Cyntoia Brown will be released from prison as early as August 7th due to Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam granting her clemency and commuting her life sentence. Cyntoia, who was imprisoned at only 16 years of age, has spent the last 14 years of her life behind bars after being indicted for first-degree murder of a man that abused and sexually trafficked her. After telling her own story in a revealing documentary, and gaining the support of many celebrities outraged at her circumstances, her story became viral and more importantly caught the attention of those with the means to assist her on the pursuit of freedom.
Her conviction caused many to scrutinize the Tennessee sentencing laws and made the public take a serious look at criminal justice reform. Her situation seemed grim as the Tennessee Supreme Court unanimously ruled in early December that Brown would have to complete 51 years of her sentence before she is eligible for release, and her name not being amongst the 11 people that the governor previously granted clemency to in late December.
However, after Governor Haslam was pressured by the public to review Cyntoia's heartbreaking and complex circumstances and her will to make the most of her life even if behind bars, he had a change of heart. Governor Haslam explained in a written statement:
"Cyntoia Brown committed, by her own admission, a horrific crime at the age of 16. Yet, imposing a life sentence on a juvenile that would require her to serve at least 51 years before even being eligible for parole consideration is too harsh, especially in light of the extraordinary steps Ms. Brown has taken to rebuild her life."
While in prison, Cyntoia took advantage of the resources at hand in order to find meaning in a life in which she had not been dealt a fair hand. Since her indictment, she has earned her GED and completed an associate degree in 2015 with a 4.0 GPA, all while gaining the adoration of her inmates and correction officers alike.
Cyntoia seems to have found support and solidarity amongst the department of corrections that she has been bound to around half of her lifetime, crediting them along with her family for keeping her grounded. Cyntoia explained in her clemency statement:
"I want to thank those at the Tennessee Department of Corrections who saw something in me worth salvaging, especially Ms. Connie Seabrooks for allowing me to participate in the Lipscomb LIFE Program. It changed my life. I am also grateful to those at the Tennessee Department of Corrections who will work with me over the next several months to help me in the transition from prison to the free world."
Cyntoia is set to graduate with her Bachelor's degree in May 2019 as her supporters petition for a speedy release, and she will serve probation for the next 10 years of her life. The news of her freedom is a sweet jubilee for those who scrambled to their nearest keyboard or phone in attempts to do something to help.
I hope that this victory reminds all of us how important and powerful our voices are when it comes to social justice. Many of us tweeted, wrote, called, protested, and petitioned in order to gain Governer Haslam's attention to make Cyntoia Brown more than a hashtag, and we should be very proud. Our efforts came with good reason as history shows that Black Women, young and old, often find ourselves as the least respected and least protected demographic in America.
It is important that we have our own back, and speak up for each other even when it seems more beneficial to be silent.
However, our voices and stories are impossible to ignore, and the love that we have for each other will trump all hate and despair. Continue to be outraged by injustices, continue to speak your mind about situations at hand, and continue to use your voices to set yourself and others free. We are magic!
Feature image by Lacy Atkns/AP.
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New Jersey native creating a life that she loves while living in gratitude. She loves using beauty, and fashion to create a balanced lifestyle while prioritizing wellness. A devoted fur mom, and a full-time lover of laughter. She is out for revenge against the darkness by being light, taking her own advice, traveling the world, and letting you know that you are so lit! Connect with her via IG @iamzaniah and please visit Zaniahsworld.com
This was first evident more than a decade ago when she quit her job as the corporate executive of a Fortune 500 company during a Periscope livestream. “I’m not sure if there’s an alignment of [our] future trajectory. I’m going to work for myself. I'm promoting myself to work for myself,” she said at the time before flashing a smile at the viewing audience. As she resigned on camera, a constant stream of encouraging messages floated upwards on the screen.
By 2021, she’d fashioned her work as a corporate consultant and her personal life with her husband and three adopted daughters into a reality show, She’s The Boss, for USA Network. This year, she released the New York Times bestselling memoir Nothing Is Missing, written as she was in the process of getting a divorce and dealing with her eldest daughter’s struggles with substance use.
Convinced that there’s no way the 39-year-old has achieved all of this without intentional strategic planning, I asked her about it when we spoke less than a week before Christmas. I’d seen videos on social media of her working on 2024 planning for other brands, and I wanted to know what that looked like following her own year of success.
She listed a number of goals, including ensuring that the projects she takes on in the new year align with her identity “as a Black woman, as an African woman, as a mother, as someone who has lived a [rebuilding] season and is now trying to live boldly and entirely as themselves.” But, I was shocked by how much of her business planning also prioritized rest.
Despite the bestselling book, a self-titled podcast, and working with numerous corporations, Walters said she’s been taking Fridays off. This year, she doesn’t want to work on Mondays, either.
“A lot of us think we work hard until retirement hits. I want to progress towards retirement,” she said, noting that she’ll check in with herself around March to see how successful this plan has been. The goal, Walters said, is to only be working on Tuesdays and Thursdays by sometime in 2025. “It is intentionally building out what I know I would like to have happen and not waiting for exhaustion to be the trigger of change.”
"A lot of us think we work hard until retirement hits. I want to progress towards retirement... It is intentionally building out what I know I would like to happen and not waiting for exhaustion to be the trigger of change."
Walters said the decision to progressively work less was partially in response to her previously held notions about her career, especially as an entrepreneur. “When I first started, I thought burnout was a part of it,” she said. “What I didn’t realize is that even if you’re able to bounce out of burnout or get back to it, there’s a cumulative impact on your body. If you think of your body as a tree and every time you go through burnout, you are taking a hack out of your trunk, yes, that trunk will heal over, and the tree will continue to grow, but it doesn't mean that you don’t have a weakened stem.”
But, the desire for increased rest was also in response to the major shifts that occurred three years ago when she was experiencing major changes in her family and realized her metaphorical tree was “bending all the way over.”
“One of the things we have to recognize, especially as Black women, is that there is this engrained, societal, systemic notion that our worth is built around our productivity,” she added. “That is some language that I think is just now starting to really get unpacked.” In recent years, there’s been an increased awareness of achieving balance in life, with Tricia Hersey’s “The Nap Ministry” gaining attention based on the idea that rest, especially for Black women, is a form of resistance. Even online phrases such as “soft life” and “quiet quitting” have hinted at a cultural shift in prioritizing leisure over professional ambition.
"One of the things we have to recognize, especially as Black women, is that there is this engrained, societal, systemic notion that our worth is built around our productivity."
If companies are lining up to consult with Walters about their brands and products, then women have been looking to her for guidance on starting over since she invited them to livestream her resignation 12 years ago. As viewers continue to demand more from content creators in the form of intimate, personal details, Walters has navigated her personal brand with a sense of transparency without oversharing the vulnerable details about her life, especially when it comes to her family.
The entrepreneur said she’d been approached to write a book for several years and was initially convinced she was finally ready to write one about business. “I started to do that, and then I went through my divorce. When that happened, I said, why would I write a book telling people to get the life that I have when I’m not sure about the life that I have,” she said.
Instead, she decided to write Nothing Is Missing and provide a closer look at her life, starting with being born to immigrant Ghanaian parents (“You need to know my childhood to know why I’m passionate about entrepreneurship.”) through the adoption of her three daughters and eventual divorce. Despite her desire to share, however, she said she felt protective of the privacy of her family, including her ex-husband.
When discussing this with me, Walters said she was reminded of a lesson she learned from actress Kerry Washington, who released her own memoir, Thicker Than Water, just a week before Walters’ book release. Washington’s memoir grapples with family secrets, too, specifically the fact that she was conceived using a sperm donor and didn’t learn about it until she was already a successful TV star. While Washington reflects on how the decision and subsequent deception impacted her, she’s also careful to hold space for her parents’ experiences, too. “A lot of things she said was that she had to recognize where she was the supporting character and where she was the main character,” Walter said.
This is something Walter worked to do in Nothing Is Missing when discussing her daughter’s struggles with addiction. “I was very intentional about making sure that I did not reveal more than what was required,” she said. “If I say something about someone’s addiction, I don’t need to go into the list of the substances they used, how they used them, what I found. [I don’t need to] walk into a room and paint a picture of what it looked like for people to understand.”
Walters said some of the most vulnerable moments in the book barely made a ripple once it was released. She was extremely nervous to write about getting an abortion, she said. But no one has asked her about this in the months since the book was released. Instead, people have been more interested in quirkier revelations, such as the fact that she once appeared on Wheel of Fortune.
“I have bared my soul about this thing I went through in my youth that has changed me for people, and people are like, ‘So how heavy was the wheel when you spun it?’” she said, chuckling. “It just goes to show that people never worry about the thing that you worry about.”
With the success of Nothing Is Missing, Walters said she still isn’t planning to release a business book at the moment. But, as she navigates parenting a teenager and two adult children while also navigating a relationship with her new fiancé, Walters said she believes she has at least one or two more books to write about her personal journey. “There is sort of an arc of where my life has gone that I know I’ve got something more to say about this that I think is important, relevant and necessary,” she said.
In just three years, Walters’ life has undergone a major transformation. There’s no telling what the next three years will have in store for her, but it seems likely she’ll retain an inspired audience wherever life takes her.
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It's 2024, and you're ready to get back into the dating scene. Well, you're not alone. According to Jonathan Kirkland, Head of Brand and Marketing of BLK, a popular dating and lifestyle app for the Black community, the day after Christmas through Valentine's Day is considered "peak season" for dating apps. So, whether romance is on your vision board or you just want to date for fun, it's necessary to make your dating profile stand out. If you've used dating apps, then you've probably seen it all. The shady profiles with creepy photos, the lack of info or too much info in the About Me section, and much more. While we know that's not you, you could be making some mistakes that are keeping you from making a connection with a potential love interest.
Jonathan says blurry pictures are the ultimate no-no. "Pictures are your first representation of yourself on the dating app. So make sure that you have a clear picture, make sure that the picture represents you. If it's a blurry picture, people can't see you. They will see your picture before they read your profile."
Next are inappropriate pictures. "Typically, they'll get flagged on dating apps by our moderators, but I mean a torso pic. I mean, even if you have a six-pack, people still want to see your face."
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"Another profile mistake; I will say incomplete bios because after people see your pic, if they like it. They want to, you know, get to know a little bit about you," he says.
"If the app gives you as much information to fill out like if you want kids, education, are you a smoker or do you work out, you know, fill out as much as possible because that way that also helps, you know, get you to your match quicker and can alleviate some of that time back and forth. If you know, it's not going to be a match."
Misspellings and Grammar Mistakes
Jonathan recommends that dating app users use spellcheck when writing bios. Grammar mistakes and misspelled words may show that you don't "pay attention to detail, which people probably don't want."
Being Vague About Intentions
While you may be looking for a serious relationship, other people may just be looking for a good time so revealing what you're looking for in your profile will help weed out those who don't match your intentions. "So on BLK we now have, you can select your intention right on your profile. Are you looking for long-term relationship, friends with benefits, friends, you know, things like that?"
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However, there is such a thing as too much information. "Because then that could be safety and privacy, like you don't want to put your phone number on there. I mean, you might not want to put your Snapchat or Instagram." He continues, "I will say like, keep your different social media separate and not give all your information out on your profile."
If you're on dating apps, then you've probably seen a negative profile or two, but don't follow in those footsteps. "Even if you've had bad experiences in dating apps or relationships, you don't take it to the dating app because it's supposed to be a place of hope."
Not Updating Your Profile
Have you dyed your hair or lost weight since creating your dating profile? Then you might want to update it, sis. "I mean, you don't want to misrepresent yourself, like if you got a picture from when you were in high school, probably not the best thing because if you meet somebody in person, you're not going to look the same. People's weights, especially during COVID, have gone up, gone down. So you might want to keep that updated to be in accordance with what's real."
Overuse of Filters
While we love our filters, we want to make sure our pics on our dating profiles match how we look in real life. No catfishing here. "Overuse of filters is definitely a faux pas because, again, it's not representing who you truly are," he says. "We want to be all about authenticity. Like that's why BLK exists because it's like you can be your real self, so with BLK, you don't have to code switch. So, I would say, like the filters and edits, let's not lean into that so much.
Lack of Initiative
Lack of initiative applies to after matching with someone. "Bumble says make the first move. We're not gonna say that, but it's like, I mean, send a message if you already matched, so it's like okay, you both swiped right on each other. Don't wait for the other person to message you first. Just go for it. I mean, all you can lose is just somebody you don't know."
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