The Sweet Life: Michelle Obama’s Becoming Tour Recap

Becoming Stadium WrapBecoming Banner

The mood was festive! When we walked in there were large photo backdrops with lines of people, mostly women, getting their perfect shots. Merch tables were selling photos, posters and of course books! I overheard one person asking if there were any more signed books. “We sold out of those already.”

When we walked in to the stadium we were greeted with festive music and a backdrop of photos from Michelle’s Obama’s Journey both personal and professional. From clips of her on Sesame Street, to Lebron James, to Will Ferrell, during her family’s time in office Michelle Obama became a part of pop culture. Once she had her initiatives, Let’s Move, Let Girls Learn, she went to where the people were and spoke to us in a language that we could understand. It was a reminder that when we saw Michelle Obama, a black woman from the South Side of Chicago as the First Lady of the United States, our country’s version of the “Queen” we had visual proof and confirmation that anything was possible.

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Caption: L, Kris Christian, my friend, myself and Del-Marie, an alumnus of Art of Culture and one of my mentees/musical daughters. 

My mentee Del-Marie, my friend Kris and I made our way to our suite. Our suite was stocked with food, snacks and a mini fridge filled to capacity with soda & water. The room was filled with women non-profit organizational leaders and their mentees. We all introduced ourselves while enjoying the very delicious spread. We quickly made our way to our seats as the chatter in the stadium quieted in anticipation of the show beginning.

Michelle Obama and Oprah

Photo Credit: Rob Grabowski, Invision, AP News. 

The show started with Oprah Winfrey coming out to introduce Michelle via a video about her life. The graphics and visuals were all on point! That was followed by a powerful montage of people sharing who they were becoming in person and on video. Once the video ended Michelle and Oprah came onstage to take their seats. The backdrop was a large screen on top of golden yellow curtains. The seats were a dark teal and perfect frames for Oprah & Michelle’s beautiful brown skin.

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Michelle rocked a shimmery off one shoulder top, white pants and hot pink heels. I wrapped my head around the fact that I was sitting in the United Center for a book tour, and it was a packed house. According to Time Magazine, 14,000 to be exact. People attend the United Center for concerts, sporting events and now, thanks to Michelle Obama – book talks. Despite the fact that there were so many people in the stadium, Oprah & Michelle managed to make it feel like we were sitting in a small room with them. You could hear pockets of laughter, “Amens” and cackling when certain points were made. Here are some of the nuggets from the conversation which lasted 90 – 120 minutes. Although I wish I could represent the conversation in it’s entirety, I’m highlighting those things that stood out to me.

On Motherhood

  • Michelle shared how when she called herself “Mom-in-Chief” she received a lot of criticism for that.
  • She shared a story about how she wanted to try to normalize the experience of living in the White House for her daughters so unless they were doing formal dinners, she wanted the staff to dress more casually and not in full tuxedos. She said living in the White House was like living in an expensive hotel.

On Marriage

  • During her 20/20 interview with Robin Roberts she spoke about how she and Former President Obama went to marriage counseling. Oprah highlighted the fact that had become headline news. Michelle went into more detail about that.
  • She described how when her husband was Senator he had to travel a lot and how that impacted the family. When they went to counseling she wanted the counselor to tell Barack his issues, but wasn’t quite prepared for them to help her deal with her own issues. Her biggest takeaway from counseling was that she was responsible for her own happiness.
  • She also talked about how she didn’t want the girls and her to be in a position where they couldn’t eat because they were waiting for their father. They made adjustments and dealt with it from there.
  • There was a really cute video clip of Sasha & Malia sharing how they had more ice cream during the campaign season than they ever had in their life. They also talked about that night in Grant Park seeing everyone crying and screaming. They also talked about how proud that their mom as First Lady had, and how cool it was that she was also their mom.
  • She described having children as the first “joint project” for many couples. In many cases the wife has her thing and the husband has their thing, but the children is “our” thing which presents couples with challenges.

On Negativity

  • Oprah asked Michelle “How do you continually go high when the game is set against you?”  Michelle’s response was to “Do the work.” She said “your work will speak for itself.” She also talked about “having a lot to do distracts you from the pettiness. If you’re pushing a real agenda you don’t have time to play those games.” Finally she spoke of learning about moving the needle and the importance of removing our ego so that we can get things done.
  • Her parents encouraged her curiosity and they encouraged her and her brother to use their voice.
  • In safe spaces and private moments she would have “bubble moments” where she would really say what she wanted to say but then when she would come out in public she would say what needed to be said. She also said “You do not say the first thing that comes to the top of your head” and cautioned against that being acceptable.

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On Women

  • She said that we were still trying to figure out what we believe women can do. She described Hillary Clinton and others hitting a ceiling.
  • She also described how women were voting against their interests, and both her & Oprah mentioned wrestling with the why.
  • Oprah asked her a question about what she has learned about being in rooms with powerful men from Sidley Austin (the private law firm she used to worked for) to others. Michelle said “Our fear that our story doesn’t matter, it chokes us.” She then went on to talk about how we are often more qualified than some of the people who don’t believe that we should be there. How important it is that we speak up when we are in those rooms and at those tables, otherwise we are not making the most of the opportunity for ourselves and others.
  • She talked about how women often have ourselves 4th on our list, and we need to put ourselves closer to the top.

On The Writing Process

  • While writing she wrote the majority of the book before sharing it because she wanted to be transparent. She would share chapters with some of her early readers one of which included Oprah Winfrey and also her mother.

On Leadership & Life

  • She talked about the pressure being the first black family and how she felt the need to be perfect.
  • She described how hurtful some of the criticism was during the campaign and while her husband was in office.
  • She described reading the newspaper and seeing everything that was going wrong in the country being her husband’s responsibility, which is also where her empathy for anyone holding that seat emanates.
  • She talks about learning how to play the piano from her Aunt Robbie on an imperfect piano. The “middle c” was where you were supposed to start to play. On her piano at home the middle C was chipped and brown, but all of the other keys were yellow. When she played her first recital on a Baby Grand, she thought “This isn’t a piano” because all of the keys were perfectly white. She then used that as a metaphor saying that “Many of us are learning to play music on an imperfect piano and don’t even know it.” That was probably the story and the image that stuck with me the most from last night.

 

Caption: The above video features Non Profit Leaders + Their Mentees! We were all in the suite together. 

I highly encourage you to purchase and read the book. It is 426 pages! I plan to start reading it today! For those who were in attendance, if there was something that resonated with you that I didn’t cover but that may be helpful for others please share in the comments below.

I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to share this experience with one of our Art of Culture alums Del Marie Nelson. Del is a creative powerhouse with a beautiful soul. I will never forget the image of her writing notes during Michelle’s talk and her sharing the moments that resonated with her throughout. Our mission through Art of Culture is about providing access and information, and last night we were able to do just that. Thank you to Derrick Christian and Kris Christian for making last night possible for Del & I. I pray that you both are immensely blessed. Sometimes you feel overlooked. Running a non-profit is not easy and the stack of no’s is often towering over the stack of yes’s. Last night you guys said yes to us, and for that we are forever grateful. We needed that energy so much!

Donnie and Del

Lastly, thank you to Oprah Winfrey and to Michelle Obama for being shining examples of powerful, strong, unapologetically intelligent and graceful black women. You both have been North Stars for me throughout my personal and professional journey. If I am ever afforded the opportunity to meet you both in person, I will share that with you! I pray that my life and my work can have a fraction of the impact that yours has had on me and so many others.

Side Note: Exactly one year ago today, I had the pleasure of participating in the first Obama Foundation Event, and had the opportunity to meet President Obama.

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I recorded clips throughout the night for all of the people who for whatever reason couldn’t be in attendance. I want you to know that I thought of you last night. Here is a Dropbox link where you can view some fo the footage I recorded: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/6maqej50q5nw7ro/AADFZnMpTHu-OXQLWUtX66ADa?dl=0. I hope it inspires you and you can get an idea of what it was like to be there!

It was an absolute miracle that God pulled through in the last minute for me to attend. Read the full story here.

 

The Power of Manifestation – My Michelle Obama Ticket

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My best friend and I signed up for the notification when Michelle Obama released the announcement that she was doing a book tour. We we were already experts because of our ability to secure Beyonce tickets. After all, we are card-carrying 20+ year Hive Members. We were on the phone searching for tickets. Once we found the tickets we wanted they were way out of our budget. We decided not to purchase. As the owner of 2 businesses, I have to stick to my budget. When I don’t stick to my budget, I am unable to meet my financial goals. I will be 35 in January and when I took the entrepreneurial leap, I also walked away from my growing 401K, a paycheck every two weeks, my amazing health insurance – it was a real sacrifice for my dreams.

I started thinking about how badly I wanted to go to the Michelle Obama Becoming Tour, and thought & felt that I would be there, despite deciding not to purchase tickets.

About two weeks ago, one of my friends and colleagues e-mailed that they were working with the Obama Foundation and were working on securing tickets. I was super excited about it. This is one of those “plugs” that always comes through. I also know how things work though. “Working on it” is not guaranteed. I managed my expectations and hoped for the best. This person has come through time and time again.

As of 11/11, I hadn’t heard from my connect. I watched the Michelle Obama special on 20/20. I live tweeted. It felt refreshing, it felt inspiring. At 54 years old Michelle Obama represents strength, resilience, beauty, class and grace! She didn’t have to choose between family, career, her dreams and her husband’s dreams. She welded them together. Her fertility journey had me in tears. Having had 4 miscarriages (one at 5 months), and quickly approaching my 35th birthday, I realized that was the age when Michelle Obama started IVF, giving birth to two beautiful black girls. I was reminded by her that all hope is not lost.

I hop on Facebook and realize a South Side Bookstore was giving out 300 tickets to get Michelle Obama books signed. The tickets came and went and by the time I saw the announcement all of the tickets were gone. Another opportunity lost. I made peace with the fact that I may not be in the building Tuesday night… and that was ok. So many of my friends and colleagues were posting their tickets on social media. I was excited for them and made a mental note of who was going so that I could tune in to their social media profiles to catch as much of the show as I can.

When things are meant to be they happen. Yesterday morning I finished up creating content for social media for Spell Well, my new company. One of the videos included this:

It is now Monday. The event is in 24 hours. One of my good friends (not the one from 2 weeks ago) calls. She says “Are you available tomorrow night?” She then starts explaining and it turns out that not only am I getting a Michelle Obama Ticket, I also have the opportunity to take one of my mentees of a certain age. It’s a special thing that I am uniquely qualified for. As I type this message I am in tears. I matched the vibrational frequency of what it was that I wanted (see Oprah video above). I made peace with either outcome and divorced myself of the outcome. What’s for me… is for me. Never underestimate the power of your mind, your heart and your actions to draw the people, things and experiences you desire. I am a witness. It is now Tuesday morning and I am considering what I’m going to wear and preparing myself to show up for this amazing experience that I KNEW I would have. I didn’t know how but I knew the when and the where and I kept my schedule open…. just in case!

UPDATE: Read my full recap of the Michelle Obama Becoming Book Tour experience here.

Emotional Manipulation 101

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I can remember agreeing to do things I didn’t want to do…

I can remember wanting to prove my loyalty… my love… my commitment…

I can remember feeling like what I was experiencing was not love…

Each of us is unique in terms of our experiences, our trauma and our capacity and bandwidth. Even more difficult is that all of these factors change over time – sometimes day to day.

What felt good yesterday could make me sick to my stomach today.

What was acceptable 5 years ago could mean all bets are off today.

We change. We evolve. We transform.

When we say “if you love me you’d…” to a person that we love and care about, that is a form of emotional manipulation. The person on the other end of that comment is being put in a position to “prove” their love. They are being guilted into doing something for you. I’d like to propose that we consider another form of communication.

Replace “if you love me you’d…” with “I need X” or “I would like for you to…” That is much more direct and you can know that the behavior of the other person is coming from a place of love, support and care versus guilt or a sense of obligation. When we stack up the things that we do because we feel guilty or the things that we do solely from a sense of obligation, all that is left is resentment.

Plus, we have to allow people to show up for us in the way that they can. For example, when it comes to supporting other sin business, we can’t assume another person’s financial situation. If someone doesn’t buy your products or services or they don’t show up to your event, don’t be so quick to make their perceived lack of support about you.

  • Perhaps they have medical bills
  • Perhaps something pressing or serious came up
  • Maybe they are not ok spiritually or emotionally.

I am the mom to 4 angel babies. The first loss was the most devastating because I had a miscarriage at 5 months. For the next year or two I was not ok. I could not bear to attend baby showers. I could not watch Pamper’s commercials. I could not even walk by the baby section in retail stores. I remember going out of my way to walk around stores to avoid the baby section. I missed a lot of my close friend’s & loved ones baby showers during that time period. I didn’t want to show up and have an emotional breakdown.

I know people who have lost loved ones and have a very difficult time during the Holiday Season. I don’t expect those people to show up to my holiday gatherings. I’ve also been in situations where people say things like “You just want to hurt me.” If someone truly loves you, their intent is probably not (or at least it shouldn’t be) to intentionally cause you harm. If that is the first thing that comes to mind there is more unpacking to do beloved but those are YOUR BAGS to unpack.

Lastly, we have to communicate what we wish and what we want from our loved ones. Instead of putting out open/super public invitations on social media, we have to personally reach out to people and invite them to the events, causes and gatherings that we care about. The way these social media algorhithms are set up, they may not see it (even if they are following you). You may have a conversation with someone about something happening 30 – 60 days later. Give them the grace of a reminder when it gets closer. I can attest to the the fact that if something isn’t written in my calendar, it will likely not happen or remembered. Plus sometimes there are competing priorities and we just can’t be everywhere, all of the time. I would hate for someone that I care about to believe that I didn’t loved them or wished them ill intent or I didn’t are about them over a misunderstanding.

It is emotionally manipulative to guilt someone into doing something or to reduce a friendship or relationship to one decision. There are so many more layers and things to consider. We can sometimes fall into our destructive and unhealthy patterns and project this energy on those closest to us.

If someone is not in the mood to talk… that doesn’t mean that they don’t like you or don’t care about you. It simply means they are not in the mood to talk… it likely has nothing to do with you.

If someone doesn’t show up for your event… it doesn’t mean that they don’t want the best for you, and the best for the event. Check in with them later. Step outside of yourself for 5 minutes.

Communicate what you want and what you need with clarity and with specificity and watch those wants and those needs be met – fog, guilt and sucker free!

Register For My Free Online Vision Board Workshop

There are 55 days left in 2018. Insert distressed emoji here. This is the time of year to start reflecting on 2018.

I recently did a ritual created by Gaby Herstik that involved looking at experiences as either thorns or roses. It was such a beautiful metaphor for my experiences this year.

What worked for you in 2018?

What didn’t work for you in 2018?

What do you want to amplify in 2019?

What do you want to leave behind in 2019?

As I come to grips with these questions, I thought it was only fitting that we think about these questions together. I am hosting a free Online Vision Board Master Class on Saturday, December 1st at 10:00 a.m. CST. You can participate from anywhere in the world as long as you have access to the internet and a device (laptop, cell phone, iPad or tablet, etc.). Here are a few examples of my Vision Boards over the last few years:

2017 Vision Board

Vision Board 2014

Vision Board 2016

In this class we will explore:

(1) How to set annual goals and match images to those goals.

(2) Where to find images, quotes and other content to put on your board.

(3) Examples of Vision Boards including other formats and sizes besides the traditional Cork Board:

Cork Board

(4) Basic Principles of Manifestation.

There will also be time at the end for Q & A, and I will be going live on Instagram from my @donnienicole84 handle to show you how I take down the current year (2018) and put up my 2019 Vision Board! The start time for that will be 1:00 p.m. CST!

Click here to register for the free Vision Board Masterclass! There is limited space so please grab your seat ASAP!

Behind The Scenes of Building A Business

I am excited to share the news that my new company Spell Well LLC, has been born. The first stage of starting a company is to identify a problem and consider a solution to that problem. Research says that people support businesses that offer a solution to a problem that they are having.

Spell Well in a nutshell is a company that will offer educational courses and products in order to help them experience greater mental, physical, spiritual and emotional alignment in order to help them manifest their dreams and goals. Spell Well is the 2nd company that I am building. The first was Art of Culture Inc. (formerly called Donda’s House Inc.). Art of Culture is celebrating it’s 5th birthday this year and is continuing to support young artists and creatives in the Chicagoland Area. I am also pretty heavily involved in supporting my husband’s Rhymefest brand.

So what is it like to build a second company? How am I carrying the lessons from building the first company over to the 2nd one?

(1) Writing a business plan is essential as early as possible. There are so many decisions that have to be made when you start a new enterprise. You have to consider the products and services you will offer. You have to determine the strategic alliances and partnerships you will pursue. A business plan is one way to get all of your ideas out in one place. It is the opportunity for you to prioritize your activities. Contrary to popular belief it is also a super creative process. As you are meeting with partners and investors, a business plan will be your roadmap. It helps you to articulate who you are in the market and set a course for where you are headed. Here is the template that I am using for my business plan from Malta Enterprises. I like it because it is written in question format, and as you answer the questions you are crafting the plan. Right now I have completed sections 1 – 4 with a goal of finishing the entire business plan before December 1st.

We didn’t create the Art of Culture Business plan until Year 2 of operations and I was shocked at how much clarity and direction it brought once we did that. To this day, we refer to our business plan when making decisions about programming. It is also the place where we shelve future ideas. When the time is right we are able to move those ideas to the development and implementation phase.

(2) On developing a social media presence. 

Social Media is essential in developing brand awareness and connecting to potential supporters. Social Media gives you the opportunity to give your brand an identity and it allows you to communicate that message to the world unfiltered.

Art of Culture Inc. built a following organically on social media to over 30,000 followers. We are super proud of that and our social media continues to be the primary place that people meet our brand. Social Media is also an extension of our mission of providing access and information.

A Marketing Strategist shared a formula for me a couple of years ago. She said that social media should be 80% about the people following you and 20% about yourself. In other words, you have to figure out how your brand can connect to and support those who decide to click the “follow” button. You have to give them value. I have also learned the power of a good campaign on social media. Past campaigns included “Rewrite the Narrative” and “Deck the Halls of DH.”We generally do a campaign for Giving Tuesday (the Tuesday after Thanksgiving). We also do an end of the year campaign.

Invest in good photos and video content. These resources have been really helpful for me in developing content for Spell Well:

Free & High Resolution Stock Photos – Pexel –  https://www.pexels.com/

This site helps you avoid copyright infringement as the photographers determine the licensing agreements right there on the side of the image. Most of the photos are fine for personal and commercial use.

Design & Document Creator – Canva –  https://about.canva.com/

Canva has beautiful templates for social media, documents, presentations and more. There is a paid version of the App that I’ve been using for about 3 years now. It really helps take your visuals and aesthetics to the next level, which matters on social media.

Social Media Publisher – Hootsuite – https://hootsuite.com/

Consistency is one of the most important things for social media. It is time consuming. For Art of Culture, we actually hired people to assist with managing our social media accounts which lead to exponential growth. (Shout out to our first Social Media Manager – Kelsey, and our 2nd Social Media Manager – Hakim).

Hootsuite allows you to schedule posts. The only thing you can’t do is automatically post videos to Instagram. In those cases I just make a note in my calendar for Spell Well and do it first thing in the morning on those days. Hootsuite has a paid version that is totally worth the investment. It gives me peace of mind to know that something will be posted at least once a day on Instagram for Spell Well. Our audiences comes to expect things from us based on the rhythm that we set. Once a day is considered consistent enough but you may want to increase or decrease the frequency depending on the nature of your business. It is also important to diversify your content. People don’t want to see the different versions of the same content every day. For example, Spell Well has bracelets available. My audience would get bored if I only posted photos of our bracelets every day, but I try to be very strategic about showcasing photos of the bracelets periodically so that people know we have them!

As far as video content I am sharing other people’s stuff on Spell Well with plans on developing original content in 2019. Research suggests that content that includes video is more likely to be engaged with on social media.

I usually work on social media content every two weeks on Sundays. Right now, Spell Well is only on Instagram, with plans to start posting some stuff on Facebook soon. Here is the format I use for developing content:

Content Calendar

(3) Thought partners are key. There are a few people in my network… Shout out to ya’ll, who give me great advice and great ideas. Be prepared for people to push back… ask questions… poke holes. Those are all things that help you improve your products, services and strategy. I have also been spending a lot of time on the following this website.

(4) How I organize my paperwork and time.

I love binders as organizers. I am sure that I carried that over from my teaching days. Binders are durable, and they make it easy to keep everything on one place. Even with my students I always recommended carrying one large (zipper) binder for all of the classes to keep up with notes and remain organized.

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Caption: I purchased this binder Staples. It has the capacity to hold 400 sheets of paper, which should carry me for a long time before I need to add a second binder. Most Office Supply stores have really beautiful options. I also like this binder because it has a lot of symbolism with the triangle. It is the elemental symbol for fire. When turned upside down it becomes the symbol for water.  The colors represent fire and the upside down triangles (the white space) represents water. Triangles are also the strongest shape. 

I have the following dividers in the binder:

Dividers

Here is the index of the dividers and also the structure of the business:

  1. Finance
  2. Human Resources
  3. Marketing
  4. Operations
  5. Strategy
  6. Tech & Equipment
  7. Events
  8. The blank tab is where I keep the Business Plan, just haven’t had time to add the label 😉

The final thing that I have that is important is my Social Media/Content Notebook:

Green Notebook

The Color Green symbolizes prosperity, abundance, money, physical & emotional healing, growth, luck. I also selected green because green is the color of nature. Post coming soon about sympathetic magic. 

Garden Plants

Caption: This is a page from inside my Garden Notebook. I consider these to be seeds or fruit, and use this notebook when I develop content for social media. It is helpful to keep it all in once place. 

I will continue to share this type of content. Click here to subscribe!

If you’re interested in staying informed about all things Spell Well, including a free download of recommended people to follow on Instagram & Twitter, click here to join that list & get the download.

 

 

 

 

 

In Loving Memory of Ntozake Shange

I will never forget the first time I experienced Ntozake Shange. I was a High School student in Ms. Melissa Borgmann’s Writing as Performance Class.

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I remember feeling excited because the woman on the cover looked like me. I attended High School between the years of 1998 – 2002. At the time I was dealing with a lot including having survived a sexual assault at the age of 12, reuniting with my mom who spent a part of my childhood incarcerated, and at the age of 14 (the summer before starting high school), leaving one state – Missouri for another – Minnesota. Plus you add the normal coming of age stuff with hormones, falling in (and out) love, rejection, making life decisions about college, and trying to figure out who you are. It was a lot. 

I found myself between the pages of Ntozake’s book. These women looked like me… they sounded like me… They also looked and sounded like women I knew – my mom, my Aunties.

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This text is one of those cornerstones of influence in my life. Shange’s words affirmed who I was as a blossoming black woman, and they also provided me with the courage to discover my own voice. I wrote poetry extensively at that time (I started writing poems in middle school), and I was (and still am) an avid journal writer. I felt like I couldn’t process the many emotions and thoughts I was having until I wrote them down. Writing was therapeutic for me. It gave me power.

You can imagine my excitement when the film came out in 2010. I actually took my students to see it, after we read the text.

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More than anything, I just want to thank Shange for walking in her truth as a writer. I want to thank her for writing in a genre… “the choreopoem” which defied the rules of structure at the time. I want to thank her for picking up the baton where writers like Zora Neale Hurston left off. I want to thank her for giving words to my pain, my frustration… and my hopes.

Below you will find a few poems that she inspired me to write as well as one of my graduate school Reference Letters because I actually used for colored girls for one of my undergraduate projects and my professor referenced it in his letter. I was always weaving black authors and experiences into my coursework. I usually only share my poetry with family these days, but it is fitting to put these words, inspired by Shange out in to the atmosphere. I can’t believe I was writing AND PERFORMING this stuff in High School! My maiden name is “Belcher” so that lets you know when these pieces were written. Also, Ms. Borgmann was a strong influence on my decision to become an educator, and she was also the reason why black literature was a staple in my classroom! If it wasn’t for her, I would not have met Ntozake, and the many other powerful writers she introduced me to.

I will be adding Shange to my altar in reverence after her funeral and hope that my writings, my work and my life can provide even a fraction to others of what her writings, work and life have meant to mine. You can read her obituary in Essence Magazine here.

“i found god in myself
and i loved her
i loved her fiercely.”

 

 

Grad School Letter Final

Promiscuous Cycle #1

Power of the Pen

Angel of Innocence

Concrete Memories

Innovation Needs Incubation…10 Ideas To Take Your Business To The Next Level

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I just finished taking CiCi’s (The Six Figure Chick) free masterclass “How To Build An E-mail List From Scratch.” The class was a free webinar that I signed up for earlier this week. Cici provided amazing content that will be incredibly helpful for me as I build my business.

At the end of the course I was so happy that I had signed up for it and it was a reminder for me on how important it is to invest in ourselves as entrepreneurs. It was also a reminder of how important it is to devote time to innovation.

Most companies invest money into their businesses via a line item called R & D which stands for Research and Development. According to Statista in 2017, Amazon spent 16.1 Billion, Alphabet spent 13.9 Billion and Samsung spent 12.7. You can view the remainder of the companies listed here. It is no wonder why these companies continue to grow and bring in record profits.

Here is a working definition of R & D Activities based on getting tax credit for R & D from Swanson Reed, an R & D Firm:

  • New Product Development
  • Incremental Product Development
  • New Process Development
  • Incremental Process Development

Additional Examples:

  • Design and development of new products – particularly products that are safer, more effective or have increased functionality, better performance or longer shelf life;
  • research of new applications for existing products;
  • testing for compliance with domestic or foreign regulatory requirements;
  • design, development and implementation of new reagents, testing methods or protocols;
  • product experimentation and modification to increase yield or decrease reaction times;
  • improvement of manufacturing or production technologies, processes, techniques or procedures to increase yield, reduce waste and byproducts, improve safety, improve energy efficiency or comply with regulatory requirements;
  • design and development of scaled-up manufacturing processes;
  • development of prototype pilot batches of new product candidates for testing and validation;
  • implementation of automated processes or robotics to increase production efficiency;
  • Software development or information technology initiatives related to product or process improvements; and
  • research to receive International Organization for Standardization certifications, fertilizer safety or other similar certifications.

While we may not have billions of dollars to devote to R & D, we should allocate some of our time and resources to this very important area of our businesses. Here are some ways as a small business owner that you can do your own R & D:

(1) Take a class or a workshop. I’ve taken classes from Coursera in the past. You’d be surprised how much free content there is on YOUTube. Do a Google Search about the topic you’re looking for + free classes, or + interviews. Get a pen and paper and take yourself to school.

(2) Attend a conference. Conferences usually cost money but can be a great way to learn and make connections. There are conferences for everything. Save your money and attend the conferences that are standard to your industry. On Twitter The Plug released an infographic of Black Tech Conferences:

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(3) Do an informational interview or have a meeting or phone call with someone. I am working on an event for February and a quick conversation with my best friend helped me figure out what to call it. Have regular conversations with people about what you are trying to do, and you’ll be surprised at how many great ideas or suggestions will come up.

(4) Join a professional organization. You need a tribe. You need your personal tribe but you also need your business tribe. The people who you can go to that will help you solve problems that come up. The people who have literally walked the road you are walking and can forecast what’s coming up and help you avoid the potholes that they hit. The people who are as excited about what you’re doing because they know why it matters. Join at least one professional organization and actively participate.

(5) Spend some time developing a business plan. Getting things out of your mind and onto paper is one of the best ways to hold yourself and your team accountable. It is also important because it will help you to relieve stress and manage expectations. Think of your business plan as your road map. It helps you to articulate why you are doing what you are doing and the growth you hope to achieve.

(6) Spend some time doing strategic planning (long term planning for your business). Strategic planning is like a business plan. Think of the business plan as the bird’s eye view of your business. Think of strategic planning like the GPS instructions on how you are going to get there. To be able to achieve your customer reach goals, your financial goals, etc., you have to be intentional and strategic about how you are going to achieve those goals.

(7) Read industry publications. Similar to joining a professional organization but a little more passive. If you’re in marketing, you should be reading AdWeek. If you’re in music, you should be reading Billboard, Playback Magazine. Then there are general business publications that talk about all industries: Fast Company, Entrepreneur, Forbes, etc. Make these a regular part of your R & D diet. Many of these publications have robust online platforms as well, but I strongly encourage you to subscribe. One way that I access many of these publications is through an app on my iPad called Texture. For $9.99/month, you have access to hundreds of digital publications. Click here for more info.

(8) Follow industry leaders on social media and pay attention to what they are doing! People drop gems on social media. It’s like literal gold. Find the people who are at the top of your industry and follow them. Learn from them. When appropriate, interact with them. Before you know it, you will be invited to the same panels, and they may eventually come to respect you as a peer.

(9) Hire a coach. If you are having trouble with an area of your business consider hiring a coach. I will forever have an accountant and an attorney connected to my business because those are two areas that I am not comfortable making decisions on my own. I am strongly considering hiring a communication coach to help me become a better public speaker. Be sure to check references and make sure you’re working with someone that will actually help you achieve your goals. There are a lot of people out here fronting and taking advantage of the good will of other people.

(10) Create operation manuals or other protocols for your business. When I had to start bringing on additional help for our social media management, we created a manual. It’s super short, maybe 3 – 4 pages but it was incredibly helpful in getting this new person acclimated. In the event that you get sick, need to go on maternity leave or anything of that matter, if you have manuals for people, ideally they will be able to just pick up the manual and run your business in your absence. This is also important for succession planning if you ever decide to move in a different direction. I’ve had so many colleagues that have stepped down from leadership roles at businesses or organizations they founded to go do other work. Writing things down also helps you to see where breakdowns may be occurring and to problem solve to grow your business.

It was nice to devote an entire morning to R & D. I will now take some of the lessons and recommendations from CiCi and apply them to my business. Feel free to comment below any resources that have been helpful for you to help you innovate and grow your vision.

Next step: Take out your calendar and schedule at least one hour per week to R & D for your business for the month of November. You can do any of the recommended activities above during that time. I’d love for you to send me a note in December to let me know how it impacted your business.

 

My Weightloss Journey – Down 21 Lbs.

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Caption: The picture on the left was taken this week. The picture on the right was taking the first week of August of this year. 

In August while at my family reunion, I was looking at photos of myself and quickly realized that I was largest I’d ever been. For the first time ever in my life I felt embarrassed about the way that I looked. I was instructing people taking pictures “get a close up.” Motioning for them to only capture me from the chest up. It was bad…

Add to that, earlier in the summer while getting up to walk to the bathroom in the middle of the night I felt dizzy and had to hold on to the wall. My mind was telling my body to move… and my body wasn’t moving. It was so scary that I ended up going to the hospital. My blood pressure was through the roof. When they were able to get my blood pressure down, I was instructed explicitly to take medication 3 times a day to help regulate my blood pressure.

That health scare along with how I felt about myself led me on a journey to becoming healthier. I was an athlete in High School. I ran track and that was the period in my life where I was the healthiest. At the age of 12 I actually got diagnosed with high cholesterol! On the outside looking in at that time I was “healthy.” It was then that I learned that a person’s physical appearance doesn’t necessarily correlate to what’s happening on the inside. At that time I stopped eating pork and beef, and never added it back to my diet and my cholesterol dropped significantly.

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Caption: I try to be super intentional about eating enough veggies and balancing out the type of meals I have each day. If I know I’m going out to a bar at night, I’ll drink nothing but water the entire day. 

So back in August I made a decision to make better choices as it related to my diet and as it related to my fitness. Here are 10 things that I’ve done that have worked for me:

(1) Invest in workout equipment at home. I am just not a gym person! My husband and I took some money and invested it into a treadmill purchased on Amazon. My phone cost more than the treadmill. [Insert angry emoji]. We also invested in a weight bench, free weights, resistance bands, jump ropes, kettle bells etc. We basically created a gym in our basement. This has been helpful for me because all I have to do is go in the basement to get my workouts in. Before we had the equipment it was a struggle for me and often became an excuse for why I couldn’t or wouldn’t work out. I had to remove the opportunity to make that excuse.

(2) Keep it simple. My approach has been to work out for 30 minutes, for 5 days a week. After I do my cardio on the treadmill, I do conditioning workouts. I have watched my waist get small, my arms get smaller, everything is firming up!

(3) Don’t totally deprive yourself when it comes to the diet. I love ice cream. At this point, I’m not going to give ice cream up! Maybe once a week or so I have a root beer float. I try not to beat myself up over it. The key is just moderation. At some point in the future that may change. Despite having an occasional root beer float, or cupcake, or cookie, I have still lost 21 lbs!

(4) Press play. Music helps motivate me. I turn it all the way up! Give me a jungle or tribal beat and lots of bass and it feels like the workout just does itself lol. Spotify actually has really nice curated playlists organized by genre and Beats Per Minute. You can check out my very eclectic Work Out Playlist here.

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Caption: This is my “eating calories” face lol. 

(5) Do it first thing in the morning. I am much more likely to work out if it is the first thing I do every morning. Plus, I get good energy and I can start the day with being proud of myself. Sometimes I can’t work out in the morning due to other obligations but my good weeks are those where my workout happened first thing in the morning.

(6) Make substitutions. I read the back of labels now more than ever and check for the sodium and the sugar. Too much sodium raises my blood pressure and too much sugar makes me fat, and often leads to an energetic crash. Instead of eating so many cookies I now eat graham crackers. My max is usually two rectangles but often one is all that I need to feed my craving. Read the labels. Instead of telling yourself no sugar and binging out when you have a bad day, say yes to sugar but just eat a healthier kind. I’m also a big fan of smoothies so if I’m having a sweet tooth as a meal replacement I’ll have a smoothie.

(7) It’s ok to mess up. There have been some weeks where I have not worked out all 5 days, but if I was able to do 3, I was ok with that and said I’ll try again next week. The thing about this journey is that as long as we are living, we have the opportunity to make better choices. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t meet your standard for the week or for the day. Go to bed (my solution to most things lol) and try again tomorrow.

(8) Celebrate the small victories along the way. I initially set a goal in August of losing at least 35 lbs before my birthday (January). After about week 6 or 7 I was down 13 lbs and I celebrated that with some new workout gear. If I have a really great workout I will post it on social media as a celebration that I did it! I made it through! Today, I am down a total of 21 lbs! I have not yet my goal, but the sheer fact that I am over halfway there is something to celebrate. These micro-celebrations are the motivation and the carrots that you need to keep going.

(9) Address your emotions. Overeating and eating unhealthy things for me is directly connected to my mood. Now, when I’m feeling a certain type of way instead of reaching for a Pepsi, I reach for my journal. Instead of visiting a Sweet Shop I’ll text or call my bestfriend to vent to her. Our emotions are very powerful and are often the reason we make poor or unhealthy decisions.

(10) Do what works for you. Every body is different. What works for me, may not work for you. Someone may go on a particular diet that works for them, the same diet may make you sick! Some people give up dairy and meat. Some people eat more dairy and more meat. Your journey to better health and weight loss is your journey. Experiment with different things until you find the formula that works for you.

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My next doctor’s appointment is on 10/29. I’m excited to see how this weight loss has impacted my blood pressure and overall health. This has not been easy, by a long shot. I do not like working out and I’d love to be able to just eat and drink what I want, when I want. But that’s not my reality. I take it one day, one meal, one workout out at a time. Incrementally over time, I’ve been more consistent than not, and I am seeing results.

Feel free to comment any questions, suggestions or resources you may have below! Sending you encouragement if you are on a similar journey. You can do it!

How To Create Room In Your Life For What You Really Want…

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Caption: Earlier this week my husband & I wrote down five intentions, tied them on sticks and then stuck them in our plants. Whenever we water our plants, it is a physical reminder to water our intentions. 

When you ask yourself what do you truly want, what comes to mind?

Perhaps you want to be a full-time entrepreneur. Maybe the photo of a lifetime love popped up. It may not be that deep for you. Maybe you’re up for a promotion at your job? You’re trying to muster up the courage to ask for a raise? Perhaps life is good and you’re looking for less… less stress… less pain… less struggle.

Either way it goes, I truly believe that if we are to get the things we want (or remove the things we don’t want) we have to create room; literal space to welcome the thing, the person and/or the energy into our lives.

PHYSICAL SPACE

If your physical space is cluttered, you don’t have room to add anything. I’d strongly suggest doing a deep clean – physically removing trash, papers you no longer need and dust to give whatever you are looking for a landing strip in your life. Have you ever lost something and went on a rampage to find it only to discover that it was hiding in plain site? Here are some additional ways you can make room physically for what you want:

A. A dedicated journal or notebook. – Writing things down takes it out of your mind and brings it into the real world.

B. Space on a shelf. – The simple act of creating space on a shelf, is a dedicated action to your desired outcome.

C. A basket or container – Similar to the idea of creating space on a shelf. This may be an option for those who are limited in space. This is also great if you find you need to be mobile. I have containers for my scrapbook stuff, containers for my jewelry making, and even containers for my spiritual tools – incense, essential oils, etc.

D. A Room – I know people who have prayer closets or prayer rooms. Craft rooms, etc. Dedicating an entire room to your work, or to something else that you care about is symbolic of how much something means to you and the priority it has in your life.

MENTAL SPACE 

The human mind is powerful. Did you know that your body cannot tell the difference between an action it performed in real life and an action it simulated or visualized. It is what made Muhammad Ali one of the greatest to ever do it. Our minds are the gardens that either grow (or kill) our seeds. Here are some ideas to create mental space for your desired outcomes:

A. Time on your calendar. – Dedicated 15 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour a day, a week or a month to your dreams. Protect that sacred time and honor it. Even if you are just spending time with yourself, add it to your calendar like you would any other appointment. Show up for yourself. Show up for your dreams.

B. Mastermind conversations – A mastermind conversation is strictly focused on meeting your goal. Meet with your mentors. Meet with the experts. Spend some time with the people who can help you move the needle.

C. Seminars/Workshops – If you want to start a business, attend workshops and seminars. There are SBA’s in every state that provide free programs and workshops that can help you actualize your dream. Go on Eventbrite and search for free events connected to your dream. Find others who share similar passions, subscribe to e-mail lists, etc.

D. Read books & listen to podcasts – The time you spend reading a book and listening to podcasts can really make the difference in helping you to “level up.” You can often filter podcasts by topic – lifestyle, business, etc. Often the people who are the leaders of a particular field host podcasts.

EMOTIONAL SPACE

Moods are magnets. If you feel motivated, you will attract more motivational energy. If you feel like a loser, you will attract loser energy (be careful with that one, because the energy may come in many forms – personal or professional). Do whatever you can to manage and move your moods. Here are my recommendations:

A. Affirmations – write your own or find them online. Repeat them at least a few times daily. Carry them in your purse. Say them when you first wake up or before you go to bed.

B. Mood Boards or Vision Boards – Create a visual of your desired outcomes and display the board somewhere you’ll see it everyday. I’ve written extensively about vision boards. Start here. I collect things all year that resonate with me and that represent what I’d like in my life the following year. I spend New Year’s Eve (or the last week of the year) taking down last year’s Vision Board, and putting up my new vision board before midnight. I also keep the contents in my old board in a scrapbook, because I believe that even when I take them down, I am still holding space for those things to come into my life.

C. Convos with loved ones. My best girlfriends and my husband are my greatest cheerleaders. When a seed starts to sprout I speak to them because they share in my excitement and my joy. Most of all, they encourage me to go for it, and that’s the kind of emotional energy you need when your goals and dreams and ideas are in their infant stages.

D. Remove the barriers. Get rid of the excuses. Turn down the volume of the naysayers (not those offering constructive criticism, but those who are just negative and haters for no other reason than to be petty, shady and ugly). When I decided to start pursuing a healthier lifestyle 9 weeks ago, I knew that if I had to leave the house I’d be less likely to work out. I purchased a treadmill and set it up in the basement to remove that barrier or that excuse.

SPIRITUAL SPACE

I believe that our desired outcomes must align with the energies and the realities of the universe. We work in collaboration with the universe and all of the things and the beings that are a part of it. For example, if you are pursuing a promotion, you often aren’t the only one being considered for that promotion. It is usually you and at least one other person. If you don’t get it, it just means that it wasn’t for you and it was for the other person. You are not lacking in any way or wrong in any way or undeserving in any way. Your path is just different and that particular thing was not for you at least not at the moment. If you get the promotion, the other person has to remember that same. Entitlement is a helluva drug. The more that we can detach our personal egos, feelings and lives from something, the happier, freer and lighter we become. The only thing that belongs to you is your body. Anything else that you receive is a gift from the universe. Here are my recommendations for how you can be in better collaboration with the universe.

A. Prayer – Prayer is the language that spirit speaks. Write your prayers. Say them out loud. Send your desires and your hopes and your dreams to the spirit world with love and humility.

B. Meditation – I see prayer as sending messages to the universe, to God, to our ancestors. Meditation is for them to speak back. Meditation is when we focus ourselves. It is when we are still enough to align and realign our energy with the flow of the universe. Guided meditation is super helpful when you’re just getting started. There are tons of apps that can help you with this if you need assistance. Also if you are on Spotify, they have a host of meditation playlists and guided meditations that you can listen to.

C. Open your heart and open your mind. – Open your heart to the gift of friendship, the gift of love and the gift of abundance. If you are feeling paranoid, distrustful, bitter or fearful – you need to process that. Talk to a counselor or therapist. Write in a journal. Release those energies. It is said that fear and faith cannot occupy the same space at the same time. The same goes with your mind. If someone is sharing information or resources for you and all you can do is interrupt them or think about the millions of ways of why you can’t do it or it can’t be done, your mind needs to be opened. I am not saying that any of this is easy. When I first met my husband as my boyfriend I had a laundry list of the reasons that marriage was a mistake and a bad idea… and I shared it with him! I was carrying the baggage of abuse and of a failed marriage and thank God that he saw past all of that fog to my heart and true desires. He and I will be celebrating 9 years of marriage next year!

Every day I try to remove those things that are no longer serving my highest good out of my life to make room for those things that I truly need and want in my life. I hope this was helpful and I hope that your dreams are a little closer to being real today than they were yesterday! You are a powerful being with the capacity to transform your life. Transformation is not easy and it is certainly not always fast. Be patient with yourself. Give yourself some grace. Take it one action at a time and before you know it, it will be done!

New Moon in Libra: Insight, Rituals + More

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Caption: This beautiful image is by Sheeba Maya Art.

Today is a new moon in Libra. Happy New Moon!

Here are some of my rituals:

  • Clean my altar (I use Method’s All Purpose Honey Crisp Cleaner).
  • Put crystals on my altar that correspond to the new moon. I decided on:
    • Bloodstone
    • Citrine
    • Rose Quartz
    • Black Tourmaline
    • Sapphire
    • Tourmalinated Quartz
  • Write new moon intentions connected to the energy of the sign
  • Sweep & mop floor with boiling hot water (I actually boil the water on the stove for 30 minutes before putting it into my mop bucket) plus a few capfuls of Florida Water + Cleanser (Fabuloso is my favorite – it smells divine).
  • Smudge by body & all entrances to my home including the doors and windows on the first floor.
  • Take a bath with herbs, florals & essential oils.
  • Burn a candle. Tonight, as close as possible to the time the new moon actually starts I will be burning an Air Element candle from Unicorn Manor.
  • I shifted my furniture around to put my longer couch (comfy for sleeps and naps directly in front of my tv, and moved the love seat to it’s place). Shifting furniture shifts energy.

Here is some of the insight from from my favorite astrologers & energy workers:

“…transmute your Sh$t into compost, my love.” – Jessica Lanyadoo

“New moons happen when the sun (your identity) and the moon (your feels) are exactly aligned. This marks a time for openness, beginnings and clarity.” – Jessica Lanyadoo. Read more from Jessica here.

“Sometimes it’s safer to repress our pain than to witness it. In order to survive we push it down for days. Decades. Lifetimes. Generations. But then a moment comes along that shatters the vaults we’ve been harboring our storise within.” – Chani Nicholas. Read more from Chani here.

“No matter if we’re being called to start something new or let something go, our focus will be on whether it’s worth it. This theme will apply especially to relationships, our sense of self-worth, our personal values, and our relationship to money.” – Mecca Woods. Read more from Mecca here. Also Mecca just published a phenomenal & practical book about astrology and it’s relationship to love, career and wellness. I purchased a copy and highly encourage you to do the same here.

“We are in relationship with every single thing in our lives, and each relationship is our sacred mirror of Reflection.” Mystic Mamma provides a literature review of some of the best astrological advice out there. Read more here.

I’ve created a list called “Sources of Light” on Twitter featuring 41 healers, astrologers, energy workers, etc. I encourage you to subscribe to the list if you’re looking for more!