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Yolanda Adams On The Keys To Success That Have Fueled Her Career & Life

In an xoExclusive, the gospel singer shares why she wants you to choose faith over fear. Every. Single. Time.

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Gospel star Yolanda Adams is more than just a dynamic voice — her wisdom and insight about the journey we call life provides just as much empowerment as does her music. Yolanda's career repertoire expands beyond Gospel and includes roles such as actress, radio personality, author, beauty entrepreneur, and fashion designer. Behind the fame is the story of how Yolanda did it and how we can do "it" in our own lives as well.

During the time we spoke, Yolanda Adams was gearing up for a September appearance at the 2019 Black Music Honors. Yolanda, one of the event's honorees, was looking forward to receiving accolades for her work. "Anytime you're able to be acknowledged for anything you've ever done is a blessing," she told me early on during our call. Yet, she reveals there is a "responsibility that comes along with being applauded and appreciated." The ability to impact is always present. I thought our conversation would be mostly about her career in music, but I soon realized the former schoolteacher and part-time model, turned award-winning singer had a testimony about life and inner purpose to share for xoNecole readers.

Photo Credit: Black Music Honors

"I've always seen my gift as a blessing — to be able to write, deliver, and sing from my heart. I've never taken that for granted. That's a lot of power to be able to get people from a point where they are so low that they feel they can't really go on to making them feel so empowered, they don't even remember feeling depressed or trying to give up. That's huge. You realize you're not doing this by yourself. There's a special power that's allowing you to give this to people so that they can make their lives better. This song makes their life better. This performance makes their life better. They can listen over and over until they are so empowered that they get up and dust themselves off."

Read on to learn more about Yolanda's tips on embracing one's gift, motherhood, entrepreneurship, spirituality, navigating success and more.

Note: responses have been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

xoNecole: Describe your approach to making music.

Yolanda Adams: My goal every time I go into the studio is to take out of my heart and put it on whatever tape and give it to people who need it. If people are dealing with wondering about the economy, let's talk about that. If they're thinking about the love of their life, let's do a song about that. If they're thinking about loss, let's talk about that. Let's sing what the heart of the people need right now. I've never gone into the studio and said let's do a song that will go on mainstream radio or let's do a song that will go to the top of the Gospel charts. That has never been my thinking. My thinking process is always, "Who needs this right now?"

xoNecole: Taking the leap towards our passions and dreams can be tough. What inspired you to embrace your gift?

Yolanda: To anyone who has a specific call on their life and they know they do, never ever think that where God is about to take you is less than where you are right now. God always promotes you. He never demotes you. There will be a leap of faith moment where you have to say, "I can't do this the way I did it before."

I taught for seven years before I went into full-time singing. I had to make a huge decision. It took me a whole year to make the decision that I am really going to do this full-time. It wasn't a struggle to say I'm doing it full-time. The struggle came with doubting myself and doubting the decision I made.

In the face of what seems like a "no" or a deterrent or something that fights what you are feeling, we tend to say, "I shouldn't have done [that]." That's not the truth. You never get to the point of your life where you have nothing to deal with. If you try to avoid resistance, you will never grow.

Yolanda at the Black Music Honors 2019

Photo Credit: Black Music Honors

xoNecole: How do you manage possible discomfort when stepping into your purpose?

Yolanda: We deal with growing pains all of our lives. When you move from having a boss to being your own boss, now everything is really on you. You have to make sure your books are right. You have to make sure you are getting up in the morning. If you are not occupying your time and making sure you are doing something with your talent, you lose your stamina, drive, and purpose. It's the same thing with us when it comes to us thinking life will be problem-less or problem-free. That's never going to happen. You will always have to deal with something. Wisdom and experience teaches you how to effectively deal with what you're dealing with.

xoNecole: What were some of the biggest challenges of your career and how did you deal with them?

Yolanda: One of the things was trying to figure out how to navigate being a single mom and figure out how I'm going to be at home with my child to nurture a great person. Those of us who have been on the road all of our lives, we're always trying to figure out how to make transitions. I said, "God, I have to be home most of the time for Taylor [her daughter]." That's how the radio show came about. I didn't know where it was going to come from. My first degree is Radio & TV journalism.

I knew I was prepared to do it, but I didn't know how it was going to come about. People told me I'd have to move to Los Angeles or New York. Those were out of the question because my child had already established her friendships. I said to the Lord that we were going to have to work things out. Less than a week later, I got a phone call from my attorney asking if I wanted to go into business with [someone]. We had a lot of success with the radio show. I was able to go to every recital and concert. I was able to do everything with her.

When you have to make adjustments...life will make you rethink some of the things you think are permanent. I didn't miss a beat. When you ask God for stuff, in sincerity, knowing that your purpose is not just selfish, God will open windows and doors for you that you never even thought were possible.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Yolanda Adams

xoNecole: Is there anything about entrepreneurship you wish more people understood?

Yolanda: Brands take work, I don't care what your name is. Every person from Beyonce to Jay-Z to Puffy...everyone who has magnanimous brands can tell you, it takes work. Your hands have to be there. You have to put your foot to the pedal. You have to say, "I believe in this with all my heart. I'm not letting it go." When people tell me "no", I'm still looking for that "yes". One of my mentors B. Smith told me, "Stand on a mountain of no's until you get that one YES." That is one of the biggest lessons I've learned.

If you believe in yourself, it doesn't matter who doesn't believe in you. If you believe in your product, it doesn't matter who doesn't believe in your product. You keep believing until you see what you saw in your vision.

Long-term goals for business is crucial. [You need to] have that marathon runner mentality. Sometimes you may have what seems like an amazing idea in the beginning. You have momentum [and] are doing everything you need to do. Everybody is responding and then the next couple of weeks and months, someone else has a launch [and things die down]. That doesn't negate the amazing product you have. You just have to find a different way to get it to the masses. Social media is wonderful. Build relationships. This is not a sprint. This is a marathon. You still come out the winner if you hang in there.

xoNecole: For those struggling with spirituality and finding their own connection with God, what advice would you give?

Yolanda: Breathe. Give yourself a break. Even the strongest of us have those moments where we say, "Lord, where are you?" Don't worry. You are not by yourself. Those are times when you get quiet. If you want to find God, get quiet. Move away from the phone and people. Ask the hard questions. "What am I doing? What are we doing? Where am I going? How am I going to make it? Is this the end of this? Should I be looking for something else?" The silence and quiet is where you find God. You're not going to find him on Instagram. (Although there are some great preachers and teachers on Instagram.) You find Him in your own spirit, because He's inside. Stop looking for God in the sky.

xoNecole: What are the most important things to keep in mind as we reach for success?

Yolanda: Believe in yourself. If you don't believe in you, no one else will believe in you. You've got to convince yourself that you're the greatest you that was ever created.

Believe in your destiny and purpose. Your destiny is the roadmap to where you are going. It's also the trail you've left behind. What are the lessons you've learned? What kind of knowledge have you garnered about yourself?

Garner great relationships. Your friends, family, and people you put around you will be your cheerleaders and your balcony when you have no idea how you're going to make it. They will be the ones to say you can do this and to keep going. Sooner or later, you're going to hit those goals and you're going to be like, "I did it."

For more on Yolanda, follow her on Instagram. Click here to stay up to date on her 2020 tour and purchase her line of handbags here.

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.

Reparations

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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