What is your story of strength?
My story of strength begins with my grandmother, my aunts, and my mother. I learned what it means to be a strong a woman from all of them because they do it in very different ways.
My grandmother is more of a quiet, strong woman. She doesn’t need the applause and the fanfare and the attention on her. She is very strong, she raised four daughters and has an amazing story. She moved to New York by herself for a short period of time, but she grew up in the south, in Florida. There has been a woman in every generation of my family that’s ran to New York. The next person is my oldest aunt, she lived here for 20 years. And her strength is really just being able to pick up and move to a city where she doesn’t know anyone and learn how to survive. My second oldest aunt is absolutely amazing. She was the first black woman pilot of a major commercial airline. For me that is a really incredible story of strength because she endured a lot of workplace abuse. Being a pilot is very much an old boys club and back in the 80s there were very few women pilots, let alone women that were black. I think that’s another source of strength. I think about some of the things that my grandmother endured just because of the time she was raised. I think about things that my aunt endured being in that position, and knowing that she loved to fly so she didn’t care what people were going to do to her…I’m sure she cared, but she was still able to fight through that.
Seeing my mother go through a number of different things as I was growing up was my biggest source of strength. I think she’s literally my source of strength because she is somebody that I call when I need support.
Can you tell me about a woman in your life that embodies strength?
I would say my mother. It’s all of those women I spoke about, but I’ve seen more real life examples that my mother has gone through. My grandfather had a fish market/restaurant in the south and from the time my mother was two years old she was counting pennies and helping out with work. She worked her entire life and she endured a number of different things. She’s a great example of always being able to choose what’s right and what’s good. She says, “never give in, never give up.” And also, “do good, be good, look good.” My mother instilled doing what’s right, doing what’s best.
She always put her children first. I think one of the main sources of strength I saw was that she actually left an abusive relationship with my father. I think that’s something important and something that shaped my relationships in a positive way. I have an example of somebody leaving a situation where they were physically abused to make sure she’s protecting herself and her children. You hear about the dynamics and challenges of being in a domestic violence situation. To see and know my mother removed herself of it, did it in a smart way, and did it in a way that she always put her children first, is such a source of strength. Even little things like making sure we stayed in the same house by working two jobs so we didn’t have to change school districts. She wanted to keep our lives as similar as possible to before my parents’ divorce. I think that’s the best example. I saw her get up every day and fight for our family, fight for us, and fight for herself to keep all of us safe.
Can you tell me about a time you failed or disappointed yourself?
While I was dancing professionally, I let an experience shape how I acted towards that project as a whole. I was on a professional dance team and there was an incident very early in the season where I felt emotionally wronged. Retrospectively, I knew they weren’t thinking about my emotions, they were thinking about what was best for the situation.
I sort of carried that weight for the rest of the time I was on the team. I think that was a way I set myself up for failure, almost. I held on to the negativity for months and it impacted the experience that I had. I look back on that time and I absolutely enjoyed it. I think it was an amazing, amazing experience. But while I was going through it, often times I was upset or complaining about things that I really shouldn’t have. I still had the opportunity to have this great experience even if it wasn’t what I wanted it to be or if the expectations placed on me didn’t match what my ability was.
How can women better support each other?
Women can better support each other by acknowledging your story is not somebody else’s, but being seen, even if it’s not a story you can relate to, is so so important. I don’t have to go through the same experience as someone else, to actually care about what they’re going through. I thinkwhen you open the door and try to meet them where they are, you also learn a lot more about yourself.
I think it’s about listening to other women. Listening to other people’s experiences because you may not being going through it now, it may not be the same experience, but you may eventually go through something similar.