Company: The Relatives
Position: Employment Specialist
WHERE WERE YOU BORN?
HOW LONG HAVE YOU LIVED IN CHARLOTTE AREA?
11 years – I attended Johnson C. Smith from 2008 to 2012, and have had no desire to leave the 704!
TELL US A LITTLE BIT MORE ABOUT YOU?
I am originally from Queens, New York, where most of my family still resides. My grandmother – who was a pastor – my mom, and my aunt raised me in a Godly home. Mom had me at the age of 18, so Nana was more of a mother figure. My father was in and out of my life, and growing up without him was tough.
Being an only child, I was an extrovert; I loved being the life of the party. I made plenty of friends. I was always outside, from playing basketball with the boys on the block or riding my bike around the neighborhood with my home girls. I was always an active child and teenager. I wanted to be the best basketball player, but my mom had other plans for me. She put me in dance school, which I enjoyed for the years I was in it, but I never had a true passion for it.
I moved to Charlotte in 2008 to attend Johnson C. Smith University, where I received a B.A. in History in May 2012 and became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, INC. During my senior year at Smith, I became the mother of an energetic, deep-thinking, and outgoing eight-year-old boy named Samir. When I found out I was pregnant with him, I truly thought life was over. I was young, still had a lot to learn, and needed to grow up mentally. My Nana was the first person to receive the news. I can still remember hearing her voice over the phone. She prayed for me while I cried the whole time. She told me everything would be okay. The words of my Nana always gave me the courage I needed. I was determined to graduate on time, and by God’s grace, I did. It was not an easy task, being a new mom and a student and so far away from family. There were days I wanted to quit going to school, but I had to keep pushing. I had great professors and friends who helped me along the way. They kept me motivated and helped me look at the bigger picture. I wanted my son to see me finish school and I wanted to make my family proud.
I received my first job at Wells Fargo, CIC site. As most recent graduates do, I took the first job opportunity I received. I will say working at Wells Fargo was a great teaching experience. I meant three lifelong friends who helped along the way. During my time at Wells Fargo, I became a part of the Big Brother Big Sister club. It was through this program that I realized how much I truly wanted to become an educator. I remember my little sister telling she did not enjoy school. How she felt as if some teachers did not care if the students passed or not. Her least favorite subject was history. She talked about the conflicts that would happen in the classroom, students interrupting teachers who were trying to teach. Bullying that would happen among her peers. I wanted to become the change she needed in the classroom.
After three years working at Wells Fargo, I took a job with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. I taught World History and African-American studies at Garinger High School. After my first year of teaching, my Nana passed away. It crushed me; I cannot really explain the pain I felt. I remember receiving a phone call of her passing while I was in the process of moving to a new apartment. I just remember hearing my mom crying and screaming. I had to hang up, I just sat on the floor and cried. I lost the person who was there for every phrase of my life. The good, the bad, and the ugly. The worst part was that I wanted to call her in that moment, to tell her what was going on and I could not.
Less than two months after her passing I was diagnosed with a severe illness. I became depressed, two tragic events happened back to back. I wanted to give up, but I knew I could not. I remember one day just crying asking God to help me. From that day, I became more involved in church. Going to church, teaching and being a mother helped me get through. I was transparent with my students, which helped build our classroom culture. My love for teaching and the youth grew. There was never a dull moment for sure. My principal said I was not the traditional teacher. I was young and full of life, but also made sure there was order in the classroom. I was the go-to teacher for my students’ social and emotional needs.
I continued my education in 2017 and received my Masters of Public Administration in 2018. It was during this time that I started my organization Brown Girls With Crowns. I was nervous to start an organization. The idea would not go away. I know young girls needed to be a part of sisterhood. Brown Girls With Crowns became a part of the east side community. We were able to volunteer within the community and have the community come into Garinger. I was able to see young girls who were shy to break out of their shell and enjoy being servant leaders within their community. I remember parents reaching out to me, thanking me for helping their daughters. They could see a major difference in their confidence and schoolwork
Three years of being a teaching, I decided to change my course. I wanted to be more hands-on with our youth who are struggling with homelessness and poverty. The Relatives employed me as their Employment Specialist. Each day I am able to get someone closer to receiving employment and getting off the streets. I am able to make community partnership with different businesses who are employing our young adults.
DURING YOUR TIME VOLUNTEERING FOR A COMMUNITY ACTIVITY OR PROJECT, WHAT IS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT?
When I started Brown Girls With Crowns I wanted my mentees to be bold, love themselves, love each other and become involved within the community. Of course, that did not happen right away. Many of my mentees were shy, failing their classes, and others had low self-esteem. I can see the potential in them to be great, but they had to see it within themselves first.
Nariya, who is now the president of Brown Girls with Crowns was shy, had low self-esteem and was failing a few classes. She was self-conscious of her body weight and put less effort into her schoolwork. There were times where she was not active in our meetings, afraid to share her ideas in front of her peers, feeling as if they were not as good as the others. In one of our meetings, we talked about our daily struggles that can hold us back. I try to let my mentees take the lead in our meetings, but this meeting was different. I can see they really needed me to take the lead. I was transparent of the things I struggled with as a teenager and some things I struggled with as an adult. I spoke about how it is ok to go to therapy and speak to someone about your problems. Once I opened up, my mentees really began to tell their struggles. They were able to see that they were not alone and began to encourage one another and speak positive words into each other’s lives. This meeting was one of the meetings that helped mold Nariya into the young woman she is now.
In our subsequent meetings, Nariya took more of a lead. She was no longer afraid to give her input on things we should do within our community. I was truly excited when she planned and led our new member meeting without any fears. She spoke about Brown Girls With Crowns with pride and gave examples on how she began to love herself more through the organization up. Her schoolwork had improved drastically. I remember receiving a phone call and a text from her mother. She thanked me for helping Nariya come out of her shell. She stated that she and her husband were able to see a change in her confidence, the way she spoke about herself. They were truly happy with her grades getting better. Nariya was no longer ashamed to express herself. She spoke up when she felt depressed and asked for counseling. Brown Girls With Crowns truly became a sisterhood and a safe place for my mentees.
IN YOUR OPINION, HOW DO YOU CONTRIBUTE TO THE COMMUNITY? PLEASE BE AS DETAILED AS YOU CAN.
The way I contribute to the community is by being a servant leader and being selfless. Once I graduated from college, I knew I wanted to be involved within the Charlotte community, knowing I would permanently reside here. Raised in Queens there was such a community presence. My mom, being a single parent, did not have to raise me alone – the community helped. I remember my teachers living in the neighborhood I lived in. I remember council members coming to my school talking about politics and uplifting our schools. I remember activists spreading and giving us the knowledge of self-worth.
In college, my sorority would often volunteer in the Grier Heights neighborhood, which deepened my passion to help the youth. Being a part of the Big Brother Big Sister program, I was able to mentor and empower my little sister. I was able to help take a little stress off her mom’s plate while she tried to make ends meet. Helping my little sister become more comfortable in her skin helped improve her social skills and become more interested in her education. Once I realized she was improving for the better, I wanted to make sure I kept this passion going.
The passion I had for helping my little sister helped me to become the educator I needed to be. People never really get to hear or see what educators go through, how being a teacher is like being a parent to many different children with different personalities going through their own struggles in life. How at times you take on the burden of what they are going through, trying to help them navigate through this journey of life.
As a teacher, I planted seeds in our future lawyers, doctors, congress man/woman and much more. In my first week of new teacher training, the trainer stated “as a teacher you will not only teach your subject, but you will teach your student life skills.” Working at a title one school, many of my students lived in poverty. Others were going through situations you could not imagine. I became a mentor to those who needed it, a parent figure, and a big sister. I was the type of teacher you could confide in. I was the teacher who made sure I was at my students’ games, from school games to recreation games. I was also the teacher who helped those students in needs when they did not have much. I am involved in my students’ lives.
I started Brown Girls with Crowns that helped empower young girls. I was able to see young girls become servant leaders within their community. Starting Brown Girls With has thus far been my greatest achievement. Seeing young girls come out of their shell and feel comfortable within themselves was amazing. My mentees were able to start leading volunteer projects with little supervision. They became leaders within their school. They understand what it means to be servant leaders within their community. I was able to get my mentees paid internships and help them get into Upward Bound Program at Johnson C. Smith University.
Working at The Relatives has put a different meaning to contributing within the community. Being the only employment readiness specialist at the organization, I am more hands-on. I have helped young adults received employment opportunities, which helped them receive housing. Helping our young adults in Charlotte who are in poverty/homelessness receive employment is indescribable. I have been able to make partnerships within the communities that have offered employment, mentoring, training and education to our young adults.
Contributing to the community is being selfless and being a servant leader. 2016 was honestly the hardest year of life; losing my nana and being newly diagnosed, I felt like I lost myself. As much as I wanted to give up, I remember I had my students who expected me to be at work every day, who expected me to be on my A game, and who needed help. I made sure I took the proper steps to get better in order for me to be the best for them.
WHAT ARE YOUR HOBBIES OR INTEREST?
My hobbies are reading and writing. I love watching my son play sports. One hobby we both share is singing, even though we cannot.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE QUOTE THAT YOU STAND BY?
To be honest, I do not have a favorite quote I stand by. When I am going through difficult times or even in my blissful moment, I stand by scriptures in the Bible. I stand on a scripture based on what phase I am in my life. I stand by many scriptures that speak on faith. Faith is what helped me through my hard times. Faith is what gets me through when I am afraid to take a leap in life.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”. Hebrews 11:1 ESV
WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN 5 YEARS? 10 YEARS?
In five years, I see myself fully invested in my non-profit Brown Girls With Crowns. My mission is to educate and help empower young queens on self-worth. My organization will help young girls become educated on finances, how to build their resume, and post-secondary education. My goal is for them to understand how communities function in different socioeconomic sectors. Young queens will learn how to serve their community by learning how to productively function in society as servant leaders. I want the members to be able to find a love and a passion for their community. Brown Girls with Crowns will become a sisterhood where girls can be themselves, to make lifelong friendships and see the beauty in who they are.
I would like to have my nonprofit in one high school, middle school and elementary that feed into one other. During this time each group of girls will have someone mentoring them and help empower whom they want to become. Brown Girls With Crowns would be a safe place for young girls year round, a place where young queens could feel comfortable being who they are and able to communicate how they feel. Brown Girls With Crowns will be truly invested in the Charlotte community. During the members’ senior years they would be able to receive a scholarship from Brown Girls With Crowns toward their college/university tuition.
In ten years, I would like to own a center for Brown Girls With Crowns. The center will include tutoring, health education, career training and workshops. Those who want to invest in their community will host the workshops. There would be workshops such as fitness, sports, finance education and other activities to encourage our young queens to be their best. Brown Girls With Crowns will collaborate with other programs in the Charlotte area for volunteering, mentoring, and employment. Each year the center will take young queens on trips and college/university tours.
CAN YOUR SHARE ONE THING THAT IS ON YOUR BUCKET LIST?
One thing that is on my bucket list is skydiving! I am terrified of heights, but want to confront the challenge.
WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU USED YOUR PASSPORT?
I am in the process of renewing my passport. I have been to Bermuda multiple times but haven’t been in a few years (my kid has though). I promised myself that I would get one and have a mommy and son vacation out of the country. Dad lives in Barbados now, so I think it’s about time to take a visit.
WHAT IS A FUN FACT ABOUT YOURSELF THAT NO ONE KNOWS?
A fun fact about me that no one knows is that deep down, I wanted to be a pastor. I enjoy having conversations about God and hearing others perspectives about God. I loved seeing my Nana preach. I remember seeing my Nana study the word of God before she would preach. She would have her notebook taking notes, meditating on God’s word. While she did this, I would ask her questions about her sermons. She would answer the millions of questions I asked. Never getting upset when I interrupted her studies.
WHO IS YOUR HERO?
My hero is my Nana. She was not only my pastor, but also my best friend. She is the reason why I am fascinated with history. My Nana, Marilynn is from the beautiful island of Bermuda. I remember the times we would stay up late discussing her childhood and how politics worked in Bermuda. She always talked about the history of our family and the things she saw. During our talks we made sure we had peppermint tea and toast with peanut butter. She would put jelly on my toast, knowing I could not eat peanut butter alone. She dwelt on the reason why she moved to NY. My grandfather was in the army, which was based in Bermuda. She fell in love with him and had six children. I used to tell her let’s go back to Bermuda. I loved visiting Bermuda every summer.
I had lived with her my whole life until I went to college. I could talk to my Nana about anything. Even though she was a pastor, she never judges me. She corrected me, but she corrected me with love and kindness, which made me take heed to her teachings. She had a love for God I never seen before. She was always ready to serve, to serve God to serve people when they were in need. I was able to see how she was such a servant leader within her community.
I will never forget the story my Uncle Gregory’s friend told me about my nana. My Uncle Gregory – who I never met – was robbed and murdered by two people. He died right before his 21st birthday. My Uncle Gregory’s friend told me while my nana was grieving she was able to comfort and pray for others who were hurt by my Uncle’s passing. I asked my Nana how was she able to put her feelings aside. She told me others needed her in that moment. God had called her to serve and lead. How can you lead without serving? This memory will always stick with me.
I remember my Nana stopping what she was doing to help others. I used to get upset when the phone would ring all day at times. Family, church members or friends would call. Nana was all about family. She always made sure we were taken care of, especially her grandchildren. She had a soft spot for us. Nana had seven grandchildren and six great grands. Each one of her grandchildren called her every day.
She was so selfless, and had a true love for God. I remember people coming over just to talk with her to get her advice or come for prayer. Even when she was tired, she never closed her door to anyone. When she passed away June 2016, my life paused for a second. The person I looked up to for guidance, for prayer or just to talk to about life was gone. I remember at her funeral the wonderful things people said about her. How people traveled near and far to pay their respects. The impact she left on others truly remind me I had to keep watering the seeds she planted in me. A few months after her passing I started my mentoring group Brown Girls With Crowns. The seeds she planted in me I made sure I kept watering. I really pray that I am making her proud.
WHAT WAS THE LAST BOOK YOU READ?
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.
WHAT WAS THE LAST MOVIE YOU SAW?
Kill Bill 2
WHAT WAS THE LAST CONCERT YOU SAW?