IMG_3778

As I write this I am bedridden and wrapped up in three blankets with tissue scattered everywhere taking sips of warm Echinacea tea in between typing battling what I call the Kindergarten Cooties. If three years ago you had told the girl chasing writing deadlines, attending press parties, and following the social elite entertainment circuit that she would find happiness in a classroom teaching small children, she would have laughed at you…maybe even choking a little bit. That girl was and is me.

I graduated from Rutgers University-Newark with a Bachelor’s in Journalism and Media Studies. I walked across that stage with an internship from Shape Magazine and W Magazine under my belt with some recommendations as well as a Lifestyle blog that I managed on Tumblr. I was ready for the lavish, the fun, the challenges of the deadlines, the bylines and headlines. I was ready to see my name in print and online, but reality had soon set in and there I was thrown into a career path I was not prepared for. The freelance gigs came more than often and I saw the silver lining of being able to build up a cool portfolio, but the solid, salary on-staff positions were far and wide and there I was making a full time job out of applying for every single journalism job I could find in New York City with Sallie Mae tapping at my door.

During that time I began freelancing for Madame Noire and Saint Heron and both came with awesome perks that included music release parties, press parties, networking events in the city, and tons more. I knew that I could name drop and gain access to several different events with my best friend tagging along as my plus one, I mean come on I freelanced for Solange Knowles and Armina Mussa. I even ended up freelancing for Upscale Magazine, Blavity and the Huff Post. I was in the thick of it and I was happy for a bit. Train rides between Jersey and New York City soon began to break my pockets as my FOMO syndrome heightened. I needed to be everywhere and in everything. I needed to find stories to submit so that I could make some money and keep money coming in, but as a freelance writer what they rarely tell you is there are times when you don’t get paid on time and that happens often. In networking and speaking with other freelancers I soon learned that in addition to freelancing they also had full-time jobs in completely different fields because like me, they too needed a stable and comfortable means of income. In 2012 I decided to go back to graduate school for education. I thought why not teach and write?

During my graduate studies, I picked up a part time job as a teen program coordinator for The Boys & Girls Club of Newark where I worked for two years. It was an afternoon to evening job that allowed me the time to write in the morning and do my class readings. It also allowed me the space to stay out late at night in the city and not have to worry about waking up early for work. Working at BGCN, I realized there was a serious issue that our education system was not addressing. I could not understand how students in high school still could not write simple paragraphs or even simple sentences. As a writer and someone who’s passionate about the written language I realized it was something I wanted to spend a great deal of my life doing. I wanted to take something that I am great at and use it to help others so I began to freelance less and less until I didn’t want to do it anymore.

The thing about purpose though is that it always tends to meet you at a crossroads. Here I was teetering between a career in media and one in education and trying hard to find a way to merge the two. I didn’t want to give up the NYC parties and social scene, but I also found myself feeling less fulfilled by it. I realized I didn’t care about entertainment or celeb news as much as I did the thrill of being on the scene. I thought that education was such a boring career choice and folks would sort of look at my funny for choosing a common career over one that came with status. I thought without media I wouldn’t mean anything anymore, but I was wrong. I’m going into my fourth year as an educator and I am proud to know that high school students I once taught or worked with are now in college, studying abroad and doing good in the world. As a high school English teacher, I taught 150 students a day. I had the pleasure of impacting 150 students a day!!! Now as a kindergarten teacher I value their innocence, I know that everyday when they step foot into my classroom, I am responsible for preparing them for the next thirteen years of their lives.

Throughout my career in education I’m always focused on ways I can provide enrichment that speaks to the needs of the whole person. So yes, in the grand scheme of things I want to make sure that I am teaching my students in a way that is growing their brains, but I also want to provide them with life tools that will prepare them for the world socially. I started Curate Your Life in January at the high school I was working at in the form of a one day summit chocked full of enriching workshops that spoke to the teen girl population because I noticed that there was a lack of life skills offerings at the school I was working for. I thought if my school was lacking it, what other schools are as well, so I branched off and started Sisterhood Sessions which are hour long small group life skills workshops that I’ve hosted at after-school programs, at Saturday schools and within school districts as part of their 21st Century Learning programs. I also branched off and started one that spoke to college age and working professional women called You Ok Sis: Newark as a way to offer a safe space for us to come together after work and bond and vent and celebrate one another as WOC.

My life has shifted so much when I found myself at that crossroads and deciding to take a risk on a road I was unfamiliar with. Goals have become less superficial. My life has become more purpose driven and selfless. I’ve transformed from the girl chasing social status, the social elite, the fast pace party scene to the woman grounded in herself and the social good that she’s doing in the world even if she have to fight them while dealing with the kindergarten cooties.

I’ve been absent from the blogsphere for a while since I’ve decided to go back to school and pick up a new profession (teaching) and during that time I saw it as an opportunity to really give back to an audience I’m truly passionate about: adolescent girls of color. I wanted to create a brand and organization that would allow them to fully understand that they are in complete control of the direction of their lives. As women, we are often told what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and where to do it so much that there are times when we stop and wonder if anything we are doing is because we genuinely want to do it. So on January 28, 2017 I launched Curate Your Life, a girl’s empowerment and enrichment organization that focuses on sisterhood, leadership, social justice, wellness, and media literacy for teen girls of color, but the idea was birthed in June 2016 and there were a number of lessons learned along the way.

16298929_1385205894857568_6583625509985627314_n

Community is SO Important

I knew that this wasn’t something that I could do on my own and be effective at the same time, so I built a community of professional women and organizations who would see and understand my vision. The day of the launch, I didn’t realize I would be doing so much running around and improvising when things were absent, but the community that I built was there every single step of the way. I just asked them to show up and facilitate workshops, but they’ve become family with every “You got this Deja.” or “I’m proud of you Deja” or “Tell me where I can help Deja.” Even my mother came and catered the event with my grandmother. I say all of that to say, you are as strong as the tribe you build and God blessed me with an amazing one. (more…)

Ah yes, the wonderful world of adulthood where words like “adulting” is like auditioning for an episode of American Ninja Warrior. Each year that I get older and celebrate another birthday I always get asked by several people, “sooooo how does it feel being (insert age)?” To which my reply is usually something along the lines of “idk, the same…I guess.” Like how can you possibly describe what a particular age feels like after only a moment. If someone were to ask me that question today about being 26 my answer can best be described in correlation to one of my biggest fears: ROLLERCOASTERS.

tumblr_n7c4k47F8u1qhub34o6_r1_500

Adulthood is like that one rollercoaster in the theme park everyone is scared to get on, but can’t seem to pull themselves out of the line. Before you know it, you’re too deep and can’t go back so the only way out is through it. So you get on the ride and the first thing you think is, “this isn’t so bad” after a few buckles and jerks. But then you feel it slowing down as it prepares for the drop and the death loop afterwards. You’re in full on panic mode, stressed, literally on the verge of crapping your pants as you feel your soul leave your body as the ride plummets. After the loop everything is smooth sailing again and you try gathering your life again and breathe for the first time since getting on the ride. You let out a little “I made it” laughter and can’t believe you freaked out as much as you did. The smile quickly turns to one of horror when you realize there’s another death drop taller than the first…that my folks is adulthood. A never-ending series of drops and loops and metaphorical crappy pants.

But at least the freedom’s cool right?

In the freedom, you find that the older you get the more your priorities shift. The more solid things become and you start to build up your own set of belief systems and moral codes that are not up for discussion. Here are some non-negotiable every adult should have in their list of “do not touch.”

Health/Sanity

lunch

So I had this job once that was just so stressful to my life. I lost a ton of weight, I was always amped up on coffee just to make it through the day, I went home with migraines daily and I was just miserable there. My work morale was low due to the environment being created. After two years of dealing with that, I had to make the decision to go. I was stuck in a dead end work situation and I decided, I couldn’t compromise my mental health and sanity any longer. I realized that this wasn’t the end all be all. There were other jobs out there that I would enjoy and who would appreciate the value I added to the workplace. Your mental health and overall health and well-being should not be a negotiable option.

Family

That should be self-explanatory. Sometimes when we’re so consumed in our work we neglect important things in our lives including our families. It’s never intentional. Family should never be a negotiable option so when faced with things and issues in life that forces you to chose between family and work…it better not be work that you choose unless you’re able to reach a common ground with your family.

Character/Identity

lip

Being anybody other than myself is not of my character. If you’re at a job that forces you to be someone you’re not. If you’re in a relationship that brings out the worst in you. If you find yourself doing hoodrat things with friends when you’re not like that, it’s time to re-examine some things. Your character speaks volumes and when people says impressions are lasting, people will always remember how you acted, what you did and how you looked doing it.

Integrity/Beliefs

We live in a country that’s considered to be a melting pot of different races, beliefs, nationalities and religions. Be proud of who you and stand firm in it. Don’t let people or things try to change you. I think the older we get, naturally, the more self-aware we become but it’s easy for snakes to sift through the cracks and create doubt in us and have us questioning everything we believe. Don’t let it.

The thing about adulthood and “adulting” is that it is a rollercoaster that you’re never getting off of. So buckle up and enjoy the ride and if rollercoasters aren’t your things, take deep breathes and stay prayed up.