Thursday, March 31, 2011

Real Change

There are quite a few things about which I am VERY passionate, and EDUCATION is one of them. I have a tremendous amount of respect for teachers who care more about the education and enrichment of children than about the number of commas in their paychecks. I admire and appreciate those teachers who inspire our youth, push them to excellence, and provide the encouragement they need to become productive and successful individuals.

My tribute to history-making women wouldn’t be complete without me paying homage to an unsung hero, Monique Frierson, whose contributions to society could never be adequately compensated. She has unselfishly shared her wealth of knowledge, experience, and encouragement with hundreds of students over the years.

Monique grew up in the Los Angeles inner-city, approximately 5 minutes from Watts, California. She attended Fremont High School, and graduated with honors in 1995. According to Monique, she always had teachers and counselors who cared about her and kept her abreast of educational and career opportunities that were available to deserving Fremont students. For example, she was able to earn over 14 thousand dollars in scholarships, which, in addition to grants, allowed her to attend the University of Southern California almost entirely free. Monique also credits her family, church family, and teachers for encouraging her to think beyond the ghetto and reach for the stars. She says, “The ghetto was strong, but my support system was stronger.”

In college, Monique double majored in Spanish and Mandarin. Initially she had aspirations of becoming an interpreter, but soon changed her mind when she realized that it required a great deal of traveling outside of the country and didn’t offer the most attractive benefits. At a job fair at USC, she spoke with a Los Angeles Unified School District representative who encouraged her to consider a career in public education. That idea stuck with her, although it took her a while to actually pursue it.

Upon graduation from college, Monique explored her career options. She worked as a Spanish teacher at a Christian Middle School for one year, and then obtained a position at a Chinese-owned golf apparel company, where she was able to speak Mandarin on a daily basis. She really liked her fellow employees, but she eventually left the job because it literally stressed her out. It didn’t take her too long to decide that while corporate America is just right for some people, it wasn’t right for her. She had always thought that she could do well in and enjoy any career path she chose, but she realized that not everything is in God’s will. It was not meant for her to feel comfortable nor was it meant for her to excel in Corporate America.

Monique asked God for guidance. What would He have her to do? When she sat and examined her passions and strengths, she thought back to how important her teachers had been in her academic career. She remembered the support and encouragement that they had provided her, and knew that she wanted to give those same gifts to other young people. It only made sense for her to step back into the classroom.

She didn’t have her credential when she first started teaching, but LAUSD had a pre-intern program that allowed her to begin teaching immediately while she went to school twice a week from 4-7p to prepare for the Multiple Subject Assessment Test (MSAT), which is required in order to teach elementary school. Instead of going into the district intern program, which typically follows the pre-intern program, Monique attended California State University, Bakersfield to obtain her credential. Now that she was positively in the right career field, she aggressively pursued the necessary paperwork to ensure her continued employment with the district. As a result, the 9 month CSUB program was much more attractive to her than the 2 year district program. Ten years later, Monique is still teaching at the school she initially started with in Sylmar, CA…and she ABSOLUTELY LOVES IT.

Each morning before Monique begins her day teaching a class of minority 5th graders, she prays and asks God to allow her to be an expression of His love. She calls herself an “Ambassador for Christ,” and she asks that God speak through her and use her teaching and encouragement for His glory.

Monique’s work is never finished. Sometimes she can spend up to nine hours on a Saturday preparing assignments for her students or grading their papers. She is determined to give her students a thorough foundational understanding of reading, writing, science, and mathematics to equip them for future academic success. She is willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen. Their success makes her time commitment worth it.

One of Monique’s main goals each year is to instill values in her students because many of them don’t have a parental support system at home. A lot of the parents are so busy trying to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads that they don’t have the time, energy, or ability to focus on their children’s education. Monique makes it a point to stress the importance of having manners, being courteous, and respecting others because she sees these as fundamental elements of success.

Monique also tells her students the story of her upbringing and her ability to rise above stereotypes and achieve. She wants them to know that no matter what their situation, they can excel if they put their minds to it and work hard.

On a final note, I was blessed with an opportunity to volunteer in Monique’s classroom this past Black History Month. While I was there I could see just how much respect and admiration her students had for her. She couldn’t hide her passion for educating them. Her students were all obviously bright, well-mannered, and confident children, who were unafraid to answer my many questions. I loved that they were eager to ask me quite a few as well. I left her classroom feeling immensely proud and extremely happy that such a wonderful person stands before 30 students each day and gives them they keys to a bright and promising future. God’s light, shining through Monique (and countless other sincere Christian teachers), is bright enough to remove the darkness that plagues our world…and I thank Him for placing His vessels in a position to implement REAL CHANGE. It starts with the children.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Shooting Star

Avant-garde photographer and Los Angeles native Ebony Marmolejos started her own photography business, Essence by Ebony, in the latter part of 2010. She specializes in on-location headshots, wedding photography, senior portraits, newborn photography, family portraits, and boudoir shots. Her stellar portfolio speaks volumes about her God-given dexterity and her passion for capturing the essence of her subjects through her camera’s lenses. It is because of this that word about Essence by Ebony is spreading quickly throughout the Phoenix, Arizona area, where she currently resides with her husband and their 5 children.

For years, Ebony carried her camera with her everywhere she went and took pictures of anything and everything she could—just for the fun of it. She never considered starting her own business until her husband, Nector, who is also an amazing photographer, fervently encouraged her to seriously pursue it. After all, he felt that she had something very special. Nector’s urging was just what she needed to push her into action. She started advertising and marketing her business and pretty soon the inquiries started pouring in. She began shooting around the clock, allowing her work to speak for itself.

Although the work of Joel Grimes, Desiree Hayes, and Julie Harris inspires Ebony, her biggest motivation is the excitement of having the perfect shoot. The thought of being able to create a photograph that someone will love propels her to excellence.

Ebony is a perfectionist, to say the least. She will drive for 3 hours sometimes just scouting for the perfect spot. And with the architecture in Arizona being somewhat uniform, finding unique locales can be challenging, but that pushes her to work even harder to find them.

Before a photo shoot, Ebony schedules a consultation with her clients to find out exactly what they want for their pictures. She also asks the client what they would like for other people to think when they see their pictures. She takes that information, searches Google Images for possible looks the client might like, and emails the images to her client just to be sure that they are on the same page. Once she receives feedback, she almost always has an accurate idea of what kind of pictures she needs to take. She then uses her scouting prep work to determine where the shoot will take place.

So far, all of Ebony’s customer feedback has been extremely positive. Her clients often tell her that her pictures are the best they’ve ever had, which is amazing because just 5 short years ago Ebony didn’t believe that anyone would ever take her work seriously. She thought, “I’m JUST Ebony. I work in a call center. I’m JUST a mom.” As time passed, Ebony realized that she didn’t have to have any titles behind her name to be legit. She was more than just a call center worker…and more than just a mom. She was an extremely talented photographer with a creative voice—one that couldn’t be ignored.

Ebony says that God will move and shift earth to make your dream a reality if it is in His will. “God doesn’t part the red sea so that you can stand there and look at it. He parts it so that you can walk through.” For years Ebony stood admiring the road that God had cleared for her, questioning whether He had actually cleared it for her. She wondered whether the waters would swallow her whole if she took a step through them. It was when she finally stopped allowing her thoughts of fear and self-doubt to consume her that she developed the strength to step out on faith, move outside of her comfort zone, and walk into God’s blessing for her—where the rewards are endless.

Ebony’s advice to aspiring photographers is “Be your own #1 fan. No one should love your work more than you do. When you’re excited about your work others can’t help but to be excited as well…Someone’s going to be the next world-renowned photographer. Why can’t it be you? You have the potential to be just as good as the next person. If you’re even thinking that you want to be a photographer, JUST DO IT. Pick up a camera and shoot. Don’t put the camera down until you find what you like.”

In five years, Ebony hopes to have her own studio. Even though most of her shots are on-location, she wants to provide her clients with the option of taking in-studio shots as well so that they won’t have to use multiple photographers for their needs. It is her ultimate goal to be known as “THE professional studio to go to” in Arizona. She wants Essence by Ebony to be on the lips of everyone who is even considering having their pictures taken.

On a final note, I must say that Ebony is one of my dearest friends. She’s someone I’ve known my entire life, and whom I’ve always looked up to. She has always had her own unique style and she’s always been extremely creative. She literally breathes life into anything and everything that she touches. I admire her because she has finally taken her photography to the next level. I enthusiastically look forward to the day when her work is studied on the collegiate level and hangs from the walls of photography museums across the world. Her success is my success. Seeing her living her dreams inspires me to live mine as well.

I encourage you to check out her work and see exactly what I mean when I say that Ebony Marmolejos is a Shooting Star:

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Yolanda’s Gems for a Successful Marriage

Although I meet many women who are enthusiastic mothers, sadly it’s not very often that these same enthusiastic mothers are also enthusiastic wives. To hear how some of these ladies talk about their marriages or even to see how they interact with their husbands is disconcerting. So many couples seem miserable together and it scares me to think that they probably started off as excited, or almost as excited, about their spouses as I am about mine. Does being an involved and loving mother make me destined to a dull and lifeless marriage? Will my husband and I grow apart as the years pass? Is there any hope of us still being madly in love with each other 25 years from now? If there are things I can do to ensure a happy and successful marriage, what are they? For my sanity’s sake I had to find out.

I was recently speaking with a very good friend about how hard it is to balance school, work, parenting, taking time for myself, and being a wife. She reminded me that I have to keep my priorities aligned with the Word of God—my marriage is a ministry and it is the most important relationship for me to maintain, right behind my relationship with the Master, and right before my relationship with my children. Although it is tempting to focus on my career or my children or myself, I must give my relationship with my husband my all. God has called me to do that. If my priorities aren’t in line, I risk having the mundane and unfulfilling relationship that so many others have—and if my relationship isn’t glorifying the Lord, then what is the point?

That realization led me to my next endeavor…linking up with a mentor—a wife and mother whose priorities are aligned with God’s word—someone who could be an example for me. I opened myself up for whoever God would choose. Then, as He is known for doing, God allowed me to cross paths with Yolanda Jackson.

Within my first few minutes of getting to know Yolanda, I was in awe of the love and adoration with which she spoke about her family. I could tell that she was very proud of them and that they meant the world to her. She didn’t miss any opportunity to give God the glory for all that He had done and was doing in their lives. As we chatted, a man walked up to her, and I could see school-girl excitement in her eyes. They exchanged a few words, and when he walked away she said, “That was Mr. Jackson.” I couldn’t help but smile. It was the cutest thing. In that moment I knew that she possessed the secrets to a happy marriage—and I wanted her to pass them along to me.

Yolanda and Mr. Jackson met while she was a sophomore at Crenshaw High School, in Los Angeles, California. She was a majorette, and he was a football player. They immediately clicked, courted, and fell in love.

Their relationship had a few bumps when they reached adulthood, however. For example, it took a while for them to make it to the altar—and not because Yolanda wasn’t ready. Mr. Jackson gave her a friendship ring, followed by a promise ring. This was great, but next there was an “after promise ring,” followed by an engagement ring and then an “after engagement ring.” Yolanda laughed recalling it all. She knew that she wanted to be with him, but wasn’t quite sure why the rings hadn’t yet led to the wedding. She finally told him that she was going to have to explore other options. He assured her that she was who he wanted and shortly after that, they married. 30 years later, they’re still together—happily married. The following are the gems Yolanda attributes to the success of her marriage:

• Make sure God is at the head of your marriage. Stay in constant prayer and study His word. That will help you to stay focused on His desires for your relationship.

• Have a Vision Statement. While some couples choose to write theirs down, the Jackson’s is more informal. Their goal is to always have something that they are working toward together. They study together and constantly dream and plan for their future. It keeps them talking and excited about life.

• Be honest about what you’re feeling. Holding things in can make you bitter and angry, and that often pushes people away. Communication is extremely important. Say how you feel and then let it go. Don’t try to manipulate situations or force the outcome that you want.

• Have patience and be understanding. Don’t focus so much on your spouse or who they should be or how they can meet your needs. Remember that you are both children of God and He loves you both the same. Your spouse is going to make some mistakes and so are you. Don’t try to fix your mate. Work on bettering yourself and allow God to fix your situations.

• Use touchstones to overcome stress and adversity. Touchstones are past moments that were overwhelming at the time you experienced them, but in hindsight, they were situations that worked out for the good. Looking back, touchstones allow you to see that “God had a ram in the bush,” and that He was in control all along. (Romans 8: 28) An example of a touchstone for Yolanda was her recent season of unemployment. She wanted to work, but the economic climate made securing employment quite difficult. It was a tough period for her, but in hindsight she realized that she needed a break. That period gave her an opportunity to relax, help her daughter with her business venture, and be available for the birth of her granddaughter. She wouldn’t have had the freedom to be as actively involved in those important life moments had she been working.

• Make sure you are on one accord with your spouse. Make important decisions together. This one required Yolanda to do a lot of praying. She had always been independent and wasn’t used to consulting with anyone before making decisions, but she had to change her behavior because it wasn’t conducive to the strong relationship that she desired.

• Ask God to connect you with other Christians who you can talk with and who will stand with you in prayer when difficulties arise. It’s not a matter of telling the intimate details of your relationship, but it is a matter of obtaining strength and encouragement from others who may have been through similar situations.

• Make sure your affairs with your spouse are in order. You’ll feel like strangers if you don’t give your marriage the time and attention it requires in order to flourish. Your children grow up and have their own lives. Your spouse is your future.

• It is important to have “Hot Date Nights,” as Yolanda describes them. She and Mr. Jackson LOVE spending time together. They go to the movies and/or out to dinner at least twice a month. That keeps the fire burning.

For Yolanda, the best part about being married to such a wonderful man is that she has someone to grow with. She and Mr. Jackson have each others’ backs. They are best friends and business partners. Giving 100% of themselves to their marriage allows for extremely fulfilling lives. Their marriage is an excellent example of love, commitment, learning, partnership, spiritual growth and the many blessings that accompany being in the will of God.

Again, I thank God for allowing me to meet a wife and mother who is genuinely enthusiastic about both of those roles. Yolanda’s story inspires me and I am using her gems as a roadmap for my own marriage. I don’t know about you, but I’m already planning some “Hot Date Nights.”

Monday, March 7, 2011

Ms. B's Road Map for Success

I was first introduced to Ms. B. when I was a freshman in high school. I grew to admire her because of her passion for her career, her family, and her community.

I have watched Ms. B. in pure adoration for years as TOO MANY great ideas to count have set up camp in her mind…and once the seeds were planted and she determined the logistics of it all, the ideas went from the planning stages to implementation. The end result was SUCCESS…every time. Her motto: “If there is something you want: Be focused. Be dedicated. And make it happen!”

Growing up in Detroit, Ms. B. was a self-proclaimed tomboy. She played HARD. Her favorite pastimes were climbing trees or houses, playing basketball, baseball and touch football. She has always been a competitive go-getter, but her athleticism didn’t take away from her femininity. She knew how to balance the shoulder pads and the Barbie dolls in order to reach the level of success that she desired. Ms. B’s father taught her that a girl should never fight. She should be able to sit down with anyone and use rational dialogue to get her points across. Her ability to do the latter has aided in her ability to get the job done.

Her parents kept her in creative arts programs offered by the community center near her childhood home. She learned to play the piano, saxophone, guitar and clarinet. She also learned modern and tap dancing as well. Her early exposure gave her a great appreciation for the arts—one that still permeates her being years later.

Ms. B’s Career Advice
When Ms. B. was in high school she decided that she wanted to attend interior design school. At the time, however, there weren’t very many opportunities for African Americans in design. She chose, instead, to marry and start a family. She took up employment at a financial institution as well. It was during that time that Ms. B. began to think seriously about her future. She looked in the mirror and did a self-assessment—focusing on who she was, what she was good at, what she wanted to do, and what, if anything, was holding her back.

Her self-reflection enabled her to realize that a few people who were a part of her life were acting as obstacles to her success. They didn’t have her best interest at heart. And although she cared for them, she had to let them go.

She decided that she wanted to become a vice president of finance or accounting at a major corporation. With that, she found individuals who already had successful careers in finance and accounting and studied them. She researched the schools they had attended, the degrees they had, the companies they worked for, etc….Her next step was to enroll in school. She started off in a community college and then transferred to the University of Detroit, where she attained a dual degree in finance and accounting. While in college she established an accounting tutoring program, spearheaded resume writing workshops, and joined professional organizations to keep her sharp and “on top of her game.”

While she was putting in the necessary work to prepare herself, God was perfecting all the details—opening some doors and closing others—setting the stage for greatness. He arranged it so that upon Ms. B’s graduation, the opportunities in accounting were endless. Because she didn’t go straight to college after finishing high school, she was a little more seasoned than some of her younger classmates. That, coupled with the fact that she was an African American woman (which had worked against her design aspirations earlier in her life) gave her a competitive edge in corporate America. There was a need for her in the accounting world! Her experience, education, and relationships had all prepared her for the moment she was finally able to step into the career blessings that God had for her.

The rest is history. She obtained a job working for a major entertainment company and worked her way to the top from there. Her current title—Vice President of Accounting.

Her strategy: “Figure out what your ultimate desire is and do the research on whatever that is. You have to do your homework and set small goals.” Each small goal that you achieve prepares you for the success of your ultimate goal…but you have to be able to SEE your ultimate goal first. Have dreams. Dream as BIG as you can—and then pursue your dreams. “If you want to be great, you have to live and breathe greatness and have an action plan. You have to know that it will come.”

Community Involvement
Ms. B. believes that it is very important to help others while traveling down the highways of life. She fervidly comments that “Life is all about doing the best you can with the time you have. You have to give back!” She says that she wouldn’t be as successful as she is today had it not been for people helping her along the way. As a result, Ms. B. is actively involved in community service organizations and activities in the Los Angeles area. Her efforts have helped hundreds of young people develop the confidence and life-skills necessary for success, fund educational endeavors, secure employment, and forage lifetime relationships with industry professionals.

Ms B.’s Future Projects
Ms. B. lives each day to the fullest. “God has given me today. I’d better do something with it. Otherwise why am I even here?” When I asked her what her plans for the future entail, she told me that her latest goal is to learn to sing (while playing her own accompaniment). She is currently taking vocal lessons, and although she doesn’t necessarily want to perform in front of an audience, she looks forward to the day she will have mastered her skills.

Ms. B. absolutely LOVES working with money, but her strong passion for interior design never died. So, the fact that she finished design school a few years ago shouldn’t come as a surprise. She is currently in the process of growing her own design company and sharing her vision with the world.

Her community involvement will also continue. Her involvement with the youth makes her feel complete. God has blessed her, and she feels that she has an obligation to encourage and assist others along their journeys.

A Final Word
I am using Ms. B’s keys to success as a road map to reach my own. In order to be successful: You have to rely on God. You HAVE to be confident. You have to be able to dream. You have to be able to visualize success. You have to be able to effectively communicate. You have to be prepared. You have to be willing to walk away from the people and things that aren’t conducive to your success. You have to give to others. You can’t make excuses. You have to demand respect from others while also giving them that same level of respect.

Thank you, Ms. B. for being the wonderful woman you are. Thank you for believing in me and taking the time out to care enough to invest your time, wisdom, and expertise in me. I hear you…and I won’t let you down.  :)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


I’m very excited about my upcoming March blogs. From reading my past posts, I’m sure you have a pretty good idea of the things that matter most to me—God, family, love, sound mind, finances, education, helping others, nurturing gifts and abilities, valuing and believing in one’s self, etc.

Not too long ago one of my co-workers presented me with an interesting question—If I could create a council of advisors, alive or dead (to provide guidance, insight, and inspiration), who would be on it? I started naming names—Jesus (definitely. I can’t go wrong with Him leading the way), Abraham Lincoln (he was a trailblazer and knew how to get lasting results), Malcolm X (he stood firmly in his beliefs, was open to new ideas and wasn’t too proud to admit when he was wrong), Warren Buffett (he’s a financial mastermind), and my father (he came from humble beginnings and has done very well in spite of the odds. God is undeniably the head of his life).

As I was naming my council members (comprised of all men for the first 2 minutes of me answering the question), I shifted gears and began to think about the ladies who would be on my council. I realized that they are all women who are currently a part of my life. My list of ladies led me to think about how blessed I am to have such amazing women in my life—providing support and encouragement, being great examples and role models, and challenging me to think outside of my self-imposed boxes and demand the best from myself at all times. I decided at that moment that I had to pay homage to them in some way…and why not via Journey, Discovery, and Growth?

In March, my blogs will focus on four women (in honor of Women’s History Month) who I greatly admire. They are God-fearing. They are go-getters. They are successful. They are ladies who know how to prioritize. They know how to enjoy life. They live their dreams every day. They are God’s gifts to me, and I thank Him for them. They inspire me. I know that if they can do it all, so can I. I’m sure they will have the same impact on you as well.

Please stay tuned. :)