Detroit Women Exemplify Sisterhood and Success

Sisterhood. Community. Tribe. Your people. Best friends.

I pride myself on being a girl’s girl. I love to see women win and to come alongside them and be a cheerleader. Whether it’s the first woman to be the head coach of an NFL team. (Shout out to Jennifer Welter!) Or it’s little girls who tell me they want to be brain surgeons or doctors. (I’m obsessed with hearing about girls pursuing STEM careers.) Or maybe it’s just a friend who has overcome some major adversity, and I’ve gotten to see her battle her demons like a warrior.

I love to see women win.

Yet, for someone who is such a “girl’s girl,” I have certainly had my share of girl drama. I absolutely hate it. Girl drama makes me want to grab my running shoes and throw up the deuces.

You know what I’m talking about it. Those moments when you find yourself with tension with another woman, and you don’t even know why. Even worse, there are the scenarios when you watch a best friendship tether and fall apart.

Actresses Jada Pinkett-Smith and Gabrielle Union recently sat down for a chat on the video series Red Table Talk to talk about women, friendship, cattiness and specifically about their 17-year beef, a feud that neither of them could explain.

As the two women sat down and hashed out the details of their separation, something in my heart healed just watching. In the words of Jada, sometimes women are mad at each other but don’t even know why. Although difficult and uncomfortable, working your way to healthy relationships with other women is one of the most empowering things you can do.

I am not living in a fairytale. I get it. Sometimes, women don’t get along. Personalities clash. Interests conflict. Insecurities cause competition and comparison. Misunderstandings happen. Assumptions are made. Communication falls by the wayside.

I do believe, however, that a woman surrounded by the love and suport of other strong women is nothing short of an unstoppable force. I know five women who embody this idea. Some know them as the “Fab Five.” Others may see them as a clique. I know them as Sharron, Shanelle, Jasmine, Jazzmin and Dajai.

These girls embody sisterhood. Five women with more than two decades worth of friendship under their belts collectively, lots of college degrees and even more ambition.

Their story is inspiring and one worth being told. So often you hear stories of women tearing each other down (especially with women of color.) Stories like their’s, of enduring female friendships, deserve more shine. I am so happy to have grown up with them and watched their stories progress. I am even more excited to share their story and talk about the importance of female friendship.

Shanelle Covington

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Pharmacist
B.S. in Brain, Behavior and Cognitive Science, University of Michigan; Doctor of Pharmacy, Hampton University
Self-proclaimed role in friend group: The Overachiever
I’ve always strived for perfection and basically if I don’t reach it, the world is over (more specifically when it comes to school and grades) Sometimes, I just never feel like I’m not doing enough in life and always want more. This can be a blessing and a curse lol”

Your friend group in three words:
Loving, loyal, motivating

Sharron Sanders

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Lawyer
B.A. in Psychology and Communication Studies, University of Michigan; Masters of Jurisprudence in Legal doctrine and analysis, Michigan State University; Juris Doctor, Michigan State University
Self-proclaimed role in friend group: The Comedian
“I am definitely the silly/crazy friend in the group. I always aim to make my friends laugh and have a good time.”

Your friend group in three words:
Supportive, loyal, ambitious

Jasmine Spratling

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Mental Health Therapist
B.A. in Psychology, Bowling Green State University; Masters in Clinical Mental Health, Walden University; Currently completing a Ph.D. in Human and Social Services with a focus in Mental Health Facilitation, Walden University
Self-proclaimed role in friend group: The Fashionista/Protector
“Of course one of us has to know how to dress! However, besides that I am also the friend who comes to the rescue when things go wrong.”

Your friend group in three words:
Sweet, funny, encouraging

Jazzmin Taylor

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School Psychologist
B.A. in Psychology, Michigan State University; Ed.S. in School Psychology from The Chicago School of Professional
Self-proclaimed role in friend group: The mom
“It’s funny because I’m the youngest in the group, but I’m also the most laid back and responsible (in my opinion.)”

Your friend group in three words:
Ambitious, successful, silly

Dajai Livingston

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Certified Nurse Midwife
B.S. in Nursing, University of Michigan; Master’s of Science in Nursing specializing in midwifery, University of Michigan
Self-proclaimed role in friend group: The Socialite
“I’m always meeting new people and mingling. They tell me I always know someone. I also make sure that when we all hang out we have a good time. I bring positive energy to the group and always make sure that if something isn’t right I talk to whoever is in charge to resolve the issue. I am the one who will ask for the manager and get us a free meal.”

Your friend group in three words:
Beautiful, ambitious, driven

Tell me about the dynamic of your friend group.
Dajai: Our friend group started at Detroit’s Renaissance High School and evolved freshman year of college. We each have different relationships with one another. Shanelle and Sharron have been best friends since elementary school. Jasmine, Shanelle and Sharron were all “Bates kids” (an elementary/middle school in Detroit). Myself, Jasmine, Jazzmin and Shanelle became close on our high school’s cheer team. Myself, Jasmine and Jazzmin were in midnight golf our senior year and became even closer. We all had times when we hung out during high school, but freshman year of college the five of us had a girls night in Ann Arbor and the annual get together became mandatory.

“We each have different relationships with one another.”

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What has life been since graduating from high school?
Jasmine: Life after high school has been full of ups and downs, but I am continuing to learn from all my experiences for my personal and professional growth. After Renaissance, I headed straight to Bowling Green State University sadly without any of my best friends by my side. I went even further away after college and moved to Chicago for a few months to begin grad school. Then, I moved to Atlanta, which is where I have been since 2013. Living in Atlanta has been an amazing experience and I absolutely love it! However, being away from my family and my girls is the hardest thing. Since the beginning, we have always uplifted one another. Our circle of friendship goes beyond the norm, and at the end of the day, we are family more than anything. I feel that has also been tested since some of us separated after high school, but it’s like no matter how far we are from each other, our friendship continues. I love my girls!

“At the end of the day, we are family more than anything.”

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In society, women are often pitted against one another, especially black women. What does it mean to have a solid group of female friends?
Jazzmin: This group is so full of positive energy and encouragement with anything any one of us decides to pursue. We are all good with providing one another with advice. Believe it or not, having the support from my friends provides me with the confidence I don’t always have in myself. That’s why having friends who are always there to uplift you is so important!

“Having the support from my friends provides me with the confidence I don’t always have in myself.”

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What does it mean to you to be a part of a group of girlfriends who has been friends for so long?

Shanelle: Having these amazing women in my life is truly everything!! It’s sooo important to be able to have people in your life who you can truly trust and know without a doubt will always have your best interest at heart. Seeing them succeed just makes me want to push harder and do more. They are so inspirational in their own individual ways. I never feel alone or like I don’t have anyone to talk to, which is so essential with the way I stress over everything lol. It’s a blessing just to have one person to count on. I don’t know what I did in life to have a whole group of women who I know will always be there for me.

“I never feel alone.”

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How do you guys maintain your lifelong friendship?
Sharron: We don’t always stay in constant communication. We are adult women with our own lives. We all have that understanding, but if one of us needs something, the rest are always there. Also, we have our group chat that we use to communicate. We could go a month without talking, and then, randomly someone will post a meme and the chat is lit again.

“If one of us needs something, the rest are always there.”

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Tell me about how you all deal with rivalry, disagreements and the natural misunderstandings that happen in friendship (particularly with women).
Sharron: I’m really at a loss for words. I can’t really think of a time where this has happened. The personalities in our group really suit each other well. We don’t fight. We don’t compete with each other. If there is a disagreement, then we talk through it. I’ve always seen other “cliques” where girls would act like sisters but then talk about each other behind their backs. Having a tight knit group of friends that I know have my back no matter what, means a lot.

“We don’t fight. We don’t compete with each other.”

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How have your friends impacted you personally and professionally?
Jazzmin: Whenever one of us starts a new project (grad program, job, etc.), there is nothing but love, encouragement and positivity given from the group. When one of us is going through something, we are all their to empathize with that person and be a support system. We all live in different places, but we stay connected via our private group chat and that works for us. Our group chat often turns into therapy sessions. They also turn into random, silly girl talk. We always try to get the full group together at least once a year and every time we do, we pick up exactly where we left off.

“There is nothing but love, encouragement and positivity given from the group.”

I hope you are encouraged to love your sister friends, your tribe, your people. I also hope you are encouraged to reach out to the woman who maybe you have had a falling out or enstrangement with. Because women are powerful, and when we stand alongside one another, we only get stronger. If there’s anything the 20’s has taught me is that life is hard and unpredictable, but it is brighter with true friends doing life with you.

“Real fierce and fearless women celebrate and compliment other women, and we recognize and embrace the notion that their shine in no way diminishes our light and it actually makes our light shine brighter.” – Gabrielle Union from the Essence Black Women in Hollywood event

With hope,

Stevie

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Twenty-Something Tycoons: Erikka Yvonne’s EYCO Agency Is Home to Top-Notch Digital Branding Services

For the month of May, the Twenty-Something Tycoons series will focus on twenty-somethings who are heading their own businesses in honor of the 10-year reunion for Detroit’s Renaissance High School, class of 2008.

In today’s social media and internet driven culture, making a company stand out amongst the crowd can seem like finding a needle in a haystack. Detroiter Erikka Yvonne launched EYCO Agency, a full service branding and advertising agency, to help solve this problem. Erikka and her team are putting their creative skills to work to provide memorable and noteworthy online branding and design services.

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Here’s what Erikka had to say about EYCO Agency:

Tell me about your business.

EYCO Agency, Home of the Creative M.O.B., is a full service Creative Agency that provides branding and advertising strategy services. We work with brands to attract the right audience and create a lasting impression. We help to craft the message and elevate the experience. We believe insight, strategic vision and impact are the core of every life-changing brand.

How did the idea for your business come about?
During my undergraduate career at Grand Valley State University, I found myself being the creative mind behind events and graphics for all the organizations I was involved in. Once I graduated, I found myself facing rejection after rejection for agencies in the metro Detroit area! After some time, I decided I wanted to create a home for young creatives like myself to do what we love most- create!

What separates it from similar businesses?
My team is comprised of young creatives in similar situations like me. After college, they lacked the needed experience agencies wanted. Our team has both the passion for our clients and the drive to see them win!

Describe your business in three words.
Creative. Transparent. Human.

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Where do you see your business in the next 10 years?
In 10 years, I want EYCO Agency to have pop up locations in other major cities! I want those locations to not only house the staff but to be an off-site home to teach high school and college students graphic design, branding, social media assistance and more!

Who is your target audience?
Innovators- The people who tell stories or share content that is important and special to you. This includes authors, bloggers and even vloggers!
Creatives – This includes visual and fine artists, graphic designers and web designers!
Lifechangers – The people who want to connect deeply with the hearts and minds of others to spark something good. This includes nonprofits, philanthropists and motivational speakers.

What advice do you have for high school students thinking about starting a business one day?
Just go for it! Don’t let the unknown or fear of failure stop you. You’ll never know what you can accomplish if you don’t go after it!

How have you grown or changed since joining the entrepreneurial world?
Man, my faith in God has increased tremendously, as well as my confidence in myself! There’s a certain level of comfort I had in life when I was working a 9-5 and that all changed when I became a full-time entrepreneur!

For more information on EYCO Agency, visit the website or email Erikka at erikka@eycoagency.com .

For more interviews with interesting twenty-somethings, click here.
With hope,
Stevie

Twenty-Something Tycoons: Detroiter Turns Passion for Fitness Into Personal Training Business

For the month of May, the Twenty-Something Tycoons series will focus on twenty-somethings who are heading their own businesses in honor of the 10-year reunion for Detroit’s Renaissance High School, class of 2008.
With a lot of hard work, sweat and creativity, Detroit native and Renaissance High School class of 2008 alumna Laura Washington has built her personal training business from the ground up. A month into the entrepreneurial world, Washington is on a mission to empower women to feel confident and to redefine society’s definition of “sexy” and “beautiful” through physical fitness. Her personal training services provide one-on-one support and allow clients to set individualized goals and work toward them in a private setting.
Laura’s mission to empower women through physical fitness couldn’t be more timely with one-third of American adults living with obesity. This includes non-Hispanic blacks at the highest rate of obesity at 48.1 percent, followed by Hispanics at 42.5 percent, non-Hispanic whites at 34.5 percent and non-Hispanic Asians at 11.7 percent. Of young adults (ages 20-39), 32.3 percent are obese.

Here’s what Laura had to say about her personal training business and the importance of physical fitness:

Tell me about your business.
I offer personal training services to help clients reach desired physical attributes, improve overall health and gain confidence. I train in a private gym or (if preferred) at client’s at-home gyms.

How did the idea for your business come about?
I’ve always enjoyed fitness, not only for the physical benefits but also the mental and emotional benefits it offers. Yet, for years, I was unsatisfied with my weight and shape. I finally decided to invest in a personal trainer. I set specific goals and worked consistently to reach those goals. On my journey, I developed stronger self-discipline, perseverance and confidence. I transformed my entire body and, more importantly, my sense of self.

The world (TV, movies, music and social media) constantly makes women feel discontent and ashamed of their bodies. It forces a limited perception of what “sexy” and “beautiful” looks like, perceptions which we as women often unconsciously internalize. This unconscious internalization is detrimental to our self-esteem (i.e calling ourselves “fat,” comparing our bodies to other women’s bodies and hoping to lose weight.) My goal is to empower women to have confidence in their bodies through setting personalized goals and gaining pride through hard work to achieve those goals.

What separates it from similar businesses?
My personal training services is centered completely around the client’s objectives and desires. This can range from weight loss to toning to improving cardiovascular health. Workouts are developed to challenge and encourage the client when working toward his/her specific aims. Additionally, it offers a private setting (typically just myself and the client) to avoid the discomfort of most gyms.

Describe your business in three words.
Difficult, yet therapeutic

Where do you see your business in the next 10 years?
I hope to reach more people. I simply want to help people fall in love with their bodies and maintain a healthier lifestyle.

Who is your target audience?
My target audience is women of all ages, shapes and sizes who desire to feel more confident and self-empowered.

What advice do you have for high school students thinking about starting a business one day?
Stay disciplined and persistent. Obstacles undoubtedly will occur, but continue to keep your faith, hope and goal in mind to motivate you during the worst of challenges.

For more interviews with interesting twenty-somethings, click here.
With hope,
Stevie

Twenty-Something Tycoons: Breana Curry Is Disrupting Financial Illiteracy in Urban Communities

For the month of May, the Twenty-Something Tycoons series will focus on twenty-somethings who are heading their own businesses in honor of the 10-year reunion for Detroit’s Renaissance High School, class of 2008.

The costs of financial illiteracy are high. Poor money habits equal a bad credit score. A bad credit score equals a higher price tag on the cost of living. It’s a vicious cycle of poor money management. In America, families of color fall behind in building wealth compared to white familes. For example, in 2016, black families made seven times less than white families.

Detroit native Breana Curry wants to change the game of finances for the black community. Breana works to help urban families make better money decisions through her company, Curry Financials LLC.

The financial coaching company is on a mission to empower young people and adults with the necessary financial literacy to build their personal wealth. At it’s heart, Curry Financials seeks to disrupt long-established cultural and social systems that cause African Americans to fail by teaching them money management.

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Here’s what Breana had to say about Curry Financials:

Tell me about your business.

Curry Financials’ mission is to educate young adults on the basics of credit, budgeting and saving. The vision is for families to embrace financial literacy, end generational poverty and establish generational wealth.

How did the idea for your business come about?

When I moved to Atlanta in March 2016, it was a leap of faith. I didn’t have a job or a place to stay, but one thing I did have was a plan. After submitting what felt like a million applications from March to June and not hearing anything back, I was finally connected to the United Way of Greater Atlanta, a nonprofit I genuinely wanted to work for. I became a financial coach for the their veterans program.
I thought it was just an opportunity to get me in the door and help pay the bills. I had no idea it would turn into a business because finances was not my thing. Nevertheless, I grew to love it. I helped formerly homeless veterans increase their income, repair their credit and learn how to budget and save. After working with them and hearing their testimonies, I was able to see the difference it made when a person learns the art of money management. Check out a few of the testimonials on CurryFinancials.com.

What separates it from similar businesses?

Curry Financials is different from similar businesses because we focus on educating our clients. Companies with similar business models, especially those with a credit component, focus on “fixing your credit.” I’m not a credit repair lady. My mission is to educate you on how your credit score is calculated, how to make it increase and what will make it decrease. After we’re done, you will know how to fix credit yourself.

I am passionate about disrupting systems that are put in place to make African Americans fail. In order to disrupt these systems, we have to educate ourselves. The financial system was never set up to benefit us. Did you know the history behind Wall Street’s name? It is called “Wall Street” because there used to be an actual wall built by slaves where snipers would shoot slaves who tried to escape from being sold. We were the first commodity sold on the stock exchange. Clearly, we have always been valuable. Today, Wall Street is known as one of the most influential financial districts in the world. If the economy has always depended on us, then why are so many of us still poor? One reason we remain in poverty is lack of knowledge about our history and the basic rules of money management.

If you have poor money habits, then you probably also have a bad credit score. If you have a bad credit score, then you are literally charged more to live your life. You pay more for everything: from the type of house/apartment/car you can afford (because your down payment and security deposit depends on your credit score), to how much you pay when using a credit card (low credit score = high interest rate). Essentially, this is another form of control because you are only allowed to do so much. They’ll offer you credit cards galore, but no one ever teaches you to never go above 30 percent of your credit limit. If you have a credit card with a $1,000 limit, then you should never spend more than $300. Understanding simple facts like that and knowing how to manage your money can change the trajectory of our livelihood. They want us to continue to drown in debt, stress ourselves out and live paycheck to paycheck. They know how powerful and valuable we are, which is why so much effort is put toward the continuation of oppression. We must disrupt these systems by educating ourselves, strengthening our legacies and passing down healthier habits.

Describe your business in three words.

In less than three words- Financially Lit (lol)

Where do you see your business in the next 10 years?

In the next 10 years, Curry Financials’ curricula will be implemented into school systems across the country. It will include unique lesson plans for students in elementary all the way to college. It has already been created, but I’m taking these next few years to learn and become as solid as possible mentally, spiritually and professionally. This way when it’s time for me to steer the ship, it will sail forever.

Who is your target audience?

My target audience is young adults ages 16-24. I am dedicated to making the information relatable, fun and easy to understand. Young people are our rising leaders, and they need to learn about financial literacy at an early age. Eventually, they will know it so well they’ll inevitably teach their parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and, most importantly, their future children.

What advice do you have for high school students thinking about starting a business one day?

Put your thoughts on paper. Goals in your mind are just ideas. You have to write them down to call it a plan. Once you write them down, keep them in sight. Write on Post-its or write on your mirror in erasable marker. Stay organized. The more you see it and the more you talk about it, the more likely it’ll come into fruition. Somebody has to do it. Why can’t that somebody be you?

How have you grown or changed since joining the entrepreneurial world?

I’ve become much more responsible. I take pride in my brand, and I understand I’m accountable for how my business operates. Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” When people encounter Curry Financials I want them to feel love, compassion and genuine concern. I believe whatever you do, you should execute with excellence. Don’t waste your time or energy being mediocre. Give it all you’ve got.

For more interviews with interesting twenty-somethings, click here.

With hope,
Stevie

Twenty-Something Tycoons: Detroit Native Dominque Collins Is Levitating the Fashion World

For the month of May, the Twenty-Something Tycoons series will focus on twenty-somethings who are heading their own businesses in honor of the 10-year reunion for Detroit’s Renaissance High School, class of 2008.

There’s a worldwide trend in today’s twenty-somethings (or Gen Y- people born between 1985 and the milennium), they want to call the shots in their careers. According to an University of Phoenix study, 63 percent of people in their 20s either owned a business or wanted to in the future. Of those who weren’t already entrepreneurs, more than 55 percent of American adults in their twenties want to start a business.

Levitated Conscious is an apparel company founded by Detroit native Dominque Collins in 2016. Based in Ohio, the brand is a thought-provoking, edgy and fashion forward line that is redefining what style looks like.

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Here’s what Collins had to say about Levitated Conscious:

How did the idea for your business come about?
I started Levitated Conscious because I wanted to be a voice for our culture, the voice that makes you think about the bigger picture of life.

What separates it from similar businesses?
Fashion is such a dynamic outlet. So we decided to disrupt the minds of others through what we call statement pieces. We use the word disrupt because society embeds in our brains cultural norms that we begin to believe. Our goal is to disrupt every negative notion that society has placed on us as a people.

In order to truly be Levitated, you have to open your mind on a grand scale. This pertains to your well-being, relationships, money as well as your biases and prejudices.

Who is your target audience?
Our target audience is African Americans between the ages of 20-38 years old.

What advice do you have for high school students thinking about starting a business one day?
Listen to your heart and focus on what you love because that is important. Read lots of books on communicating with others and finance. Learn about budgeting for your personal life first.

Take chances on yourself because no one will believe in you before you do. Pray and meditate before making impulsive decisions. Entrepreneurship is hard, but it is also rewarding with hard work.

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For more on Levitated Conscious, visit the wesbite or catch the line on social: Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

For more interviews with interesting twenty-somethings, click here.

With hope,
Stevie

The Reasons Why We Travel

Travel. Why do we do it?

Honesty moment- traveling abroad is not easy. When people post pictures on social media, travel looks glamorous, but it is actually quite challenging. It is expensive and can be exhausting at times. It is also one of the most testing and stretching experiences you can voluntarily sign up for. You are surrounded by a foreign language and culture daily.

They say that if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. In my opinion, if you can live abroad for any amount of time, you have the grit, the ingenuity and willpower to do just about anything. Travel truly shows you the stuff you are made of, the good, the bad and the ugly.

We travel because we are curious. We are curious to see the world, to not just read about it online or see photos on our timelines. We are curious to learn about other ways of life and curious to see our own ability to handle adversity. There is a curiosity in each of use like a well run dry that can only be satisfied with the refreshing of travel.

I came to Italy, plain and simple, because I wanted to grow. I was eager for a challenge. I was curious about a world outside of my comfort zone and what that would look like. I am a twenty-something who does not have it all figured out. My time here has taught me so much about myself and about other people. There have been lessons of empathy, lessons of forgiveness and letting things go, lessons on flexibility, lessons on openness and acceptance and lessons on being present and enjoying the moment.

Once I am back in America, my travels won’t stop. Each year, I have a goal to travel to at least one new state in America. In 2018, Utah is my state of choice. My goal is to get to all 50. (I am currently sitting at 30 states.) Why? Because I am curious. Each state has its own uniqueness, and you can easily travel from the west coast to the east coast and feel like you are in a different country. I travel simply to learn and to better understand people.

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Nice, Italy

Don’t just take my word on the value of travel and living a curious life. I asked some of my fellow WEP teacher assistants and friends why they travel, and they had a lot to say. A lot of them have traveled around the world prior to our time in Italy, and I have so much admiration for each of them. Every time I am with the teacher assistants in my program, I learn something from each of them.

My friend and fellow world traveler Tiffany White explains it most poignantly when she says, “At the end of the day, we are all humans, and we all have stories to tell. So, I travel to see the world, but with my heart just as much as my eyes.”

Keep reading to meet some of the other WEP teacher assistants and read the reasons why they travel:

Griffen, MacLeod, Chino Hills, California

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“The reason why I travel is that this world is so much bigger than just ourselves. I am searching to make myself, and whoever I encounter, have a better life, in whatever capacity. Learning, teaching, experiencing, seeing, and, overall, enjoying life as much as possible in the world we are blessed with.”

Zuzu Hamel, Seattle, Washington

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“I travel because it gives me a sense of independence I’ve never felt before. I love getting to experience and meet new people. As I see more and more of the world, it allows me to appreciate other cultures and makes me miss and appreciate home in ways I hadn’t before.”

Tommy Do, Dallas, Texas

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“I believe that in order to make an impact upon the world, you have to go out there and see it. Traveling gives me the opportunity to meet people from various backgrounds who all have a story to tell. We can all learn from and help one another. Being able to make these meaningful connections inspires me to travel, to have an open-mind and leads me to love my experiences that much more!”

Taylor Gersch, Portland, Oregon

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“I travel because it gives me a chance to learn about other cultures and an opportunity to teach others about my culture and way of life. Traveling also allows me to explore other parts of the world that are incredibly beautiful.”

Jonathan Sambucci, Mullica Hill, New Jersey

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“Travel isn’t about stamps in a passport. It’s not something you ought to do in your early 20’s because ‘You’re only young once!’ Travel is a mindset. I am currently in Italy, and I am traveling, but when I return home, I won’t stop. I’ll try a new dish I haven’t before. I will go to a new park and make a new friend. It’s an attitude driven by the never-ending question of “What exactly is behind that corner?”

Cara Costello, Boston, Massachusetts
*Please note that Cara sent so many good travel photos, it was hard to choose.

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“I travel because despite all of the terror going on all over the world right now, especially in my country with politics and social madness, I want to experience the beauty that surpasses the negative. The world is a big place. I believe experiencing its different cultures and exploring the unknown is imperative if you want to grow as a human being. Travel not only to live the world but to live in awe of all of its beauty.”

Nicanor Basabas, Wellington, New Zealand

“The reason why I travel is because I enjoy learning languages. The fact that if I go to a country and I can converse with the people in their language, I feel more of a local. Your experience becomes more real compared to just being a tourist.”

Tiffany White, Allentown, Pennsylvania

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“I travel because I’m not just a citizen of the United States but of the world. I’ve traveled for sports, for study abroad and now for cultural exchange- While my reason for traveling may change, the outcome is always the same. Each time I learn something new. Those that say traveling is the best classroom are undoubtedly correct. While I experience new cultures, I am also able to reflect on my own being and my own culture. The challenges we have to overcome abroad teach responsibility, problem solving and flexibility. It has all surely helped me grow as a person.”

Beauty and Brains: One 20 Something’s Story

A big part of the twenties is going after your dreams despite uncertainty. Kiana Billups’ story is not short on obstacles, but this twenty something has shown adversity who’s boss. An advocate for ending sex slavery and a beauty pageant novice, Billups is a 5 foot feisty, young woman with big dreams to make a difference. With her heart and persistence, I am certain that this twenty something will make a lasting impact wherever she goes.

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Getting to know you a little better……

How old are you? 24
Where are you from? I was born in Washington but raised in Tulsa/Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.

Where did you attend college and what did you study? I am receiving a major in International and Area Studies and a minor in Nonprofit Organizational Studies from the University of Oklahoma in May 2014.

Describe yourself in 5 words.
Charismatic, compassionate, funny, bold, and witty.

What is the biggest lesson your parents have taught you?
To follow my heart. Your mind can reason you out of doing things that you were meant to do, but your heart will always tell you the truth if you’ll stop thinking long enough to listen.

What is your favorite quote?
“Keep moving forward.” Walt Disney

If you could pick a character from your favorite piece of fiction who you relate most to, who would it be and why?
Her name is Celaena. She’s an assassin with a secret past and huge future. I identify her because she’s slightly vain about her looks but is willing to get dirty to dispense justice. She hates slavery! Which I love because my platform, “1 person sold, 1 person told” is about bringing awareness to modern-day slavery. She loves very hard and very true. And that’s me. I love with everything I have and am completely honest about whom all that that encompasses. She also can fight quicker and fiercer than the wind and KICKS SERIOUS BUTT!

Who is one person who always makes you smile?
Just one?! Ummm my mom? Best friend Kalaya? Little sister Nicole?

What are your career goals?
In an ideal world, Anderson Cooper or Diane Sawyer finally retire and I take over their jobs. JK…but seriously…quit already. I’d love to be an international correspondent for CNN. God has placed on my heart to start a shelter in the U.S. that caters to boys and girls of human trafficking. It would be a place for them to receive aftercare and counseling, life skills and an education, and love. My main focus would be to gift them with the resources to get them successfully integrated back into society.

Twenty Something Advice (for Anybody):

“Keep moving forward.” Walt Disney

On to the more serious stuff……
Why did you decide to get involved in pageantry?

My first pageant ever was Miss Black Oklahoma USA in 2009. I did it because I had a platform I was incredibly passionate about and it seemed like a fun way to earn scholarship money. Later on, I competed in Miss Black and Gold at OU and then again in Miss Black Oklahoma USA in 2012, where I got 3rd runner-up. I honestly thought I was done with pageants after that. But I was offered the chance to chair the Miss Black OU pageant and coach contestants in Miss Black and Gold, Miss Krimson and Kreme, and Miss Black OU. I love it! I caught the fever. It’s such a good feeling to be able to watch young women grow and become aware their strengths and the world around them.

Talk a little bit more about your pageant title as Miss Black Oklahoma US Ambassador.
This title was honestly given to me by God. Having competed in pageants before and not walking away with the crown, I had decided to help on the outside but not to compete again. The national director called me and God gave me INSTANT confirmation and peace about accepting the title. Next thing I know, I’m staring at the crown and sash in the mirror—something that I’ve longed to see for 6 years. I appreciate the title of “ambassador” because I always been interested in what’s going on in the world outside of the U.S. At one point I dreamed of pursuing a career as a U.S. Ambassador to a foreign country. With this title, I am an ambassador for freedom, love and justice.

When is your upcoming pageant? Where?
I compete for the title of Miss Black US Ambassador May 15-19 in Atlanta, Georgia.

What is your platform?

My platform is “1 person sold, 1 person told.” The focus is to bring awareness to modern-day slavery in all of its forms: domestic servitude, labor trafficking and the most widely known, sex trafficking. I know I have been given this particular title in Oklahoma for a reason. Due to Oklahoma’s many interstates, it has become a major destination and travel route for human traffickers. I hope to rectify that by bringing awareness to the people it affects, that is everyone. This crime knows no boundaries and possesses no prejudices.

What is it about fighting to modern-day slavery that compels you to champion the cause?
On this earth, God gave us two major purposes.
1) love Him
2) love each other as we do ourselves.
Slavery is the ANTI-love. It’s the possession of another person. Traffickers take the person and turn them into a shell. They abuse them, overwork them, lie to them…etc. How can I not champion this cause?

In your future career, in what ways do you hope to involved with this cause?
I stated earlier that I wanted to be a international correspondent on CNN. Well, to be more specific, I want to use the media that we use for inane, pointless information to bring awareness to the 27 million slaves in the world. I want to use the TV, radio, Facebook, Twitter, my blog and everything else in between to spread awareness. Eventually I will open a shelter that will care for girl and boys (yes boys are trafficked too) and help them be reintegrated into society.

If you win the pageant, how do you plan to leverage your title and the leadership of the position with educating people about modern-day slavery?
It is my goal to launch small-scale media campaigns of videos, fliers, speaking events, concerts, and fashion shows to not only spread the facts on slavery but also to raise money for the education law enforcement and the aftercare of victims.

What has being involved in the pageant world taught you? How has it changed you?
It’s taught me the meaning of “faith without works is dead.” I have really had to use my faith on this journey to the crown. But I’ve also had to step out with that faith and do my part. It’s caused me to grow by leaps and bounds. I used to be a HUGE procrastinator and this alleviated that. The pageant world has taught me to use my resources. Ever hear the phrase, “You have not because you ask not?” Well that definitely is true. I’ve learned that people are willing to help you. All you need do is ask. I’ve never had an issue with ambition, but the pageantry has taught me to focus that ambition and be realistic about my goals.

As an upcoming, twenty something, what is the greatest lesson you have learned so far?
KEEP MOVING FORWARD. This journey is SUPER hard and it will only get harder if you dwell on past mistakes. What’s in the past is in the past. Let it go and let God help you move into your future. Don’t be afraid of being uncomfortable. In fact, if your completely comfortable with your status and dreams in life, dream bigger. Get up and move forward.

What advice do you have for other twenty somethings with big dreams?
Don’t let the dreams get bigger than the God who gave them to you. Dream as big as you can! But remember that God is the one who will give you the strength to accomplish these big dreams.

– Stephkt