Dr. Lana Joseph-Ford has overcome a lot in her life. She was diagnosed with a speech and language delay at age 4, but she didn’t receive speech therapy until she was in seventh grade. She grew up the child of a single mom, and was mocked and bullied by her peers for her stutter.
With therapy, her speech impediment was corrected. Years later, Dr. J, as she is affectionately known, would go on to found High Level Speech and Hearing Center, a speech and hearing clinic, and Jrumz, a company that makes earphones.
Her work is inspired by her childhood. When she was struggling with a speech impediment, she sought out other means of communication, and she joined the sign language ministry at her church.
“We worked with people who are hearing impaired. And I just kept saying, ‘You know, I love working in this community, I love being able to make an impact on this community,’” Joseph-Ford said. “And that's what made me say, I want to be a doctor for those who are hearing impaired.”
Finding problems early
Joseph-Ford holds a doctorate in audiology from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and received a master's in health care management from the University of New Orleans with an emphasis in public health.
Because she was respectful and studious through elementary school, teachers didn’t notice her struggling with speech, she said. But once the speech impediment was corrected, her naturally extroverted personality blossomed. Attending John Ehret High School, she emceed a talent show and was a leader at the school newspaper. "It definitely did a huge number for my confidence, my self esteem," she said.
She founded High Level to help children struggling with the kinds of speech and hearing issues that, if not corrected, can hold them back.
High Level partners with several schools in the New Orleans area to conduct hearing and speech screenings, similar to the one that caught Joseph-Ford's issues as a child. If students need intervention, parents are contacted, and treatment is recommended. The clinic can treat them with hearing aids or refer them to other clinics for speech therapy. Since its founding in 2016, High Level has treated more than 15,000 New Orleans area students, according to Joseph-Ford.
A startup business
Getting the clinic off the ground was no easy task. When Joseph-Ford finished her audiology residency in Atlanta, she wanted to start her own practice, but she didn’t have a lot saved. So, she enrolled in programs with Propeller, a startup incubator in Broadmoor, to learn about what it takes to start a business. To furnish her office, she found secondhand furniture and refurbished it herself, using supplies she purchased from Hobby Lobby.
“I spent about $2,000 or $3,000 on the furniture and opened my first practice with $11,000," she said. The welcoming environment quickly gained clients.
Her next venture was a natural progression. In her work as an audiologist, Joseph-Ford said, many people complained to her about their earbuds. Not only was the sound quality an issue, but she said people often said that the materials used in earbuds irritated their ears.
Her husband Jamaul Ford, a musician, heard similar complaints in his field. So, the two of them decided to create new earphones that would address these issues.
A role model
Jrumz (pronounced “drums”) launched earlier this year, but Joseph-Ford and her husband have been working on the earphones since the beginning of the pandemic. In March Jrumz partnered with fashion brand Tory Burch to hold a luncheon celebrating the launch, that raised $2,000 for The Orchid Society, a New Orleans nonprofit that provides mentorship to young women of color.
In the future, Joseph-Ford hopes to keep working with her husband and keep expanding her businesses. Joseph-Ford recently started a foundation in her name to continue raising money to make an impact on the community.
Her mother, Shelia Joseph, hopes that young girls will look at her and see a role model.
“Dr. J’s legacy is being a role model for the young girl that wasn’t very popular, the young girl that doesn’t think she is the prettiest one in school, for the young girl that came from a single mother’s family, for the young girl that wants to get somewhere but don’t know how,” Joseph said. “To be able to look at Dr. J and say, ‘she lit the torch for me, and now I’m going to carry it.’”