Talia Leacock-Campbell is a self-care enthusiast, soca baby, and hopeless romantic whose longest love affair has been with the written word. She's spun that last passion into a full-time career as founder and chief creative wordsmith of Word Count Creative, a boutique content agency that helps small businesses and entrepreneurs speak right to the hearts of their audiences. Find her online @talialeacock.
There's no shortage of online content for moms. Mommy blogs, Facebook groups, and Instagram accounts offer everything from all-natural baby food recipes and recommendations for must-have strollers to the latest toddler fashion and nursery decor ideas.
But despite this flood of content, there's been a drought of representation for moms of color. When they are centered, the conversation tends to focus exclusively on heavier subjects like maternal mortality rates and raising children of color in a racist society, leaving little room for black and brown women to explore the joys of motherhood.
Courtesy of Tika Sumpter
It's a gap that actress Tika Sumpter encountered when she was pregnant with her three-year-old daughter, Ella and searching for content that spoke to her experiences and interests as a Black mom-to-be.
"There are a million websites on motherhood, and we were barely there," Sumpter recalled.
Sumpter knew she wasn't alone, and she was determined to fill the gap. So, she approached her friend, Thai Randolph with the idea for a platform that would offer moms of color a space to celebrate all the parts of motherhood.
Courtesy of Thai Randolph
Randolph, who serves as Executive Vice President of Kevin Hart's Laugh Out Loud Network, knew Sumpter had struck gold. Not just because of her expertise in marketing and content, but because she too had struggled to find content that supported her through her own journey into motherhood.
"Historically, Black women have not been depicted as vessels deserving of care. We're seen in a caretaker's context," Randolph noted. "The idea that there should be indulgent self-care afforded us…that is a foreign concept to so many people."
So, together, Sumpter and Randolph created a space for that indulgence with Sugaberry. They launched the lifestyle brand in March, curating a range of content that treats moms of color to advice, product recommendations, and tools that help them take care of themselves and their little ones, inside and out.
Courtesy of Sugaberry
But Sugaberry's sweet content doesn't mean they shy away from tough topics or difficult conversations. Instead, they give women permission to keep it all the way real through the good and the bad.
"When I say indulgence, I don't just mean that everything's great and dandy all the time. Indulgence is saying you have permission to speak and not be judged here. And to have all the information possible, including the joys," Sumpter explained.
The Suga, Sugaberry's weekly podcast hosted by Sumpter and Randolph, has been a space for some of Sugaberry's most candid conversations. They've chatted with Kelly Rowland about the challenge of accepting your post-baby body; discussed the difficult emotions that can come with not having children with Vivica A. Fox; and talked to Rachel Webb about the experience of freezing her eggs.
While the conversations may get deeply personal, it's never about dropping bombs or serving gossip. "From the beginning, we said, 'We don't spill the tea, we share the sugar.' So, we never wanted to feel salacious. The goal of The Suga is just to explore the spectrum of right answers," said Randolph.
Courtesy of Sugaberry
That spectrum of right answers is why Randolph and Sumpter insisted that Sugaberry cater to an expanded audience of not just moms, but also the kid-curious, dedicated aunties, and those debating if motherhood is for them. For Sumpter, who noted that she kept putting off motherhood to prioritize her career, and Randolph who experienced two failed rounds of IVF before unexpectedly conceiving naturally, it was important to recognize and honor the various relationships women can have to motherhood.
Sumpter and Randolph have continued to push their careers forward even as they've enjoyed the sweetness of motherhood. They're both quick to admit that it's not easy, but they encourage working moms to cut themselves some slack.
"I'm a careerist, and I want to be there for everything my child's gonna do, but it's not gonna happen. I think it's about not beating yourself up over the choices that you're making for where you want to be or where you want to go or what you want for your family," Sumpter shared.
"There might be another mom who's doing it completely different who's spending all of her time with her family. And maybe that works for her. There's more than one way to do it," Randolph added.
Whatever your path, Sugaberry promises to guide and support you through it, no matter what life throws your way. Yes, even if life throws you a pandemic.
Courtesy of Sugaberry
Sugaberry's March launch came just as COVID-19 began to dominate news feeds and worry moms across the world. Sumpter and Randolph pivoted their original launch plan and content strategy to include resources for homeschooling, immune health, and small business funding, proving that they are truly committed to making Sugaberry a space that serves modern moms of color.
"We're constantly communicating with each other about what stories are meaningful for us right now, and where we can be of service, whether that's through information, resources, or doses of joy," Randolph said.
Ultimately, Sumpter and Randolph want Sugaberry to not only be part of the village and support system women of color lean on, but a reminder of the grace they deserve to give themselves. As Sumpter said, "It's so important to take moments out and say, 'I'm doing OK, I'm doing just fine.' We wanted to create a space at The Suga and Sugaberry.com where we're letting moms off the hook. We're saying, 'Give each other grace.'"
Featured image courtesy of Sugaberry
Fourteen years ago, Tameika Gentles was a heavy-set college student struggling to make it from one end of the campus to another. Today, she's ninety pounds lighter, showing off tight abs, toned arms and legs, and a bright smile in her Instagram selfies and training videos.
How did Gentles manage and maintain such a stunning transformation?
The wellness professional and fitness enthusiast had initially pursued weight loss in the way most people do—lose as much weight as possible and get the bikini body everyone talks about. But it was actually at her skinniest and lightest that she realized she needed more than that.
Courtesy of Tameika Gentles
"I got down to 120 pounds soaking wet, and I realized fulfillment wasn't there. I was so confused, because I had done everything right. I lost the weight. I kept it off. I was a trainer. All the things I was supposed to do, I did. Yet there was so much vacancy and emptiness inside. That's when I really had to take a pause and look within and recognize that there was something deeper to this process than just the physical," Gentles explains.
So, Gentles shifted, reframing her entire approach to weight loss. Instead of obsessing over the number on the scale, she focused on how she felt. Rather than fretting about what she saw in the mirror, she put her attention on why being healthy and fit were so important to her. And with wellness—not weight loss—as her anchor, she transformed not just her body, but her entire life.
"Focusing on wellness has been paramount to the trajectory for the rest of my life. I've gotten divorced, moved internationally four times, quit my job and started my own business, and now I'm dealing with the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. And at the core of it all, wellness has been my anchor."
Gentles has now guided thousands of women along the same journey, applying that same attention to wellness to her personal training clients and her travelling health retreat business, The Whole Experience, where she serves women of all ages, races, sizes, fitness levels, and cultural backgrounds.
I asked Gentles to share her advice for women eager to turn their fitness goals into real results. Here's what she said:
Always trust your gut.
Courtesy of Tameika Gentles
Between the billion-dollar industry promoting the 'ideal body type' and the social pressure to be slim here and thick there, it can be hard to figure out how to approach fitness in a way that's actually healthy. This gets especially tricky with the hundreds of IG fitness influencers selling you programs and advice. How do you know whose advice to follow? Gentles encourages women to develop a BS filter by trusting their gut.
"Our body and our intuition, especially as women, are just so on point," Gentles says. "Connect with those people who light up your soul with whatever they post. Whatever their messages are that resonate, follow that."
Gentles also advises women to do a really honest internal check-in as they start their fitness journeys with three key questions:
- Is the approach I'm planning sustainable for the next 1, 5, and 10 years?
- Will this approach be sustainable through all the seasons of my life (job changes, financial strain, starting a family, etc.)?
- And then what?
Gentle explains that the last question helps you get past the surface-level goals, like losing 10 pounds before a vacation, to think about why losing the weight is important to you in the long-term, and how the approach you take contributes to that vision.
Don’t let society, or the scale, define your journey’s success.
Gentles notes that understanding the deeper reasons why losing weight matters to you will keep you pushing when you're feeling discouraged or overwhelmed by all the marketing that says you should look a certain way.
"We've got to connect to something deeper than just aesthetics or just the surface-level things society tells us we need to focus on. It almost becomes like this bulletproof vest that blocks all of society's pressures, and you become so grounded in it, that when you see the ads and stuff, you go, 'That's nice, but that's a by-product of what I really want for my life.'"
Of course, Gentles understands that you'll still have aesthetic goals of your own. But she maintains that the scale isn't your best bet. Instead, she recommends using progress photos or the way you feel in your clothes to see how your body is changing. You'll be able to recognize your results without the mental toll that constantly weighing yourself can take.
Start small for big changes.
Courtesy of Tameika Gentles
A self-professed former food addict, Gentles is careful about food, but she's not restrictive. She's not a fan of fad diets, not just because they're extreme and leave people feeling deprived, but because fad diets—which she defines as 'new, trendy, and unproven' approaches—just don't work. And studies agree with her. Instead, Gentles suggests making tiny improvements to your health habits everyday with what she calls the '1% rule.'
"Look at where you are today and see how you can be 1% better and work on that practice day after day. If you ate 10 M&Ms today, eat 9 tomorrow, and 8 the next day. Before you know it, you're going to have these really small changes that make up a really big change, and it's going to feel seamless and integrated into your life," Gentles says.
Gentles also encourages the 80/20 rule for healthy eating, where 80% of meals are healthy and 20% are more fun. But she warns that 'fun foods' don't have to be really unhealthy.
"I really caveat that 80/20 rule with the fact that the 20 doesn't mean that we throw in the towel and feed our body with crap. So, my 20% isn't filled with fried foods and things that aren't going to serve me, because they actually just don't feel good," Gentles shares.
One solution she offers is using Google to find recipes to make your more fatty and calorie-dense favorites into healthier versions, like she does with the Jamaican food she grew up loving.
There’s more than one road to fitness.
A lot of women struggle with weight loss because, let's face it, the gym isn't always the greatest place to be. But Gentles notes that it's far from the only way to get fit. In fact, she says that if you hate the gym, there are tons of alternatives you can choose from.
"I fell into the bucket of being a 'gym head' and feeling like it's the only thing I could do. But if you hate the gym, don't go to the gym. Go for a walk. Go to a Zumba class. Go pole dancing. Whatever tickles your fancy."
For those who want to get the toning the gym provides, Gentles recommends four exercises you can do right from the comfort of your home: push ups, squats, pull ups, and planks. She notes that these exercises target several muscles and can be effective with just 15-30 minutes of movement everyday.
Ultimately, Gentles' advice to women eager to see their bodies transform is to enjoy the journey. Because as someone who's spent fourteen years changing herself and thousands of others, she knows that the journey is a life-long one.
"Commit to the positive feelings of the process," Gentles continues. "And make sure the process is something you love."
For more of Tameika, follow her on Instagram.
Featured image courtesy of Tameika Gentles
Sevyn Streeter's voice filled my living room through my laptop speakers as she joined the conference call for our interview. Like her smooth and sultry vocals, Sevyn speaks warmly and with the familiar comfort of an old friend.
"Happy New Year! What's going on with you?" she asked me casually from her hometown in Haines City, Florida where she was enjoying the last days of the holiday season with her family.
Despite an impressive musical resume that includes songwriting credits for pop and R&B chart-toppers like Chris Brown, Ariana Grande, and Alicia Keys, a repertoire of radio hits in her own discography, and a quiet but undeniable sex appeal to complement her fiery R&B tracks, Streeter is no diva. The songstress has an inviting, down-to-earth demeanor and an endearing personality that makes it impossible not to like her.
That, by no means, makes her a pushover, and she certainly doesn't take any crap.
She proves that with her latest release, "Whatchusay", a sharp-tongued takedown of an ex-lover who takes her support and love for granted. In the visual, which has amassed nearly 1.5 million views since its release in November 2019, Sevyn confronts her lover in between Aaliyah- and Janet Jackson-inspired dance sequences and flashbacks to tender moments.
Sevyn notes that the song and video represent her growth as a woman and an artist who has learned to be unapologetic in her truth.
"I don't feel the need to bite my tongue. I don't feel the need to seek approval at all. I'm not in a space where I get hung up on things I used to in the past. Whatever I do with my art, whatever space I'm in, it's gonna be truthful to how I feel and where I am. Listen," Streeter added with calm confidence, "I am a Cancer, and I am an artist, and I'm emotional, and I'm sensitive, and I'm very in tune with how I feel. This period in my life, it's gonna be what you see is what you get."
Courtesy of the artist
"I am a Cancer, and I am an artist, and I'm emotional, and I'm sensitive, and I'm very in tune with how I feel. This period in my life, it's gonna be what you see is what you get."
As we spoke, I could hear Sevyn flipping through the pages of her notebook. She told me she was looking for a thought she'd scribbled down a few days prior. I waited as she searched. She apologized for the delay, but when she finally found it, I was happy she'd taken the time to look.
"'Don't abandon yourself to make others comfortable,'" she read out loud from her notes.
It was a simple phrase but a profound reminder to those of us who get stuck in a cycle of people-pleasing.
"There's no need to abandon your own thoughts and feelings and ideas just so that someone can sit there comfortably, and at the end of the day, you're left holding all this stuff that wears and tears on you in so many different ways. I'm never nasty or rude. It just means I want to get a good night's rest like everybody else. It's growth, and it's beautiful, and it feels really fucking good," she declared.
Honesty and growth were recurring themes in our conversation, and are at the foundation of Sevyn's upcoming album, Drunken Words, Sober Thoughts, which is on track to be released this year. The album's title is a play on the adage that says, "Drunken words speak sober thoughts," as we often find the courage to say our innermost feelings under the influence of a drink or two.
The title also hints at a part of Sevyn's creative process—a gathering of her guy friends and girlfriends in the studio with a few drinks on hand to get the conversation flowing. For Sevyn, who prefers for her songs to reflect real-life experiences, whether they're her own or those of the people around her, these studio chats are great songwriting material.
Courtesy of the artist
"When we get in a room and guys and girls get to talking, we might pour up a little something. When that happens, it makes for very truthful conversation, to say the least. We may talk about love and relationships. We may talk about cheating," Sevyn said.
Sevyn hopes that the songs these conversations inspired might help to break down some of the barriers between men and women, and she's being very intentional about writing songs that will speak to anyone, regardless of gender.
"It may hurt a couple people's feelings. It may inspire people. Just know it's gonna speak to any and everybody who has these emotions day in and day out, how we all deal with life, love, and relationships," she said.
But while Sevyn is eager to please her fans with her new album and deliver on the familiar themes of love and relationships she's covered in hits like "It Won't Stop", "Before I Do", and "B.A.N.S.", she explained that this album is also about honoring her journey in music and life and exploring other kinds of relationships as well.
"I feel like I owe it to myself to just dig a little deeper and bring my musical self up to speed with where my spiritual self is. Writing a record people will like is like a science for me. I know what melodies, hooks and beats work, but it's deeper than that for me now. I gotta make sure I do right by who I am and where I am now," Sevyn said.
Part of doing right by herself has been making sure she balances writing songs for other artists and creating for herself. It's a familiar juggling act for many women trying to pour into others in their professional and personal lives without leaving themselves empty. Sevyn strikes the balance with 'artist dates', a concept she borrowed from the book The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron.
Sevyn periodically drives herself down to the California coast from her Woodland Hills home and sets up on the beach with a bottle of wine, a good book, a notepad, and an umbrella. She'll spend hours reading, writing, and simply allowing herself space to be with and pour into herself.
"At the beginning of my career," she confessed, "I would sacrifice my own self and my own creativity for other people, and a lot of days, it just left me frustrated."
Courtesy of the artist
"At the beginning of my career, I would sacrifice my own self and my own creativity for other people, and a lot of days, it just left me frustrated."
Today, she ensures she makes the time to separate which parts of herself and her work are strictly her own, and she encourages us all to do the same. "Even if it's just 30 minutes, 45 minutes, an hour. Find something that works for you. Find that time for yourself. Because, at the end of the day, you're not gonna be any good for anybody else if you don't allow yourself to be in a good space," she cautioned.
Sevyn also warns us to be careful of overworking to the point of burnout. A go-getter who often spends long hours in the studio and driving home under the rising sun, she has worked herself to exhaustion trying to push past creative blocks. She's found that walking away and immersing herself in things she loves, like sermons and solo movie and dinner outings, are the recharge she needs to get unstuck.
"When I get burnt out, I stop. I'll do everything outside of the thing I just rammed my head against the wall on for days and days. And I come back laughing at myself like, 'Bitch, see. All you needed to do was to walk away for a second,'" she said with a laugh.
If Sevyn experiences any burnout during the production of Drunken Words, Sober Thoughts, it won't be because she's rushing. She's taking her time with this one, determined to give people music that's worth the wait.
While her album is in the works, Sevyn promises that her fans will be getting to know her more intimately this year. In addition to the album, her team is sorting out tour details, and she's also working with Anthony Anderson on a reality show about balancing her life as an LA-dwelling R&B star and a small-town Florida girl.
"It's insane," she said, "How I balance the two, God only knows. But it's going to be absolutely hilarious, and I'm looking forward to my fans learning that side of me."
Challenging as it may be, Sevyn makes balancing it all—the small town roots, the big city life, the writing behind the scenes, and the crooning in the spotlight—look easy, but her vulnerability and candidness reveal a comforting and universal truth: we're growing as we go and finding ourselves along the way, and that's just fine.
For more of Sevyn, follow her on Instagram.
Before I started to write this essay, I Googled the word "forgive". The first hit is a dictionary definition – "to stop feeling angry or resentful toward someone for an offense, flaw, or mistake." After that there are dozens of results that rave about the value of forgiveness. From faith-based websites to psychotherapy blogs, nearly all the results had something to say about the importance of forgiveness for healing. They promised me that it would improve my well-being. They assured me I was giving myself the gift of moving on.
None of this is new to me. I've sat through enough sermons, read many self-help books, and double-tapped plenty of social media posts that prescribed forgiveness as the cure for my trauma.
For a long time, I was convinced that if I could forgive the man who ruined my adolescence with his wandering hands, I would one day wake up okay.
So, I tried.
I searched my heart for forgiveness.
I argued with my anger. I whispered soothing words to my resentment.
I begged my bitterness to let me go.
But no matter how I tried to warm up to the idea of forgiving my abuser, my heart remained stone cold.
I concluded that if forgiveness was the answer, my inability to practice it could only mean that something was wrong with me. Because of that, instead of being able to fully acknowledge that my abuser had done a terrible thing, I questioned whether I was a good person because I couldn't forgive him. And when I found myself still struggling to get out of bed in the mornings or flying into a rage over the smallest inconveniences, I blamed myself for the symptoms of my unhealed traumas.
Fighting for forgiveness filled me with more anger, shame, self-doubt, and insecurity than my trauma already had.
No amount of therapy and morning meditation was able to fully pull me out of the tailspin I'd spiral into every time I realized forgiveness just wasn't going to come.
My story changed the day I learned that the road to healing does not always need to be paved with forgiveness. I had a new therapist, and in one of our first sessions, I told her I had been trying and failing for years to forgive my abuser.
She told me, "You don't have to."
I didn't know what to do with that answer. My whole body felt frozen while those words bounced around inside my head like a ping pong ball. They bumped into every reason I had ever been given for forgiveness. Those reasons that had seemed so concrete shattered like glass.
I didn't have to forgive him.
So, I didn't. Instead, I asked to meet with him, and when I came face-to-face with the man who had spent nearly a decade abusing me, I told him that if he ever received absolution for his sins, it would not come from me. I told him he would die without my forgiveness. And for the first time in 14 years, I no longer felt like my trauma was bigger than everything else in my life.
Because I discovered that my heart was big enough and strong enough to carry both the righteous indignation I felt about my abuse and the genuine happiness I had found despite what happened to me. I finally understood that forgiveness felt impossible because it wasn't meant to happen. That idea went against everything I'd ever been taught, and it contradicted so many beliefs I held about life and healing and myself. But the weight that lifted off my shoulders in the moment that I decided not to forgive told me I had made the right choice.
And that's the thing no one tells you about forgiveness…it's a choice. We get to decide if we will extend forgiveness or withhold it.
Because when we are wronged, no one else can measure what crosses our threshold of unforgivable, and only we can decide if forgiveness will help or hurt. We can choose to forgive the man on the subway who steps on our toes but not the partner who betrayed our trust. We can offer our forgiveness to the friends who didn't show up when we needed them but not to the abuser who stole our innocence.
Because sometimes, forgiveness doesn't come no matter how hard you try. And that's okay. You don't have to. It's not the only way to heal.
If you or someone you love is affected or has been affected by sexual abuse or assault and is in need of help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
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Featured image by Shutterstock