If you're someone who grew up reading every magazine they could get their hands on or are an avid Project Runway viewer, you likely have heard the name Elaine Welteroth. I read her work on the pages of Glamour. When she became the youngest editor-in-chief at a Condé Nast magazine, and the second black person in the media brand's 107-year history to take on the role of EIC at Teen Vogue (a fact that she didn't think much of until the media shed light on the groundbreaking-accomplishment), I took notice.
As a teenager, I could never relate to the covers or content of Teen Vogue. It was white, pretentious, and unrelatable. Not unlike most magazines I grew up reading. I was an adult by the time Elaine took the reins; and after I saw the tiny magazine with Amandla Stenberg on the iconic cover and read the interview alongside it written by Solange, I knew that my mentor from afar was a real one.
It's the reason why I knew I had to get to First Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn to see this go-getter on the first stop of herMore Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say)book tour since I just happened to be on a work trip to NYC. With a delayed flight, an epic sinus infection, lugging my carry-on through Penn Station during rush hour, and a nearly sixty-dollar Uber—I made it to Brooklyn late, but I was there!
I walked in and made my way to the balcony where I saw Elaine dressed in a crisp white button-down, leather pencil skirt, and her signature coils next to Lupita Nyong'o, who was as regal in person as she is on-camera. Even though I was an hour and two minutes late, I made it just in time to hear Elaine drop gems.
One thing she wanted to make sure each of us in the church pews knew was this is not an advice book. She believes the only way to find your path is to do it your way with guidance, mistakes, and great people surrounding you.
One of the first gems that stuck with me was: "Sometimes your authenticity is your activism."
Damn, I thought. Me showing up in my black, womaness is an act of activism? The more I thought about that statement, I realized she was right. I made a choice in 2012 that I was wearing my hair the way it grew out of my head to any interview, audition, or job I had without second-guessing whether I'd be seen as "too much" or "too black".
Too often black women are forced to twist ourselves into pretzels trying to fit in or not rock the boat by dressing a certain way, making sure our hair doesn't look "too ethnic", or not speaking up in rooms where we are the only ones out of fear we'll be kept from building a career we love and deserve. She reiterated that "no amount of shrinking, assimilation, code-switching" can prevent who you are (your race) from walking in the room with you.
A word, right?!
Another moment that stuck out for me was when Elaine talked about transition. That topic especially hit home for me because of my recent layoff. When she said, "You're allowed to dream up your life as you go", I got chills.
It was like she was sent there to say that so I could hear it. When I was laid off, everyone around me asked, "What's next?" To which I had no answer because I wasn't making a plan. I decided I was just going to go with the flow, and I have had more work and opportunities than I'd ever dreamed up.
I wasn't able to get this next quote just right, but Elaine also reminded us that we should be giving ourselves room to step into our destiny because if you rush, you'll run into relationships, seasons, and jobs that weren't meant for you. While "busting a myth" about fear, telling us to "make friends with fear. Look in the face of fear, and say I'm going to do it anyway" because "fear is a part of the process."
Navigating the world as black women has and will always be challenging. But having changemakers and table shakers like Elaine Welteroth telling her story to empower those of us working to disrupt spaces that weren't made for us is necessary.
As Elaine put it, "I fought to be at the table, I sat at the head of the table, and now I'm working to building my own table."
We're right behind you, Elaine. Thank you for paving the way.
More Than Enough is out now. Click here to purchase.
Featured image by Elaine Welteroth/Instagram