Special Spotlight is dedicated to young, Black individuals who are working in professional careers, living out their dreams, or making a positive impact in the world. Black excellence isn’t limited to being a celebrity. Black excellence is you, your friends, and neighbors. Let’s celebrate us!


Tiara - AYC
Tiara Cash, M.S. ’15

Tiara Cash, 28, is a native of Memphis, Tennessee and a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. Tiara currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona. She graduated from the University of West Florida with an associate degree in 2011. From there, she completed her bachelor’s degree in exercise and wellness from Arizona State University. In 2015, she received her master’s degree in kinesiology from Western Illinois University. Tiara is currently the Senior Program Coordinator at the Center for Mindfulness, Compassion, & Resilience at Arizona State University. The center’s vision is to “Create an academic “Culture of Caring” by advancing mindfulness and compassion practices at ASU and the community to nurture purpose, focus, resilience and connection. A fun fact about Tiara, she’s performed in 3 operas!

Talk about what you do as Senior Program Coordinator for the Center for Mindfulness, Compassion, and Resilience. As the Sr. Program Coordinator for the Center my role is very dynamic. I have the charge to create a more resilient student-body by being a practitioner of mindfulness – teaching students, faculty, staff, and community the skills of mindful practice and mindful work. Co-currently I am in charge of logistics for all programming including workshops, training, retreats, and conferences. My two specialty areas that I have been given the role of expanding here at ASU include Student-Athlete training and facilitating mindful discussions with marginalized populations with a more specific focus on social justice.

How did you become interested in this role? I think the role actually became interested in me (lol)! It’s crazy because when I found the job posting, I couldn’t imagine how all of my life’s passions were to be included in this one job. But that’s exactly the truth! I have been practicing mindfulness and meditation since I was about 10 years old and have always dreamed of working in the University setting. Growing up with a mother as a head coach at a university I saw her impact on the population and knew that was my future career path. Fast forward to my undergraduate and graduate studies and thesis work I saw a need of resilience training in student-athletes and specifically people of color within that group. Now years later I am able to combine my personal practice with my love for higher education and my areas of research into one fun and absolutely amazing position!

What is mindfulness? Simply, mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment with intention.

Why is it important for Black people to understand mindfulness? Quite frankly, we have more to deal with in this life than most others – always having to be mindful of our presence everywhere we go. In discussing mindfulness with people of color and especially black people I like to say we already have this skill imbedded in us. Our parents have taught most of us from a young age to remember in certain spaces our voices, our dress, our demeanor, and even more realistically our color. Now to create a positive practice from this rooted thought process, the charge is to switch the skill of practicing this for other’s comfort and gain (so focusing on being mindful “outward”) to turning inward and tapping into our own feelings, emotions, and where we stand in this life. This practice of mindfulness gives us the opportunity to know ourselves more deeply, which in turn can help us navigate certain spaces with more self-love and confidence in our own morals and values. It is also fantastic in helping relieve stress and brining more joy to our lives!

 What are some challenges and triumphs that come with your line of work? I think the biggest challenge that we see in this line of work is the misconception of secular mindfulness and its benefits. I, personally, came to mindfulness and meditation on a spiritual path. So, honoring the traditions and cultures that have used these skills through a base of divinity is is very important to me. The work that we do with the Center is more-so a secular interpretation of that, rooted in researched skill-based learning. Though it doesn’t happen often, we have had to the aforementioned to skeptics. But, the triumphs that come with that is the expanse of knowledge to the person who is asking and a better understanding on our end of how we can create more open dialogue about this topic. My more personal answer to this question would be the non-visibility of people of color in the mindfulness community. There have been many times where I’ve been the only person of color in the room, not to mention the only black woman. It is important to me that others see that WE do this and that mindfulness is a practice that benefits all human beings. I try my best to be a model and representation for that.

Since you’ve been on this journey for yourself, what has been your experience? You know, I like to tell my story because I feel like it shows another more relatable side of this journey in spirituality and self-realization. Candidly – being mindful doesn’t stop the trials and tribulations of life. It didn’t stop my disease, it didn’t stop my homelessness, it didn’t stop harassment or physical pain. But, it DID help me to navigate those hardships with more ease and come out the other side more self-aware. Without the practice I simply would not be here to share this work with you and I definitely wouldn’t be able to articulate now how those situations made me stronger, more resilient and an even more reliant on my own power.

 How receptive are your students to the notion of peace and mindfulness? VERY receptive. I think that we (millennials) have been searching for something to help ease a lot of stress and pain for a while, especially with the current state of the world. Mindfulness is low cost and is directly related to self-help but also influences the compassion and resilience of others. Here at ASU, the Center for Mindfulness, Compassion, & Resilience also works very hard to create programming that is directly centric to whatever population we are serving. So, our student services at Center are definitely student run and student driven, which helps create a more relatable curriculum.

Do you see yourself working in this line of higher education long term or do you have other career goals? If you have other goals, how will you take what you’ve been doing in this role to your next position? I definitely see myself working in higher education long term. As mentioned before, since I was a child working in a University setting has been the goal. I will say that I hope to expand my career outside of the higher education sector with the trainings and backgrounds that I now possess and am working more to possess by creating programs for retiring student-athletes and trainings for marginalized and oppressed communities throughout the united states, and hopefully, the world.

Anything else you want readers to know? I am always hoping to hear from others to connect and engage more through mindfulness. I’m SO here to answer any questions and hear comments that folks might be having regarding this subject! If you or anyone you know is interested in learning more about mindfulness or resilience I would love to stay connected through email or can be added on Instagram!

Follow Cash on social media!

Facebook: Tiara A. Cash

Instagram: @princess_mentality

Tiara 2 - AYC


Tatiana Moore

Tatiana Moore, 25, is a native of Chicago, Illinois and a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. Tatiana currently lives in Yorkville, Illinois. She graduated from Northern Illinois University in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in communicative disorders. She currently is employed with Minooka Community High School as the school’s librarian. She is also the CEO of Infinite CreationZ. Infinite CreationZ designs anything from graduation caps, paddles, phone cases, water bottles, you name it, Tatiana can create it. In her spare time, she is an avid reader!

Talk about what you do as the librarian for the high school. As a librarian for a high school, I play a important role when it comes to information, databases and  everyday needs for staff and students. I am constantly being a proofreader, counselor and overall a trusted individual when it comes to students. I work specifically with Juniors and Seniors so I am able to help guide and mold these students before they go out into the “real world”. I’m able to provide them with exciting book displays and keep them updated on new research that could possibly help them with papers, projects or anything else they may have to use library resources for.

How did you become interested in this role?  I honestly stumbled upon this position simply because I moved further from Chicago and did not want to continue commuting far. I simply needed a job that was closer to my new home and it ended up being something I really enjoy.

Talk about what you do as an entrepreneur. What is your role? As the CEO and only employee of Infinite CreationZ, I am the executive designer, inventory manager, lead creator, social media extraordinaire, and delivery driver. I am a one woman show. Eventually, I would like to expand my business to allow for assistants and have professionals in each area of business on my team.

Why did you decide to go into business for yourself? I started making things simply as a hobby that I did whenever I felt like it. Eventually, people recognized my talent and started to offer to pay me for my services. Things started off slow, maybe 1 order every two weeks. I persisted, kept creating, and posted more to social media. That really got people’s attention and the brand grew from there.

What are some challenges and triumphs that come with your line of work? Staying motivated is definitely one of the biggest challenges. It is easy to be overwhelmed when trying to do a million things at once so I try to remain positive and remember that soon, I’ll have plenty of help! Something that makes all of the stress worth it, is seeing reactions of people when they receive a gift made by me. It’s really amazing how my talent can help brighten someone’s day.

Why is it important for Black people, especially Black women, to go into business for themselves? It’s simple, the world isn’t meant for us to make it in corporate America. We have to create our own just like every race does. It’s truly the only way to get ahead.  I’m not saying anything is wrong with corporate America, but at the end of the day, you can lose that job and have nothing. By owning your own business, no one can take that away from you. As a Black woman, I take pride in knowing my work is bomb and that no one can take that from me. I make the rules. I’m the boss!

What motivates you to do your best work? Music! Playing music while working somehow gets me the best results. Also, seeing my growth from just 6 months ago keeps me motivated to keep going the extra mile. I know all of my hard work will pay off one day.

What advice do you have for Black people who want to go into business for themselves? Do it! Don’t hesitate and do not doubt yourself. Find something you’re good at and find a way for that to make money for you.

Anything else you want readers to know? As a young adult, I know we are so hard on ourselves.. but take a moment to relax and know that things happen exactly when they are supposed to!

Follow Tatiana on social media!

Facebook: Tatiana Shantle

Business Instagram: @infinitecreationZZZ

Personal Instagram: @precisepeace





ALM Headshot
Arsenio Mims, JD ’14

Attorney Arsenio Mims, 28, is a native of Peoria, Illinois and an active member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Incorporated. Arsenio currently lives in St. Louis, MO. He graduated from Western Illinois University in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. He then went on to pursue his Doctor of Jurisprudence Degree from the University of Missouri Law School in 2014. While in college, Arsenio, played basketball and was the team captain. During his senior year, he became 1 of 27 basketball players nationally to be named as a National Strength and Conditioning Association All-American. He was also involved in a handful of student activities on campus. He practices law at Dowd Bennett LLP in St. Louis, Missouri. Dowd Bennett focuses on high-stakes litigation and trials, internal and governmental investigations, and appellate representation. They assist clients in all jurisdictions and in all phases of their cases, including trial and appeal. They also represent individual and corporate clients in white collar criminal/regulatory matters and internal investigations. In all cases, their philosophy is to learn the nature of the dispute as quickly as possible, formulate with the clients a strategy for the matter, and then aggressively pursue that strategy. The firm prides itself in not only helping  clients through the litigation or investigation process but also in presenting clients’ evidence at trial. Their members include a former Missouri Governor, a former United States Senator from Missouri, two former United States Attorneys, two former United States Supreme Court clerks, seven former clerks to United States Courts of Appeals, six former clerks to United States District Court judges, two former State Supreme Court clerks, three former Assistant United States Attorneys, and a former Missouri State prosecutor. Our lawyers have big-case experience at the highest levels in any jurisdiction and are prepared to take these cases through trial and appeal. They value the firm’s close-knit, diverse, and hard-working culture.

Talk about what you do as an Attorney. My practice concentrates on complex commercial litigation, medical malpractice, corporate internal investigations, and employment litigation. As a litigator, I participate in all litigation proceedings, including case strategy, discovery, motion practice, settlement negotiation, trial, and appeal. I also represent clients in both the defense and prosecution of matters involving fraud and the False Claims Act.

At what point in your life did you know you wanted to be an attorney?  I knew I wanted to be an attorney during my senior year at E.N. Woodruff High School in Peoria, Illinois. Until then I wanted to be an anesthesiologist. However, during a current event session in my American Government class, while we were discussing a recent article regarding the potential permanent closing of my high school, the litigator in me was born as I advocated for reasons why Woodruff should not be closed and the numerous lives that would be affected by such. After class, Mr. Hayes, my teacher, encouraged me to go to law school, and that was the beginning.

Why is it important for Black people to understand the law and politics? It is important for African-Americans to understand law and politics simply because knowledge is power. We currently live in a society where individuals get their news in five to ten second soundbites, and without having a true understanding of the issues and the laws regarding the same, we will continue to have individuals who are uninformed about the issues that matter most to them. By truly gaining an understanding in the law and politics, African-Americans will be able to implement the changes they want to see without relying on someone else to implement those changes for them.

What are some challenges and triumphs that come with your line of work? Similar to many professions, African-Americans are a true minority in the practice of law. As such, at times, when working in the corporate setting it, can be hard to find individuals who truly understand the obstacles you face. As a result, I rely heavily on the leadership programs that I participate in with young leaders from different professions to find those who experience some of the things that I do on a daily basis. Further, as a person who comes from what the masses would consider the “working-class”, overcoming the numerous hurdles that were in my way by simply failing to make excuses, and making it to where I have today, I have truly seen that “sometimes with success it is not the person who changes, but the individuals around the person who change.” The journey to get to where you want to be in life can be lonely at times. However, I have learned that those individuals who have your true best interest at heart will be in your corner no matter what. Even during the times when you all may not communicate as much as you would like. Those are the people that keep me going, and they are the reason I constantly remind people that I AM NOT THE EXCEPTION, I AM THE NORM in the African-American community.

Why is it important for Black people to speak up and out about things that are happening in this country? A person who does not speak risks not being heard. However, while I agree with speaking up, I am a firm believer in the adage that “actions speak louder than words.” What is the point in speaking up if one does not take the necessary actions to facilitate the change they want to see? We live in a society where people would rather speak from a cellphone or computer than to get involved and take the actions that need to be taken, such as exercising ones right to vote, holding their elected officials accountable, meeting with their elected officials, and most importantly, pouring their time and energy into the youth who are the future of this country.

What advice do you have for young, Black people who may want to become a lawyer? NEVER GIVE UP! Also, if one is serious about becoming a lawyer I would consider taking a LSAT prep course prior to taking the LSAT.

Switching gears, you are a volunteer basketball coach. What motivated you to take on this role outside of your current profession? I like to place an emphasis on “volunteer.” As demanding as my schedule is, I am adamant about serving the youth for “free.” I am a firm believer in the adage that “time is the most valuable currency,” and I will always be willing to give my time to the youth. I am a volunteer basketball coach because I believe in the youth, and coaching enables me to pour into the lives of children in a setting that can be both fun and instructional. As a kid, my coaches were my father figures, and simply put, they changed the trajectory of my life. It is because of them that I volunteer.

What does giving back to your community mean to you? Giving back to my community means the world to me. Growing up I had no role models. I had no one to show or teach me what it meant to be a “success,” whatever that means. When I wanted to be an anesthesiologist I had no one who could tell me the first step to making that dream become a reality. As such, I will always give back to my community because my community is what made me who I am today. I want to be someone the kids in my community can look at and say “if he did it, I know I can too.” My community means the world to me, and I will always be willing to help out in any way that I can.

Anything else you want readers to know? No matter what statistics may say, as long as you believe in you, put God first, and work hard, you can accomplish ANYTHING!

Follow Arsenio on LinkdIn @ Arsenio Mims


Monica Mickel – Founder of the What Now Network

Monica Mickel, 29, is a native of Chicago, Illinois. She graduated from Western Illinois University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and women’s studies. Since graduating, Monica had dedicated her time to give back to her community in a unique way. She founded the What Now Network which is geared towards college juniors and seniors to begin thinking about life after college. Monica is dedicated to providing student resources to combat fear of what to do after graduating and offers usual tips to prepping for that next step. She hosts a podcast “The Real After College” where she talks to college graduates about what they do and how they navigated life after college. A fun fact about Monica is that she is scared of movies that have animals in them that talk!

Talk about what you do as the Creator of The What Now Network for College Graduates. The What Now Network, which is catered toward college-level juniors and seniors, mission is to equip college graduates for post-collegiate success by providing knowledge about essential topics that typically go unaddressed in the traditional college setting as well as access to thriving professionals, relevant resources, and a community of individuals that are navigating of have navigated a similar stage in life. My core responsibility as the creator of the organization is ensuring that real connection happens between college students and professionals before graduation, so a ton of my work is about building partnerships with key stakeholders and students to ensure that takes place.

 What motivated you to start this company?  I graduated college in 2012, and like many college students I felt lost and almost bamboozled in thinking that gaining an academic degree would equal instantaneous employment, and we all know that isn’t the case. I also felt like my school did a great job of preparing me academically to succeed, but lacked in the real-world experience department. I was motivated to start The What Now Network because I knew that graduates needed a safe space to not only express their post-grad frustrations, but to also be apart of a community that could help them. I wouldn’t have been able to get this far in my career without the help of people, so I wanted to provide that same help and access to college students and graduates.
What has been the most rewarding part of doing this project? I think the most rewarding part is definitely the feedback from college students and graduates when they say things like “this is needed.” To think I created this thing that can potentially help so many people is pretty dope!
What are some challenges and triumphs that come with your line of work?Soloprenuership/ Side Hustling is definitely a challenge. I work a full-time job and dedicate the rest of my time to growing the business, so it can get pretty challenging sometimes but I love it and that keeps me going.
In your opinion, why is it important for young college students to be preparing for their future? There’s no better time than the present to prepare for your future. In fact, I think colleges should talk about post-graduation as early as Sophmore year because college really does fly by. Prepare Now or Pay Later, your choice.
What advice do you have for young, Black people who feel as if they don’t know what to do after college? 1Take Your Time you don’t have to have it all figured out today 2. Try Shit! Don’t let people tell you that you have to decide your career path now. Dabble in this and that until you find your nitch or it finds you. 3. Take a Self Evaluation of somethings you enjoy doing (not day drinking and volleyball) but skills that can align to a desired career  4. Build Your Network Now
Where do you see your company in the next 5 to 10 years?
In 5 years The What Now Network will be a Global Network for college students across the world, mark my word!
What does giving back to your community mean to you? One of my favorite quotes is from my auntie Oprah Winfrey and it says “To move forward, you have to give back” and I really try to live my life like that. My main goal/purpose for my life is to give all my gifts away and to always be a blessing to others. A community is everything!
Anything else you want readers to know?
I love Yall!
Follow Monica on Social media:

Twitter: iammonicamickel
Instagram: iammonicamickel


Twitter: thewhatnowco



Andre Allen, M.S.’14

Andre Allen, 28, is a native of Peoria, Illinois. Andre graduated from Eastern Illinois University in 2012 with a bachelors degree in communication studies: public relations. In 2014 he received his masters degree in kinesiology and sport studies- sports administration also from EIU. He is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated. Andre is the Dean of Students at Methodist College in Peoria, Illinois where he currently lives with his wife and daughter. Methodist College is a four-year, private, not-for- profit college affiliated with UnityPoint Health. Our enrollment is close to 700 students. They offer three options to obtain a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (Pre-Licensure BSN, Second Degree BSN and RN to BSN), a baccalaureate program in Healthcare Management and Administration (Bachelor of Science in Health Science), a Bachelor of Social Work degree, a Gerontology Certificate program, a Certificate in Medical Assistant Certificate program, a Certificate in Nursing Assistant Certificate, and a Master of Science in Nursing. Andre is also active in the Peoria community. He sits on the board of Directors for the Peoria Public Schools Foundation and a committee member of both the Peoria Public Schools Adopt-
A-School Program and Alignment Peoria “College and Career Readiness” Team.


Talk about what you do as a Dean of Students. What is a Dean of Students? How did you get this role?: I serve as a direct liaison between the students and the college. I am responsible for all student activities, residential life practices, student conduct policy enforcement, career services, volunteerism and share deputy Title IX duties. I’ve been in higher education for over 5 years, serving in multiple roles at the following institutions: Eastern Illinois University, Illinois State University, and Methodist College. Previously, I served as the Student Life and Career Services Coordinator at our college (Methodist). In June 2017, our campus underwent an administrative reorganization and my previous role was phased out from the organizational chart and I was elevated to Dean of Students. It was a blessing and a game changer for my career. Definitely a combination of the big 3: God, Preparation, and Luck.
How did you know that you wanted to work in higher education?: I was always involved in college serving in leadership positions in registered student
organizations such the President of Black Student Union and the Vice President of Alpha
Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Zeta Xi Lambda Chapter. These experiences helped shape my
career goals. I was fortunate to secure a graduate assistantship as an academic advisor for graduate school. This not only helped me pay for my master’s degree, but also gave me valuable higher education professional experience. I advised a caseload of 75 students who were admitted through this alternative admissions program at the university. I really enjoyed helping these students navigate through the college experience. I knew right away, that the college setting was where I needed to be.
How does working in higher education make you feel?: It gives me sense of purpose. Every day I know that I have the chance to make a difference in someone’s life. I honestly don’t feel like I work, because I enjoy what I do every day.
Why is it important for Black students to see a Black man in a position such as yours? How do you encourage others who look like you to pursue their dreams?:
It’s very important for black students to see a black male in a position of influence. I
always stressed to students to have realistic mentors and role models. We have to see
ourselves in positions of success to know that is it achievable. Seeing someone that looks
like them and possibly from their same background can be motivation for them. I often tell students, I’m a first generation college student. If I can do it, you can do it too!


What advice would you give a young Black person aspiring to be a Dean of Students?
I would tell them to continue keep god first, grind early, stay late, and be prepared for
when opportunity presents itself.
Switching gears, you are really into sports and have your own sports radio show and Facebook group. Talk about your vision behind this. What motivated you to begin? I created Chopp1n IT UP a.k.a C1P as a Facebook group back in college as a medium to bring sports lovers together to debate and discuss sports. I’ve always been involved and passionate about sports. Over the years the group grew and became more popular. I like to bring people together, so every year we do a C1P Christmas Party at local bar and grill in Peoria. In December 2017, a friend of mine who is the program director of a local community station in Peoria, Illinois, Strictly Hip Hop 90.7 reached out and asked me if I would be interested doing a radio station. I said “sure” and the rest is history. The radio
show following has been growing steadily. My co-host Stevon Hamilton and I cover local
and national sports, conduct special guest interviews, and recently had press passes to
IHSA state basketball tournament. I’m excited to see where it goes.
You are extremely active in the Peoria community. Talk about some of the things you do in the school district. How does it make you feel? When my family and I moved back to Peoria after I accepted the position with Methodist College, I knew right away I wanted to get involved. Peoria has been good to me and I wanted to give back. I hated to see the city mentioned as one of the worse places to live for African Americans. I am a very solutions focused person, so I like to put things into action instead of complaining about the problems. Currently I sit on the Board of Directors for the Peoria Public Schools Foundation. The foundation is responsible for raising funds for many of the school districts initiatives and programs such as uniforms and classroom grants for teachers. I’m also a committee member of both the Peoria Public Schools Adopt-A-School Program and Alignment Peoria “College and Career Readiness” Team. In December of 2017, I founded the Jaguars Squad Male Mentoring Program at Sterling Middle School. I attended this school from 1999-2003. With the help of my best friends and former alumni as well Tye Smith and Lawerence Hardin, we meet with our mentees, bring in guest speakers, and focus on topics of respect, academic excellence, and being productive citizens. Currently, we are planning a fun outing for them to conclude the school year. Being involved in a community that I grew up is very rewarding. I feel that I’m doing my part to ensure a better tomorrow.
You recently held the second annual Sneaker Fest in Peoria, Illinois. What is Sneaker Fest and how did it come into fruition? The Central Illinois Sneakerfest is family friendly and diverse event that promotes the love of sneakers. The sneaker culture is very popular and expands all demographics. Attendees are able to buy, sell, and trade with other sneakerheads. The event origin came from some friends of mine (Jamar Hardin and Demarcus Hamilton) visited a sneaker convention in Chicago called SneakerCon. They came back it and said “Why can’t we do one of these in Peoria?” I enjoy putting together events, especially positive events for my community and youth. Together, we hit the ground running and the Central Illinois Sneakerfest was born. We’ve held two conventions since August 2017. They’ve been successful and received very well from the community. Hopefully this is will become a staple event in the Peoria community for years to come.

Anything else you want readers to know about you? I just want those reading to know that if you put god first, work hard and believe in yourself anything is possible. I’ve been very blessed to be in my position at a fairly young age and have achieved a solid amount of success, but I’ve also put in a lot work before I got to this point and continue to grind every day for my family, those who have helped me along the way, and anyone who may look up to me. Never give up on your passions. Even if your passion isn’t your career. Find your passion and implement it in your life somehow. Our passions are what keep us going each and every day.

Follow Andre on social media:

Twitter: C1P_Andre
Facebook: Andre W. Allen
Instagram: C1P_Andre
SnapChat: C1P_Andre

Tareq Brown (red jacket, right) Busy: co-founder (left, black jacket)

Tareq Brown, 35, is a native of the Canarsie section of Brooklyn, NY. Tareq is an attorney and the co-founder of the America Hates Us brand. Tareq currently lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. He graduated from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA in 2005 and majored in English with a minor in writing. In 2015, Tareq graduated from the University of Rutgers School of Law in Newark, NJ. America Hates Us, “is a contemporary lifestyle brand that reflects the current landscape of politics, health, and socio-economics” (AHU Website). The brand is a special form of activism. It helps give survivors of sexual assault a voice to be heard. He started the brand with his sister at her boutique firm that specializes in intellectual property. His resiliency and his drive connected him with celebrities such as Lena Waithe and Victor Cruz to help push the mission of the company.

Talk about what you do as the Co-founder of the America Hates Us Brand.: As one of the co-founders, I provide the language for anything “AHUS” related, do the P.R., organize events and fundraising drives and handle customer relations including orders and questions. Busy, the other co-founder, is the brand’s designer and manages the website. He also handles anything related to visuals (photoshoots, advertising). 
How did this brand come about? Why the name “America Hates Us”?: The idea of starting a brand came about right before the 2016 election. I was in the last few months of my criminal law clerkship in NJ and my best friend Busy approached me about starting street wear brand. We agreed to put a socially conscious spin to it. Early on, I  recognized that Trump would win and there’d be plenty material to work from. Though the country elected the first black president prior, we were nowhere close to having our first woman president. The country is filled with hate but the hate against women is the highest  (more specific black women but that’s another topic for another article). We decided to play off of Trump’s red “Make America Great Again” cap because it had become the rolling slogan that had captured white America. We understood it however to be nostalgia only for privileged white, heterosexual men and no one else. Thus, we mimicked the hat and made our own version “Make America Hate Again” in the same red trucker hat mold. After he won the election, sales of the hat increased exponentially. From there, we knew we had something bubbling and after more ideas developed. 
– The name has a double meaning. The US stands for “us” the marginalized (black, brown, women, differently-abled, lgbtqia communities, the poor, Muslim, immigrants, etc.) This country has a long track record of which group(s) to hate or ignore. Therefore, the clothing and it’s messages are made with those in mind. We recognize the “us” aren’t represented or poorly represented and we accept the responsibility to provide the proper representation. The second meaning stands for the “United States” or united people. And America has capitalized on having us all divided instead of together. White supremacy has no need or want to have us band together and the sooner we recognize that and assemble together, the sooner we can defeat the systemic white supremacy that exists. 
white lies matter.
When did you realize that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?: At eight years old I knew I wanted to be an attorney but knew that I also wanted to do a few things first before that happened. I’ve been an entrepreneur (or “hustler”) since an early teen. I understood the basics of supply and demand so it was easy to transfer those skills as an adult. Find or create something people want and be the only one that can get it to them. 
Why is Black entrepreneurship important?: Black entrepreneurship is important because “rooting for everyone black” is important. Too many non-black labels and industries are profiting off the black dollar with no agenda to give back to black or brown communities. Nor do they have any interest in issues that most effect those communities. We figured we could do what others wouldn’t. Hence, 20% of proceeds goes to nonprofits like the ACLU, Planned Parenthood and the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault. (We’ve also raised a lot of money for other organizations: GEMS, Antigua and Barbuda Progressive Society, The Inanna Project in D.C., hurricane survivors in P.R., etc.). Black entrepreneurship is also important because part of being black is being creative, making your own way and utilizing the tools that are unique and innate to Black people. 
Because your brand is empowering activism, why is it important for Black people to speak up and out about things that are happening in this country?: It’s important for all people to speak up (especially BP) because like MLK said: “The hottest place in hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.” Too many of our heroes stood up and spoke out for us to be idle. However, as impassioned as I am (or like to be), starting a protest or leading a movement isn’t for everyone. Nonetheless, we can all do our part to create social change on even the smallest scales. (Ex. addressing your friends that discriminate against women or objectify them; attending engagements of cultures, other than your own, experiencing persecution; volunteering your time to others less fortunate, etc.)
What has been challenging about running a business? What are some successes of running a business?: The most challenging thing about managing the brand is being patient. Everyday we have to remind ourselves that progress takes time and that we should take stock in our accomplishments rather than dwell on what we haven’t done at the moment. 
– Methods for running a successful business are communication, swallowing your ego and patting yourself on the back every so often. Working backwards, as just mentioned, it’s important to review your accomplishments before you become too critical of what you missed or failed to execute. Swallowing your ego is important because you don’t know everything so it doesn’t hurt to reach out to others in the same field (or different fields) and ask for advice or help. You’ll be surprised to find out how many people genuinely want to see you win. And communication with your team is vital. It’s important to get on the same page with roles and responsibilities. Find out what you’re good at and become better at it so you can allow your partner or team to master their own skill(s). Unnecessary to have more than one cook in the pot. 
What advice do you have for young, Black professionals looking to start their own business?:  Know your audience. Initially, I got bogged down with trying to please everyone because I wanted the brand to connect with the masses. Quickly enough, I realized that was the wrong approach because it was an impossible task. Instead, I focused more on recognizing what my core audience wanted and aimed to deliver to them. It was more important for me to have a returning customer, supporter, follower, etc. over a new one. We’ve had so many returns buyers to our website and it’s because we made it a principle to please them first.
Anything else you want readers to know?: Two things: One, figure out what you want to do then follow someone already doing it and ask them for advice on how they got started and what hiccups they encountered along the way. Mentorship is invaluable so it’s important to find one, even if you’re getting it from afar. Recognize the bigger picture and don’t let your ego get in your way. And Two, be relentless. Lena Waithe, Elizabeth Acevedo, Victor Cruz, Mahogany Browne, Blogxilla, Scottie Beam, Roya Marsh, et al. aren’t wearing my pieces by accident. I had to pursue these people. I had to let them know who I was and what the brand stood for. Do what you need to do, contact them on social media, show up to their events, find a mutual party that may be able to get you in contact with them. Because these were people that I admired and I believed would represent the brand in the best way, the effort was all worth it. But keep in mind also that nothing is guaranteed and you may hear 99 “NOs” before you hear your first “yes.” Best not to keep a tally.


Follow America Hates Us on Social Media:

Twitter/Instagram: @americahatesus; Facebook:


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Hate Tee (Zoé Samudzi)

DaNaē Grubbs, MS ’15

DaNaē Grubbs, 27, is a native of Peoria, Illinois. DaNaē has been my best friend since we were in the 6th grade. I am super proud of all she has accomplished. She is the traveling Queen who I  aspire to be. DaNaē received her bachelor’s degree in computer science from North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University (NCAT), a historically Black college/university in Greensboro, North Carolina in 2012. In 2015, she graduated from Syracuse University with a master’s degree in Telecommunications and Network Management. She currently lives in San Antonio, Texas where works as a Senior Consultant for Booz Allen. Booz Allen Hamilton is a management consulting firm that’s been around over 100 years with 25,000 employees throughout the United States and overseas. The firm is headquartered outside of Washington, D.C. and the largest client is the federal government. In her spare time, she volunteers at a local middle school in San Antonio and enjoys reading and exploring the world. DaNaē has always been an advocate for Black women to pursue STEM fields having been in many STEM related community programs back in Peoria in her youth and in college as a member of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). She’s been able to attend conferences for these organizations to learn more and grow with the STEM field.

 Please describe what you do as a Senior Consultant for Booz Allen.: As a Senior Consultant, I lead the IT infrastructure and operations for an interactive multimedia and gaming team. My team creates interactive and immersive products (Virtual Reality Apps, iPad Apps) and I ensure they have the appropriate hardware, software, and IT infrastructure to thrive in their creativity of these products.

What made you decide that this job was the one for you?: It appeared (and is) more challenging than the role I had at the time. It also provided me an opportunity to have ownership. I’ve always worked in supporting roles, and I wanted to step up and lead with more accountability. To date, I’ve really stretched and grown as a leader with this role. My tech skills have also expanded.

Talk about your experience in STEM fields in college and grad school.: I had an amazing STEM experience in college. I was surrounded by people who looked like me because I attended an HBCU and was also very heavily involved in the National Society of Black Engineers. I was always in the company of peers who who would burn the midnight oil to ensure we all excelled and ultimately graduated with our STEM degrees.

Why is it important as a Black woman to be in a STEM field?: It’s important to become and set the new standard of what’s typically been seen as the face and representation of the STEM fields. Representation really does matter. I always find a reoccuring volunteer STEM activity to engage in with minority students. My goal is to always be an inspiration of what they can achieve and even surpass one day.

Why should other Black women seek STEM fields?: There’s plenty of opportunity for any black woman that has curiosity, interest or love for STEM. There is no shortage or limitations of what Black women can do to shift this industry. Our diverse and creative inputs are critical to the future of STEM. Come on!

What advice would you give to a young Black women looking to have a career in STEM?: Find someone that is doing what you aspire to do and/or is where you would like to be! Ask them for advice, mentorship, and support.

Be willing to take risks and try opportunities that may scare you and/or may not be of immediate interest to you. You may discover an area you love!

Find a support system (friends, mentors) of people who are also in the STEM field. It won’t be an easy journey and support is necessary to keep thriving!

Switching gears, you are a travel QUEEN! Talk about what traveling means to you and why it’s important for Black people to travel. How does it make you feel?: Traveling is freedom to me! This world is huge and to know that I have the ability to go wherever whenever I want (when resources permit) feels liberating and empowering. It’s so important to be acquainted with other cultures. America is filled with many people not from here, it’s easier and comforting to relate with someone when you’ve been exposed to their way of life (country, customs, language, etc). You also become more open minded and understanding of varying perspectives.

Anything else you want readers to know?: #WakandaForever

Follow DaNaē on twitter: @DaNaeGrubbs



Jonathan Mcgee, GSPM, MPS ’15

Jonathan Mcgee, 25, is a native of Chicago, Illinois. I had the pleasure of meeting Jonathan when he was an incoming freshman at Western Illinois University and I was junior in college. I am so proud of the person Jonathan has developed into but I always knew he was going to take the world in his hands. Jonathan is a graduate of Western Illinois University. He received his bachelor’s degree in political science and law enforcement and justice administration in 2013. In 2015, he received his master’s degree in political management from The George Washington University. He currents lives in the DMV area working as a Senior Marketing Director in the Graduate School of Political Management at The George Washington University in Washington D.C.

As the Senior Marketing Director in the Graduate School of Political Management at The George Washington University, what are the roles of your position?: As Senior Marketing Director at the Graduate School of Political Management, I oversee the development and execution of the marketing/recruitment strategy for the first and foremost school of applied politics, legislative affairs, strategic public relations, and global advocacy. I am responsible for managing the recruitment team, a $450,000 budget, our online partner Pearson Embanet, Sponsors/partners, digital/paid advertising and media campaigns, and overall school impact.

How did you know that this position is something you wanted to do? : I did not know I wanted to do it, I actually was originally the recruiter for GSPM, after I left Capitol Hill because I was offered a political appointment in the Obama Administration and did not make it through the vetting process. After doing a great job as recruiter, I was promoted.

When did you realize that politics interested you? Why is it important for Black people to understand the political climate?: I realized that I was interested in politics at Western Illinois University, when I met a mentor at the time, who had ran for Mayor and told me that we had so much opportunity in the political space as African Americans. I also realized that government and policy was the way that I can truly enact change for my community back home, therefore I switched my major and from there it was history. It is important for Black people to understand and participate in government and politics because first and foremost we pay taxes and that money goes to ensuring lawmakers represent us. Furthermore, every policy passed has an impact on our lives, our families lives, and our ability to economically sustain ourselves. There are unjust laws everyday that protect law enforcement when they killed unarmed black Americans, or the recent tax bill that puts corporate tax cuts on the backs of Black people, or the gutting of the voting rights act which bolstered voter suppression.

Talk about how you got the position of spearheading GSPMs efforts to increase diversity in politics? What exactly do you do in that role?: I started the our diversity in politics initiative once I became Senior Marketing Director, and realize that if we wanted government to reflect the polices that we care about, it must look like us. Therefore, I sought out to increase African American, Hispanic, Asian, women, and international student representation which I successfully achieved. Our Fall class had 12% African American, 11% Hispanic, 4% Asian, 50% women almost double the university-wide average.

How does working to strengthen communities make you feel?: It is my passion. I feel good knowing that I am empowering people of color to change their current political situation, and fight for the issues they care about. In addition, my work gives a voice to the voiceless, which is important because we have been silent for way too long.

What advice would you give someone who is looking to get into politics?: The advice I would give to someone interested in getting into politics is the following:

1.) Develop Your Brand: Perception is Everything Reality is Nothing

2.) Be Proactive, Not Reactive: Politics is a contact sport, it is more offense, than defense

3.) It is not about who you know, but who knows you. (I can know Barack Obama, but that does not mean he knows me!)

4.) Resource, Access, Network: What are your resources, who do you have access to, and who is in your network.

5.) It is not just about vertical network, but your lateral network: People On Your level, can help you more than people higher than you!

6.) It is not about what you can get, but what you can give!

7.) C.P.R (Consistency, Persistence, Resilience

Anything else you want me to know?: I am starting a political incubator for diverse political talent named G.O.A.L, and the aim will be to develop and train the next generation of diverse political leaders to ensure our government reflects the nation.

Jonathan can be contacted at:

Twitter: @JonathanJMcGee

Instagram: @JonathanMcGee

FB: @Jonathan McGee

Linkedin: Jonathan McGee



Natilie Williams, M.S.

Natilie Williams, 24, is a native of Chicago, Illinois and a member of the greatest sorority on the planet, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Incorporated. She received her bachelors degree in Integrative Public Relations from Central Michigan University in 2014 and her masters degree in Intercultural Communication from Illinois State University in 2016. She currently works in corporate America as an IT Business Analysis and is a traveling, professional public speaker. Natilie’s Nat Will, Speak! has taken off over the last couple years. She specializes in speaking about student leadership and has already made a name for herself. She’s been asked to present and be a keynote speaker at numerous conferences and workshops across the nation. When she isn’t working hard, Nat takes pride in the fact that she still knows all of the words to the Preamble of the US Constitution.

Please describe what you do at your full-time job.

The IT Business Analyst is essentially the middle person to assist with communication between business areas and developers to make tech system changes. It’s a pretty interesting position and I am constantly learning more about the field.

How did you decide that this is the job you wanted to do?

Honestly, this position has been a blessing because it taught me early on that this path differs from my passion. My time in this position has allowed me to rethink my position since I now know what I want to do with mixing my speaking passion and profession. I have also had the chance to better strategize my goals with speaking. So the earlier you figure out what you don’t want to do, you’re one step closer to doing what it is exactly that you want to do.

Talk to me about Nat Will, Speak! Briefly describe how this came about?

Nat Will, Speak! is a play on my name, Natilie Williams. Nat Will, Speak! also has a bit of a hidden meaning in the title. The commas and the exclamation mark make it command. So in my mind, it is a command from God for me to speak. I realized the value and power in my story of losing my Mom at 13 years old, succeeding academically and professionally, and graduating without any debt for my two degrees. I found the value in not only sharing my story, but assisting my audience with creating a tangible plan to reach their goals as well.

How does public speaking make you feel? How do you believe you benefit others?

Public speaking makes me feel alive and purposeful. I know that this is part of my purpose. I find value in not only sharing my story, but also empowering others to own their story and help others along the way.

Because you work full-time and you’re a full-time public speaker, how do you make time for yourself?

I make intentional time to do the things that bring me happiness. Going to the gym most mornings, lighting my day with a morning prayer, and finding time for my favorite shows are just a few ways that I prioritize my time. I’m all about intentionality with not only being the best version of myself, but making sure that I am happy. We hear a lot about self-care, which is important, but I don’t want my happiness to only come from comfort foods and vacations. Instead, I make sure my happiness comes from daily working my passion with speaking, being able to rest after speaking, and finding quiet moments to reflect .

You’ve been building your brand. Why is it important for Black women to create a brand?

My favorite episode of The Wire is when the main character Marlo screams, “My name is my name.” This quote has always stuck out to me, because our names/brands deserve to represent who we are, what we have to offer through our purpose, and how we carry ourselves. My brand of Nat Will, Speak! really showcases my love for speaking, passion for constant self-improvement, and my own journey of growth. Our brand as Black women allows us to take ownership of our stories.

What advice do you have for people who may be interested in public speaking?
I would say to practice the actual craft, find something that sets you apart from other speakers, and find someone that does it better than you in that moment. All of these things will allow you to prepare your level of readiness to go full force with the skillset, unique selling point, and a circle of mentors in the field.

Anything else you want me to know?
I’m at such an amazing transitional point in my life and as things shift, I see my internal growth. Speaking has allowed me to heal in so many areas of my life, so as much as I empower my audience through speaking, I’m actually empowering myself at the same time.

If you want to book Natilie for your next speaking engagement, contact her at:

Website: www.natwillspeak.com

Twitter: @NatWillSpeak

Instagram: @NatWillSpeak

Facebook: Natilie Williams (@NatWillSpeak)





Charae Jackson, “The Hair Hero” Licensed Cosmetologist

Charae Jackson “The Hair Hero”, 28 is a native of Peoria, Illinois. She is the owner and operator of The HeadQuarters Salon and Shoppe in Peoria. (YES, OWNER!!!!!!). She specializes in extensions, custom wigs, color, and much more. Charae has grown her business exponentially and sells jewelry, accessories, and hair products as well. Her biological sister, Mikayla, also works at the shop as a professional make-up artist. Charae has a large number of clients so booking far enough in advance is beneficial. Besides Charae’s funny and outgoing personality, she is very professional and understands the importance of grinding as a successful business woman. When you walk into her shop, you’re walking into a warm, safe place where you literally let your hair down and be free. Though she started her professional career in 2009, specializing in hair is not new for Charae. She’s been doing hair since she was in the 6th grade and has more than perfected her craft. ❤ *Of course she’s the one who does my sew-ins! I refuse to allow anyone else do my weaves and YES, I buy my hair from her. *

When did you know that you wanted to become a licensed beautician?

In high school being a hair stylist was always my “backup plan”. I used to say I wanted to be a lawyer but if that didn’t work out I’d do hair. After graduating high school (2008) I wasn’t really proactive about attending college, had a menial job that paid my lil’ bills and I was cool with that. But I knew there was more to life than just paying bills that’s when my backup plan became my life plan.

How does doing hair make you feel? What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Doing hair makes me feel like I have super powers hints the name “The HairHero”. The most rewarding part about my career is making people happy.

What does professionalism mean to you?
It is one of the most important qualities to have in any form of business, in my opinion. It takes patience and confidence. Having the ability to remain calm in high pressure situations  is something I believe to be a talent. It definitely requires grace.
In your opinion, why is it important for Black women to have a beautician that they can relate to?
I think think often times as black women, we are taught to keep our heads down and keep quiet because the moment you open your mouth your deemed ghetto or over the top. In a salon, in MY salon, we are super stars ⭐️. We deserve that feeling and I try to deliver it to the best of my ability.
There’s a stigma that Black women don’t have “good hair”. What are some hair care tips you have for Black women?
All hair is beautiful in its own right. Get familiar with your hair! Do be afraid of your hair because it is an extension of you. Everything doesn’t work for everybody so it is important to find what works best for you.
Talk about how you started your brand and your business. What kind of hair do you sell?

I started my extension business mainly because I was tired of clients, friends, and family (including myself) getting duped spending hundreds of dollars on trash hair that only lasted one install with constant care. So, I began to research. I learned there were companies mixing synthetic fibers with human hairs and ultimately doubling even tripling inventory, bring down the price and raise sales. The quality in the product is low grade and doesn’t last long. With continued research I found the holy grail. Companies that provide RAW HAIR. This type of hair is COMPLETELY unprocessed often times not even cleansed. There’s no mixing of fibers or even donors, so the inventory is not as high. Naturally the price is higher but the DEMAND never went away. Lasting for years and costing in most cases double than the master mixed competitors. That’s where the phrase “Cheap Hair ain’t good and Good Hair ain’t cheap” comes from, I believe.

Before having my own company, I sold hair for another company thus making them rich. I needed to do my own thing. $$

With savings and loans from close family members who believed in me, I was able to get my full inventory. With the help of my boyfriend whose a freelance graphic designer, I came up with a name (which was easy since I just used my nick name) and logo. He built my website www.thehairherosvirginhair.com from the ground up. I conducted my own photo shoot with my iPhone. My team (close family members) and I cleansed, measured, and tagged all of the hair and we took off from there.

Different textures of the RAW Virgin Hair
Custom Wig by The Hair Hero


Custom Wig by The Hair Hero
What advice would you give someone who wanted to start their own business? Any tips on working for yourself?
Be consistent and give 100%. Hard work beats talent. Don’t worry about what others are doing. Make sure you write down your goals! Self doubt will happen but push trough. There’s enough room for all of us.
Tekita Bankhead, RN, BSN, M.S.

Tekita Bankhead, 28, is a native of Columbus, Mississippi and a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated. She completed her Bachelor’s degree in Nursing (BSN) in 2012 (She is a RN!) at The University of Mississippi for Women. In 2014, she completed her Master of Science degree in Counselor Education with an Emphasis in Student Affairs Administration. She is currently employed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Counseling Center where she is a Specialist in Education where she co-chairs the Alcohol and Other Drug Outreach Team and implements the alcohol prevention program for first-year students (ACE IT) and works with the National Alcohol Screening Day. She also oversees several graduate and undergraduate AOD peer educators and teach a course in Peer Facilitation for Alcohol Prevention. Her research and presentation experiences focus on mental health, social justice, effective coping skills, race-related trauma in Black students, and culturally specific outreach and prevention. When she’s not being awesome at work, she listens to music and thrives in the fact that many of her favorite musical artists start with the letter B – Beyoncé, Brandy, and Boosie. She’s a BOSS!

Why did you choose to go into higher education if you went to school for nursing?

When I look back on the reasons I initially went into nursing, I think I went into for the promise of financial reward and honestly, for the challenge of conquering what seemed to be the hardest major at the university. During the last few semesters of my program, I found myself oddly unfulfilled with the thought of becoming a nurse. Through a student job and a wonderful mentor, I was introduced to the concept of Student Affairs. After a summer doing an internship in Greek Life, I was certain that Student Affairs was the field for me. So during my last semester of the program, I did a secret graduate school search so that my nursing instructors wouldn’t characterize me as apathetic or unmotivated. When the rest of my classmates announced their respective post-graduation nursing jobs, I announced that I was enrolling in the Student Affairs graduate program and beginning my career as a Residence Director at Mississippi State University. The rest is history. To this day, I wouldn’t have changed a thing about my path.

As a Black woman professional, what have been some challenges in your professional career?

One of the most significant challenges I had in my professional career was dealing with instances of incompetent supervisors. I have been fortunate to have amazing mentors for several years. Because of that, I had high expectations for supervisors. In my first few professional positions, that simply was not the case. I had one particular supervisor who was insecure, unethical, and downright malicious. Once I coped with the trauma of that experience, I recognized that I learned several characteristics that I would be intentional about never recreating.

What advice would you give to other Black women who may want to work in higher education?

Maintain your authenticity above all. Our field prides itself on being a progressive and accepting field. Force them to put their policies, politics, and PAY where their mouth is. Make them remain true to the mission with your bold existence. Make them adjust to you. That way, you will always have your dignity and integrity — the truest cornerstones of professionalism in my opinion.

What is important to you as a young professional?

What is most important to me is ensuring that I take as many opportunities as I can to honor all of the talents God has given, not only the ones that happen to be paying my bills at the moment. I don’t believe that we are put on Earth to be good at only one thing. This is why professional development is such a priority for me. As long as I am on this earth, I will use every single drop of magic I can squeeze into my surroundings. That way, I’ll be sure that I have fulfilled my purpose and glorified God in the process.

What are some things you do for self-care?

I LOVE writing so I journal quite a bit. I have separate journals for different things; One for my prayers, one for my poetry, one for my ideas, one for romantic mushy things, the list goes on and on. I also love crafting and traveling. I promise myself at least 3-4 trips per year where I am not working so that I can relax, let loose, and keep making memories across the world.

Tell me about your blog. How can people check it out?

The Pedestal Project is an online space dedicated to uplifting Black women through restoration, validation, and affirmation.  Validating your experiences, restoring your spiritual wholeness, and affirming your divine gifts. In a world where Black women are overlooked and undervalued, my aim is to reposition us ALL on a pedestal. Not to be deemed infallible or pristine but as human and necessary. HERE is where Black women are unapologetic, rightfully admired and consistently revered with nothing to prove.

The full website launches on Valentine’s Day! Get ready for blog posts about our experiences as Black women, a recognition series for Black women entrepreneurs, scholarly submissions of Black Feminist fabulousness, developmental resources for holistic wellness, and so much more!!
In the meantime, please take a moment to like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram/Twitter (@pedestalproject) so that you don’t miss a thing!

Anything else you want people to know?

That I think Adjust Yo Crown is a DOPE and necessary space and to look out for more collaborations from us in the future!


Tristen B. Johnson, M.S. Ed.

January’s spotlight of young, Black people begins with myself. Here’s the thing, I originally was going to start with two other people but when I reached out to my friend, Nathan Randle (whose interview is below) about him being my first feature, he suggested that I feature myself, first. Here was his reasoning. I can’t simply highlight others doing great things without giving myself some recognition for the work I’ve put in over the years. I need to acknowledge that I’ve made much progress in my adult life and I have people who look up to me. So, without further ado, here it is.


Tristen, 28, is a native of Peoria, Illinois. She completed her bachelor’s degree at Western Illinois University in Journalism and African American Studies in 2012. After graduating, she attended Southern Illinois University Carbondale for graduate school. She received her master’s degree in 2014 from SIUC with a degree in Education Administration in Higher Education with an emphasis in College Student Personnel. Tristen’s career after graduate school started as a Hall Director in residence life at two public universities in Illinois. After three years of working full-time in residence life, Tristen transitioned into working full-time in diversity education at one of the top research universities in Wisconsin in 2017. During her professional career, she began working on her Ph.D. in Educational Foundations in Higher Education at one of the public universities she worked for previously.

So, tell me, what do you do besides working full-time and working on your doctorate?

-Currently, I work a part-time job at the mall. Cost of living in Wisconsin in way higher than any place that I’ve lived. Working another job isn’t ideal for me but, you know, I have to do what I have to do.

When do you have time for anything else? Seems like you’re extremely occupied.

-You ever heard the saying, “people make time for things they want to make time for”? I make time for me, believe that. I love traveling so I plan my travel months in advance to make sure I’m able to go. I recently got back to my first love of writing which is how this blog came to fruition. Since then, I’ve been writing every day for release. I schedule time to talk to my parents and my best friends. They help keep me on track and remind me that I’m human. Though it is often hard to find time for the friends I made since moving to Wisconsin, we are intentional about finding time to go out or have a chill day inside.

What made you decide to pursue your doctorate degree, especially at a young age?

-That’s a very loaded question. When I started my program in August 2015, I was 25 and turning 26 that October. I had no real reason as to why I rushed into it besides me thinking about not having any children and this would be the perfect time to get it out the way. Here’s the thing, I did not think it all the way through and I didn’t prepare myself the way I should have. I didn’t have a topic that I wanted to study at the end for my dissertation like most of my classmates. But that was the past. In fall 2018, I’ll be starting my comprehensive exams and if by God’s grace I pass my exams, I’ll be able to start my dissertation process. I’m currently thinking about writing about the current program I run for my full-time job because there’s so much data I can pull from.

Is working in higher education the career field you want to stay in?

-My tunnel vision says, ‘yes’. I’m hoping that after I complete my Ph.D. I’ll have a stronger foundation in social justice and diversity that I can use to keep moving up in that area at a college or university. I really enjoy this work, though it can be taxing on my mental health, I believe I am making a difference for the greater good.

-However, I have two other passions. I love writing and hoping that one day I’ll get the courage to finish this fiction book I started in July 2015 and publish it. After that, nothing should stop me from continuing to write and then I’ll become a famous author. I also love public speaking so I’ve been trying to find ways to put on presentations on various topics to improve. If I could find a way to make a career out of that, I definitely would.

Any advice for younger Black people about professional careers?

-Let go of stereotype threat and know that you can accomplish anything. This country wants to see you fail simply because you were born Black. Don’t give them a reason to feel as if they proved themselves right. Connect with a mentor you trust to help you develop a resume and gain experience. I’m an advocate for college, however, I understand that not everyone has a desire for college and that is okay! Find something you are passionate about and become an expert. Write your goals down and steps to how you feel you can achieve those goals.

What advice would you give someone who wants to travel but may feel as if they can’t afford it?

-You make time and budget for things you want. So, if you want to travel, figure it out! Money is always a factor when I make a decision to travel so I try to make sure I plan accordingly. Last year, I went to Jamaica. We had approximately 8 months to pay off the trip. Trips on payment plans are always the best because they help you budget and hold you accountable. In May of this year, I’ll be going to Cancun and I’m on a payment plan for that.

-Now, sometimes I’m spur of the moment. In 2016, my best friend wanted to go to Europe and we had to book flights fairly quickly. So, we just did it. This past October for my birthday, my friends and I planned a trip to Mexico City and we didn’t have to come that much out of pocket for it. I’m headed to London next week, I had to book that flight pretty quickly. There wasn’t much time for me to prepare for it so I cleared my bank account to go. Now, that is NOT what I suggest anyone do because the month of November was rough because of that.

There’s still so many other countries I want to see that I pray God allows me to see one day. If I’m not traveling internationally, I love traveling domestically. My favorite city in the U.S. is New Orleans.

Name all the places you’ve been and name the places you want to go.

-Wow, really? -__-

Domestically: Illinois (obviously), Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Indiana, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Arizona, Alabama, Mississippi, Nevada, California, Colorado (for a layover so I don’t really count it but oh well), and New York.

I still want to go to the other states just to say I’ve been. But Hawaii and Alaska are definitely on my bucket list.

Internationally: The Bahamas, Jamaica, Mexico, Hungary, Germany (hated it!), Amsterdam. And like I said, I’ll be headed to England this month (January 17-24). I think we may get the chance to go to France while we are over there, so I’m hoping that happens!

After I get my Ph.D. I told my friends who I went to Mexico with for my birthday last year that we are going to Tahiti to celebrate. I’m 100% serious about this. I still want to go to Dubai, Spain, anywhere in South Africa, back to Amsterdam because I was only there for 16 hours when I went and didn’t get to explore the city. Bangkok, Turks and Caicos, Cuba, Italy, and the Virgin Islands. But I’m open to going anywhere.

God only grants us ONE life. We have ONE chance to get up and do something with the gift we presently have.


Nathan Randle
Nathan Randle


Nathan Randle, 25, is a native of Bolingbrook, Illinois. He is a graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale where he received his bachelor’s degree in Finance and Accounting in 2014. He currently lives in Charlotte, North Carolina where he is the Assistant Vice President of Operational Losses at Synchrony Financial. Aside from monitoring the risk management aspect of Synchrony Financial, Nathan has his hands in many different avenues as a young entrepreneur. He currently is in the real estate business and owns multiple buildings in the Chicago area (people owe him rent at the 1st of every month), he runs a non-profit charity called N. Finite Hands Charity based out of Chicago, and he does career coaching and consulting. He is branding the N. Finite name so all of his business ventures outside of his current full-time job, are all under the “N.Finite umbrella”. (N. Finite Hands Charity, N. Finite Properties, and N. Finite Solutions). Lastly, Nathan is a world traveler having branded the trips he takes as part of his “tour”. His “On Tour” brand is coming off the ground as he has developed t-shirts crewnecks, and hoodies with his slogan on them and recently created an instagram page showing multiple people who have bought some of his merchandise and wearing it on their trips.

Talk, briefly about how you became an Assistant Vice President at a young age, what did it take to get you there?

God, first and foremost. Networking and probably just drive. I think like the biggest word for me is being “intentional” so just taking advantage of every opportunity. I think the biggest thing I’ve learned in the past two years is when you meet people and you build relationships…build those relationships. You might not necessarily see how it will benefit you right then and there but somehow and some way or another it is definitely going to benefit you.

I was on program with GE in a rotation in Chicago, a lady in Connecticut during my first rotation told me I need to meet somebody in Chicago who works for the company. I met the lady and she said she was leaving to go work for Synchrony. A year later, I was still keeping in contact with her after I moved to Connecticut. When it was time for me to come off program, she asked me what I had going next. I told her I was trying to figure it out and long story short, she put me in contact with the people in risk and here I am.

So, as Vice President, what do you do?

I manage the company’s losses. We are a financial institution (a credit card company) so someone might have received a letter in the mail that says “0 interest for x amount of years if you open this card”. Well, there was a typo in our letter to potential customers and it was supposed to say, “12 months 0 interest” instead it said “122 months”. Because customers got that letter, we have to honor it. So, everything we could have made off of the customer after 12 months, I have to track what that is and then figure out who got the letter, did a whole county get the letter, etc.

Have you ever felt like you wanted to give up? If so, how did you overcome it? If not, what kept you going?

I’ve definitely been in situations where I want to give up but most of the time those are the toughest situations at that point in my life. What keeps me going is realizing that the last time I felt like something was the toughest thing in my life and remembering that I got through it. So, I try to keep that mindset, “I’m going to get through this one and something is going to come down the road that’s tougher than this” but all of those situations build you up to be to the point to take on more.

What advice would you give someone who wants to be in your position right now? Like, your company or career goals.

Figure out what you want to do and it doesn’t even have to be specific. It’s like going to a city that you know but going to a new location in that city. So, I know what direction I need to head towards and as I get closer to it, stuff will start looking familiar and I’ll know where I need to be. That’s the way it works in life. People think they have to know exactly what they want to do. To be honest,  I don’t know what I want to do in life but I know the direction I want to head in. So, I get myself involved in those type of things that are headed in that direction and from that the pieces of the puzzle seem to fit where they need to be.

What are some tools that people will need to get to where you are now?

A college degree-an undergraduate degree but I really think it’s about the network. A lot of times when you are applying for jobs, employers already know who they are going to give the job to. But you gotta go through the formalities of having 100 people apply just so you can give this job to the person you were already going to give it to. Obviously, you have to meet the job requirements for whatever position you are applying for but outside of that you gotta network. People think that networking within work is different than life but it’s the same. If you have a friend that only hits you up when they need something, you see that person coming. But if you have a friend that keeps that relationship going when they don’t need anything, when they do need something it’s a little bit more genuine. That’s how networking is. Not going to people in your company when a role opens up, it’s getting to know them beforehand. Now, they are starting to take interest in what you have going on.

You need to network with not just the senior people because they are going to be on their way out, make sure to network with the people who are next in line.
What advice would you give someone who wants to own their own building one day?

Save. Save and find someone who is already doing it. Often times we want to reinvent the wheel and we feel like if we go for help we are not doing it on our own. I literally looked at the people who were in the places that I wanted to be and talked to them. You don’t have to do everything that they tell you but pull from multiple resources to create your overall portfolio of what you want to do. Everyone I talked to for my building all own single-family properties. Some of the stuff was applicable but I wanted to own a multi-unit (talking about risk-I wanted to diversify my risk by having four tenants versus just one) Save, find the people who are where you want to be and ask questions, and from there you have the capitol everything else will fall in line. Go for deals that make sense. The numbers have to make sense before you get the property. I’ve run into a lot of people who have had number issues and run into this problem when they get their property and now they are losing money or have to pay out of pocket for the mortgage. You’re in it for a profit on a month-to-month basis but on the backend your tenants are paying off your building.

What inspired you to travel and your brand “On Tour”?

My older sister moved around a lot for work and by seeing her do that it was natural to me. She also moved from place-to-place. I started traveling for school or for family. I like being in a new place and I like experiencing new culture. I then started traveling for work and I might stay for an extra day and that helped kick start my travel. As far as branding, I’m just trying to push myself and the people around me. Before I go out and spend money on Nike or Ralph Lauren, I’m going to brand myself. My mindset is: I’m traveling more than most people around me, Off the top, they are fascinated by the traveling on my social media…why not post a picture in my gear so it becomes synonymous. I want to build my brand and for two the shirts I get made are done by a small business guy I went to highschool with. Before I go to a place where they are going to charge me a lot less to make my shirt, they are already eating. But I have somebody I went to school with on a smaller scale. Then maybe one day he gets to be a larger business like Nike, he’s going to remember that “Nate was messing with me when I was a mom and pop shop out of the garage”.

Same thing with you, Tristen, personally, I met you on the graduate school level. Now, you’re about to be ‘Dr. Johnson’. You’re traveling the world and doing your thing, I just hope when you get to the places that you’re going, you’ll be like “Yo, the things I was trying do, Nate supported and was around”. Building my brand and building those around me and sharing those platforms.

How does traveling make you feel?

It feels really good. It’s addicting. You’re constantly on the go and finding new things. Come to find out people really don’t travel like that. You have to find wheels and deals. I know people who are a lot less well off than I am and pay a lot more than I do to travel. Even though I’m going to all these places, by any means I’m making it happen economically. I’ll drive somewhere if another person is coming to split the cost of a rental versus flying. And talk about network. A lot of times if I go to a city and know someone, instead of getting a hotel (unless it’s for the job), I’m going to stay with that person. It also helps for you to ensure your people are out here doing what they are supposed to be doing and making sure they are well off for when I may want to pull up on them. The fridge is full and I have a place to lay my head.

It’s fun. You do these different things and it’s conversation starters. You learn from traveling. You think people are the same everywhere you go and they’re not. You just have to go there and then you will experience it: accents, culinary, the world has different things they are famous for. There’s always something to talk about.

Anything else you want readers to know?

Some advice I got when I came out of college: you’re too young to make a mistake that you can’t bounce back from. The first time I heard it, I thought it was an age type of thing. But it’s really a mindset and mentality. As long as you are living, you have time to get it right.

Also, you have to let people tell you no. Sometimes we psych ourselves out of opportunities because we think people may not have the time for something we want to do or need help with. Ask for what you want and if they tell you no keep it moving.