Doula Brandi Sellerz-Jackson Says Motherhood Helped Her Birth Her "Why"
In xoNecole's series Mother/Hustler, we sit down with influential mom bosses who open up about the ups and downs of motherhood, as well as how they kill it in their respective industries, all while keeping their sanity and being intentional about self-care.
Not long before Mother/Hustler Brandi Sellerz-Jackson started her business in 2016, she miscarried a child and felt placed between a rock and a hard place emotionally. Months later, even after Brandi and her husband became pregnant with their rainbow baby, Jedi, the now 37-year-old mom was still grieving the baby she lost only a year earlier and felt more isolated than ever. It wasn't long before Brandi recognized that she was not alone in her loneliness, and since there were few safe spaces for women to talk about these traumas, she decided to create one.
Not So Private Parts is an online community that was created for women like Brandi, who feel like they have faced some of the hardest trials in life by themselves, to feel connected to a community who can sincerely relate. Since the birth of her sons Jax and Jedi, as well as the most recent addition to her family, Jupiter, Brandi says that she feels impregnated with more insight than ever before.
"Motherhood has not only given me my 'why', but I believe it's birthed even more creativity."
As a blogger, wife, and mother of three, Brandi says that bossing up isn't easy, but boy, is it a blessing for her kids to see her sign her own checks. "I am always thinking of ways that I can create pathways for not just my children, but my grandchildren, and my grandchildren's children. How can I make the road easier for the generations to follow?"
For Brandi, being a mogul mommy with a vision means keeping promises to yourself, even if that just means intentionally setting an earlier bedtime, or updating her calendar. Although this Mother/Hustler spends much of her time birthing babies, she also makes time to create space for her own dreams to grow in a healthy environment. She explained, "Do what you can to get [things] done. Keep a calendar and all the reminders set. Relinquish. Take care of yourself first, so that you can better take care of others."
Here's how Brandi balances being a mother-of-three and professional miracle worker, all while minding her self-care at the same damn time:
What’s your occupation?
"I am a Birth and Postpartum Doula and the creator of the women's online platform, Not So Private Parts. I am also the co-founder of Moms In Color, a collective created for and by Black moms to celebrate diversity within the motherhood community. I am a creative. I create pathways."
Are you single?
"No, my husband and I have been together for 18 years and married for 14 years in November."
How do you handle moments when you feel overwhelmed?
"I first take a breath and ask myself, what is it that I need? I do a mental checklist of sorts: am I hungry? Am I exhausted? Have I overextended myself? Am I staying hydrated? Do I need to step away and put on the oxygen?"
What’s the hardest part of your day?
"The hardest part of the day are mostly evenings. I think for most parents, evenings/bedtime can be quite the struggle. By this time, kids are tired and beyond exhausted from their own day. After all, they are little humans. They are processing their own stuff as well. Oftentimes, they have no clue that they are tired. It's a lot."
How (and how often) do you practice self-care?
"I try my hardest to practice self-care before I become overextended or in need of it. Keyword… TRY. For me, sometimes self-care looks like going to the Korean Spa and taking a soak. Sometimes, it looks like me preparing an amazing dish, just for me. Other times, self-care looks like me intentionally going to bed early. Self-care is all about listening and responding to your body's needs."
What is your advice for dealing with mom guilt?
"Let go of it. We are all doing the best that we can. We are all hopefully attempting to raise thriving, kind, and aware humans. There is no place for judgment either for self or for others."
What is your favorite way to spend “me time”?
"Because I have THREE BOYS, one can imagine that our home is pretty loud. When I need "me time" it usually involves some level of quiet. I love to sit in complete silence and just gather my thoughts. Put pen to paper. Breathe."
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?
"Go for it. There is space for that idea that keeps you up at night. Most importantly, there is a need. People are waiting for your vision to manifest. They need your vision to manifest."
"Go for it. There is space for that idea that keeps you up at night. Most importantly, there is a need. People are waiting for your vision to manifest. They need your vision to manifest."
Why was it important to you to be an entrepreneur even though some people may think that a 9-5 offers more stability?
"This is for our kids! All of it! We truly believe that if our kids grow up seeing parents happy and thriving (in whatever space) it will benefit them in the long run. Now, don't get it twisted. I get it, I understand. Having a solid 9-5 is amazing. The stability is amazing. It's just a matter of what feels best and/or brings you the most peace."
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a mom who runs a business?
"Balancing and finding time for it all can be challenging. There are days where I am super productive, and then there are days when I have to relinquish. All of this is ok."
What is the most important lesson you want your kid(s) to learn from you?
"I want my kids to know that they are capable of anything. That they are important, needed, and purposed for this great big world. I want them to continue to see my husband and I living out our dreams so that they know that they can do it too."
Do you think it’s important to keep your personal and professional life separate? Why or why not?
"It depends. When I am supporting mothers during birth or postpartum, I try to leave my own experiences out of it because each journey is different. However, there are times where a client will want to know my journey in hopes to better navigate their own. In this case, I may share. It really depends on what feels most beneficial in the moment and on a case by case basis. Also, I am in the 'sharing' business. When creating, there are levels of being private. It just depends."
What tips do you have for financial planning, both professionally and for your family?
"Budget, budget, budget. Vision board or simply write down your financial goals. Whatever it looks like, keep the goal front and center."
If you're ever in Cali and need help birthing a baby or just want to connect with a community of dope moms, make sure to check out NotSoPrivateParts.life, and you can keep up with Brandi on Instagram by following @bstereo!
Featured image by @bstereo.
Originally published July 28, 2019
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Taylor "Pretty" Honore is a spiritually centered and equally provocative rapper from Baton Rouge, Louisiana with a love for people and storytelling. You can probably find me planting herbs in your local community garden, blasting "Back That Thang Up" from my mini speaker. Let's get to know each other: @prettyhonore.
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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The Raw And Real About Self-Employment
I never thought I would be self-employed. I literally planned out my life at 9 to live in New York, finance that lifestyle with a regular-smegular job, and live on fabulously. I really didn't see self-employment modeled in my everyday life, as most of the women who raised me worked for private companies, government entities, corporations, or the military.
It wasn't until college that I'd see self-employment modeled among women, especially the mothers of my friends who were first-generation Caribbean or African. All of their moms were highly educated and held down 9-to-5s but always had some sort of side hustle. Fast-forward to my first major publishing gig, working for a magazine that highlights all that is excellent about Black entrepreneurship, and I finally got bit by the bug. I decided to try consulting as a side hustle.
One day I woke up, ready to go to work after being given a raise and a title promotion, and a voice (God, duh!) said, "Janell, you need to quit. Go off on your own. It's now or never." So I did.
I went full-time with consulting and never left my love for editing and writing behind. No one would tell me that it wouldn't be all about empowering roses, extreme time and energy flexibility, and cashing checks. Baby, it can be a rough road, with many detours, bumps, and even crashes.
If you're considering becoming self-employed, consider what I've learned (mostly the hard way) in my journey:
It was all good when I'd get my check at a job, and all the heavy lifting related to taxes had been done already. Maybe I'd cringe that my take-home pay had diminished by quite a lot once taxes were taken out, but that feeling is nothing compared to the utter horrific trepidation that comes with tax season when you have to file as a self-employed professional.
Quarterly tax obligations are real, and a huge lesson I've learned is that you have to really become honest with yourself about your money mindset, how you dealt with money before becoming self-employed, the federal and state tax requirements that apply to you, and the importance of embracing and taking full advantage of the resources out there to help you.
Often, when you're self-employed, you feel like you can do it all, but in my case, I found that dealing with money matters really intimidated me. I had to empower myself by asking for help and getting the information I needed to succeed.
If you're considering self-employment, talk to others who are self-employed, get references for tax attorneys, coaches, financial advisers, or certified accountants, and check out the IRS website to find out the information you need. Look to your local businesses and organizations that advocate for you. Get the knowledge you need and write out a plan of action ahead of time so that you won't be overwhelmed when you're ready to go for it.
And offer yourself grace. Life is not about perfection, and you can't know it all at all times. Experience can sometimes be the best teacher as well, especially when it comes to being self-employed.
Invoicing And Knowing Your Worth
Setting prices for your time, services, or products can be tricky, but if you decide to continue pursuing the same work you did in your 9-to-5 when you move on to be your own boss (like I did), this can be much easier. Be sure to check the market rates for what you offer to the world by going to sites like Salary.com or Glassdoor to help you set a baseline for what you should be getting paid. Ask around your industry and get a mentor who can guide you on this, especially someone who has been in their field, self-employed, for many years. (You want to learn from folk who have receipts.)
Early on, I tragically undervalued my services, talent, and experience and undercharged by a lot. I often felt desperate because, to be honest with you, my confidence wasn't as high as I thought it was when I started the journey. I also had bills to pay and didn't want to go through the shame of failing.
Well, if you're reading this, you can plan better than I did in the early days and set yourself up for success by not only charging what you're worth but adding tax (literally...I just told you about Uncle Sam, sis), but saving up and planning so that you can take or leave any client or customer. You won't be so pressed because you've financially and mentally prepared yourself to take the leap.
Now, I'm not saying deplete all your savings and live off of credit cards and hope. I am saying go into self-employment with a realistic sense of what you should be charging, how your prices and expenses affect your finances, the reasonable market rates for what you're offering to the world, and the quality of life you'd like to have for yourself and your family.
It took me years to get in a good groove of understanding the types of clients I wanted to work with, what publishers I wanted to build relationships with, what I was willing to sacrifice just for the experience, and my hard boundaries for the return on investment of my time.
Again, if you feel confused or anxious about this, get some help. Talk to a coach, join a Facebook group, or invest in courses where you can be around and learn from other self-employed professionals who have been successful, and the fruits of their labors are super-evident.
The Isolation And Loneliness
I've always been one who loves my own company and will do almost anything alone (especially traveling, going out to dinner or movies, or trying something new and daring that I can't convince anyone in my network to do).
However, especially during the pandemic, I learned that while I'm never really lonely, I absolutely hate feeling alone. The isolation really caused me to go inward, lose a lot of my zest for serving people, and ruined any sense of community I'd felt previously. It also made me realize that we need people and that I crave the exchange of human energy when it comes to doing what I love.
Embarking on a self-employment journey means also reaching out and being an active part of networks where you can serve, learn and grow so that you can avoid making mistakes, advance your career, boost your business, make friends, and really contribute in a more elevated way. Go to those mixers, sis. Take that coffee or virtual lunch invite. Travel on that retreat. Volunteer. Do things that will really enrich your spirit and provide some sort of social interaction that will make being self-employed something fulfilling to be.
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Broke, Going Back To A 9-to-5....And Failure
I really want to keep it 100 on this one: Almost every self-employed person I know has had to go back to a 9-to-5 at one point or another, even if it was part-time or something that they would never dare put on their resume. Sometimes, you gotta do what you gotta do.
Some people work a 9-to-5 to fuel their future of full-time self-employment. Some went solo and found that they needed to do a bit more self-development and get a bit more education by working for a company.
Some people took a leap and failed. It happens, and it happened to me. I'm proud of having sold shoes (one of the best jobs of my life), answered phones, or sold products via telemarketing because it taught me humility, customer service, and sales skills and helped me engage with people in a way I hadn't when self-employed.
It also boosted my confidence, letting me know I could do anything I put my mind to and that God would never leave me hanging off a cliff. It strengthened my faith and made me even more determined to continue to go for my dreams.
It also widened my network, and one job even helped me finance a major surgery I didn't even know I'd need. (The actual job was a flop, but the experience was a God-send that I'm forever grateful for because had I not been employed and fully insured, I'm not sure I'd be here to write this.)
Being self-employed isn't the fantasy that's often portrayed on social, but if it's the path for you, it can be super-rewarding. Be sure to take heed to the lessons I've learned along the way, remember your why, stay diligent, enjoy the process, and be that successful self-employed boss you were called to be.
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