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My Disability Doesn’t Define Me: Issa Rae’s Executive Assistant Candis Welch On Thriving In The Workplace

Workin' Girl

For 32-year-old Candis Welch – excuses are not an option.


At just 18 months' old, Candis was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy – a rare neuromuscular disease that deteriorates muscular strength over time. The condition eventually left her permanently wheelchair bound by the age of 11.

Despite the early predictions on her life, Candis became a first generation college graduate with a Master's Degree in Public Administration, founded the blog Can Can on Wheelz where she chronicles daily life from her perspective, works full-time for the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority, and has been Issa Rae's executive assistant for five years – all from her wheelchair.

How does she do it all?

I recently chatted with Candis about her career journey and how she's been able to persevere and prove people's stereotypes about differently-abled persons wrong. "For a long time I had a fear of not seeing myself go past the age of 25. A lot of my friends I met who had a similar disability had already passed away. I feared I wouldn't be able to see a certain part of my life or do certain things. I didn't see them happening for other people that looked like me. My big fear was 'Am I going to experience life?'"

Candis Welch

De Dee Verdin

Navigating the workforce was also a challenge for Candis. "I had to work hard to prove myself. In general, as a Black woman… as a Black disabled woman... as a Black disabled woman who is not a size two, I had a lot of proving to do especially in the entertainment industry. I didn't look the part. I had to let my work ethic and hustle speak for itself. Anyone who I've ever worked for, they all had a general consensus, I work my butt off. I stay late just like anyone else. I get to the job by any means necessary. I am going to be one of your most valued employees. I want to show you that I am capable."

One of the major milestones along this path has been her work with the Hollywood creative Issa Rae – a position she received after a friend who knew she was unemployed at the time recommended that she interview for the open assistant job. Candis credits Issa Rae as being the first person in the entertainment industry who did not judge her or deem her incapable of doing the job. Instead, Issa valued her education, ability to articulate her thoughts, and ability to perform well on the job.

Though she had a lot of learning to do in the beginning and "made mistakes" along the way, Candis shared three of the biggest lessons she's learned over the past few years being a pivotal member of her operations team. These lessons transcend beyond the workplace and have been key pillars in Candis' approach to life and success.

1. Always be nice.

"A lot of people in the industry get a high horse, thinking you have to be rude to people and demanding. You don't have to do none of that." Candis credits Issa's camp as always remaining nice and professional, "You get more with honey than with oil or vinegar."

When working in the industry and building your dreams, you'll meet all sorts of personalities, but remaining nice will go a long way.

2. If you don’t like what you’re seeing, create it. 

Issa Rae is known for her original projects, such as Awkward Black Girl, that stemmed from a lack of storytelling that represented her truth.

Likewise, Candis started her blog to tell her story and help others in her position "see the light." There was no representation when she was growing up, so she wanted to be that representation. Her blog chronicles her day-to-day life experiences, sheds light on other disabled persons thriving, details her self-care routines, and more.

The very act of creating will also bring you closer to your purpose, strengthen you, and inspire your community along the way. "Finding my purpose and my calling to tell my story has calmed my soul. I was so frantic [questioning] what am I on this earth for. When I found my purpose, I said, 'I get it God...this is why you had me go through all those crazy times because [I] had to help someone else live through it.'"

Candis Welch

De Dee Verdin

3. If you want to see your work flourish, you have to put in the work.

"You can't try to be at all the parties, it's not going to happen. I saw [Issa passing on social events] for years, but that's how you get Insecure and all these other projects. She's locked in. Nothing else happens unless you're dedicated. She taught me a tremendous work ethic."

As you're building your dream, it will be necessary to ask yourself: Am I making excuses or am I making it happen?

Candis' dedication to her goals are in full throttle. Candis is currently focusing on building the CanCanonWheelz platform and growing it to encompass speaking, panel discussions, brand partnerships, and advocacy opportunities for people with disabilities across all platforms, such as employment and travel. She also wants to create a social network for the disabled and address issues such as dating and living independently. Ultimately, Candis' end goal is to start a nonprofit that caters to disabled adults.

"You are going to fall. You are going to break. This process as living and thriving as a disabled person is difficult."

However, according to Candis – when you're a "hustler by default", there's no way to go but up.

To learn more about Candis' journey, listen to her story on episode 179 of the Dreams In Drive podcast.

Rana Campbell is a Princeton University graduate, storyteller, content marketing strategist, and the founder and host of Dreams In Drive- a weekly podcast that teaches you how to take your dreams from PARK to DRIVE. She loves teaching others how to use their life stories to inspire action within oneself and others. Connect with her on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Soundcloud, Instagram @rainshineluv or @dreamsindrive.

Featured Image via De Dee Verdin.

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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