Grammy-Nominated Singer Syleena Johnson On When She Feels Most Like A Woman

"More than anything, I feel the 'womanliest' when I can operate as a mom and wife without having to be the authoritative figure."


Syleena Johnson's greatest instrument is her voice and has recognized her passion for music since her earliest childhood memories. With a father who was in the entertainment industry as a singer, music was part of her life from an early age and eventually blossomed into her participating in talent shows and showing the world what she was meant to do. "I just finished filming my UNSUNG episode which will premiere on TVOne early 2021 and that will tell the readers a lot about my story and how I began. I am excited for you to see it. It will show you how I got my start in the industry and how I got to where I am now," she spilled to xoNecole about her upcoming project.

As a singer, she has used her voice and songs to uplift women and Black people, but now as a talk show host on Cocktails and Queens on Fox Soul, Syleena is using her voice to empower Black women to demand respect and equality on the other side of the couch. "I am still and will always be a part of music," the former Sister Circle host told me about her transition into being a talk show host, "However, opportunities and God have allowed me to become a talk show host and share my opinions and thoughts as a woman in this world and in entertainment."

Nowadays in her career, Syleena can apply the multitude of lenses to her craft from the talent side to research and development as the interviewer. When she's not on the couch interviewing talent or in the booth making new empowerment anthems, the "Guess What" singer has been working on her latest docuseries project, The Making of a Woman, which was heavily inspired by her recently released Woman album.

Courtesy of Tony Tyus Photography

"This docuseries will show what my experience as a Black woman has been in this industry for over 20 years as well as being a working-class woman, a wife and a mother raising two sons. It will inspire people to see the challenges Black women face on a day-to-day basis and how we overcome it," she explained. "I wanted to show a message and present that in a body of work to create more of a conversation and a call-to-action. I've realized in order to make change, we must create content or use our voice to make a shift in change in our society."

xoNecole had the opportunity to catch up with the Grammy-nominated singer herself about using her voice to uplift women, her new docuseries The Making of a Woman, and being a Black woman in 2020 demanding equal rights in our current racial climate. Check out our conversation below.

xoNecole: Tell me about your docuseries, 'The Making Of A Woman', the messaging and the inspiration behind it.

Syleena Johnson: The docuseries The Making of a Woman is heavily inspired by my recent album, Woman. Each of my albums as a solo artist have been titled after chapters, however with today's racial climate I decided to create the album and docuseries to speak on the struggles and experiences of everyday Black women and what we go through in life in 2020. I created this docuseries to vocally create a body of work that documented the journey of what it took to create this album, mentally, internally and spiritually while sharing the experiences of what women go through like demanding equality and respect, having a voice to even having to work twice as hard as our male counterparts even through pain and adversity.

How does your new studio album, ‘Woman’, directly correlate with the story that you're telling us in the docuseries?

It's my journey, my thoughts and what I and many women endure as a Black woman in society as well as this industry. You'll see me on my journey of completing my album and shooting the video to my lead single off my new album. You'll see the vision that I had to want to highlight how beautiful and special women are. The docuseries speaks on dishonesty, respect and the many examples of inequality Black women face while showing the process of creating a body of work that shares the same message.

How are both releases timely considering our current racial climate?

Right now, we are in the year of the WOMAN. We have a Black woman that is working tirelessly to be the next Vice President of the United States. Black women are on the front lines organizing, protesting and leading the forefront of creating change for our economy and the futures of our next generation. Considering our current climate, both releases vocally tells a story that we still have work to do and are still fighting for respect in 2020. With both releases of my album and docuseries, I wanted to use what I've been seeing in situations like the #MeToo and Time's Up movement, and use my voice and passion in music to be a vessel for other women's stories and journeys.

What do you define as the makings of a woman?

The makings of a woman is the willingness of a woman to grow despite her flaws, despite her mistakes, despite her circumstances and her setbacks in life. The ingredients of the makings of a woman is built up of all the little experiences that you had and how you've handled them and most importantly learned from them. These are the certain experiences you must endure in life to come into your womanhood while helping you grow as a woman.

Syleena Johnson 'Woman' album

Courtesy of Tony Tyus Photography

"The makings of a woman is the willingness of a woman to grow despite her flaws, despite her mistakes, despite her circumstances and her setbacks in life. The ingredients of the makings of a woman is built up of all the little experiences that you had and how you've handled them and most importantly learned from them."

When do you feel the most "womanly" or the most beautiful as a woman?

I feel the most womanly when I am being a mother to my sons, when I am being a wife. Always working or in business mode does not make me feel like a woman, it makes me tired. I feel more womanly when I can have peace, when I can have "girl time" for myself. I feel the "womanliest" when I can be appreciated and when I am treated like a woman. I feel womanly when I can be heard and valued. More than anything, I feel the "womanliest" when I can operate as a mom and wife without having to be the authoritative figure. When you are a CEO and an entrepreneur you are the authoritative figure but when I come into my household I can relax without having to be the authoritative figure all the time because I have support.

"I feel the most womanly when I am being a mother to my sons, when I am being a wife. Always working or in business mode does not make me feel like a woman, it makes me tired. I feel more womanly when I can have peace, when I can have 'girl time' for myself. I feel the 'womanliest' when I can be appreciated and when I am treated like a woman. I feel womanly when I can be heard and valued."

What is the moment in your life when you believed that you were coming into your own as a woman?

That moment for me was when I got the diagnosis that my youngest son had autism. I developed a level of selflessness that had to take place mentally and emotionally in order for me to grow as a woman. Something like that is supposed to take me out of here and it did, however what that diagnosis did was made me come into my womanhood, turn up my senses as a mother, as a provider. I had to turn up those senses and it made me develop my own personal internal growth spurt. This has allowed me to grow into my womanhood and has taught me to be more patient overall in life. That moment and many life lessons made me understand and be OK with me, unapologetically. It allowed me to love me for who I am and become appreciative of being OK with not being perfect.

There are a lot of conversations around gender and sex. What do you see is the difference between femininity and womanhood, if there is one at all?

What I've learned throughout my own experiences in life is that femininity is a characteristic. Womanhood is a state of mind. Whereas a woman doesn't have to be any of those feminine qualities, and still be a boss, knowing who she is, having a voice, understanding her worth - those are the things that encompass womanhood. Femininity is a characteristic, an accessory. Anyone can be feminine, however it is a characteristic that is interchangeable, whereas womanhood is a growth process, state of mind. A state of being.

Courtesy of Tony Tyus Photography

"What I've learned throughout my own experiences in life is that femininity is a characteristic. Womanhood is a state of mind. Femininity is a characteristic, an accessory. Anyone can be feminine, however it is a characteristic that is interchangeable, whereas womanhood is a growth process, state of mind. A state of being."

For Black womanhood, what do you believe makes Black women the most powerful and most majestic?

Resilience, our humility, our hearts have made us majestic. The fact that we've endured so much from the test of times has made us extremely powerful and majestic. We are resilient, durable, sustainable. We are smart, we are vociferous, brilliant, studious, meticulous, but we are kind, careful, and multi-layered.

How would you say that you've grown as a singer-songwriter since you first started in the music industry?

I have grown tremendously since coming into the industry and my writing has grown and evolved. I have a different and new sound. I've grown as a woman so I can't stay in the same frame of mind as my other albums. When you're saying different things, you have to stretch out and grow. And that's where I've improved as an artist and singer since first being introduced in the industry.

Being a Black woman in the industry is tough, especially when you're in the spotlight as an artist. How do you manage your mental health and how can the music industry do a better job at protecting Black women?

I manage my mental health by working out and doing stress reduction activities. I am really into fitness and bodybuilding. It allows me to be focused and gain mental clarity. I am also an advocate and use therapy as an outlet to manage my mental health. I have recently embarked on a fitness journey where I competed in a fitness bodybuilding competition which totally improved and helped with my mental health. I was able to not only transform physically losing over 55 pounds but was also able to grow internally within the process.

The music industry can do a better job protecting Black women. The most important thing they can do is listen to Black women. We are not objects. We are not possessions. Listen to Black women and see how they feel, ask are you being heard and valued? Are you being treated fairly? That is how you can protect Black women by listening and valuing us.

If you listen, you learn.

For more of Syleena, follow her on Instagram.

Featured image courtesy of Tony Tyus Photography

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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