Personal Greetings

Running your hands across the fine jade-colored cloth, your fingers meet a flower made of tiny seashells before moving to smooth velvet below. Holding one of Cheryl Brooks’ custom greeting cards is an experience — one that has earned her the attention of art fans and celebrities alike.

“I kind of fell into it,” she says. “All my life I’ve been making different things, and one day, while I was buying art supplies, I came across a greeting card kit.”

Brooks, 41, who lives in Cleveland, made her first card for her father-in-law, later selling her hand-made creations in specialty shops, boutiques and Little Italy’s Pennello Gallery. Then, her Los Angeles-based publicist began marketing the greeting cards to celebrities and musicians, including Angela Bassett, Macy Gray, Kanye West, Common and Erykah Badu.

“The goal was to build a base through those who appreciate its keepsake value,” Brooks says. No two cards are alike, and she signs, numbers and names each one. They routinely cost between $4.50 and $6.50, though more elaborate custom cards might sell for $15 or more.

Brooks’ journey into her now four-year-old creative endeavor came by way of a finance degree from Ohio University, a master’s degree in marketing from Case Western Reserve University and a stint in the corporate sector. But she felt pulled in another direction.

“I was thinking, Get out of corporate America? What are you doing?” recalls Brooks, adding that her finance and marketing background proved invaluable to launching her business. “I feel I was destined to be in the arts.”

Brooks crafts her cards from cloth, trinkets and supplies she buys from arts-and-crafts stores. Clients who commission a card often supply the materials, which have ranged from coins to jewelry to swatches of clothing.

“I was using things other greeting cards weren’t doing,” Brooks says. “I was using more unique [materials].”

The name of her line, Nilaja, comes from the Yoruban language of Nigeria. Brooks found the word in a baby-name database on the Internet. Its meaning, “to bring joy,” conveyed what she was trying to do for her customers.

Brooks also directs 10 cents from each card sold to her Nilaja Arts Foundation, a nonprofit organization with the goal of helping inner-city Cleveland youth get involved in performing and fine arts.

“I went to Cleveland Public Schools and, whenever there is a deficiency in funds, the first thing to get cut are the arts,” she says. “This program will compensate for that. I want to make a contribution.”— Adria Barbour

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Just before heading to China last month to face Yao Ming and his crew of countrymen as part of Team USA’s exhibition schedule, LeBron James and Miami Heat guard Dwayne Wade stopped by Fox’s “Best Damn Sports Show, Period” while it visited Las Vegas and talked with host and Shaker Heights native Chris Rose about the joys of being the NBA’s highest-profile contract extensions. What did we learn? Just like us, Rose doesn’t want to hear anyone suggest LeBron relocate once his new contract expires (as Wade did). We also found out King James hasn’t looked at a price tag in a while and is part of Tom Brady’s bunch more than he’s one of Charlie Frye’s guys. When asked about the coolest celebrity he had on speed dial, LeBron named the New England Patriots’ star quarterback. Sorry, Charlie.

Web Sighting

No self-respecting Clevelander would walk around downtown with a guidebook, no matter how outer-ring she might be. For those locals — or even, God bless ’em, tourists — who want to better understand our city, now there is City Prowl Cleveland Local architect Jennifer Coleman created the free online service, which offers digital guided walking tours you can download to your MP3 player or cell phone. “The best way for people to understand and be champions for the city is to become knowledgeable about what has happened in the past and to help plan for the future,” Coleman says. The half-hour tours are brief enough for a visitor to accomplish between convention events, or for a native to take in during lunch. “It doesn’t matter if you live in Medina or Cleveland Heights, you need to be aware and excited about the city proper, “ Coleman says. “If the city goes, the suburbs go with it.”


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