On April 7th 2016, a barefoot Dej Loaf entered the Ventanas rooftop in Atlanta in style.
Her custom gold Nicci Hou dress gently hugged her curves, the train brushing across the yellow rose petals tossed casually on the floor from the bowls of her female escorts, while celebrities, guests and press snapped photos of the Detroit rapper in celebration of her grand entrance into the quarter-life. The Coming to America themed party hit the blogs that following Monday just as event planner Summer Bledsoe Totten, who created the dessert table for VIP guests, breathed a sigh of relief for the completion of yet another successful extravaganza.
“I get people who call now like 'oh you did Dej Loaf's party? Can you do my party?'" says Totten. “It opened a whole other door."
For the Atlanta native, party planning isn't a hobby, it's the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. One that she had pushed aside after graduating from Morgan State and jumping the broom at the age of 22. As she puts it, life took over, priorities shifted to marriage and motherhood, and the little girl who once envisioned herself planning other people's weddings became a woman working a nine-to-five for the government.
That is, until her youngest daughter turned three. While many mom's lament at the idea of having to put together a noteworthy gathering for their little one, Totten saw it as an opportunity to tap back into her creative aspirations. “Once I had my daughter I realized, hey, I had dreams. I had stuff that I wanted to do. So I was like let me plan a party for her."
But she didn't just want the typical Chuck-E-Cheese gathering; she wanted something special that catered to the likes of her little princess. Realizing that there was a lack of options for girls, she decided to take matters into her own hands and create a one-of-a-kind event that both friends and family would never forget.
Kids dessert table at Tammy Rivera's swimsuit launch.
After sharing her goals with her boss, she was provided with a copy of The Go-Giver, a story centered on a character striving for success. Totten began to revisit her own purpose in life. “After reading the book, literally it clicked. I was talking to [ my boss] and she was like, if it's your passion and it brings you joy, you should try to do it."
But there were a few problems. Well, perceived problems that turned out to be excuses in disguise. “My reason was life was in the way. I have a responsibility by my kids. I have a husband. I have a job. We've got insurance. We've got a house. We've got a mortgage. And so I was basically like no, I can't do this."
With encouragement from her husband, family, and a circle of equally driven and women entrepreneurial friends, Totten could no longer defend her reasoning for not going after the one thing that both scared and fueled her. She started taking weekend classes—eight hour long sessions on everything from baking to decorating—and spent nights perfecting her planning skills in preparation for launching her own business. In 2012, It's Your Party became official. “I felt like I had no choice but to go out and pursue my dreams. I'm like why not? What's holding me back? I can't say it's my husband. I can't say that I don't have the support. So why do I think that I can't be a professional at it? I've literally just looked at it like I don't have a choice. This is what I want to do and I have no reason not to. Why should I settle and not do what I really, really love to do?"
Totten started with kid parties and baby showers for clients in the surrounding communities, making sure to tag her Instagram photos for those scouring hash tags for events in the Atlanta area. It didn't go unnoticed. “I was doing an event for a rapper named Young Scooter, and the lady who was doing balloons there was like, 'oh I follow you on Instagram and I love your work!' And then she ended up calling me one day and was like Tiny is having a charity event that she does every year for kids for Christmas. Do you want to contribute at all?"
There was a catch—she wasn't getting paid for her services. But what she sacrificed monetarily she gained in connections. “I literally look at it as marketing, and if you can't afford marketing then you can't afford to do business. Because marketing is a huge part of business."
Dessert table at T.I. and Tiny's baby shower
After successfully lending her talents for the event, she received a request to create the dessert table for rapper T.I. and his wife Tiny's baby shower, and soon began partnering with her fellow event planners on a number of events catering to celebs and their children in addition to maintaining her own steady stream of clientele. Totten believes that it's her uniqueness and knack for personalization that takes her ideas to the next level. “I'm putting your child's pictures on the label and things that can make a party unique for that person and making it a memorable event."
The average client comes to It's Your Party armed with just a theme or a color scheme, and it's up to Totten to bring the vision to life through customized invites (that she prefers to do herself), décor, and edible creations. “Once I create the invitations, my head is already at the event. I'm already visualizing your linen, your labels, etc. I already have it drawn out and know exactly how it's going to look. So basically it starts with the invitation."
If she's working in tandem with other party planners, she still prefers to have a certain level of control over the event. “If you're using an outside person, I need that person's information because I want to coordinate with them. It's a stress-free process for you. I do a lot of treatments with the visuals so that way I don't have to worry about everything not matching and not coordinating. Everything has to coordinate and match, and if I have total control, then it's going to be successful."
Summer and her husband.
Being a boss, a wife of 13 years and a mom (she recently had her fourth child in January) while still working part-time at her government job, is no easy feat, but having the support of her husband, especially, helps her to stay committed to the end goal. "I'll call him like babe I need you to look up who this person is because they're calling me about the party and he'll come back to me in like five minutes and give me the whole history on them. He's just like you need to go for it. If he sees me renting stuff too often he'll be like, do you need to buy it? I don't want you paying rent now. Without support I would've been like man forget this."
Totten admits that there are times that she feels guilty about missing football games and cheerleading practices. It helps knowing that she has a strong support system in her family and friends, and makes sure to bring her kids along when situations permit. “If I'm just going to be at a party for a couple of hours, I'll bring them along so they see oh this is my mom's party. That helps me feel that they know why I can't do certain things."
The sacrifice does come with rewards, though. In this case, it's knowing that she's no longer dying in the confinements of comfort and instead is living her dream.
“To know your purpose and actually have the willingness to pursue being yourself, having freedom and feeling comfortable enough to be yourself, to me is an ultimate goal to me for any woman."
While many women struggle to find the answer of how to have a marriage, kids and a fulfilling career, Totten is proving that it's possible to both be your own boss and come home to a loving family. It's all about being unafraid to pursue everything that you want, and not making excuses as to why you don't deserve to have it all.
To find out more about Summer's event planning business, visit Its Your Party ATL on Instagram.
Exclusive: Gabrielle Union On Radical Transparency, Being Diagnosed With Perimenopause And Embracing What’s Next
Whenever Gabrielle Union graces the movie screen, she immediately commands attention. From her unforgettable scenes in films like Bring It On and Two Can Play That Game to her most recent film, in which she stars and produces Netflix’s The Perfect Find, there’s no denying that she is that girl.
Off-screen, she uses that power for good by sharing her trials and tribulations with other women in hopes of helping those who may be going through the same things or preventing them from experiencing them altogether. Recently, the Flawless by Gabrielle Union founder partnered with Clearblue to speak at the launch of their Menopause Stage Indicator, where she also shared her experience with being perimenopausal.
In a xoNecoleexclusive, the iconic actress opens up about embracing this season of her life, new projects, and overall being a “bad motherfucker.” Gabrielle reveals that she was 37 years old when she was diagnosed with perimenopause and is still going through it at 51 years old. Mayo Clinic says perimenopause “refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years.”
“I haven't crossed over the next phase just yet, but I think part of it is when you hear any form of menopause, you automatically think of your mother or grandmother. It feels like an old-person thing, but for me, I was 37 and like not understanding what that really meant for me. And I don't think we focus so much on the word menopause without understanding that perimenopause is just the time before menopause,” she tells us.
Photo by Brian Thomas
"But you can experience a lot of the same things during that period that people talk about, that they experienced during menopause. So you could get a hot flash, you could get the weight gain, the hair loss, depression, anxiety, like all of it, mental health challenges, all of that can come, you know, at any stage of the menopausal journey and like for me, I've been in perimenopause like 13, 14 years. When you know, most doctors are like, ‘Oh, but it's usually about ten years, and I'm like, ‘Uhh, I’m still going (laughs).’”
Conversations about perimenopause, fibroids, and all the things that are associated with women’s bodies have often been considered taboo and thus not discussed publicly. However, times are changing, and thanks to the Gabrielle’s and the Tia Mowry’s, more women are having an authentic discourse about women’s health. These open discussions lead to the creation of more safe spaces and support for one another.
“I want to be in community with folks. I don't ever want to feel like I'm on an island about anything. So, if I can help create community where we are lacking, I want to be a part of that,” she says. “So, it's like there's no harm in talking about it. You know what I mean? Like, I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change. I'm just getting better and stronger and more intelligent, more wise, more patient, more compassionate, more empathetic. All of that is very, very welcomed, and none of it should be scary.”
The Being Mary Jane star hasn’t been shy about her stance on therapy. If you don’t know, here’s a hint: she’s all for it, and she encourages others to try it as well. She likens therapy to dating by suggesting that you keep looking for the right therapist to match your needs. Two other essential keys to her growth are radical transparency and radical acceptance (though she admits she is still working on the latter).
"I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change."
Gabrielle Union and Kaavia Union-Wade
Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images
“I hope that a.) you recognize that you're not alone. Seek out help and know that it's okay to be honest about what the hell is happening in your life. That's the only way that you know you can get help, and that's also the only other way that people know that you are in need if there's something going on,” she says, “because we have all these big, very wild, high expectations of people, but if they don't know what they're actually dealing with, they're always going to be failing, and you will always be disappointed. So how about just tell the truth, be transparent, and let people know where you are. So they can be of service, they can be compassionate.”
Gabrielle’s transparency is what makes her so relatable, and has so many people root for her. Whether through her TV and film projects, her memoirs, or her social media, the actress has a knack for making you feel like she’s your homegirl. Scrolling through her Instagram, you see the special moments with her family, exciting new business ventures, and jaw-dropping fashion moments. Throughout her life and career, we’ve seen her evolve in a multitude of ways. From producing films to starting a haircare line to marriage and motherhood, her journey is a story of courage and triumph. And right now, in this season, she’s asking, “What’s next?”
“This is a season of discovery and change. In a billion ways,” says the NAACP Image Award winner. “The notion of like, ‘Oh, so and so changed. They got brand new.’ I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
"I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
She continues, “So I'm just trying to figure out what's next. You know what I mean? I'm jumping into what's next. I'm excited going into what's next and new. I'm just sort of embracing all of what life has to offer.”
Look out for Gabrielle in the upcoming indie film Riff Raff, which is a crime comedy starring her and Jennifer Coolidge, and she will also produce The Idea of You, which stars Anne Hathaway.
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Feature image by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
Victoria Monét has had an incredible year. Thanks to the success of the widely popular “On My Mama” that went viral, the singer/ songwriter’s Jaguar II album debuted in the top 10 of Billboard’s Top R&B Albums chart. She also went on to headline her own sold-out tour. So, when the MTV VMAs happened in September, everyone was surprised to learn that Victoria’s team was told that it was “too early” for the “Smoke” artist to perform at the award show. However, a couple of months later, the mom of one received seven Grammy nominations, including “Best R&B Album” and “Record Of The Year.”
Victoria is currently in London and stopped by The Dotty Show on Apple Music and shared how she feels “validated” after being dismissed by the VMAs.
“It really does feel nice and validating because, in my head, the reason why I wanted to be a performer at the VMAs or award ceremonies like that is because I felt like I am at the place where I should. I would work really hard to put on the best show that I could, and I was excited to do so,” she said.
“And I guess the best way to describe it for me is like when you're like on a sports team, and the coach is like, ‘No, you gotta sit this one out.’ When they finally put you in, and then you score all these points, and it feels like that feeling. You're like, yes, I knew it wasn't tripping, but I knew I worked hard for this, and so it's been super validating to just have these accolades come after a moment like that, and I know the fans feel vindicated for me.
While her fans called the VMAs out on their decision, the “Moment” singer kept it cute and is still open to performing at the iconic award show. “I feel no ill towards them because it's just maybe that's just truly how they felt at the time, but I hope their mind has changed,” she admitted.
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Feature image by Amy Sussman/WireImage for Parkwood