Dear Brown Girls,
Every week, I meet with a group of you through The Source High School Ministry for a character development program I created called Browns Girls GLOW. For an hour each week, we talk about why knowing and believing you can GLOW can help you overcome some of the challenges you will face in life.
Unfortunately, I know firsthand that as a brown girl, people will stereotype you. They may not look at you as a leader. When you walk into a room, you could get strange looks simply because of the color of your skin. Sadly, there may be people who don’t believe in you and people who won’t encourage you.
That’s why through Browns Girls Glow, I share with you what helped me to persevere. GLOW stands for Give, Lead, Own and Write your destiny.
Like many of you, I didn’t have the easiest start in life. My mom was 18 when she had me. I didn’t see my dad until I was six years old. We lived in the projects with my grandmother. There were six of us that lived in a two-bedroom apartment.
While we didn’t have a lot of money, we did have a lot of love and books. My family emphasized education and encouraged me to dream. They bought me a book where, each year, I would write what I wanted to be when I grew up. First, I wanted to be a dancer and then a doctor. There was a period in middle school I said I wanted to be a rapper – that was short-lived. After that, it was a WNBA player and then a sports executive.
I always had dreams.
My family made sure I was involved with after-school activities to explore all these different interests. As I moved through my childhood and early adulthood, I learned how important it was to GLOW up – not just grow up.
GLOW starts with giving. Giving is so powerful. When I was 14 years old, I made money by babysitting and I began tithing and giving a few dollars here and there to my church. Quickly, I realized every time I would give, either that day or the next day, I would get two, three, or four times what I gave, back. For example, one time, I gave about two dollars. Later that day, I went to a phone booth and I put in a quarter. It wouldn’t work, so I banged the phone and four dollars in quarters came out!
When I started volunteering my time with various organizations, the same pattern applied. I got more back than I gave. I met new people, saw different perspectives, and learned about opportunities and careers that I didn’t know existed.
As a teenager, I realized you can’t GLOW unless you lead. In high school, I was named captain of the basketball team. I was responsible for helping my team stick together, grow as individuals, and represent our school well. Leading my teammates empowered me.
Soon after, I became president of the student council. I asked the school if I could provide the morning announcements instead of an administrator. They agreed. I made it very positive and fun, trying different voices and telling jokes. All the time, people would say to me they loved it. They told me my morning announcements made them laugh, encouraged them and helped them get their day off to a good start. Everybody leads their own way and we are leaders. No matter the positions or the titles we carry, we are all the leaders of our own lives.
Ownership is part of GLOW, too. In high school, I started my own business. I used to get bandanas and scarves at wholesale markets and bedazzle them with rhinestones. I sold them at school and hair salons in my neighborhood. The business made me enough money to buy my first cell phone. Owning something taught me responsibility and showed me that I could solve problems, get what I want and take care of myself.
Lastly, when you GLOW, you write your own destiny. After I graduated high school, I attended Hampton University. As a graduation gift, someone bought me a journal. So, I started writing about my life and realized writing helped me manage problems, as problems always appeared bigger in my mind than they did on paper. Writing allowed me to document and see my growth. When I started writing down my schedule and creating a specific time for work and activities, I became much more efficient and my grades went up. Also, writing keeps me accountable. The mind forgets, but paper remembers. If I write down a goal or a task, there is a permanent and constant reminder.
During college, I started to benefit more and more from my GLOW.
After studying abroad in China and finishing my second year at Hampton University, I went to church with my father. The pastor said they were giving scholarship money to those going to top schools in their major.
I joked to my dad after the service, “What if I went to Princeton or Yale? Wouldn’t that be funny?”
However, after thinking about it, I decided to seriously look into it. I wanted to study after-school programs since they greatly impacted my life. Harvard had a program called informal education. It was perfect, so I applied.
One day I opened my email and I received a letter that said, “Congratulations! You got into Harvard.”
I was overly excited, praising God, saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Then, I called my parents three-way and told them the news.
Ultimately, I graduated from Harvard. Now, I live in Los Angeles and work on Steve Harvey’s educational and motivational platform – Vault Empowers. I help to produce content, courses, and online events.
I want all of you to know, life is not about where you start. My dad got his GED from Rikers Island and my mother dropped out of college when she had me. You can come from the projects and a single-teenage parent with little money and you can still go to Harvard. You can be the first in your family to graduate from school.
Find mentors and free programs. There are people out there that are willing to help you. When someone discourages you, even if it’s someone close to you, continue to believe in yourself. Believe that you’re a part of this bigger world and you are here to solve a specific problem that nobody else can. That will help you be consistent and fight through the moments you feel like giving up because there will be days that you want to give up. But you have to keep going, or better yet, as my journey has taught me, you just have to keep GLOWing.
Remember brown girls – Give, Lead, Own and Write your own destiny. #BrownsGirlsGLOW.