In case you don’t recognize the reference, there’s an old show on BET called “Being Mary Jane,” which starred Gabrielle Union. The show followed a young news anchor in pursuit of greatness and documented her attempt to “have it all.” When Being Mary Jane premiered in 2013, it was just a few years after I had concluded my short-lived career as a weather woman.
When it came out, I was absolutely obsessed. I saw parallels to how Mary Jane’s professional journey mirrored my own: the struggle to be recognized, the battle for a voice, the ongoing quest for credibility, the fight for career advancement, and the search for comfort amongst professional friends who sometimes-understood my daily struggles.
Conceived by Mara Brock Akil, Being Mary Jane portrayed the challenges of double-consciousness that Mary Jane navigated professionally and personally. What was interesting about the show, is that over the course of several seasons, you see this bright-eyed, eager to win-at-all costs news anchor, slowly find herself after experiencing heartache, job loss, and broken personal relationships. By the end of the show she has a breakthrough, but only after being stripped down so she can find her fulfillment by being authentic.
In my youth ( I’m 38 now ), I remember cringing at the end of the show, because I expected her to boss up, get the job, the title, and the man, by leaning into her more polished side. And when that didn’t happen I couldn’t wrap my mind around why Akil would have given us the ending that seemingly no person in the public eye would choose — the honest one.
Today, 10 years departed from the shows release, and on the brink of opening our first location, I understand more fully why the show ended the way it did; because no long-term relationship or career path can sustain itself over a period of time in the absence of the truth.
What I have learned, is that hiding who you are as the founder of any company, service or school of thought makes it nearly impossible to build anything meaningful. Why? Because the people you need to build with can’t find you if you cloak yourself in perfection.
While the show allowed the viewers to see who Mary Jane was over time, we don’t have time for all that.
So… in true Mary Jane Paul fashion, or more fittingly, in the courageous, unashamed voice of Gabrielle Union. I’m ready to break false image so I can finally have my authentic breakthrough.
Based on social media, people may assume Im wealthy or that I come from means. I’m not and I do not.
Do not let social media fool you, I deal with ups and downs every day just like everyone else.
One of the hardest things I’ve dealt with by being in the public eye, is finding a balance between being myself, and the person I want to be. While this has helped me get my foot in the door with some opportunities, I’ve started to realize it can mislead people who may have had a similar upbringing to mine that think they are alone in this space. You’re not! I’m over here too, lol.
But in all seriousness, I was raised by a single parent. My mother worked for the Urban League and Kmart. We never went without, but we did have a holiday or two where were the recipients of the food drives at school. I was really ashamed of this as a kid, and have hidden it for the greater part of my career, but I’m grateful for those experiences now.
Coming from humble beginnings, and working yourself into spaces where you are amongst some of the brightest minds in the world is nothing to be ashamed of. Yes you will have to learn how to be amongst people who come from different walks of life, and I also struggle with this, so I do not pretend to be perfect, but just because you did not start on this side, does not mean that you don’t belong here. Your mind and your intellect is very much needed, so do not shy away from pursuing greatness, simply because of where you came from.
My mother was a guest on Oprah when I was a kid. I watched her advocate for battered women throughout my childhood.
In my youth I witnessed my mother live through a number of abusive relationships, and survive domestic violence. When I was in the fifth grade, she was invited on Oprah to share her story. Although I didn’t understand the value of storytelling then, I do now. Her ability to articulate her experience, and take ownership for her circumstances has always stuck with me. While I’ve never heard her call herself an advocate, I do remember that she stressed the importance of telling her story so she would have agency in how it was told. In addition to speaking at House of Ruth, she also taught women how to reclaim themselves after severe heartache. Before I knew the names of Margaret Atwood, Shafia Monroe or Jennie Joseph, I knew my mother.
I was the High School Mascot… at a Black High School
Before I was the founder of Wingwomen, a TED speaker, author or Miss Black California…I was the mustang at John Muir High School in Pasadena California. Yes, you read that right… The mascot at Muir, which many would say is the “black” side of town. For as long as I can remember I’ve kind of done my own thing. At the time I was on the track team and I didn’t have any electives in my transcript. So I thought of the least competitive thing I could do at a mostly black high school — and boom! I decided to try out for the mascot. I figured it wasn’t as competitive as trying out for cheer or being a song girl, because who would want to try out to be the mascot?
Except, as someone who had never been to a black school and who had grown up in Ohio I had no idea the mascot was attached to the drum line and the band…I also had no idea how Black High School tryouts worked.
So when I showed up to the tryout I was surprised to see everyone standing in a circle, where we, the people who were trying out, would inevitably have to dance. I was scared out of my mind when they turned on Power 106 and we were expected to freestyle with no direction. At some point, I stopped dancing because I knew I wasn’t going to win. And I was right. It was given to someone else.
Weeks later, I was asked if I still wanted the opportunity after the winner elected not to keep the job. So I took it.
I’ve had to start over more than once. I have deep compassion for people who can get back up.
Although I’ve re-educated myself, there was once a time when I lacked hope and direction. From a professional standpoint, my career has changed several times over. When I think back to who I was at 18 the only version I could see of myself was to be a news anchor. But when my appendix unexpectedly burst after about 10 months into the job, I had no choice but to sit down and heal. The healing process looks very different from person to person, but it forced me to figure out who I would be other than someone on television. It forced me to see myself differently and conceive that I could create a new skill set for myself. Even though I was in my 20s at the time, the thought of having to reinvent myself seemed insurmountable. Now I’m far more learned at pivoting and moving through life‘s challenges. But I have the utmost respect for people who have been through a lot and keep going. There’s something in me that can understand those stories, and I tend to gravitate towards people and things that have endured and continue to endure for the sake of themselves.
In my 30s, after a divorce, I sought spiritual renewal through a late-in-life re-baptism
While I would not consider myself to be overly religious, I have a deep appreciation for people who seek a path that allows them to show up as themselves fully.
Raised in a Baptist and COGIC household, I was baptized in my childhood, and, like many people, it was something that I did for my spiritual path at the time.
But after going through a divorce in my 30s, I wanted to allow myself to move forward to redetermine my path. After going through a divorce, there was something about the anger and angst that needed to be washed away in a place where only God could cleanse me. So I decided to get rebaptized.
Up to that point, I had always gotten a little chuckle when I saw adults get into the line to get baptized with the kids. It kind of reminded me of that scene in Elf where Will Ferrell is anxiously awaiting to get on Santa's lap and stands in the line for a chance to meet him. But there I was in September 2019 lined up amongst these kids at Brave Church in San Ramon. I got the shirt and everything. I have to tell you, it takes a lot of guts to start over, and it takes even more to admit when you want or need a new slate.
I took that new slate in September 2019 and every year since I have affectionately referred to that month as my surrenderversary. I think of it as the time I gave up everything I thought I was going to be in exchange for who I would become. Which has ultimately brought me here, writing this article to you.
I am an introvert, and I tend to lean toward people and groups who are trauma-informed
As someone who has had to navigate and overcome my fair share of poor lived experiences, I tend to gravitate towards groups and people who hold space and allow me to be myself.
Over time I have gotten feedback that I do not always participate in a lot of major events, and I feel it’s important to provide context as to why. For people who have leaned into any kind of therapy or emotional work, it can be difficult to try to go back into harsh environments or speak with the same people who have contributed to your hardship especially after you’ve started a healing process.
It can also be difficult to engage with people who do not understand you, or who may judge your perspective, your style of communication, or your speech.
I used to subject myself to people and things that were too harsh for me. But now I care more about staying in alignment with my journey than falling for anyone else’s. I stay where I feel fully seen, celebrated, welcomed, and appreciated. The more I’ve done this, the more life has surprised me with new relationships and opportunities that speak more to my spirit and energy, and that do not require me to be something I’m not.
I’m fortunate that I have friends who understand my aversion to large groups and uncomfortable social situations. I wish that more African-American founders and entrepreneurs had support systems that allowed introverted people to be in the ecosystem and still thrive.
Wingwomen was named Surrender Circle before it got its current name
Wingwomen was initially imagined to be a peer support platform for women with lived reproductive health conditions. The original idea was to have a platform that allowed women to express themselves online, but then also see me at events and go to retreats where we would essentially surrender the things that were holding us back. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, I was never able to execute the full vision, and surrender circle became Wingwomen, which was just the online version of the initial concept. The company, now Wingwomen, initially also had more of a therapeutic, and somewhat spiritual bend to it. I removed that when it was positioned online because I was told it would not sell.
I know this isn’t an exhaustive list of everything about me that could be shared. But I do hope it addresses some misunderstandings and opens more authentic relationships with those around me.
My goal with this article is pull in more like minded individuals while I’m building my brand.
You can always reach me on my website or feel free to contact me through Wingwomen as well.