From its lush cover featuring a dark-skinned Black woman with natural hair, down to its title, when readers pick up a copy of Black Girls Must Have It All, it's unapologetic in who the intended audience is. Author Jayne Allen has delivered a series, starting with Black Girls Must Die Exhausted, that is written for Black women, about Black women, by a Black woman.
Over the course of three books, Allen navigates the complexities of race and relationships in corporate America, the realities of Black maternal health, and the dynamics of love and partnerships, and she wraps it in a story built around sisterhood and family.
In this latest release, readers, along with the main protagonist, Tabitha Walker, are forced to reexamine what it means to “have it all” and question the life society has ingrained in us as acceptable.
xoNecole spoke to author Jayne Allen about Black Girls Must Have it All, her trilogy that has sparked debates, side-eyes, and “Girl….no he didn’t” moments and has inspired conversations and laughs for book clubs and readers across the world.
Courtesy of Jayne Allen
xoNecole: Let’s start at the beginning. Walk us through how Tabitha and her story 'Black Girls Must Die Exhausted' was formed.
Jayne Allen: I wrote this book by necessity. I came up with the idea around 2016, and that was a very vitriolic environment for Black and brown people, and combining that with being a Black woman, I just felt this weight.
It made me take a look at my life and what I was carrying with no sweat. This is a story about the day-to-day of navigating these layers of challenges and still being the incredible Black women that I've seen around me and that I try to be. We need to understand her daily journey, the struggles, and the triumphs, and we need to celebrate that. So I thought, if nobody's telling this story and nobody sees our worth in this way, then I'm going to do it. I'm going to celebrate Black women.
xoN: In bookstores we still don’t see a major selection of books that center Black women. Walk us through your journey and what you experienced as a writer in getting this story told.
JA: The feedback I got was: "This character is not relatable. We don't like her, but we love her grandmother, who is white." It was very interesting to feel the weight of race-based bias. Agents wanted to try and hide the characters with a different title. I said, "No, I’m [not] going to apologize for having a Black protagonist. This book is not going to hide Blackness or cater to acceptability with a different cover."
I was intentional, from day one, that I wanted this to be a celebration of Black women. I wanted readers, even non-Black readers, to come to this book and come to it as a book about a Black woman, with the knowledge and understanding that this is a story about a human being. Yes, you can relate to this person, and she has something to teach that's valuable, she has something to say that's valuable, and she is valuable.
"Agents wanted to try and hide the characters with a different title. I said, 'No, I’m [not] going to apologize for having a Black protagonist. This book is not going to hide Blackness or cater to acceptability with a different cover.' I was intentional, from day one, that I wanted this to be a celebration of Black women."
xoN: How do you think readers are going to react to this final book, 'Black Girls Must Have It All' and the closing of Tabitha’s story?
JA: I hope they have this moment of just being happy for their girl. That's how I felt when I wrote the last words of the book. Maybe it’s not a conventional happy ending in the way that we're conditioned to believe they're supposed to be. But, I think it's a very happy ending that’s hopeful and progressive. I wanted to give that feeling where you know your girl is gonna be alright. But she still has a long way to go.
xoN: Tabitha’s journey to motherhood started off in a very poignant and unexpected moment. Let’s discuss her journey on the other side of the delivery room.
JA: We don't talk about actual motherhood very often, and I wanted to examine the different experiences we face. We just talk about the various issues of Black maternal health and statistics but in, Black Girls Must Have It All, I wanted to see what that journey looked like for a Black woman because it looks different than what we see in something like Bridget Jones’s Baby.
There's been a societal vilification of Black single motherhood and the cultural perspective on traditional relationships to contend with. It was important to see Tabby navigate those things on top of the already stressful experience of being a new mother.
xoN: Readers are now three books in with Tabitha and her crew… what else can they expect in this latest book?
JA: The big thing in the third book is this theme of motherhood, but it's not just motherhood in the traditional sense. It's about nurturing and it's about how we nurture ourselves and how we mother our dreams. Some people are making choices not to pursue conventional motherhood, but that doesn't mean that the nurturing part of us doesn't get to shine.
We see Laila as an entrepreneur with her company, essentially her baby, and her friends in turn celebrating, nurturing her and her goals---going back to the theme of friendship, that nurturing of each other and ourselves---so that theme of motherhood and seeing the various perspectives on it. It was an important theme for the third book and not just traditional motherhood.
"It's about nurturing and it's about how we nurture ourselves and how we mother our dreams. Some people are making choices not to pursue conventional motherhood, but that doesn't mean that the nurturing part of us doesn't get to shine."
xoN: What readers can really appreciate about this series is your ability to give us pieces of so many different characters that at the end, we’re just as invested in the sisterhood of Lexi and Laila, Tabby’s mom, grandmom, her sisters, and Ms. Gretchen as we are in Tabitha. How did those storylines shape Tabby?
JA: I was speaking for myself as a Black woman. I am so much a reflection and a product of the people in my life. Close family ties are part of our culture. That's why you see multiple generations in the book. You have these multiple generations in your life that are influential to you, that matter, that your family matters. I couldn’t create Tabby’s character without showing the people who make her who she is.
Sisterhood is important for us as Black women in particular. Compared to our parents' generation, we get married later in life, especially when you're in a career. So your soulmate, a lot of times… is your girls. Friendship is the support structure that keeps Tabitha Walker standing, and we got to see and meet these people. I was really happy to see their story progress and mature, and the characters mature.
Friendship is self-care.
xoN: This series also brought up allyship and how that impacts Black women in corporate America. How did that come about?
JA: I wanted to examine allyship in the book because it's very much a part of the Black journey in corporate America, because we're still in very much predominantly white spaces. In the new release Black Girls Must Have It All, there's a scene where Tabby questions her coworker Lisa and asks, “Why are you trying to help me?”
I thought that was such an important question that felt authentic to Tabitha’s journey. Here you have this ally, and because of the nature of how Black women are treated in corporate America, you question when there's someone who seems to be friendly to you—who seems to be advocating for you because it doesn't happen enough.
Then you see another relationship with her boss, Chris Perkins. I wanted to show the diverse types of allies, advocates, and mentors that you experience in corporate America. There's a big difference between having someone who's going to make sure you're in the room and that you have a seat at the table. So, Tabby's got these different models of mentorship, and she has to navigate which one is going to serve her best.
xoN: In book three, 'Black Girls Must Have It All' we gain a new perspective into Tabitha’s love interest, Marc and his journey. Let’s discuss the layers that were revealed.
JA: Marc is a really important character to me. On paper, he's a person that you want to date. You would want him without really asking yourself the more important questions like, 'Who is this person behind being handsome, the success, and the Porsche? [How] is he showing up as a partner?'
I examine Marc's humanity and get behind that facade and see who's there, how he grows and evolves. I wanted to give him the opportunity to mature. I wanted the readers to see his journey, and I wanted to see what Tabby was going to do with it and how she was going to grow with him.
xoN: How do you respond to the criticism that the Black male characters in the book were not shown in the best light?
JA: It's not representative of all men or all Black men. It is representative of Tabby's choices, which start with her dad. And then her dad’s choices started with his dad, and you get to read all about that in the book. It's not a characterization of Black men. It's just these particular men, by virtue of who Tabby is attracted to, by virtue of who her father is, and how that came to be, which has a lot to do with racism. It’s a very specific story that intentionally speaks to generational legacies and how that affects women and our choices. I hope readers are asking themselves those questions.
xoN: In your journey as a writer, what do you hope to see differently when it comes to telling Black stories and centering Black characters?
JA: Often, we see pieces of our story told by somebody else, or we see just pieces of ourselves, but to see an actual book about us and about people that we know and people that look like us. That's very important, something that we don't see in the publishing industry, especially when reading women's fiction and contemporary fiction.
I would read stories where there is a Black sidekick, and she has kinky hair and this spunky attitude. She's the one that everybody leans on, and I'm like, 'This is a caricature. Why are you telling me this character is Black without showing me the humanity of this person? Where's her story?' So that was my intention.
It's not meant to be representative of all Black people and not every Black experience, but the culture is there, and there's enough there that should hopefully allow readers to feel seen and be celebrated in a way that hasn't been so common.
xoN: What’s next for Tabitha and the characters in the 'Black Girls Must Die Exhausted' series?
JA: Tabitha is headed to television! A series is in development, we have a writer and showrunner, no roles have been casted, but it’s moving along! There have been some major developments that I can’t say just yet, but it's very good!
Featured image courtesy of Jayne Allen
Whether it was your group chat, social media feed, or your favorite media outlet covering the spectacle, I’m pretty sure you’ve come across the viral Black wedding between actress KJ Smith (Sistas, Raising Kanan) and actor Skyh Black (All the Queen’s Men, Sistas). From their grand entrance to Jay-Z, Kayne West, and Beyoncé’s song “Lift Off” to KJ’s standout dance routine and the endless celebrity appearances, it’s an addictive TikTok scroll you can’t help but delve into.
But what many people would be surprised to know is that the couple’s original wedding plan was nothing like what it grew to be. What started as her simply scrolling through posts to get ideas eventually transformed into what the internet knows now as #TheBlackExperience. In an exclusive conversation with xoNecole, KJ walked us through her planning process, the morning of her wedding, and what she thinks of the online response.
Some women have their whole wedding planned out, from the bridal gown and venue to the bridal party and playlist. However, KJ was not one of those people. “I didn’t foresee a wedding in my future,” she reveals. “I was just gonna be the boss chick, rich auntie. I didn’t force love in my life until recently. I never had an idea of what a dream wedding would look like, it was easier for me to elope.”
Photo by Stanley Babb/ Stanlo Photography
And to many people’s surprise, that was their original plan – until Skyh brought up a valid concern. He was raised by his grandmother and thought she should be at the wedding, and naturally, that led to KJ wanting her grandmother to be there as well – then her mom – and later her sister – and, you’ve gotta invite the besties too, right? From there, the guest list continued to blossom. Much like the updo and pop of color bold red lip, she wore on her special day, which was initially on her Pinterest board as a soft glam look with her hair hanging on her shoulders, KJ is okay with changing her plan if it brings her and her loved ones happiness.
So let’s get into the wedding, which took place in Malibu, CA. The first thing you should know about the celebrity couple is that they’re non-traditional. They know, and they don’t care. So, in true unconventional fashion, they shared the morning of the wedding together.
“I woke up with Skyh, we walked our dog, had black coffee, and said good morning to the people who stayed at the venue with us,” she says.
Now, it was time for hair and makeup. While she was getting glammed up, she had Black-owned McBride Sisters wine and champagne (which ties into The Black Experience theme) on deck with her mom and friends, had her besties help rework her vows, retried on every outfit (sis is very Type-A), took photos, and ended the early-celebration with prayer and meditation. It seems very non-Bridezilla, I said.
“Yeah, I was the most unbothered bride ever. Everyone was just so supportive. As entertainers, we go on red carpets all the time. We actually have a production company,” she explains. “The get-ready process was like a day at work, but with people we love the most. Being entertainers, we didn’t feel stressed at all, but my excitement was so high.”
Things moved quickly, and before she knew it, it was time to line up to walk down the aisle.
“Yeah, I was the most unbothered bride ever. Everyone was just so supportive. As entertainers, we go on red carpets all the time. We actually have a production company. The get-ready process was like a day at work, but with people we love the most. Being entertainers, we didn’t feel stressed at all, but my excitement was so high.”
KJ Smith and her bridal party
Photo by Stanley Babb/ Stanlo Photography
Since everything started with their grandmothers, the couple wanted to ensure they honored them and planned to keep an element of their wedding traditional. Although we’ve all seen the reception videos and photos online, you may have noticed visuals from the wedding itself are harder to find.
“We planned for it to be traditional, but we’re not like that, so we tried to create those moments. We jumped the broom and had a salt ceremony (where the bride and groom individually pour salt into a glass container, symbolizing their lives becoming one.) But honestly, still, nothing was traditional about it.”
She goes on to explain that her mom caught the holy ghost coming down the aisle, her glam team was on deck, and she became so nervous with excitement that she had an anxiety attack – something she struggled with for years, she explains tearfully. Her friends had to literally cheer her down the aisle because of how overwhelmed she felt until she eventually calmed down.
“Skyh was standing there with his hand on his heart; we have our own little language, and I could feel the support,” she shares.
It was surprising to hear all these emotional moments happened before the party we saw online. That is until she once again got into the backstory.
“As a Black woman actress, for so long, it was popular to be mysterious and secretive, but that’s not who I am or what I like. Plus, we both wanted to create an experience for everyone there. We are the people who always host family and friends,” she says. “Like for me, the first order of business was getting sandals for the women so they can dance all night long. We had oxtail, D'ussé, and a coffee and sativa lounge – which is part of Skyh and I’s lifestyle and routine. We wanted to bring them into our world.”
Skyh Black (L) and KJ Smith (R)
Photo by Stanley Babb/ Stanlo Photography
She went on to discuss the dance routine she did for her husband at the reception, which has taken over the internet. Apparently, that’s another thing that didn’t go according to plan. According to KJ, she had promised a performance at their joint bachelor/ bachelorette party, but her outfit got stolen from her car. So, Skyh ended up performing for her – complete with a strip tease. Still, she never forgot her promise to dance for him.
So, she hired her friend as a choreographer, learned the routine, made friends and family watch it endless times, and attended Beyoncé’s Renaissance show a few days before for a confidence boost. It ended up being a show to remember. But that wasn’t all the night offered. Lil Mo performed, and the guests received special goody bags featuring their favorite Black-owned products like journals, hair care, and more.
“We made sure everyone was taken care of all night. That kind of stuff makes us happy. I wanted everyone there to experience the joy and love I have for myself, my partner, and for them. I wanted them to feel full and whole, and they had the time of their lives,” she says.
But naturally, the internet is going to internet, and while there were countless people praising the event and applauding the newlyweds, some thought it was too over the top. I was curious to know her thoughts on some of the criticism.
“It’s cool. We did what we wanted to do. I’ve decided to share my world with people. Just how I went on social media platforms and found inspiration, I want people to do the same,” she explains. “I don’t think it's fair to my supporters not to give that out. There’s so much I wanna share with brides, specifically Black brides. I love that people are adding it to their Pinterest boards."
"I wanted everyone there to experience the joy and love I have for myself, my partner, and for them. I wanted them to feel full and whole, and they had the time of their lives."
Photo by Stanley Babb/ Stanlo Photography
“I’m happy with it because we did what we wanted to do. They can do what they wanna do. Don’t be cruel, though, because you will get blocked,” she said, laughing.
The more I spoke with her, the more her sense of freedom shined through. People are always going to have their opinions, but at the end of the day, it’s you who has to live your life, and it seems like the couple realizes that and embraces that power. She also stressed the importance of not living for others and the lessons life has taught her.
“I’ve been to countless weddings, and I’ve been in countless weddings. I’m a generally older bride. So when women in my demographic get married, and you and your husband are busy working people like us, you deserve to have the one you want to have,” she shares.
“This is what we wanted to do. Our loved ones love and support us. We did so much to honor them, but we also wanted to start our own tradition, legacy, and creation. I'm not going to be pulled back into ideas of the past when I’m trying to create a future with my partner. “
If you’d like to see more of the couple, you probably won’t have to wait long. Although no content is planned yet, she admits to being an oversharer. “Me being open and transparent about my experiences lets people know it’s okay to have flaws; it makes you human, and for many years, I didn’t believe that was okay. I had pressure to be perfect, and I’d crumble every time,” she explains to xoNecole.
Now, she owns her flaws and uses them as a superpower to connect with her community and feel and express her love.
“Some people give us [Skyh and KJ] a hard time because they say we just seem too perfect. I’m like, why is that a bad thing? I love the people I love. From my man to my mama, to my friends - unabashedly. We move through time and space how we want to move. If we did it another way, we’d let ourselves and our union down.”
Feature image by Stanley Babb/ Stanlo Photography
When Erika Hairston was entering her first year at Yale in 2018, she never imagined that the challenges she experienced during her education would give her the insights needed to solve a problem that she and many STEM students would face. “The summer after my senior year of high school, I stumbled upon a documentary about the lack of women and minorities in tech,” she tells xoNecole. “They showed how code was in every single thing we touched, and I just remember thinking, ‘Holy smokes, how is it possible that there are so few people who look like me in this industry that is clearly taking over the future?’”
While her time at the Ivy League came with its set of learning curves, Hairston was sure that her love for coding as a computer science major would outweigh those barriers to entry.
During her freshman year, she landed an internship at Facebook that would shape her outlook on tech forever. “I got my first offer letter, and seeing that, I was like, ‘This is how you create economic opportunities,” she recalls. “Seeing how much I was making as just a 19-year-old in tech made me realize I wanted to devote the rest of my career to helping more people have access to this in-demand field in tech.”
And that, she did.
Today, Hairston is the CEO and co-founder of EdLyft, a tutoring platform that equips students in computer science courses to land in-demand tech careers at the largest tech companies and is one of the youngest Black women to raise more than $1 million in venture capital through her startup. “We're a platform that helps companies train and engage their entire future workforce,” she says. “Everyone and all students are using our platform, however, we make it an intention to prioritize partnerships and programs where diversity is a top priority or a top goal.”
Erika and her co-founder believe in replicating the support that kept them in computer science to help more underrepresented talent thrive in the growing world of tech. After leaving their corporate jobs to pursue this mission and launching Edlyft in February 2020, they have since supported over 3000 students to reach their goals in the tech field.
“Computer science dramatically changed our lives, and when we looked at the market, we saw how in-demand software engineering was and realized that if we could replicate what kept us in computer science to help more people gain access to these in-demand careers, that would be really powerful.”
Photo by Apple Media
xoNecole: Learning to code can seem like an intimidating skill to acquire. Can you speak to how one can overcome those initial barriers of entry?
Erika Hairston: Coding is like learning a new language where practice makes perfect. The intimidation, it's not just women of color who experienced that, it’s everyone when they try coding for the first time because it has a very steep learning curve. The first piece of advice is acknowledging that you're not alone in that initial hurdle of the steep learning curve.
The second piece of advice is that the media doesn't help. When you think of your typical hacker or getting into computer science, you see a white guy with a hoodie and glasses on, with a laptop in the corner, and sometimes people don't see themselves represented in that. And so I think there's been a lot of push to change that in really seeing yourself as an engineer, and that’s a part of what we are trying to change.
On a tactical level, there are so many organizations and resources that I encourage women, especially Black women, to tap into in order to overcome those barriers. One amazing organization that we're partnering with is Reboot Representation, whose mission is to increase the number of Black, Latinx, and Native women in tech.
xoN: Many female entrepreneurs struggle with imposter syndrome. How have you dealt with self-doubt while remaining confident in your abilities?
EH: More recently, I will say I have chosen to dismiss impostor syndrome as something that I feel because I realized that no one knows what they are doing. I wasn't ready to become a founder — I actually was working on a side project when I thought, ‘Oh, I can't be a founder. I don't look like a founder.’ What does that look like? And when I got into Apple’s Entrepreneur Camp, I was surrounded by women founders who were stages ahead of me, and they became my friends, and I got to see what it looked like to be in their shoes.
It was the first time that I saw that this is what it would look like for me to do this. I am capable, I can do that. Changing what it looks like to be what you want to be is a really important part of my journey. Surround yourself with investors or peers who have that shared vision of the world with you, empower you, and help you see what you can become.
"Changing what it looks like to be what you want to be is a really important part of my journey. Surround yourself with investors or peers who have that shared vision of the world with you, empower you, and help you see what you can become."
Photo by Apple Media
xoN: What challenges did you face when raising venture capital funding or navigating the tech world?
EH: Demystifying the fundraising process is one of those inside secrets that you don't know until you know. So democratizing access to this information is critical so that there's no longer those "The Only Black Woman To Raise This Much" headlines — those have to be abolished.
We went through an accelerator program called Y Combinator. It's three months of access to investors who help you gear up for its ‘Demo Day’ where you pitch in front of a lot of investors. That was how we got that inside, ‘secret juice’ which is the way the fundraising process works. Doing those exercises and research to learn the tactics and skills that will increase our chances of being funded by investors that are mission-aligned was a really critical part of the process.
What that looked like for us was sending a lot of emails; I was even in people's DMs on Twitter. Being prepared to answer any questions and asking more founders for more introductions, that is truly how fundraising happens because sometimes we can't do what works for the 99%.
xoN: As a successful female entrepreneur, what advice do you have for women who aspire to start their own businesses, particularly in male-dominated industries like tech?
EH: One, do your ‘startup math’ or do your founder math. Calculate how much you need to have saved before you start your business. For me, that was six months of living expenses to feel confident and comfortable leaving my full-time job to focus on my company full-time. Do that math, save it up. That way, it's not always ‘Oh, I'll do it later,’ there's a concrete number that you're saving up towards.
Second, fall in love with a problem, not the solution. When you're building a business, the solution will look different, and it'll have to change as you learn from the people that you are building for. But if you care a lot about the problem, you'll find all of the different ways to best solve that and stay motivated as you work on your business.
Featured image by Apple Media