUs are still so important.
"I would ask the question, why were they founded in the first place? Are things completely equal?" he asked. "We've made a lot of progress, but there's more work to be done. HBCUs should be around forever. They take people such as myself, a young man who was struggling, and helped me to find my place and showed me the way. It adds a special ingredient to the broader community. HBCUs make the community, the world a better place."