"[A boss is] someone who is creative, innovative, unrelenting in his or her efforts to bring their ideas to life. Being a boss is always about bringing other people along with me; creating space for other people to shine and be great."
A collection plate could, in fact, be passed after that tweetable gem from the Olympic track and field champion, Sanya Richards-Ross. Richards-Ross is bossed up and ready to add to her resume, which already boasts an impressive track and field career (four Olympic gold medals and numerous World Championship medals from 2002 through 2016); a luxury hair extension line; select endorsements; and even producer credit on a docuseries about her life titled "Sanya's Glam & Gold."
Some might wonder what could she possibly want next. The short answer?
The rest of her things.
Transitioning From The Track
Courtesy of Sanya Richards-Ross
Three years after hanging up her track spikes, Sanya's multi-hyphenate boss ambition is clearer than ever. Having recently founded the digital community MommiNation.com and being tapped to co-host a one-of-a-kind Will Packer-produced entertainment news show, Richards-Ross is erecting a brand new empire. And its foundation was firmly laid on the track.
She credits her Jamaican parents' sage wisdom and strong values for much of her drive to be valuable beyond sports. "I remember my parents always telling me to not be one-dimensional. I remember hearing that all through high school when track was my life. My dad would say, 'If you're gonna be acing it on the track you've got to be acing it in the classroom.' And that pushed and challenged me [to know] I can do [multiple] things at once at a high level."
And Sanya rolled that drive into Olympic success, quickly building a reputation as a phenom in the 400m and 4x400. She experienced the glory of a long athletic career but also witnessed the weight that could come with the transition out.
"I saw a lot of my friends go through a stage of depression because you go from being in the limelight, doing something you're very passionate about, to not knowing what's next. It does impact how you feel about yourself. I wanted to make sure when track and field [was] over I [didn't] go through that slump that a lot of athletes go through and I [could] find the next thing and feel valuable beyond sports."
Richards-Ross announced her retirement shortly after sustaining a hamstring injury at the July 2016 Olympic trials. In what others might have found defeat, Richards-Ross found opportunity to reflect, graciously releasing one chapter and writing the next with clarity and precision. A simple yet powerful prayer kept her perspective intact:
"Thank you Lord, for giving me this gift of running and thank You for all it has allowed me to experience. And I am now giving it back to You."
"I get emotional now saying that prayer because it was really tough for me because I did feel like I had one more Olympic cycle in me if I didn't have the foot surgeries and struggle with injuries toward the end of my career. I saw myself being a two-time gold medalist in the 400m. I [felt that I] could go back and win it one more time. It was difficult but I kept saying that prayer until I was really at peace with it. A lot of God's blessings aren't meant to be forever; they're seasonal," she reminisces.
"[After that], I started to prepare myself physically and mentally for what it would mean to walk around in this world not hearing, 'And in lane five is Olympic gold medalist Sanya Richards-Ross!'" she continues with a laugh. "And to be able to feel like I'm still standing on a pedestal humbly because I have so many more skills that I can offer to the world. I started mentally talking myself through how great I can be. I always say, 'Greatness is not fleeting. It lives in me.'"
Making Mommy Moves
Courtesy of Sanya Richards-Ross
Greatness steeped in intentionality. That's the prism through which the 34-year-old mother of one shines brilliantly. Married in 2012 to her college sweetheart, Aaron Ross - a two-time NY Giants cornerback Super Bowl champ (talk about equally yoked!) - Richards-Ross took her time stepping into motherhood. Sanya and Aaron waited seven years after marriage before welcoming little 'Deucey,' their son, into the world.
"Mentally, spiritually, and physically [we] were ready for him," Sanya says firmly. "Bringing another life into the world - I believe it should be intentional. It should be something you really want because it is a hell of a commitment. Being an athlete, it's the opposite, you have to be selfish. It's one of the ingredients of success. Having a child, you have to really be selfless."
"Being an athlete, it's the opposite, you have to be selfish. It's one of the ingredients of success. Having a child, you have to really be selfless."
She found the time beneficial for building a solid marriage foundation and focusing on the practices necessary to raise her family well.
Easing into mommyhood, Sanya looked into the digital space and noticed a void and a two-fold opportunity: to build a platform that celebrates the entirety of motherhood and womanhood and to create a support system as she transitioned from sports into motherhood. So she founded, the digital platform, MommiNation.com.
"I saw that there were some incredible mommy bloggers and blogs but what I saw was missing was a platform that speaks to moms holistically. Don't just talk to me about my little one but talk to me as an entrepreneur, as an author, as a wife, as a partner, as a friend. MommiNation was birthed out of my idea of wanting to create that same community I had in sports in a new arena. My arena has changed but my desire to be on a team and be in community hasn't."
From The Track To The TV
Courtesy of Sanya Richards-Ross
The thread of teamwork runs intricately through her life story from one venture to the next, including her upcoming five-week run as co-host of Central Ave., an urban-centric entertainment news show produced by Will Packer Productions for FOX. Sanya will be hosting alongside Julissa Bermudez, effectively helming the first entertainment news show hosted by two women of color.
"It's kinda blown my mind that it's actually happening. We have a five-week test on December 4th on FOX - similar to Entertainment Tonight/Access Hollywood but with urban sensibility," Richards-Ross says.
The show will dive deeper into nuanced content that matters to urban communities than most entertainment news shows are equipped to go. Created within the social media age, it promises to be a one-of-a-kind experience.
"Our team is really smart and keen on how we want to create a show with this social media energy. [For example] where do we get that real solid report on who Nipsey Hussle was and in-depth stories? John Singleton? They mean a lot to our communities."
Richards-Ross is very clear: She will not be pigeon-holed and delay is not denial.
Her advice for the mothers, athletes, entrepreneurs who are facing life's transitions? Be OK with not seeing the fruits of your labor right away while working hard anyway.
"My whole life I've learned how to work hard, train, believe and be OK with delayed gratification. That's what separates great entrepreneurs from the ones who don't make it. You stick with it when you get injured, when you get a bunch of no's, when no one is cheering for you. That's what makes a great entrepreneur. If you're transitioning from one career to another you have to be OK with delayed gratification. I don't get to get a gold medal with MommiNation.com because I was a gold medalist in track and field. I have to figure out how to start all over again. Be authentic transparent. Be committed to whatever that transition is. Start from ground zero and work your butt off. Greatness is in you."
"That's what separates great entrepreneurs from the ones who don't make it. You stick with it when you get injured, when you get a bunch of no's, when no one is cheering for you. That's what makes a great entrepreneur."
The one word that sums up her life to date:
"'Inspired.' That's the word that is getting me out of bed. I've put in all this work and planted all these seeds and I'm starting to see them blossom. It makes me want to keep going and stand on my own platform."
And we'll be in the stands rooting for her.
To keep up with Sanya, visit www.MommiNation.com and follow her on Instagram.
Featured image courtesy of Sanya Richards-Ross
Ashley is a storybuilder and storyteller who writes and produces to inform, connect, encourage and evoke. Vibe with her on Twitter/Instagram: @ashleylatruly.
How Content Creators Hey Fran Hey And Shameless Maya Embraced The Pivot
This article is in partnership with Meta Elevate.
If you’ve been on the internet at all within the past decade, chances are the names Hey Fran Hey and Shameless Maya (aka Maya Washington) have come across your screen. These content creators have touched every platform on the web, spreading joy to help women everywhere live their best lives. From Fran’s healing natural remedies to Maya’s words of wisdom, both of these content creators have built a loyal following by sharing honest, useful, and vulnerable content. But in search of a life that lends to more creativity, freedom, and space, these digital mavens have moved from their bustling big cities (New York City and Los Angeles respectively) to more remote locations, taking their popular digital brands with them.
Content Creators Hey Fran Hey and Maya Washington Talk "Embracing The Pivot"www.youtube.com
In partnership with Meta Elevate — an online learning platform that provides Black, Hispanic, and Latinx-owned businesses access to 1:1 mentoring, digital skills training, and community — xoNecole teamed up with Franscheska Medina and Maya Washington on IG live recently for a candid conversation about how they’ve embraced the pivot by changing their surroundings to ultimately bring out the best in themselves and their work. Fran, a New York City native, moved from the Big Apple to Portland, Oregon a year ago. Feeling overstimulated by the hustle and bustle of city life, Fran headed to the Pacific Northwest in search of a more easeful life.
Her cross-country move is the backdrop for her new campaign with Meta Elevate— a perfectly-timed commercial that shows how you can level up from wherever you land with the support of free resources like Meta Elevate. Similarly, Maya packed up her life in Los Angeles and moved to Sweden, where she now resides with her husband and adorable daughter. Maya’s life is much more rural and farm-like than it had been in California, but she is thriving in this peaceful new setting while finding her groove as a new mom.
While Maya is steadily building and growing her digital brand as a self-proclaimed “mom coming out of early retirement,” Fran is redefining her own professional grind. “It’s been a year since I moved from New York City to Portland, Oregon,” says Fran. “I think the season I’m in is figuring out how to stay successful while also slowing down.” A slower-paced life has unlocked so many creative possibilities and opportunities for these ladies, and our conversation with them is a well-needed reminder that your success is not tied to your location…especially with the internet at your fingertips. Tapping into a community like Meta Elevate can help Black, Hispanic, and Latinx entrepreneurs and content creators stay connected to like minds and educated on new digital skills and tools that can help scale their businesses.
During a beautiful moment in the conversation, Fran gives Maya her flowers for being an innovator in the digital space. Back when “influencing” was in its infancy and creators were just trying to find their way, Fran says Maya was way ahead of her time. “I give Maya credit for being one of the pioneers in the digital space,” Fran said. “Maya is a one-person machine, and I always tell her she really changed the game on what ads, campaigns, and videos, in general, should look like.”
When asked what advice she’d give content creators, Maya says the key is having faith even when you don’t see the results just yet. “It’s so easy to look at what is, despite you pouring your heart into this thing that may not be giving you the returns that you thought,” she says. “Still operate from a place of love and authenticity. Have faith and do the work. A lot of people are positive thinkers, but that’s the thinking part. You also have to put your faith into work and do the work.”
Fran ultimately encourages content creators and budding entrepreneurs to take full advantage of Meta Elevate’s vast offerings to educate themselves on how to build and grow their businesses online. “It took me ten years to get to the point where I’m making ads at this level,” she says. “I didn’t have those resources in 2010. I love the partnership with Meta Elevate because they’re providing these resources for free. I just think of the people that wouldn’t be able to afford that education and information otherwise. So to amplify a company like this just feels right.”
Watch the full conversation with the link above, and join the Meta Elevate community to connect with fellow businesses and creatives that are #OnTheRiseTogether.
Featured image courtesy of Shameless Maya and Hey Fran Hey
Unapologetically, Chlöe: The R&B Star On Finding Love, Self-Acceptance & Boldly Using Her Voice
On set inside of a mid-city Los Angeles studio, it’s all eyes on Chlöe. She slightly shifts her body against a dark backdrop amidst camera clicks and whirs, giving a seductive pout here, and piercing eye contact there. Her chocolate locs are adorned with a few jewels that she requested to spice up the look, and on her shoulders rests a jeweled piece that she asked to be turned around to better showcase her neck (“I feel a bit old,” she said of the original direction). Her shapely figure is tucked into a strapless bodysuit with a deep v-neck that complements her décolletage.
Though subtle, her quiet wardrobe directives give the air of a woman who’s been here before, and certainly knows what she’s doing. At 24 years young, she’s a “Bossy” chick in training— one who’s politely unapologetic and learning the power of her own voice.
“I'm hesitant sometimes to truly speak my mind and speak up for myself and what I believe,” she later confessed to me a couple of weeks after the photoshoot. “It's always scary for me, but now I'm realizing that I have to, in order to gain respect as a Black woman— a young Black woman— who's still navigating who she is. And you know, I'm realizing that closed mouths don't get fed. And if I keep my mouth shut just because I'm afraid of what people's opinions of me will be or turn into, then that's not any way to live.”
For Chlöe, the journey into womanhood is about embracing who she is, without succumbing to the perceptions of what others think of her. From the waist up she’s everything you’d imagine. A gorgeous goddess with the kind of sex appeal that some work hard to embrace but fail to exude. But unbeknownst to anyone not on set, her bottom half is covered by a white robe, surprising coming from the girl who boasts “'Cause my booty so big, Lord, have mercy” on her first hit single “Have Mercy.”
But that’s the beauty of Chlöe. There’s more to her than meets the eye. More than what a few sensual photos sprinkled throughout an Instagram feed could ever tell you. Just like the photo-framing illusion of her portrayed from the waist up, what we know about the songstress is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more beneath the surface.
Some hours later Chlöe leans back in a high chair as her locs are transformed from a formal updo to a seemingly Basquiat-inspired one. It’s pure art, and at her request, no wigs are a part of the day’s ensemble. She’s fully embracing her natural hair, a decision that wasn’t always a socially accepted one.
In the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, (Mableton, to be exact) Chlöe began to explore the foundation of her self-image. At an early age she and her younger sister, Halle, demonstrated a vocal prowess and knack for being in front of the camera that caught their parents’ attention. Soon after, they were sent on a parade of local talent shows and auditions, and eventually broke into the digital space with song covers on YouTube.
It was during these early years that Chlöe first learned that the entertainment industry could be unforgiving to those who didn’t fit a particular beauty standard. Despite the then three-year-old snagging a role as the younger version of Beyoncé’s character, Lilly, in Fighting Temptations, casting agents requested that her natural locs be exchanged for more Eurocentric tresses. Ironic, considering that growing up Chlöe saw her hair as no different than that of her peers. “I remember specifically in pre-K we had to do self-portraits and I drew myself with a regular straight ponytail, like how I would put my locs in a ponytail,” she says. “I just never saw myself any different.”
Chlöe would also learn the true meaning of a phrase that would later become an affirmation posted on her bedroom mirror: “Don’t Let the World Dim Your Light.” After attempting to wear wigs to fit in, the Bailey sisters instead chose to rock their locs with pride, which undoubtedly cost them casting roles. Yet they would have the last laugh when making headlines as the “Teen Dreadlocked Duo” who landed a million-dollar contract with Parkwood Entertainment, and the coveted opportunity to be groomed under the tutelage of a world-renowned superstar.
Credit: Derek Blanks
While that could be the end of a beautiful fairytale of self-empowerment, the reality is that it’s just the beginning of the story of her evolution. For most girls, the transition into womanhood takes place in the comfort of their own worlds, often limited to the number of people they allow to have access to them. But for Chlöe, it’s happening in front of millions of critiquing eyes just waiting for an opportunity to either uplift or dissect her through unwarranted commentary.
Many in her position wouldn’t be able to take that kind of pressure. But Chlöe is handling it with grace. “I feel like all of us as humans, we have the right to interpret things how we want,” she says. “I put art out into the world and it's up for interpretation. I'm learning that not everyone is going to always like me and that it's okay.”
Chlöe isn’t the first artist to receive criticism for her carnal content, and she certainly won’t be the last. In 2010, Ciara writhed and rode her way to banishment on BET when the then 24-year-old released her video for “Ride.” In 2006, 25-year-old Beyoncé received backlash for “Déjà Vu."
"I put art out into the world and it's up for interpretation. I'm learning that not everyone is going to always like me and that it's okay.”
So much so that over 5,000 fans signed an online petition demanding that her label re-shoot the video because it was “too sexual.” Even 27-year-old Janet didn’t escape critical headlines when she shed her image of innocence for a more risqué appearance with the 1993 release of janet.
It’s almost as if public reproach is a rite of passage for young Black women R&B singers on the road to stardom. Good girls seemingly “go bad” whenever they embrace the depths of their femininity, and fans only like you on top figuratively. But Chlöe has learned not to bow down to other people’s opinions, but to boss up and control the narrative. As the saying goes, well-behaved women seldom make history. If sex appeal is her weapon, she wields it well.
On set, Chlöe exudes the energy of Aphrodite in an apple red, off-shoulder dress with a sexy high split. In between shots, she mouths the lyrics to Yebba’s “Boomerang” as it echoes throughout the space in steady repetition at my recommendation. The hour grows late, yet Chlöe is heating things up as eyes stare in deep mesmerization of the girl on fire.
Credit: Derek Blanks
Through music, she explores the depths of her being, a journey that seems to be, at its foundation, rooted in self-discovery. Whereas their debut album The Kids Are Alright (2018) boasts a young Chloe x Halle empowering their generation to embrace who they are while finding their place in the world, their second album Ungodly Hour (2020) shows the Bailey sisters shedding the veil of innocence for a more unapologetic bravado.
What fans looked forward to seeing is who Chlöe shows herself to be on her debut solo album In Pieces. In an interview with PEOPLE, she confesses that releasing her first project without her sister was “scary.” "It was a moment of self-doubt where I was like, 'Can I do this without my sister?’”
Chlöe has never been shy about sharing her insecurities or her vulnerabilities, all of which are laced throughout the 14-track album. “I want people to have fun when they listen to it and to just realize that they're not alone and it's okay to be vulnerable and raw and open because none of us are perfect; we're all far from it. And I think it's healing when we all admit to that instead of putting up a facade.”
The gift of time has given the self-professed “big lover girl” more encounters with romance and heartbreak. Love songs once sung for their beautiful riffs and melodies become more than just abstract lyrics and are replaced by real-life experiences, which she tells me is definitely in the music.
In her single “Pray It Away,” for example, she contemplates going to God for healing instead of going at her ex-lover for revenge for his infidelities. “With anything dealing with art, I am completely vulnerable,” she says. “I'm completely myself, I'm completely open and transparent. So it's pretty much all of me and who I am right now.”
Has Chlöe been in love? That still remains to be said. Of course, she’s been linked to a few potential baes, but dating in the digital age isn’t as easy as a double tap or drop of a heart-eyes emoji. It requires a level of trust and vulnerability that’s hard to earn, and easy to mishandle. To let her guard down means to potentially set herself up for disappointment. “It’s difficult dating right now, honestly, because you really have to kind of keep your guard up and pay attention to who's really there for you. And you know, I'm such an affectionate person and I love hard.
"So when I meet the one person that I really, really am into, it's hard for me to see any others and I get attached pretty easily. And you know, I don't know, it's…it's a scary thing.”
Credit: Derek Blanks
“With anything dealing with art, I am completely vulnerable. I'm completely myself, I'm completely open and transparent. So it's pretty much all of me and who I am right now.”
While broken hearts yield good music (queue Adele), what’s in Chlöe’s prayer is the desire to be happy. What does that look like? Well, she’s still figuring that out herself. “Honestly, I'm the type of person who I don't truly learn unless I experience it. So it's like I can view and watch my parents and watch the loving relationships that I see in my life and be like, ‘Oh, I want that. I would love to have that.’ But then I also have to experience [love] on my own and see what my flaws or my faults might be or see what my good things about myself are. I feel like it's really all about self-reflection. And even though our base is our family and that's our foundation, we are still our own individuals and we have to find out specifically the things about ourselves that may be different from what we saw from our parents when we were growing up.”
Her ideal beau, she tells me, is someone she can feel safe to be her fun, goofy self with, but who also gives her the space to be the boss chick chasing her dreams. A man who understands that just because the world compliments her doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to hear those words from his lips or feel it in his touch. A bonus if he shows up on set after a long hard day of work with vegan cinnamon rolls. You know, the basic necessities. “I like whoever I'm with to constantly tell me they love me and that I look beautiful because I do the same. I am a very mushy person, and if I see something or you look good, I will never shy away from saying it out loud. And I want whoever I'm with to do the same, be very vocal. Tell me that you love me. Tell me what you love about me because I'm doing the same for you because that's just the person I am.”
Until she meets her match she’s married to the game, and for now, that seems to be perfect matrimony.
Credit: Derek Blanks
On stage at the 2021 American Music Awards, Chlöe solidified her position as a force to be reckoned with. It was a full-circle moment. In 2012, bright-eyed and baby-faced Chloe and Halle would walk onto the set of The Ellen Degeneres Show and blow the audience away as they bellowed out their future mentor’s song. Ellen would present the sisters with tickets to attend the AMAs, assuring them that they would be back and had a promising future. Nine years later, Chlöe descends from the sky cloaked in a snow-white cape and matching midriff-baring bodysuit for her debut performance. It’s the first time she’s graced the stage of the very award show that she was once an audience member of.
As she shakes and shimmies and boom kack kacks out her eight counts, it’s clear that she’s in her element. Just like her VMA performance a couple of months prior, and the many more stages she’ll continue to grace, she brings an energy that has earned her comparisons to the beloved Queen Bey herself. An honorable statement, considering few R&B songstresses are getting accolades for their entertainment capabilities. It’s on these very stages, in front of hundreds of astonished eyes and millions more glued to their televisions at home, that she tells me she feels most sexy. Powerful, even.
But off stage, it’s a different story.
It’s more than just the commentary about her image and media-flamed rumors that get to her. Mentally, she’s in competition with herself. The desire to be the best burns at the back of her mind with every performance, every production, and every time she steps into the booth. Before, she could share the weight of this burden with her sister. Being a part of a duo meant she could turn to Halle for quiet confirmation and encouragement without a word being exchanged. But lately stepping on the stage means stepping out on her own. And despite being a breathtaking, five-time Grammy-nominated star, Chlöe doesn’t escape the reality that sometimes we can be our own worst critics.
Over the last year, she’s been coming to terms with who she is on her own while overcoming the fear of failing to become who she’s destined to be. While the world waits to see how Chlöe wins, the real triumph is in every day that she chooses herself and continues to walk in her purpose. “I don't really have anything all figured out, honestly. But what I try to do, a lot of prayer. I talk to God more and I just try to do things that calm my mind down and just breathe.”
To whom much is given, much will be required. She’s been chosen to walk this path for a reason. Once she fully embraces that everything she’s meant to be is already inside of her, she’ll be an unstoppable force. “My grandma, Elizabeth, she just passed away and my middle name is her [first] name. So I feel like I truly have a responsibility to live up to her legacy that she's left on this earth. I hope I can do that.”
There’s no doubt that she will. With a role in The Fighting Temptations at three years old, a million-dollar record deal, a main role on five seasons of Grown-ish, five Grammy nominations, a number one solo record in Urban and Rhythmic Radio, a debut solo album, and starring roles in recently released movies Praise Thisand Swarm (just to name a few), Chlöe’s certainly already made her mark, and she’s just getting started.
Photographer & Creative Director: Derek Blanks
Executive Producer: Necole Kane
Co-Executive Producer: EJ Jamele
Producer: Erica Turnbull
Digitech: Chris Keller
DP: Alex Nikishin
Gaffer: Simeon Mihaylov
Photo Assistant: Chris Paschal
2nd Photo Assistant: Tyler Umprey
Features Editor: Kiah McBride
Special Projects: Tyeal Howell
Hair: Malcolm Marquez
Makeup: Yolonda Frederick
Fashion Styling: Ashley Sean Thomas
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