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Brand Manager Erika Pope On Thriving Through Crisis & Using Linkedin As A Road Map

Erika Pope proves the path to success doesn't have to be straight but it can be fulfilling.

BOSS UP

Nowadays, everything might seem a bit uncertain, and whether you're super-employed, self-employed, or underemployed, the stress factor is real. COVID-19 has changed how we live our lives, and with that change, many of us have had to roll with the punches, do some serious soul-searching, and even reconsider our next boss move.

One thing's for sure in hard economic times: Having a job you're great at---one you love---can be your saving grace. One enterprising professional who can attest to that is Erika Pope, global brand manager for House of Cheatham, the parent company of popular haircare lines including Aunt Jackie's Coils and Curls, Argan Smooth, Texture My Way, and Aunt Jackie's Kids.

"I love this space. It's so fun. I really like that it's not just about a product or the glitz and glam. It's honestly the opportunity to work in the community with women and make them feel good about themselves," Pope said in an xoNecole interview.

Image by Stephon X Photography

"I love this space. It's so fun. I really like that it's not just about a product or the glitz and glam. It's honestly the opportunity to work in the community with women and make them feel good about themselves."

Her path to beauty brand management wasn't a straight one, but the journey helped her learn more about her passions, her capabilities, and her strengths. In 2008, Pope found herself in unfamiliar waters at Michigan State University. She was the first in her immediate family to attend a large school away from home.

"I knew I had a creative and artistic mind, so I started off wanting to do fashion design. I got into the program and realized how much I hated sewing," Pope recalled. "I ended up in a retail merchandising program and studied a dual degree in art. When I finished college, I left [for] Chicago, and like most young adults leaving college, I still had no idea of what I'd be doing."

With few prospects, Pope said, she did odd jobs and then stumbled upon an opportunity to work in digital media. "That was my introduction into social media and marketing, and I loved it." Pope then went on to work as a buyer for TJX Companies (think TJ Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods) through an opportunity via LinkedIn. "I went through their training program, and it's globally regarded. It's extremely hard to finish. They [accepted] about 200 of us and by the end, there were only about 40 people that they actually hired on full-time," she said. "I was selected to help launch and curate TJMaxx.com---part of the team that built and created the e-commerce platform that they have today. It put a lot in perspective for me because I knew from there on out, I always wanted to work with brands."

Pope would continue to work as a buyer for several years before eventually starting her own consultancy, Pope Solutions. "It's a full marketing services agency, and [we've done] some consulting for different brands."

Image by Stephon X Photography

She's a huge advocate of the power of LinkedIn, especially for finding new opportunities---or positioning yourself for them to find you. Her current boss, she said, found her on the platform and hired her to consult before she landed the full-time position she's loving today. "It's the Instagram of the business space. I've been obsessed with it since college. Some of my friends would make fun of me for being so heavily interested in LinkedIn, [saying], 'Oh, that's where all the old people are.' But I'd say that's where you can connect [with people offering] the jobs that you want, so it's important."

With more business owners and CEOs at home and online, Pope says it's a good idea to leverage the platform, especially when reevaluating your career path or trying to connect with leaders in your industry.

"I think of LinkedIn [as] a road map. You can look up roles you want, find people in those roles, look at the roles they had prior to getting where they are, and find out what skills they gained along the way. There's not just one way to do anything."

For Pope, COVID-19 isn't a time to shut down the enthusiasm for work that you love, but a time to elevate the passion and find the balance needed to be your best self for your job or even the job you want. As a wife and manager, she finds it important to be her best self, and in order to do that, she carves out alone time to meditate, stretch, and exercise on her Peloton bike. "I can imagine I'm in Paris or traveling abroad. I've realized that nothing is going to work out if I'm not [well]. I'm responsible for all these different aspects of this brand along with my personal brand, so if I'm not centered, nothing else is going to be right."

She's also found that this time as an opportunity to connect more deeply with the consumer base she serves and a challenge to get creative. "We've adjusted our focus in how we engage with people, and we are putting a lot more energy into building out digital campaigns," she explained. "We [Aunt Jackie's Curls & Coils] just recently partnered with xoNecole and did their first digital Pajamas and Lipstick event. It's just [about] becoming more creative and figuring out how to stay top-of-mind. I try to put our consumers first. Knowing that we're in such a different time, people's mental health is really important, and I don't want to feel like we're being insensitive to the things that are happening---being salesy and just pushing products. One of the things about my personal platform is [that it's] all about women's empowerment. It's a win-win for me to work with consumers---women specifically---all over the globe, just making them feel good about themselves. [I enjoy] standing behind a product I actually believe in and use myself."

For more of Erika, follow her on Instagram.

Featured image by Stephon X Photography

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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