Ariel Belgrave is busy helping people take things to the next level. She's the programs director at /dev/color, a nonprofit startup working to advance the careers of black software engineers. /dev/color helps members network and gain knowledge and support that helps them to succeed in the industry.
Belgrave is also the Founder of Gym Hooky, a wellness brand that helps people to lead healthy lifestyles even with their busy schedules.
Before she started working at /dev/color, she spent more than 4 years at JPMorgan, where she developed and managed employee programs across 40+ countries, focusing on many different areas, including diversity, philanthropy and more.
We chatted about her daily routine, how she balances everything and how to transition from one career to another.
Get to know Ariel further before she presents at AfroTech this November, and read our interview with her below:
Blavity: As the programs director at /dev/color and the founder of Gym Hooky, what does a typical day in the life look like for you?
Ariel Belgrave: My day starts with the beeping of my alarm clock at 7:50 a.m. After hitting the snooze button for 10 minutes, I hop out of bed to start my day. My morning routine is pretty consistent on weekdays (to ensure I prioritize my self-care time!). From 8:00 a.m. - 9:00 a.m., I exercise in my living room for 20-25 min, listen to a 10 min Christian meditation, shower and get dressed. By 9:00 a.m. I'm ready to chow down on a healthy breakfast meal. I typically meal prep on Sundays so I have quick meal options during the weekdays. I pack my lunch and am out the door by 9:40 a.m. My 15-minute walk to work is Gym Hooky time. I publish a post (healthy living tip, fitness advice, or a recipe) on social. I also use this time to engage with followers who’ve commented on past posts or have messaged me with questions. I am in the office by 10 a.m. and get settled at my desk. I look at my calendar for the week, check upcoming tasks, write a to-do list for the day and answer emails. When 11 a.m. hits, my founder, Makinde Adeagbo, and I head to a conference room to follow-up on any takeaways from prior meetings and discuss the status of what we are working on in order to set priorities for the week. We then connect with the /dev/color team at 11:30 a.m. to check in on the major projects each team member is assigned for that month. We go around the room and provide a status of each of our projects. If there are any projects that are a concern, we help the team member brainstorm solutions, offer help, etc. From noon to 6 p.m., my day consists of meetings, drafting plans for our 2017 programming, connecting with companies hosting our Q4 and 2017 events, chatting with members, etc. At 6:30 p.m. I head home. Around 7-8 p.m., my fiance, Quinnton, and I cook dinner, recount our day, catch up on our favorite TV shows and get our fix of social media humor. We switch gears around 9:15 p.m. to work on personal projects and catch up on our personal emails. More recently, our evenings have been spent brainstorming and pinning for our wedding in 2017. I am a night owl, so lights are typically out by 12 a.m.
Blavity: As /dev/color works with more engineers and continues to build and see success, what do you think has been the most impactful moment for you working with black software engineers? Any specific moments that made the hard work you’ve put in all make sense?
Ariel Belgrave: As a small team, we spend a lot of our time behind our laptops making the magic happen — building partnerships, planning events, managing our program initiatives and supporting our members. What I look forward to the most are our monthly events, where we are in the presence of our members. I am moved every time I am in a room filled with our talented and driven black software engineers. Why? Well, this is a sight that is rare to see in the SF Bay Area. Simply knowing that our team’s efforts create moments like these are a constant reminder that the hard work we have put in to build this community is necessary. Equally as important as seeing the members is hearing from them. Hearing that they’ve never have been in a room with THAT many black software engineers before. Hearing that being a part of /dev/color has brought meaningful change to the way they approach goal setting and career growth. Hearing that they are excited to hold one another accountable to achieve ambitious goals. And hearing that we have inspired them to help members of our community succeed.
Blavity: I read that you originally planned to be a doctor before pursuing your current career. How did you ultimately decide to make the change, and what advice would you have for someone who is afraid to take a leap in their career?
Ariel Belgrave: That is correct. I entered my first year at Boston College convinced that i wanted to be a doctor. I really enjoyed biology and learning about the human body. As an adolescent, I had romantic notions on the life of a doctor. The self-fulfillment and gratification that comes with being a healer appealed to me. I thought that this profession was filled with glory, prestige and honor. After my first semester in college, I had a change of heart. I was no longer passionate about pursuing a career in the medical field. I realized that my career decision was limited by what i knew of success to be — pursuing [a] profession that will make me money. I knew very little about aligning my career with my passion, my values and my interests. BC’s core classes and internships allowed me to explore the different disciplines and career options that I didn't know existed. By the end of my senior year, I knew that I belonged in the world of business.
When taking a leap of faith to pursue a passion or a more fulfilling career, it’s normal to have doubts and hesitations. Your mind immediately thinks about all the potential risks involved with stepping into the world of the unknown. I typically challenge folks to replace their fear of the unknown with a sense of desire for what’s to come — a desire for their passion. Take 5-10 minutes every day and visualize it. What does it look like? What does it feel like? Who is around you? When they can stay in that beautiful energetic state that is desire, they are more likely to cultivate their passion with ease!
Blavity: What was your experience breaking into the tech space? When did it happen and how did you make it work?
Ariel Belgrave: It was quite the journey, but I learned a ton during the process! Prior to /dev/color, I worked on Wall Street as the Global Head of People & Communications in the Finance sector. After 4.5 years, I was ready for a change. I longed to be in an environment where I was challenged to think outside the box, encouraged to build, and pushed to take risks. The tech industry was an environment that sparked my interest. I was amazed at the amount of creative energy bouncing around. I was inspired by the innovative solutions created by founders making an imprint in the tech industry.
However, I needed to figure out what I wanted to do next and how I was going to successfully seize the next opportunity. I started attending local meetups and events to build a presence in the tech industry and meet people who had similar career paths. I researched non-technical roles to understand which ones best aligned with my work experience and skill sets. I lived lean to prepare for a potential pay cut. I asked myself key questions to ensure that my desire to leave the industry was a phase.
After a six month job search, I officially took the leap from Wall Street in February of this year, moved from New York to California, and began my journey as /dev/color’s first employee. It is a blessing to be a part of the efforts to move the needle in tech diversity! I recently published a blog post recounting my leap from Wall Street to join a tech startup in Silicon Valley. I share raw details about why I left Wall Street and how I officially transitioned. I hope for it to be a source of inspiration for readers in a career rut!
Blavity: With Gym Hooky you help women incorporate healthy habits into their already hectic lives. This is a feat that many people feel is impossible, so what advice do you have for someone who wants to incorporate more time taking care of themselves and their health but feels like they already have a jam-packed schedule?
Ariel Belgrave: Absolutely — sharing this type of advice is my forte! I know this challenge all too well. There are many ways that women can live a healthy, active lifestyle with a packed schedule. One bit of advice that I will give today is to:
Sneak exercise into your daily routine. Exercise is a key contributor to health and happiness. Moving more can lower the risk for heart disease, diabetes, obesity and more. The good things is women can incorporate fitness into their life without having to change their routine. Here are a few adjustments they can make to their everyday lifestyle that will double as exercise:
Take the stairs instead of elevators or escalators
Walk or jog instead of driving shorter distances
If you have kids, run around and play with them rather than just watching
Walk around the airport during your layover as opposed to just sitting
Ditch the conference rooms and have a walking meeting with your coworker
Squeeze in some sit ups or lunges in while watching T.V. (or during commercials if you can’t be distracted during your favorite show)
Blavity: What’s on the horizon with /dev/color? How about Gym Hooky? What can readers hope to see soon?
We are making exciting moves at /dev/color! We recently hosted our first conference for black software engineers, /dev/color in Motion. It was a full day of learning, sharing, and connecting with peers and leaders shaking up the tech industry. During the conference we announced our seven corporate sponsors, including Uber, Facebook, Pinterest, and Google. With this support, /dev/color will be expanding our A* Program to New York and inviting industry leaders to be members via our Boost Program. We are ecstatic about our 2017 plans for engineers and industry leaders in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York. If you are a black software engineer in the industry, I encourage you to apply! Applications for our 2017 program will be open from October 13th - November 16th.
As far as Gym Hooky goes — I am excited to share that I am working on my first e-book Gym Hooky’s Beginner Guide to Home Workouts! As many subscribers know, I haven’t been to the gym in over 3 years, as I work out in the comfort of my own home. The flexibility of home workouts have allowed me to be in the best shape of my life! In my ebook I will be sharing all one needs to know about building their home gym and well as various exercises and workouts they can do at home. The ebook will be released in January 2017 (sign up on my website to get notified!)
For more from Ariel Belgrave and other game-changers, get your tickets to AfroTech! We'll see you there.
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When I told my mother I wanted to quit my job on Capitol Hill to write full time, she was apprehensive. I’d been at my job for three years and I loved my boss, the people I worked with, and the work that I did. I even saw a clear path for upward mobility in my career there, and had devised a plan for it the moment I walked through the heavy wooden doors of the Rayburn Office Building. But then I began writing again, and my first love quickly turned from a pastime to a side hustle. Then it started to consume my daily life, forcing me to ask myself some hard questions. In the months before I left I'd sit at my desk contending with the thought that perhaps the job was more of a marker for where I thought I should be rather than my true purpose. Finally I got to a place where I came in and did my work, but otherwise felt like dead weight. And that's when I decided to go.
My choice to leave was made even harder by the fact that I knew my feelings could be tricky sometimes. When I was 15, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and being impulsive is one of its most definitive traits. The diagnosis had come at a time when I was performing locally as a hip-hop artist, totally ignoring my mental health and getting into a lot of trouble. I had a baby at 21 years old and dropped out of college. I married his father, but we separated soon after. I still wrote music and worked odd jobs, but I felt like nothing had turned out the way I’d planned and it was truly depressing. So I withdrew from my family and friends and stopped making any big plans. In fact, there were some points during that time when I battled bouts of indecisiveness so crippling that I felt my best recourse was to stand still. Luckily, even though my husband and I were living separately at the time, his parents offered to help with my son and encouraged me to go back to school and finish my undergraduate career.
So I did just that.
It was the first goal I’d stuck with and accomplished in a long time. Though issues that stemmed from my disorder threatened to derail the last two years of my studies, I worked hard and graduated with an English degree. Right before I graduated, one of my professors encouraged me to apply for a congressional internship, and a few months later I was an official part of a congresswoman’s staff. It was only part-time, but it was salaried, and I didn't mind either way because I was happy to get my foot in the door.
Then I did everything I could to kick butt in that office. In such a small press shop, there was a lot of work to do with her social media, but I did it. Our office won two awards for social media engagement while I was there, and the changes I suggested for her website are still in place today. Another bonus was that the women I worked with were strong, capable, and drama-free. I learned so much from that office about writing and editing that after awhile I decided to start writing again. I had written for my college paper and won awards for some of my short stories, so I thought it'd be a good hobby for me. So I dove back into my old blog and got a few articles published, but tried to quell any desire to write full-time.
My reason for this was simple — despite reading stories about other women who’d managed to launch successful writing careers while holding down a day job, I told myself that I wasn’t like them. Having bipolar disorder had kept me on an emotional balance beam for most of my life, and I wasn’t ready to fall off of it again. Those thoughts were inwardly devastating for me, but I accepted them as my truth for a long time. Even after I took advantage of the great healthcare I got through my job and went to talk therapy, I was hesitant to make any drastic changes in my life. Surprisingly, what snapped me out of that mode was the realization that I was inadvertently doing something extremely selfish and potentially sabotaging my own growth.
Really, sitting at that desk even though I’d lost all passion for the job months before was one of the most selfish things I've ever done. I watched desperate interns who would’ve given their left kidney to work in that office bust their butts the way I did when I first came to work, and I knew they were doing it because it was their dream to be there. It just wasn’t my dream anymore.
I knew it had gotten bad when I began to view staying at my job the same way I view holding onto someone with whom I have no real plans on staying with long-term. Once I stopped being invested in the work I was doing, I knew that it wasn't right for me stay in that position. So, I stopped being a placeholder in that office and made room for the next person who’d give it their all.
I left on good terms, too. One of my favorite coworkers made cake, I received Hallmark cards scribbled with warm goodbyes and a kind send-off that makes me smile whenever I think back on it. But now I’m settling into my new reality, and I feel complete. I kept a side-gig putting together proposals for a government contracting firm, and I'm able to do that from home. The income from that enabled me to start my own company, and ultimately, my goal is to work solely for myself and travel the world. Even my personal relationships are better since I stuck with my counseling.
Although I don’t know what my life’s going to look like a year from now, I can at least say that this fresh start — and every fresh start I’ve ever given myself — has brought me nothing but growth. I’ve even learned that stumbling along the way is not necessarily a result of my disorder, but it is a result of me being human. Today I see that I was never meant to be a placeholder in anything I do, and I really don't think that should be anyone's goal. There's always someone who's hungry enough to fill your shoes, so slay or get out of the way.
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I'm no historian. But I connect beyond a doubt with the artist spirit. The artist spirit is the one that rose despite the darkness of its environment. Or the crushing pressure that life puts on us. The artist spirit manages to take all the spicy seasonings of pain and create beauty. I didn’t work in a brothel to survive. I wasn’t antagonized by racism my whole natural life. I wasn’t plagued with drug addiction, like Billie. But I’ll tell you where I think Billie and I intersect: I found my soul voice in pain. The source of my “pain story” might differ from Billie’s, but we have that song in common, where singing unleashed our mourning and made our pain into power – I think we both know this feeling.
My own pain grew out of a horrid relationship which included unthinkable physical and mental abuse. Oh, my blessing is also my curse. I want to heal every pain in the world and be a force of support for those in need. This humanitarian gift becomes a liability if it's the motivation behind an intimate relationship. In my case, I loved a person in a great state of pain who was incapable of loving themself, who was full of anger, and who then turned this hatred into violence against me. Being in a relationship with someone who had psychotic tendencies made it impossible to be healthy.
I also simultaneously mourned for the drug addiction of a close family member — it broke my heart everyday. I also struggled to raise myself out of my economic poverty and found myself temporarily homeless. I once had a nervous breakdown from all the stress, and physically melted to the floor into a puddle of hysterical laughter — It seemed the tears no longer came and my body didn’t know what was left to do, then a chord snapped, I fell and an impossible laughter belted through me.
Some of this hurtful history is a blur, some of it I remember crystal clear. I DO know that through it all I sang. I sang and I sang. It wasn’t the shows that made me a soul-singer, it was the fact that I discovered singing soothed my own soul. I started humming instead of weeping. My voice was my own soul crying out into the world.
From that point forward, my voice always had an urgency inside of it and a connectedness to pain. It also has an empathy for other people’s pain. My voice has hurt and disappointment and anger inside of it. And it combined with the sweetest tones and melodies to reflect the irony of being alive: We survived. We made it to that microphone. We lived to tell about it “tonight." The microphone was our time to speak our power.
I do not sound like Billie Holiday. My writing is not in the genre of Jazz. But my spirit and Billie’s spirit, we meet. Billie left us too soon. The trials of life drowned her. I hope that my own voice carries the torch. In addition to the pain, I sing of great hope. I sing to the Billies that are to come; You ARE somebody. Your story is amazing and worthy to be told. You are not alone. You are loved. Don’t give up. There is light after the dark – I’ve seen it.
Photography by Diana Ragland.
Makeup, Hair and Shoot Production by Heidi Giselle.
From the author, about this photoshoot:
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. I am a survivor of a violent relationship. Since leaving behind my painful past, I’ve gone on to be an advocate for social change and human rights, using my voice and songs as a service to others. I’m currently on the executive board of CONNECTnyc.org, a nonprofit that provides resources and counseling for families overcoming domestic violence. This year I released “Dance Revolution,” a single produced byDJ Spinna, in support of the One Billion Rising campaign to end gender-based violence.
Maya Azucena, a multi-award winning recording artist and magnetically inspirational woman, is known for making music that uplifts the soul. Maya’s work has been featured in O Magazine, Washington Post, Billboard and countless other publications. She’s starred in MTV's Madeand earned a Grammy Award -certificate for contributing her 4-octave range and soul-stylingsto a song with Stephen Marley. Within the last year, she’s toured to Haiti, South Africa, India and Russia. She also joined the Essence Fest lineup in New Orleans with Oprah Winfrey, Maxwell & Beyonce. Inspired Artist Movement's "2016 Inspiring Artist of the Year," Maya considers herself an "advocate for art as power" and uses her songs to empower those in need. www.MayaAzucena.com
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Confession: I am a recovered beauty product junkie. Like most women, I’ve plucked, arched, waxed, bleached, painted, lightened, cut, shaved and whitened all in the name of beauty. Sounds normal, right? Stop me if you’ve heard this story before.
Hidden in my apartment was a department store display’s worth of hair, makeup and bath products that I bought and accumulated over the years. I had beauty products on the counter, makeup in boxes, makeup on my desk, makeup on my dresser, makeup in my closet, makeup and perfumes hidden under my bed, bath products in special pretty boxes both big and small, makeup in drawers, makeup in my purse and even a small bag of makeup hidden under my car seat for those days when I thought I need that little extra "umph." Working at a high-end department store only served to fuel my addiction.
Before long, I was the official makeup artist for all my friends, family members and co-workers. Occasionally, I’d get a paid gig doing makeup too. To my surprise, I learned that my husband and I were expecting a baby. Life couldn't get any better, or so I thought at the time. I was blissfully in love, living a life filled with makeup, yoga, girlfriends and on the verge of starting my own family.
One evening after dinner, I was stricken by a jolting pain in my lower abdomen. I passed it off as cramps and slept it off. As the days went on, the pain became more and more unbearable. I scheduled an appointment to see my obstetrician. After my ultrasound appointment, my physician sent me across town to see a specialist. That’s when I was informed that I had an ovarian tumor four times the size of my ovary. I left the appointment numb, sat in my car and cried.
The ovarian tumor kept growing and it was absorbing the nutrients from my growing fetus. With the huge probability of the tumor rupturing at any given time, I was put on bedrest for the remainder of my pregnancy and I was barely showing. In fact, my doctor said that if I didn’t stop my 7 days-a-week workout regimen, the tumor could rupture and kill me in the process.
Monthly appointments turned into weekly appointments. Nothing seemed important anymore, not even makeup. I hid in my apartment, avoiding calls from the outside world. I was not sure how to process what was going on, let alone how to explain to my friends or family what I was going through. I didn’t want to hear any negative comments or have a pity party. I just wanted to get back to my normal life as soon as possible.
My mom passed away when I was 15 years old from a car accident. If there was a time when I needed her the most, it was then. Just to hear her voice or give me that look of assurance that everything was going to be okay. Oddly enough, as I sat in our apartment alone, I could hear her voice tell me, like many times before, not to give up. I realized I was allowing this tumor to suck the life out of me and my unborn child. I made a decision to stay positive, to fight, and more importantly, to learn as much as I could about what was going on with my body. I became obsessed with ensuring my survival.
I asked questions at every doctor’s appointment. I asked so many questions, my physicians became annoyed. When someone wasn’t able to answer my questions, I found a physician that could.
The more I learned about my health and my pregnancy, the more my hunger for knowledge increased. One afternoon, I stumbled upon a research study explaining the impact ingredients have on our overall health. I discovered the link between food, beauty products, toxic preservatives and the affects certain chemicals have on the endocrine system, the reproductive system and on unborn fetuses. I began to change how I ate and what I used on my skin and in my hair.
Years earlier while in college, I would craft and experiment with natural butters, oils and conditioners in my apartment. I made my own hair care products and thought since I couldn’t find what I was looking for, then I would just make my own natural, luxurious, chemical-free bath and skincare products to use. Years later, I found solace and peace in learning about formulations, plant oils, local sourcing and creating healthy options that were safe enough for me to use while I was pregnant and later on, on my baby.
In retrospect, becoming pregnant actually saved my life. While bearing my child, life began to have a new meaning. While my pregnancy was difficult and trying, I learned about self-love and the true meaning of self-care. I also learned about the willpower I had to overcome obstacles and to truly love all of me, both good and bad. Balancing life and death at my fingertips, I made the choice to enjoy life each day, because tomorrow, after all, isn’t guaranteed.
During my c-section, the tumor was removed and I gave birth to a healthy baby girl. Four years later, I own and run an amazing skincare business where I get to make natural and organic products that don't contain the toxic stuff that harms us all. I can truly say that I am no longer a beauty product junkie, but instead I use makeup and skincare to educate individuals about the effect ingredients in skincare have on our overall health. I have a huge passion for helping others learn about wellness, self-acceptance and staying informed when it comes to their health. By sharing my story, I hope to inspire and encourage individuals to stay strong when faced with challenges.
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A self proclaimed recovered beauty product junkie, Barbara Jacques is the Founder, Creative Director and Chief Formulator at Jacq's Organics, an all-natural plant-based skin and body product line based in South Florida. She speaks and writes about natural skincare. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and check...
Many of us wake up early, get the kids ready for school, then head to work where we spend eight hours being the lesser paid (but equally intelligent) wing woman to a coworker (who is likely white, male or both). During lunch, the bestie calls to catch up on life and vent. After work, we come home to wait hand and foot on bae while making sure the kids are finishing their homework. While preparing dinner, we throw in that last load of laundry. By the time dinner is ready, it’s too late to go to the gym, so we feed ourselves with a laxative tea and sleep with a waist-cincher. After all, we’ve got to keep it right and tight for the viewing pleasure of others.
As black women, we do it all.
We are loving daughters, nurturing mothers, supportive partners, successful businesswomen, determined students and innovative entrepreneurs. But once we get home and the cape comes off, what happens to the burdens that are left for us to bear? Who is there to pick up our pieces when the madness of the world leaves us depleted of energy and hope? Finally, why are we afraid to admit when something just doesn’t feel right?
The stigma of a black woman being typecast as a certain character doesn’t have to be accurate. The truth is, many of the circumstances that cause us to neglect our mental health are because of systems put in place that never intended to assist us in the first place. Although addressing the stereotypes alone certainly will not cure any conditions, it's a necessary first step in figuring out the "why."
The stereotypes behind the stigma
Dating back to U.S. slavery, each plantation had Mammy: The black woman convinced that everyone else’s well-being mattered more than hers. The matriarch who suppresses her dreams to assist in fulfilling those of others around her, Mammy thrives on being the most obedient yet solid rock of a servant as possible. When it comes down to it, she’s clutch and people praise her for it. Behind closed doors however, her spirit is as equally worn out as her hands and feet. A tired life of failing to practice self-care causes her to become numb to her own desires.
Another popular stereotype within the black community is the Jezebel: Someone with an unhealthy appetite for lust and sex. As a child, perhaps, she was badly mistreated and abandoned by the paternal figure in her life. Because of this, she builds a mental wall as protection from any future chance of heartbreak. This complex leads her down an exhausting life path of finding love in all the wrong places. She has adapted to enduring mental — and sometimes physical — abuse from her partners. Over time, her sense of self-worth and purpose completely exit her soul.
Then there’s the modern day Sapphire: A black woman who wears a chip on her shoulder. She has a tendency of spewing hatred and bitterness, especially in relationships. She enjoys using aggression to bully and emasculate. She is deemed the ‘angry black woman’ to society. At home, she hates the person she has become, although she feels she has no control of her emotions.
While Hollywood chooses to tell one side of the story of the black woman, it rarely considers the state of her mental health.
Anxiety, mood, psychotic, eating, impulse control, personality, obsessive-compulsive and post-traumatic stress disorders impact millions of women in the black community. Scientific data wants us to believe that the mental health conversation is an all-encompassing umbrella that shouldn’t be race-specific due to a lack in evidence, when in fact, race might actually be the biggest factor. According to Mental Health America, 6.8 million African Americans have been diagnosed with a mental illness, and the number among black women in the U.S. is probably much greater than reported. The social stigma surrounding our community might turn some away from seeking the proper help. We are so used to displaying unwavering strength to the public that we only further separate ourselves from the idea of wholeness we strive to maintain.
Since childhood, we learn to consistently internalize certain feelings for the sake of those around us. We grew up watching the maternal figures in our family braving any and every potentially meltdown-worthy situation, from finances to illnesses. The cycle has continued and needs to stop. We don’t have to be defined by the stereotypes; it's possible to break through to the other side and achieve total peace of mind. By first acknowledging the stereotypes behind the stigma, we can begin an open dialogue. And from that point, we can choose to overcome our fears of weakness or vulnerability.
Yes, we are black women and we can do it all. But we shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help when we need it.
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Nicolette “Nic” Graves is a food technologist, nutrition consultant and health education specialist with a background in micronutrient deficiency, agricultural development and food security. Her mission is to help fill the disparity gap by helping communities overcome the obstacles of a healthy diet by refining habits and revamping plates, one indulgence at a time. Through her health and wellness platform, niktrition.com, which is dedicated to empowering women through their pursuit of health by defying the status quo, you can get nutrition coaching and several on-demand programs created to help you nourish yourself, get FLEEKy and snatched while thriving on delicious eats and self-love. Read our interview with Blavity Creative Society member Nicolette below:
Blavity: Tell us more about why you started Niktrition.
Nicolette Graves: Well, Niktrition is really just the brain child of my personal evolution.
I came pre-packaged with an infatuation with food. In fact, my nickname growing up was Gutsy Gloria (thanks, Dad) and obviously, the connotation of “gutsy" wasn’t something that sits well even at the age of 8 — even if I was good for putting away seconds and thirds. For the subsequent 12 years, I dieted. (Yes, at 8 I had my own form of diet food i.e.. butter pasta = gotta lay off that tomato sauce). I was “healthy” and read all the seminal works on being skinny at all costs and how to lose your enthusiasm for food in three days… it was le struggle. The craziest part was I was pre-med, I knew the science behind proper nutrition, but per usual I tried to outsmart the system by using trends instead. When it worked I was obsessed and when it didn’t... I was obsessed. Damned either way. It left me tired and in need for something more sustainable. So instead of trying to beat the system, I opted to work with it and haven’t looked back since. As time progressed, I began to realize the only way I could have ever allowed such treatment to my body despite knowing better was my mental state: The perception I had of what my body represents, my relationship with food and my own sense of self worth.
Essentially, Niktrition came out of this compilation of experiences, knowledge gained, questions asked, and a desire to optimize it all for better distribution. It’s really gone through several forms. From just learning the scientific foundation of proper nutrition, to understanding the implications of socioeconomic, geographic, cultural, ethnic and historical factors that play a role in our state of health. Once I got to graduate school and started doing my research on food access and development, everything became amassed and began to spiral into all these thoughts I was having, mixed with me always wanting to help, mixed with me feeling a type of way about the unequal focus on “fixing” foreign developing countries but nothing done for the developing communities right here at home. Plus, I was learning and learning a lot and wanted to keep learning, but knew I had a responsibility to the community.
So I had all this knowledge, all these facts, but facts are facts are facts — how do you apply them? How can you really help yourself if people are just throwing out facts and not showing you skills, tips and tricks that can aid you and your situation? More explicitly, how do we get underserved communities to apply the necessary health practices? When it comes to health, we each have a unique experience/struggle/circumstance which either supports or impedes our status.
B: Why, for you, is self-love intertwined with a healthy lifestyle/nutrition?
NG: Self-love is the foundation to living a fulfilled life overall. When you love yourself, you have accepted who you are for who you are. You are making a conscious effort to make your perception of yourself the definitive guide. This then molds self-esteem and body image, which then in a cyclic nature sets the tone for how you feel about yourself. When you have ownership over you, it’s a feeling that can’t be matched. Right now, the trends on the market aren’t embedded in self-love… it’s this "fix yourself because there is something inherently wrong with who you are right now" mentality. It’s "you cool and all, but you could be better if you did this." It’s "bash people for their preferences or side-eye her cause of her eating habits." It’s "make others feel self-conscious in order to lift ourselves up." In all honesty, I think it takes self-love for you to truly achieve, benefit and feel fulfilled by anything.
What you feed your mind determines your appetite. #StayWoke #ReadingIsFundamental
A photo posted by Nic, Nutritionist/MS 🍍🌿 (@niktrition) on Jun 30, 2016 at 3:27pm PDT
B: Talk about your passion for empowering women through your site and through one-on-one coaching.
NG: Despite having had the right to vote for some-odd 96 years, “equal rights” for women are still pending and women are still pining at the door to sit at the table. We are still seen and treated as objects, and the worst part is we internalize that sh-t. We internalize it and then shape our reality based on standards, rules, and other BS not even set by us. Empowering women, especially young black professionals who have their sh-t together from an achievement standpoint but struggle to tie together the other ends of their lives (such as their state of wellness) is the least I could do.
That incessant grind to the top is ambitious, applause-worthy and poppin'. But as I said, it’s incessant, and in order to shine your brightest, the vessel carrying you needs to have its machinery intact. Black women have been told for forever they can’t have it all. I think our generation is changing that and health shouldn’t be sacrificed or left to the wayside. Your well-being should be just as high a priority as your success, because it ultimately affects it. There are so many barriers standing in our way as far as external factors — health shouldn’t be one of them.
Feed your focus.
A photo posted by Nic, Nutritionist/MS 🍍🌿 (@niktrition) on May 3, 2016 at 4:31pm PDT
B: What are your thoughts on the relationship between mental wellness and nutrition?
NG: They go hand in hand. Literally, nutrition provides the building blocks your body needs to carry out basic functions, such as existing, while your mental determines everything else. In fact, recently there has been a surge in evidence illuminating the importance of nutrition as a factor in mental wellness from a physiological standpoint… literally nutrients and chemicals in our bodies interact to keep us running. Those same interactions can also determine how we feel, our behavior and our capacity to use our brain. Which is major if you think about the impact your mood, behavior and ability to analyze affect your ability to be a productive member of society.
B: There has been a recent wave of black women empowering themselves via healthy living, what are your thoughts on spreading the importance of wellness throughout our communities?
NG: Wellness has been a topic often forced to hang in the balance in the black community and that can be seen by simply flipping through the CDC’s statistics. The health disparity gap is disrespectful at the least. For a very long time, we didn’t have the resources — time, money, knowledge — to care. That landscape is changing. I could say my background in public health made me aware of the importance of community, but really, that’s common sense for us. What my educational background did allow was for me to have full on access to systematic reviews covering the disparity gap and its causes; the systemic issues that impale our ability to truly live well; the power of community education, especially for minority demographics; and the importance of cultural relativism.
That last one is a huge one. Cultural relativism. It’s something I struggled with on my own health journey, and it’s a complaint I hear time and time again… often in the form of “How can I eat better without eating grass” or “I like my food seasoned” and “do I have to drink green juice?” Let’s be real, nobody cares what Becky has to say about nutrition, she’s just not relatable. But when we found out Bey did the 22-day vegan, it started to look interesting. That’s just the way it is. Having people who can identify with our experiences enlightening us can only make us better as individuals and a community. It’s what has been missing.
Working, getting my life, and breathing the freshest air this concrete jungle has to offer. My new favorite space = The Oasis, an on-demand botanical sanctuary. @wohaneillay back at it again 📸.
A photo posted by Nic, Nutritionist/MS 🍍🌿 (@niktrition) on Apr 3, 2016 at 12:36pm PDT
B: What is your favorite part about the work you do?
NG: Seeing other women blow themselves away by being built up.
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Are you getting the Vitamin D you need? If you spend a lot of time inside or walking downtown where tall buildings block the sun, you might not be. Vitamin D is important for optimal health because it promotes immune system function and the development of strong bones and teeth by regulating calcium and phosphorous absorption. It's nicknamed the sunshine vitamin because it's naturally produced by our skin from exposure to sunlight.
Unfortunately, many people don't get adequate amounts of this vital vitamin, often because of environmental and lifestyle factors like those mentioned earlier. Sound like you? No worries. Today I'm sharing easy ways to get the Vitamin D your body needs:
Tip #1: Get some sun
Vitamin D, aka the sunshine vitamin, is naturally made by your skin from exposure to sunlight. That's great news! So get out and let the sun shine on you – literally. Sunlight is an awesome natural way to boost your vitamin D levels.
Tip #2: Fill up on fatty fish
Fatty fish like wild caught salmon, macrel and cod are bursting with vitamin D. The cool thing about fish is that it’s super simple to prepare. A sprig of fresh herbs, a squeeze of lemon juice, some olive oil and VOILA! — a healthy and delicious dose of Vitamin D.
Tip #3: Crack open the eggs
Score another point for eggs! Just remember that the vitamin D is found in the yolk so eat the WHOLE EGG. How do you want it — scrambled, sunny-side up, poached or hard boiled? Either way, egg yolks are a yummy source of Vitamin D.
Tip #4: Eat Shitake mushrooms
Shitake mushrooms can be purchased fresh or dried. The key to cooking the dried variety is to soak them in a bowl of boiling water for 20 minutes. After that, they can be sliced and diced to go in a stir-fry, casserole, sauce, etc. Fresh or dried? Take your pick.
Tip #5: Take a quality supplement
A nutritional supplement is another easy source of vitamin D. The key to safe supplementation is selecting a quality product made by a reputable company. It's recommended that adults up to age 70 get a minimum of 600 IU of Vitamin D each day. For those over 70 years old, the recommendation is 800 IU of Vitamin D daily.
Getting the Vitamin D your body needs is easier than you might have thought. Get out, enjoy the sun, have a nice meal and pay attention to your body. You'll thank yourself later!
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Do you find yourself moving a little slower than usual lately? When you wake up, are you already tired? If you find yourself dragging your feet to get anything done, don't just resort to your third espresso shot of the day or a sugary energy drink. Try these foods for a natural and healthy boost of energy.
The fiber and natural sugar found in bananas will bring you back to life.
With Vitamin C, potassium and folate, this is a longer lasting energy boost. Be careful if you've got diabetes, as the sugar content, though natural, is higher in oranges.
For all of my iron-deficient homies out there, get some spinach in your life! Your energy will be up in no time.
Vegans know that this is a great way to get a little extra protein without eating meat. Feel free to snack on these at your desk at work.
The B vitamins in this will help break down the carbs you consume.!
Are you getting your eight glasses a day? We're mostly made of water, so if you don't get enough, your body will start to feel the effects. Boost your water intake to boost your energy.
These are great to mix with almonds or cashews. Some people believe they increase blood flow and help stabilize your mood. Either way, they're perfect for a healthy energy-boosting snack.
Have a few pieces without feeling guilty! Dark chocolate contains theobromine, which is a natural stimulant that boosts your energy and mood.
You can use this to make a curry sauce or drink in chai tea. Many believe it promotes good blood flow, which is essential for better energy levels.
Fiber, protein and lots of vitamins make broccoli a great energy booster that you can eat raw with some hummus or quickly steam with garlic and a little butter.
Want to combine a few of the aforementioned foods into a quick snack? Pick up a KIND bar. They're low in sugar and will give you an easy boost of energy.
Self care can seem like a struggle, but if you just make time for it (and who doesn't like snacking?) you'll be able maintain consistent energy levels and get done whatever you're striving to do.
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One Saturday night at 9 p.m. EST, I found myself curled up in front of the television intently watching a movie that I've easily seen a dozen times. Although my mind was telling me to scan social media for the many events occurring in the city that evening, I just couldn't will my body to move.
In my head I was ready, willing and able to get up and get out. But my body wasn’t havin’ it. I was exhausted and I didn't even realize it. My body was giving me an eye-rolling, finger-waving, neck-twisting tongue lashing that my mind chose to actively ignore. There was a full-on dancehall party going on in my head that the rest of my body apparently wasn't invited to. Being an entrepreneur, I spend my days and nights working, vowing that I will give myself a “break” when I reach certain financial goal.
Because I could in no way will myself to get off of the couch and I couldn't fall asleep, I spent the next few hours reading Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes. The musings of a socially-awkward, introverted and successful black woman is my idea of a good read. In the first few pages of the book, Rhimes made a statement that snatched my edges so violently you would have thought I was at a Beyoncé concert sitting front row center. One chapter into the book, she tells a story about being broke and having to choose between one of her favorite treats and a necessity — wine and toilet paper. In telling this story she made the realest statement I've heard in a while, “sometimes the toilet paper does not win.”
Laying on my sofa, so physically exhausted that my body was in hibernation mode, I realized I passed up many moments when the wine should have won.
In my quest for success, I failed to understand that sometimes your sanity means more than “the grind.”
I should have said yes to happy hour and yes to that movie or yes to dinner instead of constantly burning the midnight oil.
Being a creative, employee, mother, activist, or whatever combination of things you spend your days doing can be stressful. For entrepreneurs and professionals alike, it's important to take a moment, an hour or even a day to do you. Our culture of the constant hustle and the notion that getting no sleep is a catalyst to success causes us to forget about the fragility of our mental health. It’s as if we're in a competition to see who reaches the Jack Torrance-level of insanity first, sacrificing our mind, body and will to move just to be able to say we've achieved something.
Well, all work and no play makes Bukola a dull girl.
Yes, you should always remain focused and you should always be about your business no matter what that business is. But it's always important to remember that, “sometimes the toilet paper does not win.”
Buy the wine, sip and be happy.
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Blavity sat down with mental health advocate and author Terrie Williams to talk more about the ways in which the mental health of our communities are at risk due to the unsafe racial terrain of the United States. Read the interview below for her insights on ways to support yourself and loved ones through turbulent times.
Blavity: Tell us more about yourself, your book, and how long you've been working on and writing about mental health issues in the black community.
Terrie Williams: I would say that I began to realize that mental health issues were something that were never really talked about. I had not known anyone that would talk about having mental health issues. I just knew that there were days where I could barely get up and I realized that something was wrong. I knew that I needed help. I always had an interest in psychology and that led me to my field of social work. So I was always very sensitive to how people were doing. I recognized that I was suffering from depression and that I needed to get help. It was not something I could talk to my mother about, it was not something normal to address.
When I shared my story in Essence Magazine, thousands of people wrote in, expressing they were dealing with the same issues. And that's when I knew I had to share my story. No one in my family understood what any of it meant. The book Black Pain came out about six or seven years ago, and I still get mail everyday from people trying to describe their pain, or happy [to] know there was someone out there who was feeling what they are feeling.
B: Let's talk about intergenerational trauma, and the ways stress and anxiety can be passed down in your genes. Not only can oppression be an attack on the mind but it's an attack on your physical well-being as well. What are your thoughts on the prevalence of intergenerational trauma in our communities and what are ways for us to combat this?
TW: It's obvious that the good things and the negative things get passed on from one generation to the next. We must recognize that this is a reality. There are so many of us who haven't really put a name to what our pain is, there's something that's hurting, they are lashing out in certain ways without understanding what the root is. And we, of course, especially people of color, tend to not talk about our issues.
Many of my white friends and colleagues will express in a heartbeat that they have x,y, and z conditions and that they see their therapists, etc. And for many people of color, there's something shameful about having mental illness. But all of us inherit unresolved pain, wounds, trauma and scars of our parents. More of us need to be more mindful of what it is that we are passing on to our kids, because they miss nothing. They watch, hear and feel everything. It's important to encourage everyone in our communities to share what they're feeling.
B: There have been various studies that have shown that black people are viewed to be more terrifying than they actually are. For example, police tend to view black children as older and more guilty than they actually are, or black people as superhuman. What are your thoughts on the psychological effects of being perceived that way, and how does that increase the likelihood of mental health problems?
TW: The psychological effects are crippling. I do believe that the hardest job in a America is to be a black man, and the darker the completion, the more they are perceived to be terrifying. You recognize pretty early how people view you and it has lasting effects. I just think that so many brothers need to talk to a therapist.
I mentored two young boys who were members of the bloods, and one of my friends who was a therapist did several sessions with them and they began to express more about their feelings. As adults, we should share more openly if and when we do see a therapist so we begin to normalize it. These are things that need to be talked about in order to heal.
Blavity: Elaborate, what are ways we can normalize therapy in our communities?
TW: I think, in a nutshell, it is to share our stories with one another. I've talked to teenagers about things I've shared with my therapist, and illustrate to them the way my therapist helped me work through things. How will any of us ever know unless someone decides to share their story? That's the way we begin to heal. Share your stories with one another. We need to demystify the whole process.
Blavity: What are your thoughts on the prevalence of police brutality videos online, should we watch them?
TW: It's devastating. It has a very deep lasting and profound impact on your psyche. I have made it my practice, as someone who is deeply affected by [it,] it's gut wrenching to watch that kind of thing over and over again. I just know I had to stop watching the news, making sure I'm skimming the news, You must protect yourself and realize what you're consuming.
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It's no secret that in my family, I'm the black thumb. Well, at least I used to be. My grandmother kept a garden of roses, hydrangeas, and touch-me-nots. My mother grew indoor plants all around our house and planted trees in our backyard. Somehow, the gardening bug didn't get passed down to me until I decided to try something new and start a container garden in my apartment.
Whether you're thinking of growing small herbs in a pot, harvesting a few flowers, or going full throttle for a vegetable garden, starting a garden can be a great addition to your space. Here's why.
1. Peace of mind
Like reading a book, tending to a garden is a great way to get some alone time and relieve stress. The mental energy and focus needed to care for plants can take your mind off of whatever has been keeping you stressed. It's also a nice way to wind down after coming home from the office. Place a seating area near your garden, and you can come home from work and sip on a glass of wine as you enjoy the fruits of your labor.
There's even an entire therapy practice dedicated to gardening called horticultural therapy which focuses on the rehabilitative effects of therapeutic gardens.
For those that will be keeping a garden in a yard, there is plenty of exercise to be had. Digging, planting and turning over soil are just a few of the many physical tasks required to maintain a backyard garden, and gardening is considered by the CDC to be a moderate-intensity level activity.
3. Saves money
Yes, it costs money in the beginning to start a garden, but it doesn't have to be expensive. Starting a container garden in your apartment can cost less than $50, but you save even more on your grocery bill by growing your own food.
4. Healthy food at your convenience
Not only do you save money by growing your own food, but you know exactly what's in it! Organic fruits and vegetables are very expensive, and for people/families on a budget, that just isn't going to work. By having your own garden, you can eliminate this setback and have healthy, pesticide-free food at your disposal.
5. Builds community
Community gardens are a great way to meet other people, and it gives people a chance to grow herbs/food even if they don't have their own outdoor space. They also allow people to have a sense of ownership and pride over contributing to the health of their city and neighborhood.
6. It's fun for the kids
We all remember what it was like as a kid — the simplest things in life can be entertaining. I've even seen gardening get turned into a game: The person who picks the best batch of fruit wins! You can even have the kids help with cooking using the food they picked.
7. Helps kids learn responsibility
By giving kids small tasks like picking fruit or watering the plants regularly, gardening can teach kids responsibility and how to care for something. They'll know that if they don't water their plants X amount of times for X amount of days, the plants will die.
8. Gardens encourage learning
Both children and adults can learn about the science of plants, the effects of weather, the environment, nutrition and simple construction. Once you start getting into growing your garden, you'll learn about which herbs grow best with one another, which seasons are best to start and creative ways to use what you grow.
9. Connects you with the environment
Some of us go straight from the house to the car/train to the office, then back to the car/train and to the house without ever spending time outside. Having your own garden (or participating in a community garden) provides a chance to reconnect with nature and get a good source of Vitamin D.
10. Food tastes better
There's something about using your own homegrown mint to make a mojito or your own tomatoes to make spaghetti sauce that just makes your food taste better. It could be the sense of pride you feel or the fact that you know where everything comes from. Either way, it works.
11. Makes your yard and the community beautiful
Rooftop gardens, windowsill container gardens, and large landscapes are all beautiful to look at. Simply looking at the different colors of the flowers, herbs and vegetables can make you feel better.
How great is that?
12. Try something new
If you think of yourself to be a black thumb like me, don't be scared. You can be reformed! The key is to start small. Try keeping easy-to-maintain herbs such as basil and oregano in a container or plants such as ivy and aloe vera in small pots. Plus, the benefits of aloe vera juice are amazing!
13. Sense of achievement
It's so rewarding to see new leaves grow on your plants or see your first batch of cherry tomatoes ready to go in your salad. The mental and emotional benefits of planning, planting, and watching your garden grow far exceed the work that goes into keeping it maintained. Once you start gardening, it can become a life-long hobby with endless possibilities!
So what's stopping you? Start your own garden and reap the benefits!
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We all talk to ourselves (you can admit it). From the moment we wake up, our internal voices start chattering away. Planning, directing, and always moving from one thing to the next.
And it's not our fault. More so, it's a consequence of the time we're in and the demands of everyday life. As soon as I wake up, the first thing that comes to mind is "Hey...let's send that email to...", and the next thing I know, I'm back in bed and I'm thinking "Alright, if I wake up an hour earlier tomorrow, then I can maybe read this article before class..." Soon after, I pass out and dream about not doing whatever I should've done.
But don't worry, talking to ourselves is good! Whether you're a student, a professional, or a professional student, talking to ourselves is how we're able to accomplish the three thousand things we have to get done on any given day.
The bad thing is that we can go day after day talking to ourselves, but can go weeks or longer without talking with ourselves. When was the last time that voice in your head didn't bark your next directive, but actually checked in on you? How often do you get to center yourself and reflect?
I had to learn the hard way was that we, especially African Americans, often put our well-being on the back burner.
So hey, let's try this the next night you go to bed. First, put your phone on 'Do Not Disturb.' Then, take a few minutes to check-in and talk WITH yourself about the following:
Life is hard, and time is money. Too often, we wait until something's unbearably wrong before we seek medical attention. Before you go to bed, check in and ask yourself, "Hey, how do I feel right now? How did I feel today? That sore throat I had this morning — maybe I should look into getting some meds tomorrow?" It doesn't take a doctor to know that the earlier you notice problems and seek help, the less pain you have to live with.
Yes, mood does mean mental health. We don't always reflect on our moods and feelings, which could lead to so many problems that affect not only how we feel about ourselves, but how we treat others. Mental health is a concern in our community that we don't talk about enough. Don't go to bed without understanding what place you're in, or else you risk ruining the next day before it even begins. Ask yourself, "What am I feeling right now? If I'm feeling good, why? If I'm not, then why not? How was I feeling through most of the day? Did I have an attitude at some point? What put me in a bad mood?"
We move on so quickly through the day, and we (especially me), forget to take stock of the things that went well. So, before you start making your next move, check-in and feel good about the things you did get right. "That talk I gave at the team meeting? BEASTED IT. That paper I just aced? WON'T HE DO IT?" There are also times when we have to give ourselves tough love. When I wake up, my main goal is to be the best version of myself. Needless to say, there are many times I fall short. And on those days, check-in with yourself. Not to dwell on those mistakes or start a cycle where you're beating yourself up every night, but to reflect on why you couldn't be the best you. Don't focus on what you got wrong, but reflect on where it went wrong. Don't make the same wrong turn twice.
Self-reflection can take many forms, and what's so great about it is that it doesn't have to look anything like this. The only important thing is that it does happen. A lot of us, regardless of our path, are experiencing stressors in our lives that those who came before us never had to deal with. I mean, you're at least the first to have a Twitter account, or you're at least the first to Milly Rock on your block (...never mind, after a moment of self-reflection, I take the Milly Rock part back. Your little cousin probably beat you to it). It only makes sense that we have to be more vigilant in taking care of ourselves.
So, say 'hey' to yourself every now and then, OK?
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