We had the good fortune of connecting with Cynthia Gibson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Cynthia, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
I never had a plan to start my own business, but it fell into my lap in an unexpected way. At the beginning of 2020 I quit my job working with APS that I absolutely loved to move to Peru to volunteer as an English teacher for a nonprofit. Then the pandemic hit and life turned upside down. At the same time, a previous student contacted me and asked if I could teach her via online. And just like that, I began down a completely new path I had never before imagined. While living in Peru, I officially started my business, English UNITE, and eventually moved back to Atlanta later that year. Every step is new–from forming and running a business to learning how to adapt to teaching online after two decades of teaching in a traditional classroom setting. I found a lane I didn’t even know existed–and I love it.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
My mom tells me that when I was only 2 years old, I was “teaching” my stuffed animals. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. I had a high school English teacher, Ms. Barnoski, who inspired me to specifically teach English–and I’ve never looked back. For 20 years I taught in traditional classroom settings–internationally, in multiple US states, with teenagers and with adults. I’ve learned that we truly are so much better together. I have the incredible honor of working with people from literally every corner of the world. My students are from all over the globe. Some have access to higher education; others have grown up in refugee camps. They have different religions, cultures, beliefs, and experiences. But through it all, we find over and over again that our humanity unites us. Language is a bridge. It unites us. I want my life–and my business–to be a small piece of bringing people together in the middle of a divided time.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I used to teach English classes for Atlanta Public Schools (a huge shoutout to my boss, Dr. Price!) and we had a location on Peachtree St. just down from the Fox Theater. I love that street. There’s such a richness of culture and people. There’s something for everyone–stores, museums, a library, parks, etc. It’s so beautiful. So I think my tour would be a simple walking tour–full of stories and people and diversity.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
So many people have supported my dream to build an online company that would bring people together through language. That said, I want to give a special shoutout to Mitch Stark–an entrepreneur who started Theater Ave. His passion for people and for the arts has been his motivation to keep going, even when the numbers didn’t point to success. He has walked every step of this process with me and also dedicated hundreds of hours to building my website for free.
Another person who significantly impacted me is my friend Jason Makaroff. I was with Jason in Peru a few years ago doing volunteer work, and his passion to love and support people inspired me greatly. Then last year he suddenly got diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. For the following 8 months, I watched him continue to fight to live a life of purpose–to support people and to make every moment count. He recently passed, but his legacy will always live on. His biggest dream was to help other people’s dreams come true. We started a nonprofit to continue his work. It’s called JMak’s Dream Team. I want my business, English UNITE, to also support people reaching their dreams.
The first two pictures (of me teaching live) are by Paige Gradishar.