Please see how Rhonda Simpson unpacked the entire event through her eyes. If you missed the opportunity to join us, she brings you in.
I arrived at the gated community in Frisco, a Dallas suburb, not knowing what to expect. However, I knew it would be a good time because LaJune King is crazy. That good kind of crazy from a person who always exudes positive energy and endless laughs. She's been my photographer twice for her Know Your Beautiful women's empowerment campaign and I've known her for several years.
Yes, people it's 'Your' and not 'You're' so no need to correct my grammar. These photoshoots are centered around capturing each woman's unique beauty to raise her confidence and self esteem. I had a blast shooting with her and as a woman with some insecurities, I walked away feeling better about myself each time. Know YOUR beautiful, live it and own it!
As a small photography business owner, this symposium was birthed out of LaJune's dream to uplift women, specifically women of color. In this world of petty reality tv "wives" and Instagram shade, she wanted to present an alternative to the negativity. The event met, challenged and conquered the stigma that women cannot get along and don't support each other.
I entered the home greeted by the buzzing of dozens of ladies chatting with excitement and expectation. LaJune welcomed us by thanking everyone for attending her labor of love. After having a stressful week leading up to the day's activities, she was emotional and joked about the possibility of losing her lashes before the day is over.
I promised myself I wasn't going to cry that day. Nope.
We proceed to the icebreaker. I looked around the room at all the beautiful brown faces. Different hair textures, skin tones, body shapes and sizes. Some good friends. Many meeting for the first time. I stood next to women who were strangers, yet felt familiar. You know that feeling you get when you're surrounded by like minded, sincere people. The atmosphere felt energetic, yet calm and safe.
The introductory speaker Pru started by giving some words of encouragement with the lilt of her subtle Jamaican accent. Her message summed up that life doesn't always happen the way we expect. We listened attentively. Quietly agreeing in our hearts with that most profound truth that would be the theme of each woman to share their story through the time we spent together.
Toni told us about not feeling worthy enough or deserving of her achievements, even after overcoming divorce and an unsupportive family to become a successful photographer and graphic artist. This feeling that plagues many of us is called Imposter Syndrome. It is defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. Her smile radiated as she encouraged us to "do that shit" in spite of discouragement. Do that thing that calls out to your heart and get out of your own way. She also reminded us of the value of friendships as she held back tears recalling the moment hers stepped in to pay her bills during an unexpected financial crisis.
Sniff sniff. Clears throat. These pesky allergies.
Katrice quit her job to take care of her dying mother when her boyfriend also fell ill and almost succumbed to sickness as well. Being tossed back and forth between hospitals for a time tested her faith in unimaginable ways but she came out stronger and able to encourage others. Her story of loss, grief, and what comes after is a reality that will visit us all at some point, unfortunately. Not long after her mother transitioned, she found out she was expecting a child. Her then boyfriend eventually fully recovered and is now her husband. Her experience prompted her to start the non profit Hearts 2 Heal in order to provide hope and grief support for others adjusting to life after losing a loved one. Her brave example is proof that there is life after loss.
My allergies were still acting up or whatever. Eyes got a little watery.
Azzah, the wonderful lady who opened her beautiful home to us for this event, talked about her experience as a Muslim woman of Pakistani and Indian decent born in the U.S. to immigrant parents. Growing up in the Midwest in an environment where there were no faces who looked like hers, created a self awareness that strengthened her resolve to represent her culture and the beauty of diversity. The self proclaimed introvert's (me too sister) words were an unapologetic call to action that we have a responsibility to break down barriers of racist stereotypes and perceptions especially now in #45's America. Yes, yes and yes!
Mental health has long been a taboo subject in the black community. Family secrets, trauma, and just plain old life disappointments do not discriminate. Erica and Jamie are social workers who came to offer tips on how to take care of one's mental, spiritual and physical health, as well as delve into the obstacles to seeking emotional wellness and wholeness. Some of those obstacles are self imposed and some are systematic, such as lack of or insufficient healthcare.
After the birth of her daughter, LaJune suffered from physical health challenges that brought on anxiety and depression. Her extremely personal testimony was heart wrenching. Many of us have been affected by circumstances in life that have been difficult to manage mentally and emotionally. This experience is all too common. Being sensitive to the hushed tone of the room, I definitely felt less alone with my life-long personal struggles with anxiety.
Is that a tear? Nah.
Via video from Atlanta, we had the business woman, photographer, coach, mentor, single mom, and keynote extraordinaire Dr. Tomayia. Her no nonsense yet bubbly personality came through as if she was actually there with us. After seeking God on what to discuss she felt led to the topic of failure. We hate it, but we need it in order to grow. She gave her spin on Will Smith's quote "fail early, fail often, fail forward." Divorce. Foreclosure. Setbacks. Nothing stopped this lady from reaching her personal and professional goals. She taught us to use our failures as learning experiences to catapult us into being our greatest selves.
Last, but certainly not least, Liane read an excerpt from her much anticipated book about her journey to wholeness and finding her identity. Her words washed over me, blending narrative and poetry. I felt the pain of her loss, wrestling with God, and struggle to realize her true self and finding her voice after her 18 year marriage ended. Though the specifics of her story are unique to her, what is not uncommon is how we, as women, are generally more likely to lose ourselves because of our nurturing nature.
Yeah so the floodgates opened up here. 😭
We lose ourselves to the demands of marriage, motherhood, careers, family, social and societal expectations (just to name a few), in order to cater to the needs of those around us, to be accepted and loved. This struggle is universal. A poignant message to sum up the day.
In between speakers we laughed, cried, hugged, and celebrated. We took pictures, played games, won prizes and giveaways - kudos for the thoughtful and intentional gifts. Knife & Faulk Catering provided our delicious lunch. Makeup artist Allure Faces by Nikki brought her fabulous products for purchase and House Of MERCI online fashion retailer and stylist graced us with some pieces from her collection.
There was a crown passed around for each of us to take turns wearing. A sweet gesture of appreciation to everyone present - that we are seen and we all matter. I don't think any of us left without feeling like royalty.
To the beautiful and brave souls that shared their stories and expressed their truth...bravo! Because of you I can hold my head a little higher, chase my dreams a little harder, and accept my flawed self a little more. I was truly inspired by your courage and vulnerability.
LaJune has taken her talent of photography and elevated it to yet another level with her Know Your Beautiful Symposium. By launching this inaugural event, I hope it sparks future endeavors and a movement of self love, encouragement, and support among women of color similar to organizations like Black Girls Rock!
I'm honored and proud to know a lady with such a heart and mind to bring together a gathering like this. To create a safe space for women like us to be raw and real about life so that we can learn from one another, heal and be aware that we are not alone in the problems and issues we face. To ultimately understand that it's okay for us to own our truth and learn to love our individual version of beautiful.
I’d like to share with you, what I saw leading up to the start of the event. Gosh this has been an absolute dream of mine. It took us 7 years to get here. I was told by a friend to allow myself to fail and that what I put out didn’t have to be perfect. The goal going in was to change reach 1 woman. The day started out wrong. I’d felt that I’d given too much power away. I got a call that my encouragement wall wouldn't arrive on time. I immediately felt a pit in my stomach. As a fixer, I tried to find a way around it. As I stood outside finishing up the call, our pink KYB balloons blew away into the wind.
20 minutes before start time, ppl are arriving and I’m tucked away in the bathroom trying to get through makeup, weeping. Yep, I wanted it to be perfect and it wasn’t. Three minutes before start time, I head out to the living room and see a room FULL of women. The anxiety goes away. We commence. God used Toni, Katrice, Erica, Jaime, Dr. Tomayia, Azzah, Liane and myself.
I felt full at the end of the event. Out of 32 surveys completed, only one attendee did not feel that she’d invite a friend. Those odds are magnificent. Again, it wasn’t perfect, but as the day progressed, I saw my purpose in motion.
Thank you every single sponsor who donated to help make this happen.
Thank you again to ALL of our speakers and for your vulnerability. Because of you, someone sees herself differently.
We'll see those alumni and new in 2021.