queens recognize queens: an interview with Pauleanna Reid
Pauleanna Reid is a voice of strength, a symbol of perseverance, and a living reminder that there is gold inside of us all. A young, inspiring woman with countless accomplishments: Ms. Reid is a nationally-published writer- author of Everything I Couldn't Tell My Mother, a seasoned entrepreneur, a mentor, and a motivational speaker. Pauleanna has trailblazed her way through her life since 2010, when she began to live in her truth, unapologetically. Being a survivor of teenage bullying, mental illness and sexual abuse, Pauleanna has lived a life of wearing her scars as symbols of strength- and motivating others to do the same. New Girls on the Block Enterprises, her most recent initiative, is a sicker-than-ya-average mentorship program for teens and young women. The aim? To provide a sisterhood network and an environment where budding women can acquire the tools and resources necessary to build lasting relationships, master their personal style, and move strategically in their career.
I was introduced to Pauleanna by a dear friend of mine, Samantha Callender, who put me on to Pauleanna's book. The raw energy and the realness that I felt within the first page of reading "Everything I Couldn't Tell My Mother", and the fact that I empathized and lived through everything she wrote, is the reason why I wanted to interview her. We all have pasts and we all have scars, and Pauleanna is a testament to not allowing the wounds to paralyze us and keep us from living. As a young aspiring entrepreneur myself, and as a woman with stories in my scars, I wanted to talk to someone who has turned their "number 2 pencil and a dream" into an empire that women (and all) can look up to. In the interview we discuss her novel, her road to healing, the importance of small victories and how she became the successful queen she is today.
q: what was the catalyst to make you write this book?
P: You know what, it’s because I realized my gift at a really, really young age. Even though i’ve gone through a lot of unfortunate circumstances at one point i thought that god forgot about me. I knew that in order to reach my full potential, i had to tell my story. I could no longer carry this baggage around with me and I was willing to sacrifice it- I was willing to let it go if that meant to achieve the success that I’ve always dreamed of. So in order to force me to really do that, I needed to write a book. It was such a big step. It’s go big or go home. Either you’re going to put all your business out there and take the consequences and be forced to have these conversations with your mother, your father, your siblings, and people who know you, or you’re going to be average. For me, I knew at a young age that I was not built to be average. God gave me some really awesome gifts and although people didn’t know it, I knew it within myself. So, honestly. I wanted to grow. I didn’t want to carry the weight of all this emotional baggage from these circumstances that I dealt with. It was a scary step but it was really the best step that I needed to take in order to get to that place in my life.
q: how much of it is true and is an account of your own story?
P: This is a fiction novel based on my own true-life story. I would say that about 90% of it is true, all of the major life events. In the book, Aaliyah is mixed I am not mixed. I am Jamaican and Trinidadian but Aaliyah is Trinidadian and Italian. I did that because I wanted to connect with a greater audience. It was important for me to write a book that came from real life experiences. The rape scene with Sterling or the abuse- in order for me to put that in vivid detail, I would have had to live that. Some things you just can’t fake. Even in the preface you can’t fake that. For me it was very important to draw from my real life experience and also it kept my writing process easier. The only character that is totally fictional is Francois, who is the last last chapter. Many of the circumstances like being socially awkward in high school and being flat chested, etc. A lot of women that I’ve discussed the book with have told me that these little moments are something that everyone can relate to. The most important thing is to talk about the communication struggle with her mother and break the communication barrier down. In order for me to grow, I wrote this novel so I can stop living a lie first of all and to reveal myself to my mother. That’s really where this came from, she’s the biggest inspiration for this book. I feel like the mother-daughter relationship is often strained and not nurtured, so for me it was important that I take responsibility for part of why we don’t have a great relationship. I can’t blame her for not loving me enough because I definitely played my role. I kept secrets from her; I definitely wasn’t open. I take responsibility for my role, here are all my cards on the table, now let’s see what move we’re going to make. I just wanted to open up the dialogue. We have a lot of complexities within our relationship that I really just wanted to iron out. I was so sick of holding onto resentment. I wanted to be able to put it onto the table and just talk about it. So I also wanted to show that tug of war in the novel as well.
q: i know you have a history of writing as a journalist, but this book is a completely different area so to speak of writing. what was the writing process like for you? what did it take to get these words out?
p: It was brutal. In order for someone to write a book, you have to be crazy. Honestly, it took me four years to write. My routine was that I would usually wake up really early. My writing sessions from anywhere to six hours to twelve hours at a time and i forced myself to do that because I’m the type of person, whether reading or writing, I can’t just read or write 15 minutes here or there. I sat down at a table, and in that 6 to 12 hour session, if I only get out three pages, then that’s still a victory. I know a lot of writers who write based on emotion. I can’t do that. In life, period. I have twelve staff members. I can’t just decide “I’m not going into the office today because I don’t feel like it”. No. I have people that depend on me. Same thing when it comes to writing- you’re not going to get to the finish line when you write only on the days you feel like it. So, I scheduled the days, I made it a part of my routine, and if I sat there for 6 hours and I got nothing done, at least I tried. I had to really carve up time in my schedule otherwise I would have never gotten it done. There are so many distractions. I didn’t go out with friends, I stayed at home! There were no parties, there were no extracurriculars. I was grinding it out behind the scenes to make sure I got it out. I didn’t want to be one of those people who talk shit on the internet and you don’t produce receipts like Wendy Williams would say. I said I’m going to write a book and here it is. I don’t like people who just talk and don’t execute. I’m known for having great habits of execution and I’ve always been that way. During my childhood I was a high-performance athlete and my father has a military background, so I’ve always been in that space that when you start something, you finish it.
q: how has your relationship with your mother changed after writing + releasing this book?
P: People ask that and it’s like….We’re not perfect. But we still are going through some struggles. We’ve had conversations around the circumstances in the book and we’re still going through our struggles. I think that to her it’s just a really big shock that you grow up with your daughter for twenty-some odd years and you’re questioning like “what? This really happened?” So i think she is going through her own healing process. She does have a copy of the book and whether or not she’s read it, I don’t know. However, we have had conversations about what’s in it, but I think it’s really a matter of I’m waiting for her at the halfway point and I need her to come meet me. And she’ll do that when she’s ready.
q: you’ve been through a lot from low self-esteem, being a victim of sexual assault, depression to committing suicide… how long did it take you to love again? to come to a place of self-love and be able to build strong relationships with others?
P: I’m still on that evolution, I’m still on that journey. I guess my life changed the moment I raised my hand and asked my family doctor for help in 2010 ten. I started talking about my experiences and my fear was trumped by purpose and just knowing that second chances do exist. I remember when I was recovering from my two suicide attempts, I realized there must be a reason why I'm still here. I decided that I was going to spend the rest of my life figuring out why that is. My life’s work is dedicated to empowering women and girls. I feel like I’m capable of so much more so I think the journey in itself is so exciting and I just think people are so quick to want the final destination. But if you’re quick to reach the final destination, what else is left? Right? So I’m learning to appreciate the journey for what it is and understand that I’m here to tell a message. I’m grateful that God handpicked me to go through all of the bullshit because now I have experience to draw from and I feel like experience is well respected when you talk to the youth. Also, me talking about my experiences is a great healing process as well. I’m still on my journey of self-love. I have my good days and bad days. I deal with depression and anxiety but I’ve learned how to cope and manage it. I feel like I’m well on my way.
q: if you could give it a name, what’s the main lesson you had to learn in your life? How has it stuck with you in your life today?
P: TD Jakes “You will not go further than you think.” So for me it’s about dreaming big, thinking big, and knowing that I’m capable of big things. Put yourself in a position where you think you’re big and bold that’s when everything shifts around you to help you get to that next level.
q: for people of color, the black community, mental illness is not something that is well-received. we don’t talk about it. Or if we do, it’s bashed and seen as weak. can you shed some light on your depression for those of us who are dealing with it everyday? who are trying to accomplish things but have to deal with it?
P: Progress is a process. I speak to youth every single day and the thing that I see is everyone wants results really quickly instead of going through the process. It’s about celebrating small victories and not feeling like you have to conquer the world in a day. If you wake up one day and you get up and brush your teeth, that’s a victory; or if you get out of the house and go for a walk, that’s a victory. Baby steps will lead to big blessings. I think it’s just focusing on what you can achieve today and doing your best and “f” the rest. Take your time, surround yourself with people who support you, and also i think the biggest thing in the black community, or the biggest problem that i face is that my elders are telling me to not be on medication and not go to my family doctor and to pray it away. I feel like if you’re suffering from a mental illness that you need to seek professional help and don’t be afraid of medication. If you had a broken leg, you wouldn’t walk around with just a broken leg, you’d get a cast. Why aren’t we looking at mental illness the same way? You have to be mindful of who you take advice from because not everyone is in a position to give you the best advice. So because I’ve lived it, my advice is please seek professional help. There are tons of programs you can check out as well as counseling. You have to dig a little bit deeper but there is support out there. You aren’t alone in this.
q: your empire is amazing. as a woman who has been through so much, you wouldn’t be able to tell about the scars from how you hold it down with your brand. your work and what you’re doing is amazing. how long did it take you to build your brand? any advice for a 22 year old fresh out of college who is looking to follow in the same footsteps?
P: I began my brand in 2010. I had a piece of shit blog, but I was proud of it. I gave my best every single day. Whether you have a shit blog or you have a blog that’s poppin’, you give yourself every single day. Whether you work at Burger King or you work at Wall Street the same rules apply. That’s work ethic that i’ve been taught since I was a little kid. I dropped out of school in 2008. Social media has been my biggest driver. My mentor and people around me took note of my work ethic because of my online presence and that’s when I was really afforded some great opportunities such as becoming a nationally published journalist by 23. I didn’t go to school for journalism. It was an opportunity that was awarded to me because of my work ethic and because of my passion for what I do. You fake it 'til you make it. You step up and get your shit done. If you’re 22 and trying to build a brand, right now you should be building relationships. Right now you should be establishing a clear goal setting plan and an execution plan. Don’t watch other people. Stay in your lane. Do things that you love and don’t try and conform to the expectations of other people. Now is the best time to make as many mistakes as possible! Mistakes are such a good thing.
q: you are self made. you’re doing what you love and you’re serving others. can you just talk about being an entrepreneur and doing what you love as a woman under 30? how has the process been?
P: It’s been dope. I can do what I want and there’s freedom in that. I think I’m very fortunate because there’s a lot of young people who are struggling and just cannot find the courage to speak up about the things they believe in. I learned this at a very young age and I’m very thankful for that. That is where I found my strength and my courage. I do what I want because I understand that I only have one life. I know what my purpose is and for me it’s very important that I don’t get clouded vision. My parents cannot tell me what to do. Straight up. Listening to other to other people is what caused my downward spiral and no one no longer has that power.
q: what would you tell a girl/woman who is seeking mentorship but doesn’t know where to begin?
P: Honestly, mentors don’t have to be that face to face connection. There can be online mentors like whether it’s Oprah or Karen Civil or Angela Yee from the Breakfast Club, Vashtie. There are so many dope chicks out there. just as a collective you should be reading memoirs, watching documentaries. There are always opportunities to learn. Don’t thinkt that just because you don’t have a mentor on your hip that you can’t be mentored. Of course you can! You have social media, you have books, there are so many ways to learn from the journeys of others.
q: top 3 self-care tips?
1. Do one thing a day that scares you.
3. Understand that “no” is a complete sentence.
q: top self-love mantra?
P: Do your best and “f” the rest. The only competition is yourself. It’s super important that I don’t overwhelm myself and that I don’t compete with other people. I literally do my best and whatever doesn’t get done, doesn’t get done. I’d rather not have a tug of war in my head.