Black is Beautiful Mini Blog Series Part 3: Meet DESTINE!

Hello, friends! Happy Saturday! You know what time it is – the third amazing individual who will be blessing us with her presence on the Black Is Beautiful mini blog series for this month is here! Meet DESTINE! Before we delve into the interview, I must share a bit about my friend!

This lovely soul and I have been family friends for YEARS – like I mean our families have known each other forever. We both share an enriching, vibrant, Congolese culture. We have very similar upbringings and relatable stories that we both share on a personal level growing up as the children of Congolese immigrants. I remember when going on our family trips to NorCal, I made it a point to stop by her house to relive all of the fun memories that we would have whenever we visited Destine and her family. That includes playing ruthless rounds of Uno games that never seemed to end with my siblings as well as Destine and her siblings. Though we are physically far, I appreciate the continuous love that Destine continues to radiate and pour into my spirit all of the time.

IreneWhat are your name and pronouns? Give us a quick synopsis of who YOU ARE!

Destine: My name is Destine Kyubwa (she/her). I am a creative, poet, lover, entrepreneur, and so much more! Within those curated identities, I’m a child of God to my core. Moving from that place spills into every aspect of my life. My will and purpose come from watering the seeds that have been planted in me since birth. My etheric calling began a few years ago when I dove into the wellness and spirituality world. With my deep passion for self-development, I’ve had the honor of utilizing my Marketing Degree with social media; more specifically Instagram and my email newsletter. I wholeheartedly cherish connecting with community online but also nurturing the safe spaces around me in real life. If I could describe myself in one word, I’d use intentional. Self-expression is everything to me! Getting the message out about living life fully and authentically brings me so much joy. (:

IreneChoose THREE words that come to mind when you define “Blackness”. Define each word in its relationship to Blackness. Why did you choose these three words?

Destine:

The first word I’d use that comes to mind defining “Blackness” would be rich! Being a melanin-rich person is a miracle! It’s a beautiful reminder that we were created by the hands of the Divine. I’ll forever remember the words from Bob Marley, “my richness is life, forever.” I always write about the notion that liberation is found where love is. Over the past few years, as a melanated woman – I rest in the knowing that living life can be a form of revolution. Living can be what creates the vision! From our presence, we build. From our will, we create the world we wish to see with respect to the past. Melanin absorbs sunlight. It coats every cell in our bodies. It’s literally an amino acid. Melanin-rich individuals are basically coated with the essence of life. What isn’t rich about that? I love us. Lol.

The second word that comes to mind is rooted. There is just something magical about hair that defies gravity. Beyond our physical attributes, I’d like to believe our “Blackness” is spiritual. How tethered are we to our purpose? How firm are we about living life on the terms of unshakable faith? How confident are we in our ability to break free from the perceived limitations of our “struggle?” We are strong, even when we are soft. To be rooted, is to be difficult to destroy. Our longevity in this material world comes from the spiritual roots we water as well. 

The third word that comes to mind is creative. Melanated creatives make the world go round! Our “Blackness” can especially be found in our joy. If you’ve been following me on Instagram, y’all know I’m so dang passionate about the power and beauty that comes from creating! Creating heals, transmutes pain and I can confidently say, sustains. Whether you find joy in poetry, creating content, dancing, singing, writing, designing, anything really – you can deepen your love for yourself or your journey in ways that are indescribable to others. Our ancestors sang. They most definitely moved their bodies. Your darkness or pain can be the breeding ground of creation. We transmute, transform, then remember our essence and the truth of Yahweh love. Creation can be a form of worship when upholding the will of God. It’s the way in which we serve our gifts to the world. I’m so honored to witness the beautiful creations made from melanated beings daily.

IreneWhat is the MOST beautiful thing about being Black to you?

Destine: The most beautiful thing about being Black to me is my heart. Living life in accordance with spirit is a blessing. I know true beauty can be found internally beyond my lovely complexion. I also know the uniqueness of God’s work is miraculous. Love rests in places that are unseen to the human eye. I strongly believe our hearts, our souls calling is what makes life, life. One beautiful masterpiece.

IreneHow do you uplift your Blackness on a regular basis?

Destine: I uplift my Blackness through connecting to my roots. I’ve had the blessing of growing up in a big family and spending a majority of my younger years around my Grandparents. Connecting to Congolese food, music, and trying to learn my native language has been a blessing forever ingrained within my heart. Getting protective styles done by my mom, friends and aunties consistently, has given me the opportunity to love my hair and grow in confidence with my crown. I personally keep my blackness beautiful by prioritizing what makes me feel real, raw, and true. Oftentimes that means wearing my hair natural and wearing less makeup on a regular basis. Freedom can be found when we disconnect from what the world tells us to be and focus on what God has called us to be!

IreneWhat is one of your favorite songs that fit/exemplifies that Black is Beautiful?

Destine: SO. I found this song during fall of 2021 and I’ve been an avid listener of Maverick City Music for a while now. This particular song exemplifies the beauty in Blackness because it’s all about uplifting our uniqueness and God at the same time! If you love gospel music, you’ll love “Pretty Brown Skin” by Maverick City Music (featuring EUGENE KIING & Mav City Gospel Choir). 

Here are some lyrics to get a little feel of the magic. 

Pretty, brown skin

Pretty, light skin

Pretty, dark skin

I see African written in your DNA

Hello choco-melanin from the motherland

With your black skin

Never should you want it any other way

This is for them queens that’s rocking ’em kinky twist (Ooh, ooh, ooh)

From box braids to bantu knots and full lips (Ooh, ooh)

Them dreadlocks, crochets, afros and real hips (Ooh, ooh, ooh)

Them pom-poms and sew-ins with edges that’s real slick (Ooh, ooh)

Now catch this (Ooh, ooh, ooh)

Your black presence is necessary

“Your black presence is necessary.” Yes. Sometimes it’s hard for me to fully grasp the miracle that is our existence. This morning while reading Isaiah 40:28 – 31, I realized once again how powerful God is! The “creator of the ends of earth” loves us, created us, and has plans to prosper us. I was reminded that the power of God is “unsearchable.” If there is one message you get from this blog, I just want to remind you – even if the world doesn’t love you for you, God does! I love you. I pray these words find you well.

IreneHow can we support a fellow amazing Black person like yourself? Do you have any projects, businesses, creations, etc. that you are working on that you would like to speak briefly about and/or that we can support?

Destine: Thank you so much for asking Irene! I have seriously enjoyed my time answering these questions. You can support me through engaging with my work online and joining my newsletter for a more intimate space of faith-based writing. The newsletter is of course free of charge. It’s filled with inspirational journal prompts and just about anything God puts on my heart to share. If you resonated with my answered questions during our time here, you’ll resonate with the newsletter!

Oh my goodness! I have really exciting news to announce soon on IG but this space will be the first to hear. 🙂 I am a soon-to-be published author! I’ve been watering this seed for years now. It’s a poetry book filled with all kinds of spiritual depth and wisdom about scared rebirths. My Instagram will be the first place I announce it. @destinesunshine_

I would also love to add that my 1:1 coaching container, Sunshine Temple is open for all who feel the call! Sunshine Temple is for women who are navigating sharing their gifts online, nurturing your femininity in integrity, and desiring daily support through inspirational audios, journal prompts, and daily voxer access to me. My coaching services have shifted to help serve those similarly in the entrepreneur world. I recognize owning your authenticity in this world can be difficult for some on their journeys. My containers also provide a safe space for alchemical art such as sharing poetry or written works. Our expressions during these sessions can be a form of transformational healing. I’m wholeheartedly ready to serve you on your faith walk. @destinesunshine_

If you know someone who might be interested in my coaching containers, my posts on IG or my free newsletter, be sure to let them know. I will link all my information below.

IreneCan folks connect with you to learn more about you/support you? If so, please drop your social media info down below!

Destine: I can’t wait to connect with you more deeply!

Instagram: @destinesunshine_

Email for newsletter: deekyubwa@gmail.com

Booking for 1:1 support: https://linktr.ee/destinesunshine

Venmo: destine-kyubwa

IreneAnything else you want us to know about you or anything you want to share with the readers? Feel free to drop it down below!

Destine: Sweet love. Thank you for being here. I just want you to big up yourself in this moment because God knows you deserve it! You are not here by accident. God has a purpose for your life and those around you are beyond inspired by your light. This journey called life is a day by day phenomenon. I pray that whatever you’re building, longing for, or fighting brings you wisdom and peace. I love you for all that you are. 

Peace be upon you,

Xx Destine 

My goodness. It has been so rewarding to see Destine blossom into the ethereal being that she is today. I feel so refreshed learning more about her, and Destine, thank you so much for being so vulnerable in this special space! Your chosen words to define Blackness – rich and rooted – are some of my favorite words that I have heard thus far. I absolutely loved how you articulated these words in its relationship to Blackness. Melanin literally is derived from an amino acid – you are so right! ALSO can we just appreciate the fact that we were the FIRST to hear the wonderful news that you are going to be a published AUTHOR?? Thank you so much for sharing that incredible news with us! I am SO excited for your journey and you deserve every bit of the honor and fame that I know is coming your way. Please keep us posted on the book title so I can link it here!

Yall, I really hope you all have been having a blast and have been feeling enlightened by the featured folks of this month’s blog series thus far because I certainly have! Stay tuned for the NEXT beautiful Black person that I will be highlighting next SATURDAY for Part 4 of my Black Is Beautiful mini blog series!

Peace and love,

Irene

Black Is Beautiful Mini Blog Series Part 2: Meet REFILWE!

Hello, friends! Today I am SO thrilled to announce the second lovely individual who will be blessing us on the Black Is Beautiful mini blog series for this month! Meet REFILWE! This beautiful person and I go WAY back. I am going to brag a bit about my friend before I showcase her!

Our undergrad brought Refilwe and me together! We have been good friends for about 7 years now – my goodness! Refilwe and I have so many college memories and life experiences together, from staying up until 4 am during our late-night talks/hangouts to traveling to different parts of California on fun girls’ trips. Honestly, I don’t really know where to start but I don’t want to digress too much because if I get into it I can write a novel on all our memories together. Refilwe is a person that carries out everything that she does with SUCH passion and intention. First of all, she is a headwrap and earring QUEEN. Her sense of fashion is absolutely impeccable. Her spirit is such a beautiful, dedicated one that radiates as she moves on this earth. Refilwe loves people with all of her heart, and as you will learn a bit more, her love manifests in ways that bless and uplift the folks in and out of her communities.

IreneWhat are your name and pronouns? Give us a quick synopsis of who YOU ARE!

Refilwe: My name is Refilwe (Ree-feel-way) Gqajela (she/her). I am a daughter, sister, comrade, friend, organizer… I am a Black queer woman, South African Oakland raised immigrant, Pan African Black nationalist, communist… I am an avid watcher of television and recently enjoying all that anime has to offer #OnePiece #DemonSlayer Also I like tea 🙂 

IreneChoose THREE words that come to mind when you define “Blackness”. Define each word in its relationship to Blackness. Why did you choose these three words?

Refilwe: You gonna have me pull up an essay from college lol

The first word that comes to mind is love. When I think of Blackness I think of Black love, how full it makes me feel, and the active forces that work to challenge and disrupt it. Black love is a radical work and personal value that guides all that I do. 

The second word that comes to mind is struggle. One of our ancestors said ‘freedom is a constant struggle’ and they were very correct. To be Black is to be an aspiring free person in what has been made an unfree world. As a Black woman in particular who inherited the radical Black tradition of liberation struggle and the knowledge that my liberation would hesitate all others, I know I will be in constant struggle for and towards liberation. 

The third word then that comes to mind is freedom; *insert Nina Simone’s ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free*. She captures in this record so much of my feelings regarding Blackness and freedom.

IreneWhat is the MOST beautiful thing about being Black to you?

Refilwe: Whewwwwww! Well, being a part of a diaspora that touches all parts of this world and that actively works to understand and build relationships across shared realities and differences is pretty lit. 

IreneHow do you uplift your Blackness on a regular basis?

Refilwe: Shea butter. Honoring my momma. And organizing for the liberation of all Afrikan people. 

Irene: What is one of your favorite songs that fit/exemplifies that Black is Beautiful?

Refilwe: Most of Nina Simone’s catalogue, but let’s go with ‘Young Gifted and Black’

IreneHow can we support a fellow amazing Black person like yourself? 

Refilwe: Support the Black folks in your life every day. Your coworker, neighbor, student, etc. Listen and make space for them, don’t lean on their labor or voice when you can speak up, and hold your respective communities accountable for their antiBlack practices. Be proBlack — don’t just give up at ’not being problematic’. Move beyond the DEI trainings.

Irene: Do you have any projects, businesses, creations, etc. that you are working on that you would like to speak briefly about and/or that we can support? 

Refilwe: Nothing ready to be supported but hopefully I’ll have some personal project out soon. Still developing and learning from my creative voice. 

Irene: Can folks connect with you to learn more about you/support you? If so, please drop your social media info down below!

Refilwe: IG: @re.fil.oe and Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/refilwegqajela/ 

Irene: Anything else you want us to know about you or anything you want to share with the readers? Feel free to drop it down below!

Refilwe: I am trying out Linktree- check out my public but under construction link now: https://linktr.ee/RefilweG 

Thank you, Refilwe, for speaking to us today! Shea butter is amazing – I MUST agree! No wonder why you are always glistening! I am so honored to have had you be a guest on my blog today. Your soul radiates continuously, and I just felt it as I read your interview. Yall, I hope that you click on her Linktree and social media and connect to see all of the projects, work, and resources that she has to offer because she is a wealth of knowledge. I am so excited to hear and follow your creative voice as it continues to flourish.

I hope that yall enjoyed this blog interview as much as I did! Stay tuned for the NEXT beautiful Black person that I will be highlighting next SATURDAY for Part 3 of my Black Is Beautiful mini blog series!

Peace and love,

Irene

Black Is Beautiful Mini Blog Series Part 1: Meet SHAINAH!

Hello, friends! Today I am SO excited to present to you the first beautiful individual who will be kickstarting my Black Is Beautiful mini blog series for this month! Meet SHAINAH! Before we give her the spotlight completely, I am gonna share a bit about how we know each other.

I met Shainah back in 2018 when I had the wonderful opportunity to study abroad in Ghana. She was actually in a completely different program than me, so I did not get to interact with her daily. We even lived on complete opposite sides of the campus, so I would only really run into her when I was hanging out in International Student Housing (ISH) visiting my other friends in my program. However, I remember my friends would always talk about this person named “Shay” who was super dope and creative. I had no idea who she was but I did not understand why I did not already cross paths with her! Then, I heard that she was a Black creative who wrote and performed such beautiful poetry. When I attended the University of Ghana’s enriching performing arts shows showcasing student talent, I finally had a face to put to the name! Though our friendship did not begin until near the conclusion of my time abroad, we remained well-connected through the power of social media. So today, I present to you, the lovely Shainah!

Irene: What are your name and pronouns? Give us a quick synopsis of who YOU ARE!

Shainah: Hey, innanet! I’m Shainah M. Andrews (she/her/hers). But everybody that I met while on the African continent calls me Shay — it’s their nickname of endearment for me (which I don’t mind). I’m a 24-year-old artist and educator — these two descriptors, largely, encapsulate so much of what I love and am PURPOSED to do by way of Jesus Christ. I impact in my own special way mostly through language, food, and heritage travel. When I speak my poetry, call me ShaiYaa (homage to my roots in Ghana)!

I’m blessed to say that my self-titled brand (which aims to provide numerous types of written, audible, and visual services) allows me to express my creativity and connect with people globally from all walks of life.

Irene: Choose THREE words that come to mind when you define “Blackness”. Define each word in its relationship to Blackness. Why did you choose these three words?

Shainah:

#1) INCOMPARABLE — In a world that loves to classify people according to their skin color (not even mentioning other factors such as hair texture and facial features), I can’t help but often reflect on the Lord’s intentional design and Him thinking about how beautiful His creation is — not just when it comes to physical qualities. We all (human beings) were made in His image uniquely but everybody’s experience here on this earth is different. And there’s something SO incomparable embedded in the DNA of Black people — it’s in the way that we love up on a random stranger in the beauty supply store or barbershop, cook up a meal with minimal ingredients and STILL somehow manage to make it taste bomb, elevate every area of life (like sports), and SO much more. “I’m so glad I’m gang” LOL!

#2) HILARIOUS — Not to toot my own horn but I really be crackin’ myself up with jokes, freestyles in my own room, when I reflect on things I’ve said in the past, etc. Black people are HILARIOUS! And it’s not even always what we say — it’s sometimes just the FACES and SOUNDS we make; often, out in public, all you gotta do (after seeing or hearing something) is connect eyes with someone else who’s Black and y’all both will be like “mhm” or “yup”! My family and friends in particular always have me clutching my stomach because they make me laugh so much. And every social media app out here in the world also proves how comedic Black people are! We provide the world with the laughs that make you sit back and sigh with joy. I think that this is a quality among us that’s often left out when highlighting Blackness (opposed to something like our ability to endure hardships), but our humor is something that I really thoroughly love.

3) BRILLIANT I immediately think of how colorful and vibrant we are as a people (I know most people think of intelligence when they think of brilliance and we ARE intelligent people! But I want to expand a bit on Black people’s brightness in other ways). Irene can attest to the vibrancy of Ghana, and all throughout West Africa! People glisten, glowing because their skin has been kissed by moonlight. Our colorful styles throughout the Diaspora match our lit personalities! I mean, even the fruit and vegetables in Ghana are extra vivid and juicy! Don’t even get me started on the mangos there. Whenever I picture Black people, I think of our brilliant hair colors, God-given tones, nail polish and jewelry choices, vivid food markets, and so much more! Thinking about and seeing our brilliance is honestly always SUCH a serotonin booster for me.

Irene: What is the MOST beautiful thing about being Black to you?

Shainah: I return back to how incomparable we are, really. It’s difficult for me to pinpoint a single thing that’s most beautiful about being Black from my point of view. But in a loophole kind of way, the MOST beautiful thing about being Black is that there ISN’T just one singular thing — it’s the totality of who we are which STILL isn’t fully understood by humanity. I think God was very intentional in that way!

Irene: How do you uplift your Blackness on a regular basis?

Shainah: There are a number of ways that I uplift my own Blackness every day. Some days, I remove my twists to reveal my plush, natural afro. On most others, I protect my twists with a colorful African headwrap or a stretchy, solid-patterned one right from a massive beauty supply store. And let’s talk about protective hairstyles, box braids being my absolute favorite! My faith is of utmost importance to me, so I often like to reflect on the things that the Lord has said and done. Every part of me was methodical, from my plump lips designed to proclaim His goodness to my hair which insects often mistake for home to the authority in my voice, even in my soft tone. I’ve noticed that “you were made for such a time as this” has become especially popular since the start of this COVID-19 pandemic and I’d like Black people to consider drawing strength from that Scripture (Esther 4:14). While Mordecai was referring to Esther’s ability to rescue her people, I hope that God doesn’t mind me putting this in the context of the 21st century. Violence against Black bodies, minds, and spirits — such as racism and white supremacy — are not new but amidst this pandemic, so much IS unprecedented. Even when it’s difficult to see it, I want my fellow Black brothers and sisters to know that they were not born to see 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, etc. accidentally or coincidentally. You were not born to brave these storms alone — apart from Christ! I encourage you to lean on Him, even in a world that just wants us to throw in the towel and accept the mediocrity that it offers.

Irene: What is one of your favorite songs that fit/exemplifies that Black is Beautiful?

Shainah: Choosing my favorite song, I imagine, would be like asking a loving mother to choose her favorite child; I looove music more than I can articulate! BUT I actually DO have one in particular that exemplifies Blackness’ beauty:

I HAD to include the cover art for “La Diaspora” by Nitty Scott (featuring Zap Mama) because it embodies Blackness SO well — the colors, intensity, beauty, allat! Shouts to my sis, CJ, who included this song in a playlist that she made for me in 2019! Fun fact — I met her AND Irene when we all studied abroad in Ghana in 2018! The whole song is phenomenal, but here are some lyrics to give you an idea of its fullness:

Freed all my people from here to Montego Dale morena like this Puerto Rico

We go when we make it rain like El Nino Got that sofrito, that primo, that negro

None of the hitters is f-ckin’ with me though We so cool, we ride off in El Camino

We gon’ be seen, yo — no need no Nat Geo Got so much juice, they just call me Tampico

Part of my life commitment through my work is to show the tissue that connects the African Diaspora whether we’re talkin’ Brixton in England or Salvador de Bahia in Brazil, for example.

Indulge me a second longer on the topic of art as I offer up a poem about Blackness and its beauty — it was written with dark-skinned women at the center. Though short, it’s very sweet and my FAVORITE poem by Rudy Francisco, my favorite poet!

Irene: How can we support a fellow amazing Black person like yourself? Do you have any projects, businesses, creations, etc. that you are working on that you would like to speak briefly about and/or that we can support? 

Shainah: Thank you so much for asking this question!! You all can support me by engaging with my work online which includes poetry, global recipes, spiritual posts, and so much more! If you’re into spoken word or know somebody else who is, be sure to check out my two spoken word albums which can be streamed wherever you listen to your music and podcasts! I’m under the artist name “ShaiYaa” everywhere.

Also, I have two cookbooks out which contain recipes from all over the world — this includes crowd favorites, like Ghana’s quintessential kelewele, fish stew (which unites my roots in West Africa as well as the ones here in the South in the United States), and tastes inspired by places like India and Jamaica! My electronic cookbooks are currently available HERE. If you purchase during the month of February, use the code BLACKISBEAUTIFUL to save some money!

Even when I rest, the Lord gives me downloads and I always have my hand in work of some sort ^_^ I hope to put out more written projects this year, but we’ll see what He leads me to do! For the time being, please consider supporting my posts online, spoken word projects (What I Wrote but Barely Spoke and Freeman), and cookbooks (Slay in the Kitchen with Shainah: Appetizing Meals from Around the World Made Affordable and Divine Bites). AND if you ever need any of my services, please contact me; I’m blessed to say that I’m already being contacted for Black History Month programs, so make sure you go ahead and book me while you can. My commissions are currently open!

I really love it when people spread the word about what I do whether with the click of a button or by word of mouth. If you like it, somebody that you know may love it. Please tell ya people about me ^.*!

Irene: Can folks connect with you to learn more about you/support you? If so, please drop your social media info down below!

Shainah: Connect with me on mostly all the apps!

Instagram | @ShainahMAndrews

Twitter | @ShainahMAndrews

Facebook business page | https://m.facebook.com/ShainahMAndrews/

LinkedIn | https://www.linkedin.com/in/shainahmandrews

To have a look at my portfolio and consider booking me | https://linktr.ee/ShaiYaa

And if you ever want to sow into me financially |

$JustSayShay (CashApp)

shainahandrews@yahoo.com (PayPal)

Irene: Anything else you want us to know about you or anything you want to share with the readers? Feel free to drop it down below!

Shainah: You reading this — thank you for sharing this tender, intimate space with me. I believe in you and the vision down on the inside of you, even if you’re not sure what exactly that is yet. Don’t get it confused; most days, I’m taking what feel like baby steps towards my dreams. But know that steps are steps! Be gentle with yourself and breathe. I love you and Jesus loves you most! If you ever need prayer, professional advice, or other things of the sorts, know that you are now my homie. So, you know how to reach me! I’ll end this interview with my signature parting — a nod to Matthew 5 verses 13-16:

Stay salt. Stay light.

There you have it, friends! Wasn’t this interview just SO stunning? I am not gonna front yall – I honestly am emotional and at a loss for words. CLEARLY Shainah is an artist and a fellow sister in Christ, so beautifully spoken. My heart is so full knowing that you all got to read and learn more about this beautiful human! Her Black is INCREDIBLE, and it shows in all aspects of herself. Thank you so much, Shainah, for speaking life into us today and for being vulnerable with us. I am so honored to have you on Renrenspeaks today. ALSO yall better buy her cookbook!!! I bought her first edition and lemme tell YALL. The recipes are BOMB and are so beautifully put together. And the visuals? It is hands-down the coolest cookbook I have ever purchased.

I hope this blog interview warmed your heart as much as it did mine. Stay tuned for the NEXT beautiful Black person that I will be highlighting next SATURDAY for Part 2 of my Black Is Beautiful mini blog series!

Peace and love,

Irene

Black Is Beautiful – Blog Series Loading!

Hello, friends! Today marks the commencement of Black History Month! Every day is a celebration of Blackness, but in case yall forgot or didn’t acknowledge that — here you are! I have a VERY exciting blog series that I hope you all are ready for this month. Black is Beautiful is a mini blog series that I will be working on consisting of four special interviews from some of my favorite, most admired Black individuals that I have the privilege of knowing.

Stay tuned! Every Saturday in February, I will be showcasing a new person on my blog! They will be sharing why their Black is beautiful among other inspiring, amazing aspects of themselves. So tune in to show your support by stopping by my site to learn more about each one of these beautiful Black individuals!

I hope that this blog series is just another reminder that Black people are beautiful and deserve to be celebrated always. Once again, happy Black History Month! Go and support Black-owned businesses, buy us some lunch, Venmo us a monetary gift, and show us some love!

I am so thrilled to showcase these blog interviews with you all this month!

Peace and love,

Irene

*note: image was retrieved from here.

Reflections Upon Reflections – Wrapping Up My First Semester of OT School

Hello, friends! I haven’t gone completely silent now on yall! I hope all is well. Unfortunately, I haven’t made much time to prioritize blogging like I said I would, BUT I would just love to come on here and announce that I have completed my first semester of grad school officially (technically as of last week)! It has honestly been a whirlwind of emotions. I have been challenged mentally and emotionally this first semester in ways that I honestly never anticipated even being challenged by. When I started my grad school journey, I obviously knew that I was getting myself into something that would continuously push me and challenge me to expand my mind, my confidence, and my talents. However, the unique journey that being a grad school has taken me on is something that continuously shapes me and molds me into wanting to be a better human being every day. My good friend sent me an Instagram post that another grad student shared recently on their Instagram account that I feel accurately sums up a lot of what I want to share today. Here is what it said:

“You’ve changed in grad school”. Then it proceeded to say: what people and family see: going to school/working, reading books, studying, busy as surface-level attributes typically seen with graduate students. The post then said: what they don’t see: self-awareness, setting boundaries, holding space for myself, evolving, unlearning and relearning, imposter syndrome, struggling in academia, shifting out of an old identity into a new identity, and many more challenges under the iceberg that goes unnoticed in grad school. This was a powerful post in the fact that a lot of challenges mentioned in that post that often go unnoticed with grad students were things that I experienced myself to various degrees since July. Things like holding space for myself, unlearning and relearning, and self-awareness are particularly what I’d like to comment briefly on since I feel that they were the most salient concepts to grapple with during my first semester.

Holding space for myself – So many times people would ask me, ‘What do you like to do for fun in Arizona?’ and I felt SO lame for replying, ‘Well, I haven’t really gone out much because I usually just study.’ I can’t lie; I put so many things that I typically enjoy doing such as blogging and photography on hold since I was trying to figure out how to balance me-time while being a full-time graduate student and juggling other roles that I have quickly involved myself in. Though I was performing pretty well academically, I also look back and realize that having balance is very important. It is much harder said than done, but the days that I did take off for myself have been so beneficial to my mental health and overall well-being. I also feel that holding space for myself includes not being afraid to say ‘no’ to the things that won’t benefit me so that I can continue to perform and be at my most optimal self. Holding space for myself is a critical practice that reminds me to set necessary boundaries for myself and to accept and love every part of who I am, my progress, and my authenticity.

Unlearning and relearning – In a room filled with people who are similarly ambitious, academically prepared, and creative, the pressure to stand out and feel validated in my academic and professional success was a lot to handle sometimes. I had to unlearn a LOT of things regarding how to do traditional school. For starters, the more I continued my semester, the more I let go of the unrealistic/unnecessary pressure to maintain perfect grades. I spent my entire life scrutinizing about great grades because it was what was expected of the spaces I surrounded myself in and also so I can get into grad school, of course. However though many times professors and even recent grads told me that grades are not a measure of your intelligence or your potential, it was, of course, still hard to actually believe that and not let it get to me if I underperformed on an assignment or a test. The moment I began to shift my thinking by now soaking up the knowledge presented to me and absorbing every moment as a learning opportunity, I honestly feel that it strengthened my academic performance, but more importantly, my confidence in my talents and aspirations. Unlearning is a hard thing but a wonderful thing as well, for it allowed me to take this journey as a way to expand my intellectual mind, critical thinking skills, and clinical reasoning in a way that is not necessarily congruent with what I grew up learning. Knowing that there is SO much to learn and how to now utilize this knowledge rather than regurgitating everything that I know for a test (to merely forget it all again) makes the process of being a grad student a much more rewarding one.

Self-awareness – Never have I ever been so in-tune with my own thoughts, emotions, and feelings than during this time. Sometimes I feel like I am way too in my head about everything. There is so much that I have processed and so much more to continue to process as both an observer and an experiencer navigating this chapter of my life. I know that I will be moving into a career where I do have to be very self-aware of my surroundings, the people I encounter, and the environments that I find myself in because everything that I do or say will have a huge impact on the folks around me – whether it be positive or negative. Being self-aware has allowed me to filter out what I cannot accept into my life as well as what I need more of in my life to continue to show up as my best self. I have been more self-aware of my Blackness, my spirituality, my mental health, and my emotional health in how they all influence each other and uplift/hinder one another. This semester has allowed me to see myself more honestly, identify my emotions more, recognize my strengths and weaknesses, and most importantly, work towards growth in all areas of my life.

Now, holding space for myself, unlearning and relearning, and self-awareness (ESPECIALLY self-awareness) are all concepts that I have heard about in the past like a broken record but I have kind of just brushed off partly because I felt like I had a great grasp on it all. However, leaping into grad school has taught me that I know nothing AND that I know more than I think that I know (it is an interesting dichotomy). These three particular concepts have been super salient and important for me to continuously work on so that I can be the best student, practitioner, and person that I can be in my future.

Well, there ya have it! A quick glimpse into how I have been adapting internally to grad school. I am now taking the time to soak up every moment of being as lazy as I can be before I am launched back into the thick of it all. Thank you for reading, once again! 🙂

Peace and love,

Irene

Half a Semester Down of OT School – Lessons Learned

Hello, friends! Ah, I haven’t updated you all about my life! I apologize, but I hope all is well! I just concluded half of my first semester of OT school, and I am utilizing my last moments of my week-long break to decompress from all this studying before I am launched back into the second half of my semester. I wanted to quickly pop in here and give you an overall reflection of a few lessons that I’ve reflected on since starting my grad school journey.

  1. Constant comparison to other people? Throw that out of the door. I can confidently say that one of my weaknesses is that I can become susceptible to comparing myself to other people, especially people who are seemingly doing better than me in something that I am actively trying to improve on. I realized that in grad school, for the most part, everyone is as motivated as me to be an active learner and to excel in the program. There are folks who are going to be two steps ahead of me, and that is okay! Because of this false sense of ‘success’ as a measure of our grades that society has established and maintained, I felt like I had to try my best to get an A on everything that I did. However, one of my professors really put it all into perspective when he said that YOUR thoughts matter in grad school and your ability to critically think and analyze the world around you is really what will take you far in the real world. It allowed me to realize that I am here for a reason, and I have a unique perspective that doesn’t have to be defined by the grade that I receive on any assignment. Comparison devalues all of the goals, ambitions, and thoughts that I have to contribute, and I can’t have that because I am here for a reason in this moment! Sure, there will always be people who are smarter or more knowledgable about a particular subject than I am. And you know what, once again, that is okay! So as I continue on with my semester, I aim to throw comparison to others out of that door because why try to be like others when I can strive to be the best version of myself and be satisfied with that?
  2. Self-compassion – center this because times are tough and I am doing my best! I had a friend tell me a few weeks ago that your best always changes, and it is okay if your best looks different than it did yesterday. There were several weeks throughout my program that I felt like I was not feeling ‘productive enough’ because I could not mentally and physically put in as many hours as I usually did into my studying. This was overwhelming me, and I felt like I was behind. However, I realized that I was creating unnecessary pressure to “succeed”, and for what? To be stressed during the process of learning and growing? We can’t have that now! (Sure, some stress is good for you but you know what I mean.) Self-compassion and affirmations go a LONG way, so it is important that I continue to practice this in order to preserve my mental health.
  3. I can do hard things! Grad school is hard, friends. SO FAR (ask me again in about ten weeks, haha), it is not necessarily the content that is impossible to understand or anything. However, I think the hardest thing for me has been being confident in my capabilities, reframing my mindset, and trusting that the process will work out even if I do not know what that process will look like or if the process makes me uncomfortable. Being flexible is a HARD thing to do, and I have to adapt and be ready to take on the next challenge ahead of me.
  4. Your support system matters SO much. Hearing that ‘you got this’ or ‘I believe in you’ is honestly one of the most encouraging things to hear when going through a unique experience such as grad school where I feel like I am being bent, pulled, and challenged always. Personal cheerleaders and folks who know what you are going through or can empathize with you go a long way. They make the process all the better.

So friends, those are a few of the highlights that I wanted to share that have been circling in my mind for the past few weeks now. I am continuously adjusting to this new pace of life, and I look forward to what is in store. More studying, sure, but more importantly, more opportunities to discover the possibilities ahead of me.

Peace and love,

Irene

Three Weeks of OT School DOWN!

Hello, friends! Can you believe it? I made it through THREE WEEKS of my occupational therapy program! I feel like I literally just started my program, but at the same time, I also feel like I have been in school for months based on the content that I’ve been absorbing these three weeks. Honestly, I am definitely feeling the pace of graduate school. Most of my days are spent studying, digesting, and absorbing new knowledge and content learned. I would say out of my curriculum thus far, anatomy is definitely the most rigorous course I am taking. I don’t think that learning anatomy is an easy task to the everyday person, but I honestly have such a supportive classroom setup, environment, and professors that have made learning anatomy a bit less daunting. I had my first anatomy exam earlier this week which I actually did well on so thank God because I literally studied my butt off! I hope I can keep this same momentum throughout the semester, lol!

I can honestly say that I have seen a stark difference in undergrad compared to grad school. I’ve always considered myself a studier and thought that I had pretty good study habits set in undergrad. However, cramming for an exam and then forgetting about the material was more or less something that I made an unhealthy habit of. In GRAD SCHOOL though, SO much studying is required of you every day. Cramming? I don’t know her (at least I do not want to know her). The expectations are much more different. It is expected that you are responsible for interacting with the material that is presented to you so that you can critically think and apply it beyond the classroom. Because there is a lot of content to consistently interact with, I can admit that it has been pretty easy for me to forget to take care of myself and engage in constant small acts of self-care, whether this is sleeping on time, eating my dinner at a reasonable hour, or taking a break and getting some movement in. It is something that I am actively working on, I promise!

I am thankful that I have found resources and a friend group to help guide me and embark on this journey with me. Unlike in many of my undergrad classes, my grad school cohort actually looks out for each other and all want to see each other succeed! I appreciate and admire the cohesive, united, and collaborative environment that is continuously cultivated. Competing for the best grades is literally irrelevant because we are all in the same place getting the same degree, and genuine learning is MUCH more important than a letter grade! This is something that I have been actively unlearning, and it is truly liberating to reframe measures of academic success that society has shaped.

One thing that I think is SO important to my overall well-being and occupational balance is getting that social input outside of school! I realized that after all the studying I have been doing for a few weeks, I missed being social! I really have not explored the area that I am at, so I made it a point today to go out with friends and treat myself to lunch. Social input is very refreshing and rejuvenating, and sometimes it is hard to realize that when you are constantly on the grind.

Overall, grad school has been a time of critical reflection, self-awareness, unlearning, and relearning. I am glad that I am on this journey though and I am anticipating seeing where I am headed!

Peace and love,

Irene

Mid-Week Reflection: My First Week of OT School!

Hello, friends! I’d like to start this post by prefacing that I haven’t gotten an official picture of me in my newly polished scrubs or at my school’s iconic sign. Therefore, I don’t have a feature photo for this week, sorry! (It is coming soon, I promise!) Currently, I am practicing self-care by doing something NOT school-related – blogging! Blogging is an OCCUPATION that is meaningful to me and to be a healthy therapist in the making, I must strive to have an occupationally balanced life so that I can recharge and put my best self forward. So, here I am practicing what I am supposed to preach!

Technically, I haven’t officially made it through my very first week of grad school, but I have completed the bulk of my in-person classes for the week so I will take Thursday and Friday to study and really comprehend all of the information that I have been presented with thus far (and trust me, it has been a LOT of information). So far, I have had such a positive grad school experience! I am thankful that I have been able to connect and establish new friendships with several of my peers because not gonna lie, making friends as an adult can be a difficult and awkward experience. I am also thankful that I am able to learn in person, for I could not imagine learning anatomy via Zoom University (BIG props to those who did so, I give all my respect to you!). I’ve also met some of my amazing professors (and when I tell you they are amazing, they truly are some of the most astonishing, accomplished, and humble people that I’ve ever met). My school also does a buddy system where I am paired with a second-year OT student, so she has been such a tremendous resource in guiding me through all aspects of how to thrive in grad school, ranging from academic success to personal/social balance.

I’ve never heard so many variations of the phrase enjoy the time you have now because you won’t have this time once you start said SO many times before prior to starting school. I am the kind of person who loves to plan ahead and have things figured out so that I am not stressed later on. To sit idly and really just absorb the moment without attempting to cram anatomy before classes began was a bit of a challenge for me I must confess. BUT I am proud to say that I actually DID enjoy the last moments of my ‘summer’ by really just being present in that moment and trusting that I am going to be okay and well-equipped to tackle the semester. Of course, come Sunday, I did feel nervous about what was to come because I have heard SO many varying opinions on what OT school is like.

Some key takeaways that I have processed thus far include the following:

  1. Every experience is different. No matter what people tell me about what grad school is like, I will have a unique journey that I should fully embrace. I can take other people’s perceptions and experiences and internalize them all I want. However, at the end of the day, I am the one that will walk out with this degree, so I should create my own story and trust the process every step of the way without preconceived notions of how I am ‘supposed’ to do grad school. In a nutshell: I gotta do me authentically!!
  2. Grad school is really a full-time job with so many demands and responsibilities. My brain is currently working very hard to adjust to these new demands and expectations.
  3. Time management is KEY, and I am starting to see very quickly how time is precious in grad school. I admit I am still struggling to see how much time is healthily acceptable to dedicate to Anatomy vs. all of my other classes. I utilize a Google Calendar which has helped me schedule out ‘study blocks’ to keep me accountable for my work. My passion planner is still with me always as well. Having multiple ways to track my time is what I’ve noticed has been working for me.
  4. Organization is KEY. I am SO thankful for my iPad because I feel like now I am the organization QUEEN. Lemme tell yall, GoodNotes has become my best friend, ESPECIALLY for Anatomy where I have a lot of assignments that I have to be on top of. I also love color-coding my notes and my schedule, so it has made studying a more engaging, fun, and aesthetically pleasing experience.
  5. Sleep is also KEY. I cannot sacrifice my sleep consistently to finish an assignment because I will always have assignments or readings that I can be catching up on technically. I also must admit, I am guilty of cutting into my sleep time yesterday and I am now experiencing the ramifications of that via a slight headache. I vow to be better about this for sure (I have a no-class day tomorrow so I can modify my sleep schedule a bit to give myself some grace lol).
  6. Affirmations go a LONG way! I recorded a video of my ‘why OT?’ on Sunday when I was feeling overwhelmed with what was to come. It honestly really helped ease my stress levels and center me back into a place of determination and drive rather than unnecessary fear uncalled for.

As I continue my grad school journey, some things that I aspire to keep myself held accountable for is to give myself grace, practice and implement some form of daily and weekly self-care to the best of my ability, and affirm myself consistently throughout this journey even if I don’t get the ‘grade’ or assessment that I wanted to see or something does not go the way that I thought it would. From the few days that I have experienced thus far, grad school is very much not about who can get the highest score on an exam. It is far from that (which I am SO thankful for). I feel like I have stepped into a supportive environment that values critical/complex thinking, a diversity of thoughts and experiences, and most importantly, self-reflection and personal growth through authenticity. I recognize and understand that OT school will not be an easy one by any means and will put me out of my comfort zone in so many ways unimaginable. However, I also am very grounded in the fact that I am in this profession and in this program for a reason that will transform me and the future folks I get to make an impact on.

I honestly am so positively overwhelmed with the amount of support that I’ve had from the community around me, YOU ALL! The amount of texts, calls, financial support, and messages that I have been receiving from people wishing me well and saying that they believe in me has truly been touching and all the more reason to stay motivated and dedicated to this journey. I look forward to seeing what OT school has in store for me and sharing my growth with you all!

Peace and love,

Irene

I Made It to the Grand Canyon State!

Hello, friends! I am reporting to you LIVE from Arizona, ah! I am settling into my first week being here in Arizona, and let me tell you, I have definitely seen a shift in the weather coming from sunny San Diego. I moved here on Saturday with my family after a five and a half-hour drive that mostly comprised of the I-8 East. It was my longest drive that I had ever done by myself, but it was actually a very easy drive (let’s disregard the fact that I got 5 hours of sleep the night before and did not drink my usual 20 oz of chia seed water the morning of). I literally saw the temperature climb from high 60s to low 100s as I continued my journey east. I tried to not use my air conditioner to see how I could handle the heat since Arizona is notoriously known for being HOT, but this Cali girl couldn’t do it as she passed through Yuma (it was already 104 degrees there!). I already caught myself saying ‘Oh, it is only 100 degrees today, not that bad!’ whereas in California, I’d start whining if it hit 90 degrees, lol.

Besides the heat, which actually has been more manageable than I thought since 100-105 degrees is not an anomaly when living in Escondido in the summer, Arizona has been treating me well! Where I am located has very familiar stores such as Trader Joes, Ross, and Aldi, so I am truly good to go! Some things that I have noticed while being in Arizona for four days now include the following:

  1. Arizona is well-equipped to handle the heat. I really do forget that it is actually 111 degrees outside (which it has been the past few days) since I am mostly indoors with nice AC systems.
  2. Folks drive a bit recklessly here, either going too fast or too slow. Maybe it is because I am trying to be a cautious driver since I am not used to the traffic laws here or I am a bit more hyperaware of the road. But I definitely got cut off on the freeway more frequently than I typically do in San Diego.
  3. It is quite dusty here and little rocks can hit and cause a crack in your windshield easily.
  4. Black folks seem to be scattered everywhere, but there is no concentration of Black neighborhoods that I have heard of nor seen yet.
  5. There are ‘cooling stations’ commonly located around the town where sprays of mist are continuously spraying to help keep people cool. I saw this at the gas station and at a few restaurants that I passed by!
  6. Mosquitos around this area are very small but still make my arm swell terribly! I got bit by chilling at the poolside this past weekend and did not even notice it until I started itching vigorously.
  7. GAS IS CHEAPER HERE THAN IN CA. Before I came to Arizona, the cheapest gas station I could find was $3.89, and I was saying that was a good price compared to the +$4.00 I had been seeing everywhere else. In the area that I’m at, I have been finding a good range of $2.83-$3.20 ($3.20 being the most expensive I have witnessed). Even $3.20 is too expensive for me now, lol.

So far, my transition has been pretty smooth. The first day was a bit rough for me because I was physically and mentally tired/overwhelmed (I think a lot of it had to do with a lack of proper hydration), so I did not feel like I could fully absorb the novelty of being in a different state. After the first day, I have had positive experiences with the people that I have briefly met, ranging from neighbors to current OT students at my school. I finally have my own room too, which I am still trying to customize and personalize. I went to Ross the other day and got some cute (and cheap) room decor such as a comfy rug, a lamp, and artwork for my empty walls. After I set up the lighting and aesthetic of my room, I think I will finally feel settled in officially! I will have to change my license plate to an Arizona one, so I am gonna blend in really soon into an ‘Arizonian’ (sorry, Cali folks! My heart will always be in Cali, but my car is definitely in Arizona, haha).

I’ve already entered the grad school grind by doing some assigned readings. I am trying to establish a good morning routine that will set a positive tone for my day. Does anyone have a great morning routine that they’d like to share? If so, shoot me a message! I am trying to get into the habit of waking up at 5:30 am (maybe 6:00 pm, realistically) to start off my day so that my mind is equipped to take on the busy day ahead of me.

This is my quick check-in! Stay tuned to my grad school adventures coming up very shortly! (I start on Monday, can you believe it? Because I am still processing that).

Peace and love,

Irene

Transitions, Transitions, Transitions!

Hello, friends! Tomorrow is the big day! Tomorrow is the day that I officially start this new chapter of my life – grad school! This is my last post I am writing from California, ah! It is honestly quite wild that the time has already come. I feel like it has been forever since I applied and got accepted into OT school, but time has seem to speed to this moment. People told me that the time will just pass you by but I didn’t really believe it until I spent it frantically packing clothes and decluttering my room this week, lol.

I am feeling all kinds of emotions right now – excited, apprehensive, and tired (because I have been procrastinating on my packing lol). I ended my job as a behavioral therapist for over two years just last week, and let me tell you that it was such a bittersweet moment! I am happy to have known that I was able to form powerful bonds with the kiddos that I worked with, but it is also sad to see them go. I did learn quite a bit that I will cherish and utilize as I evolve into a future clinician.

Honestly, I really do not know what to expect, and I think that the hardest part about any change in life includes not knowing what is to come. I have been preparing myself as much as I can for graduate school because I am intrinsically a planner at heart. At the same time, I think I’ve stepped back a bit on that because I just want to follow the process and let this journey unravel organically. Folks have told me that I should use this free time that I have to enjoy it with my family and friends and also establish a good self-care routine because I will most definitely need to ground and re-center myself when times get difficult and overwhelming. I have been enjoying watching endless DCOMs with my sisters (I highly recommend The Cheetah Girls series) and visiting family friends all over SoCal.

I honestly am so thankful and so appreciative of the endless support of my community around me. I feel so entirely blessed, from all of the generous donations on my GoFundMe to the sweet messages that have affirmed my abilities to succeed and make the impact in the world that I’ve been wanting to for so long now. The journey to getting to this point was not an easy one at any point, for I learned that you really do not have control over life’s events. However, Knowing that God has always and will always literally be with me no matter how much I try to figure it out by myself is what gives me inner peace and hope for the future. By next week, I will no longer be a pre-OT student but I will officially be a doctor of occupational therapy student who is ready to transform into becoming a loving, caring, and impactful OT! 

This post was kind of all over the place, I know. That is how I am currently feeling right now! I am really excited to share with you the highs, lows, and in-betweens of my OT school journey! I will try to be as consistent as possible, but you know, grad school will be a busy time so I hope you give me some grace!

Peace and love,

Irene