Growing up Black in America is an experience, to say the least. In a nation mostly run by white people, Black and Brown people have valiantly turned their pain of discrimination into empowering stories for society to absorb. Lifestyle blogger and author, LaTonya Yvette, can attest to this power of reclaiming your story of emotional experiences in order to live a full life of joy and truth. 

Her debut book, Woman of Color, is part memoir and part lifestyle guide — unapologetically exploring the various versions of herself as both a Black woman and mother. Neatly equipped with "moving essays, gorgeous original and archival photographs, and practical style and beauty advice," LaTonya's own experiences of growing up as a woman of color in America reminds us that our vulnerabilities are deeply-rooted in the inner-truths we, Black women, see for ourselves. And the inner-truths we wish to display to the world. 

I had the pleasure to speak with LaTonya on why it's important to empower the Black community through honest discussions, how she balances her career and motherhood, and what we can discover when we all live out our inner-truths.

  1. Check out our exclusive interview with LaTonya Yvette below.
  2. 21Ninety: How did the concept for a blog centered around family, style, culture and womanhood come to be? What inspired you to create an online platform of visual and emotional experiences that encompass women in today’s society?

LaTonya Yvette: The blog kind of came about 7 1/2 years ago — which is crazy! But the blog came about at the time when I had River, my daughter, I was 21-years-old and I was in college writing literature. I was also a freelance stylist working on sets but also assisting other people. We lived in Bushwick, and I hadn't planned on getting pregnant and having a baby but I was engaged and really happy to have her, but I also needed to be a stylist and needed to write and needed to work. But everyone who I was connected to at home — sort of in my neighborhood — were all 20 years older than me who seemed like they waited their whole lives to get pregnant, and didn't want to do anything outside of motherhood. So, the blog came out of a desire to connect with women who are open about having these other parts of them that were not just being answered by motherhood alone. Everyone in that circle was like, "you're just supposed to be happy doing all this motherhood stuff." And I was not happy doing all of that stuff. I was happy with my daughter and I loved-loved-loved being there, but I also had this part of me that was totally wanting to come out and desiring to be explored. So the blog came out as a lack of space. 

I was also surrounded by white women. I mean, there were no women of color who had the privilege of staying home mostly with their child and figure out a freelance career while being a mother. So that was also super jarring for me because not only was it a culture lack, but it was also an age issue and a creative issue — there are just so many layers now looking back so many years later. So the blog came out of need, something that I needed myself. 

Photo: LaTonya Yvette x Bee Walker

  1. 21N: For those who have grown up Black in a white America, it’s likely they have experienced the sting of discrimination and disrespect on the sole basis of being Black. In your humble opinion, why is important for the Black community to empower one another through honest discussions of vulnerability and imperfect truths? 

LY: I feel like, if you're a Black person, every day you wake up, you go out and you constantly have people pushing their negativity and their boundaries and their racism and their stereotypes, whatever they can, onto you without your consent. And we know these things exist, but you're just living, you're just being Black. But we're constantly exposed to other people's issues with Blackness. And that's sort of the root of being Black in white America.

For me, and I can only speak personally, the way I choose to be vulnerable and the way I choose to seek joy is by knowing these things exist. They are apart of my everyday breath, they are apart of my kids, they are apart of mother — but I choose to keep on climbing and I choose to fight it by incorporating joy, creativity and dignity while acknowledging that these people are still living with their issues towards me because I'm a Black woman. 

The importance in all of this is to show people — if they're anything like me, and so many Black women are — that they can still achieve a living experience. It's really easy to be weighted down by the institutions, and the news, and the hate. So I want to show people that there is a world out there for Black people like us, and a way for us to live with our true selves. That's the ultimate resistance to it all, right? You are actually choosing to be joyful, you're choosing to live, you're choosing to be creative, and people who push all the negativity onto you don't want that! They want to bound you, they want to put you in barriers. So, it's all about finding joy in being Black. 

21N: I agree. I think it's in our DNA now, after 400 years of oppression, to learn how to survive in white America. You wonder, when are they going to understand that they will never keep us down? We have proven that we will get up every time and overcome the wrongs thrown at us. 

LY: Exactly! And part of it, for me, is I'm done trying to change everyone else's mind on how they see me. Because at the end of it, you're still growing and you're still joyful — and that's the whole point of the book to share that. There may be a Black person who still needs to see that they, too, can live their life how they want to without denying who they are or who they want to be. 

Photo: LaTonya Yvette x Bee Walker

21N: What would you want white people to take away from reading your book? 

LY: People often forget how deep the Black experience can be. So, I think I'd want them to not assume that just because you have a Black friend that you instantly know their experience. And don't assume that your experience is equivalent to our own. All the different chapters in the book itself may show that we have similar experiences, but every experience is unique. I'm not seeking sympathy for my experience, but I want you to learn actually learn about the Black experience. 

21N: Can you describe a typical day in the life of Momma LaTonya? How do you actively balance motherhood and your career? 

LY: [laughs] You know, it's just always changing! I feel like I'm never balancing things — like, I just finished a blog post and I need to do another blog post, then I need to do taxes and respond to emails — so for me, the balance is not real, it's not there, it's nonexistent. And when the book comes out, it's going to switch my life completely. 

But, every morning I try to wake up before my children. Whether it's writing, or it's tidying, or it's answering emails, I try to do whatever I can early in the morning to get ahead of the curve. I read something forever ago that said something like, one thing that 10 powerful people have in common is that they all wake up before the sun. I was already doing that before I read that, but it really made so much sense to me. Because I grew a career and had children at the same time, it's been about figuring out how to hustle the system. So I wake up super early most days, and the days that I don't, I feel completely turned around and feel so behind on everything. After my kids are up and I take them to school, I just dive right into work. And work for me, often times, is just jumping around from a meeting to a meeting, or sitting down writing. And then I tag up with my babysitter — he is so amazing! —and then I'm back with my kids usually cooking dinner. 

I go through many phases when I'm like, ugh I can't believe I have to be an adult. [laughs] This sucks! But I really like being involved, and I sometimes wish I could be more involved because there are so many areas that I want to be in. And I want to asses that. Sometimes though I'm like, this is insane, LaTonya. You're going to turn 40 one day — what was I thinking? [laughs] And then I'll be broken down and tired. So it's a little insane, but it's also where I want to be in my life right now. From writing to motherhood and everything in between, it's a lot, but all of this stuff is important to me. So, sometimes it's madness — but I love dancing with my kids at night and putting them to sleep, and I love working my butt off and traveling if I can. 

Photo: LaTonya Yvette x Bee Walker

  1. 21N: Is motherhood something you’ve always desired?

LY: No, I did not want to be a mom. I love my children but I was like, I am not going to be a mother. I thought I'd be one of those people who would not be a mom, or I'd be a mom when I was much older. With that said, I think the timing of my life was so right! I really believe that having my daughter changed the course of my life 120%. So as much I didn't want to be Mom — like you'll read in the book, I never considered being a mother because I believe every woman should have a choice — I made the choice to be a mom. I allowed myself to be tied to her and her father for the rest of my life. And I'm forever thankful for being allowed to make that decision. 

  1. 21N: As a lifestyle blogger and now published author, what has been the most rewarding aspect to unapologetically display your experiences for the world to absorb?

LY: There's so much of my life that I don't talk about, but the parts of my life that I do unapologetically talk about I know is right and I know is right for my children. I speak about a choice because I want my daughter to know that she has the power to make that choice, if ever she comes to that road. For me, the most rewarding aspect of writing about my experiences allows me to go back to the beginning and be able to connect with people, but also with myself. I'm just really proud to have something that feeds me, and that also feeds other people in an emotional sense. And when my kids are 20, one day, I'll have this whole thing to look back on and see their experiences. So I hope this book will change people's outlook on being here in this world and appreciate the experiences we make every single day. 

Photo: LaTonya Yvette x Bee Walker

  1. 21N: As the mother of two beautiful children — River and Oak — what kind of legacy do you hope to leave behind for them? What role of motherhood do you aspire to teach them for the day they, too, become parents?

LY: Oh God, I'm going to cry [laughs]. Because I just think about what is important to me. For me, I really just want them to be proud of who they are. But also, be very conscious of who they are in this world. I hope that they know that their mother opened that up for them. A big part of what I'm doing is to show them and have them experience — be proud of who you are, and also be responsible for one another. I hope that my writing and sharing parts of our lives will give to them the lesson that we are, in some ways, indebted to each other for our emotional well-being and health. And so, I hope that what I'm doing allows for them to explore that and take them in whatever direction they choose to go in life. 

21N: I completely agree. It's important to instill how we want to exude ourselves in children early. 

LY: Exactly! And I'm really happy that they get to see that, and that it'll be a tangible experience for them. 

Photo: LaTonya Yvette x Bee Walker

21N: Speaking of that, one can imagine it requires a certain level of self-love to openly and willingly share your life experiences with complete strangers. In your effort to shine a positive light on the Black woman experience, how do you affirm self-love and keep yourself committed to your inner-truths?

LY: I feel like I'm constantly checking myself, and I think one of the things I can speak about is that I grew up very, very different than who I am as an adult. Not drastically different, but with enough childhood experiences — like, there's 5 of us and my mother was in an abusive relationship with my father — so I grew up in a way that I needed in order to be truthful with myself. And then going from a teenager to an adult, I only had a few years as a teen before I became a mother, set up another layer for me to be truthful with myself. I'm turning 30 this summer and that's going to be totally different, right? [laughs] But I'm interested to see how the truths will shape up. There's never really been a time in my life when I've never been without a huge challenging experience. So being truthful with my inner-self has been part of surviving these experiences. 

  1. 21N: You describe your debut book, Woman of Color, as part memoir, part lifestyle guide covering a wide range of topics Black women, in particular, can relate to. What sort of treasures can Black women anticipate to discover inside your book? 

LY: For Black women, there is an appreciation and a power behind hair. There's an appreciation with accepting your name — like LaTonya, there's a chapter that talks about my name and my whole life experience about someone switching it around purposedly to put me in my place. There's a chapter about birth and a chapter about loss, and choosing to seek power in those experiences. There are so many nuggets about experiences that many Black women go through, and that's sort of the point to say, I'm not the only one

The treasures I hope that they get from it is that these experiences are yours, and then they're yours to turn around and discover power in your name and to discover power in your loss. 

Photo: LaTonya Yvette x Bee Walker

  1. 21N: Woman of Color is due to be released on April 2nd, and is sure to spark the conversation for more women of color to begin living their lives unapologetically. Do you have any final words of advice or encouragement for Black women speak their truths loud enough for the world to hear? 

  2. LY: For me, I always say, find what's right for you to talk about. It's so easy to get caught up in what everyone thinks that you should be doing, or how they tell you shouldn't be doing things. What I want to share with other Black women is, honor yourself and be truthful with your inner-self. Find the power, find the joy, find your own lived experiences that are not anyone but your own. 

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