As told to Andrea Nagel
I’m from Richmond, Virginia — the oldest of six children. And I was the firstborn in every way. I followed all the rules. I got great grades. I wasn’t rebellious. And I took care of everybody in the family.
Though now I spend so much of my career speaking publicly, I had a very serious stuttering problem triggered when I was under pressure — when I was called on in class or when I had to order food. A big memory was going to a pizza shop after school, and my mom telling me to go in and order something for myself. She said, “Go ahead, do it!” I got out of the car, and I remember going into that shop and not being able to get the words out.
Two teachers at different points pulled me aside and said, “You have a problem and I want to help you.” One was my eighth-grade guidance counselor who, after a one-on-one meeting with me, really saw how bad my stuttering was, so she called my mom. They put together a plan to teach me how to speak again from scratch. I basically had to retrain my brain through intense speech therapy.
“That’s why equity is important — because people overlook you and don’t think you have anything to say.”
I remember the guidance counselor saying she didn’t understand why no one thought this was a problem before then. But that’s how bias works, right? And that’s why equity is important — because people overlook you and don’t think you have anything to say. My dad had a big stuttering problem and dealt with it his whole life. They never thought it was fixable. That was one of my earliest experiences around the lack of equity that was just a part of our system.
It wasn’t until I attended a historically Black college in Virginia, Hampton University, that I was able to understand diversity within the Black space. I didn’t realize until then that there are major differences among Black people. Oftentimes, your neighborhood is defined by socioeconomic boundaries, so your neighbors are very, very much like you.
Being from the South, my Black experience had been defined as one thing. But at Hampton, I was illuminated by the idea that everybody has their own Black experience. I saw for the first time, in a serious way, Black boys competing academically. Society trains you to think that Black boys are pushed to be rappers or athletes. At college I saw boys who wanted to get straight A’s and be on the Dean’s List; that was really different.
Several years after graduating Hampton and working for Johnson & Johnson selling beauty products to grocery accounts, I got my MBA from Purdue University. Purdue had a good mix of people who had a really good sense of inclusion. It was the first place where I saw what it is like to have everyone show up equally, and have an equal playing field. Since Purdue is based in rural Indiana, there aren’t a lot of opportunities for Black American diversity. But the university is very deliberate at the grad-school level, and they make sure that 70% of the Black graduate students across every college at the school came from a Black college. So, my peers and I all had shared values. Even though it was only about 100 of us on a campus of 39,000, we brought a shared culture that was really strong.
After grad school I went to work in Arkansas at Procter & Gamble with the food and beverage team at Walmart, but eventually landed back in beauty in New York, working on beauty renovations for grocery accounts. Then I went to Cincinnati and worked on Gillette for six years in global innovation. Procter & Gamble was wonderful. They are the smartest people I’ve ever dealt with, hands down.
“It turns out I have a real mind for research, something that came to light from a personality test I took while I was at P&G.”
In 2016, I made a big shift and left the CPG world, joining the entertainment industry with a research role at BET Networks. It was an opportunity via a reference from a former colleague at P&G. It turns out I have a real mind for research, something that came to light from a personality test I took while I was at P&G. I’ve been at BET for six years; I’m currently the SVP of Brand Strategy and Marketing. I love it.
Working at BET also gave me the opportunity to start my own company, Modulize, which focuses on equity work. I opened it just after the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum during COVID. That summer in 2020, I began sharing lots of data on systemic racism with my Facebook friends’ group. Soon people started calling me and asking if I could speak at their company about this data and educate their employees.
Working on all of this during this very difficult time in our culture brought up the specific moment early on in my career that triggered my interest in DE+I: I was working on a deodorant brand and seeing how darker skin tones interacted with some of the products that were being trialed, and I realized that the people of color were not finding the product appealing. And this sentiment wasn’t resonating.
Now I take on clients, such as non-profits and small businesses, who really need to do some equity work to quantify the challenges that arise in real time. That’s my sweet spot. It’s very much purpose driven.
“I am at an all-time career high with the impact that I am making on real people. You can’t quantify that feeling.”
What I’m excited about most is the adventure and the I-don’t-know-what’s-next thing. I am at an all-time career high with the impact that I am making on real people. You can’t quantify that feeling. The data I am researching and sharing is in many ways an advocacy tool. It’s bringing real-life challenges and putting them in front of people. It can balance the emotion we’ve heard — through stories of the human experience — with real life things, like salary differences and a sense of belonging in the workplace. You can’t hide from that.