by Elaine Houston

Some people get their parenting skills from their parents.  But, what happens when you realize the people you thought were your parents are not? That was how life started out for Trina  TiTi Ladette Cleveland.  “I was raised by my paternal grandparents. I did not know my grandmother was not my mother, she said.”


In fact, she was 6 years old when she discovered her grandparents were keeping secrets. Her birth mom was the first secret. Secret two was that her mom had committed suicide.  She was 13 when she learned that. Understandably these lies began to have a negative effect on her, but it was the one about her parentage that started her fall over the cliff.  “It did have an impact but there was a lot going on, she says.”  According to Trina, what was going on was that her siblings were being molested. She says she told her grandmother what her uncle was allegedly doing but no one stopped him.


So she says she started running away. “All of that set me on a path to really seek out dark places, she says.” She says a neighbor molested her with intravenous drugs at 13. “I didn’t get addicted right away but I never forgot that feeling, she said.”   That feeling she discovered was a way of escape and she had a lot to escape. “There was prostitution, violence, dysfunctional relationships and I loss my kids 5 times to the state, she says.”   She says she’d never been in trouble before but at 19 she went to jail over drugs. “ I took a ten year sentence for transporting drugs for a guy, a pimp.  He said I wouldn’t get a case because of my age and for never being in trouble. He said they would let me out, she said." They did not. She got out just weeks before her 30th birthday.


But there would be more twists and turns to come. She had two kids before going to jail. “ When I got out I kept having babies. I got every hue of a child. I kept having babies, she said.”  And her life soon became a vicious circle. Her drug charge was a felony so she couldn’t get a job or welfare and food stamps, which meant she had no resources to take care of her kids.  She would relapse and start using drugs again and would lose custody of her kids again.  “The relapses kept happening it was a Catch 22, she said. “


Her transparency about the gritty and painful world she grew up in on the streets of Austin, Texas has people across the world talking. They know about her heartaches, bad decisions, and heartbreaks because she is sharing it all in a video on social media.


If that were the end of her story, it would be another tragic tale about a person unable to escape painful situations and poor choices. However TiTi was able to turn her life around and ironically she needed to go to jail one more time in order to do so.  


 It was while she was there that she got some clarity.    She was locked up following an assault on a woman. She had protested the sentence she had received but was confronted with the truth on why she was going back to jail.  “God say, ‘because you did it. I heard it and at that moment I looked back over my life and started to see the decisions I made. Those decisions were based on bad choices I made, she said.”   So for the next two years while in jail she read, prayed, and starting writing the book, The Pink Elephant in the Middle of the Getto.   “The book is my journey through childhood, molestation, mental illness, addiction, and healing. I wrote it in prison and published it in January, 2014, she said.” 


 The book, which is on  has sold more 20-thousand copies.  She’s also written an institutional version that she says is being adopted by several prisons in the U S.  She’s turned the book into a play and set up a non-profit to help women.

Once out of jail she continued to do surgery on herself and with hard work she got her children back. She's a better parent and person and now advocates for other women who've been in prison because she knows exactly what they are going through to try and get their children and lives back.  “When women are in prison they get structure but when they leave that’s when they fall apart. I attend court with them because families are tired by then. That is my purpose in life, I believe it, she says.”


For more information go to:  or


















All 'dolled' Up


By Elaine Houston


When most of us think of dolls, we imagine a little girl walking down the street with

her parents, doll in hand flopping in the wind. But Albany, New York doll maker, Wanda Brunson makes dolls that are not only admired by children but adults alike.


You’ll find the doll known as the state worker, made for a woman who worked for the state of New York, the glasses clad brother and sister dolls from Jamaica, and other dolls donning braids, dreadlocks or naturally curly and kinky hair.


 Her business is called “Love N Every Stitch’’ and she’s loved knitting since she was a little girl growing up in Newburgh, New York. “I was 7 or 8 when I started knitting, she said.” It was her aunt who taught her to knit but it would be years later, when she was pregnant, that she started knitting and crocheting in earnest.  She would visit a neighborhood store that sold yarn and it was there that knitters would show her the ropes. “ I would go there all the time and they would show me how to fix my pattern, she said.”


Soon life got in the way of knitting; marriage, children, work, so knitting took a back seat. “I couldn’t stick with it because I got married and responsibility took over and I moved from New York to California, she said.”   She would try to return to knitting but like a roller coaster, she would put it down and then pick it up. In 2012, she started up again making blankets.


A year later she went back to making dolls.  “I sold them at work, to co-workers, she said.”  She said it took over her and this time she wanted to make ethnic dolls. ‘’I wanted them to resemble African Americans, dolls with braids and dreads, she said.’’   She did so because she couldn’t find dolls with the complexion or features or hair resembling the culture that she grew up in. 


And, she ‘s found a market for them.  Like a baker puts his or her heart into their baked goods, she says she puts her whole heart into the dolls she makes.  She says people sense that and years later when she meets someone who’s purchased a doll they tell her they’re taking good care of it. “When I see people who bought them, I say, “how’s those dolls, I put a lot of love in those dolls, she laugh.”


To purchase a doll, you can email Brunson at






            IN THE


By Elaine Houston


If you wanted to make a purse, chances are you ‘d probably head to the fabric store, but Cameo Phillips might also make a stop at the hardware store. “I may see a screen door, something from construction, or nuts and bolts and wires, she says.”


That’s because Cameo doesn’t follow tradition, the St. Louis, Mo. woman never attended fashion or design school. In fact, when she started making purses, she didn’t even know how to sew.

“I did not sew in high school but I’ve been crafty and artsy fartsy and took an interest in fashion. I’ve been a corporate girl my entire life. By I always tinkered and loved fashion, she said.”


She especially loved the fashion forward women from the television series, Sex and the City. Plus, their accessories were to die for.  “These characters had these oversized clutches and I wanted one and went on Google and couldn’t find one that was close to what these ladies were rocking, she said.”



So, she decided to make her own purses. You guessed it; they looked nothing like Charlotte’s, Miranda’s, Samantha’s, or Carrie’s.  “I had a bunch of ugly ones and a lot of trials and eras, she says. One day she made one and didn’t take to it right away but her husband saw it and she says he loved it. “He said it was dope, she laughed.”



 She took the purse to church. “Oh my gosh the women were, where did you get it from and they wanted one and I made them for my church friends for free, she said." She goes on to say, "Many thousands of years later, we have celebrity clients, have attended fashion week, and have been featured in publications and internationally and it’s been a blessing, she says.”  But, she wasn’t always this confident.


“It’s funny because it’s so fricking scary to create and make something out of nothing. Every process of this has been a love-hate., Cameo says.  Initially she says she was terrified, but her confidence slowly increased. " it’s still there.  It’s thriving and that confidence made me pick it up and face this world because there’s a level of vulnerability that is terrifying, but something within does not let me quit, she says.’’ 



She believes all women have confidence, but need to draw it out. “This business has been such a character builder as I learned to deal with rejection. I say to others, don’t be fearful. Life is short, we might as well dream and create legacies and be all we can be.  So many of us have the answer but are so afraid to say so, she says.’’



However, she’s not all business. She loves helping women and realizes that her purses provide an audience and allow her to start a conversation with women that not everyone is willing to start. 


 "I am always promoting the character of women and it’s slipping. I don’t like the way we look, she says." Specificially,   she doesn’t like what she calls the movement to expose more skin, so she uses the purses to turn to that conversation and talk about how a classy woman can show less skin and still be a sexy woman. "It's important to hold onto the qualities that our grandparents gave us, she said.”

“We are trailblazers, invested in our communities, we try, we are not flawless but we are intentional. We support our men, our kids, are changing the world, but there’s a grace and humility that goes along with that, she says.”



For more information, links are provided below.



Instagram:Cameo de Bore






Cheryl Wood   Leadership: It's in You


Cheryl Wood stands before crowds of women telling them to feel the fear and still walk into what they want.  As an international motivational speaker she is passionate about helping women and so personable and down to earth you just want to talk to her for hours. Respectively, she has a gift of gab. However, she hasn’t always been fearless. “I was completely opposite the woman I am today, she says.” She says she was shy, introverted, certainly not the type of person who would stand in front of others and speak.



She grew up in a rough neighborhood in Baltimore.  ‘’I saw things I didn’t want to see. I saw pregnant women, drugs, but my dad was an alcoholic, so our house was as dysfunctional as what I saw on the street, she said.” Wood went to a vocational-tech high school and learned business.  She says college wasn’t emphasized and she went to work right out of high school.  She ended up at a law firm and was a legal secretary for 15 years.


The money was good but she worked long hours, missed her kids and then lost her dad, it was the perfect storm that pushed her into wanting more. “Some thought I should be thankful, I was, but my dad died and I thought something has to happen, I am not going out like this, she said.”  Incredibility, she started selling t-shirts.  “It was hard, but I learned how to network and build my own tribe and stay connected and hear ‘no’ and not be crushed. I learned so much sitting behind those tables, she says.”


She didn’t sell a lot of t-shirts but sitting behind her vendor table she would encourage the women who came up to talk to her.  Word got around about this woman who was a great motivator and she was soon offered a chance to speak before a college crowd.  The rest as they say is history. She’s been around the world speaking. “There was an energy, an excitement and I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life, she said. “  

Women want to be leaders.

 However, that is not the end of her story. Remember how Wood encourages women to feel the fear and step in to their future and live their dream?


She can do that because she had to take risks herself. Wood, did not go to college and that fact would try and haunt her when she first started out as a motivational speaker. “Whose gonna let me, whose gonna let me? That’s how I was talking to myself because I did not go to college, she said.” 


But, soon she began to preach to herself with that same wisdom she doled out  to others. "It's not enough to wish for something better, you have got to turn your power on and give yourself permission, stop focusing on all the negative that could happen or that people will judge, she says."  She soon began to believe it and now thanks to her others believe it too.  


Recently Wood went to a law firm as a motivational speaker and it brought her to tears.  A few years earlier she was a secretary at a law firm, now the tables had turned." It was an emotional moment I wanted to cry but I had to keep it together because I was the expert. It was surreal, she said."




Muncy State Correctional Institution is a Medium/Maximum security prison that houses female inmates. There are 76 buildings at the facility; 18 house inmates. This facility also houses all female death row inmates.  There are approximately 1,450 inmates at the facility.



23-year-old Hannah Miele never imagined she’d end up in prison, yet there she was in March of 2016 inside a women’s prison in Muncy, Pennsylvania.  The prison is home to more than 1,450 women however, Hannah was there by choice.    She was there to minister through art to murderers and those whose crimes were now costing them time behind bars.  “Instead of us performing for them we went and trained them in the arts, acting, singing, working together, she said.” She was part of the group Shining Light Ministries,  they go into prisons to offer hope, joy and the gospel.  “I wanted to spread love and light to those who have been forgotten and I thought it would be an amazing opportunity, she said.”  


Hannah says the mission trip was amazing in ways she’s still processing. “The talent was amazing, I was surprised at the talent, she said.”  But some of the memories are heartbreaking.  “There was a woman there she had already been there for 35 years and she was 69, she said.”  The woman was serving life. Hannah says more than half the women will die behind bars. Yet they, the women, gave her a gift; they unwittingly got Hannah, a Christian, to reexamine her faith.   “It deepened my walk with the Lord like never before. To see these women who’ve made terrible choices and are bound in this place, some of them forever, and they’ve accepted Christ’s forgiveness and they are choosing to walk in the love, 

 if they can do this having committed murder and other crimes what is stopping you, she says.”     Hannah graduated from college with a degree in performing arts, performed in a professional opera company and would love to travel the world performing but says her faith has to be a part of any career decision she makes. When she heard about Shining Light she knew it was a dream come true.      "My faith is very important and this was a combination I was looking for music, art, singing, she said.”     For more information about Shining Light Ministries go to  

''We are family, I got all my sisters with me, we are family, get up everybody, sing!’ They’re the lyrics to a popular song played at reunions everywhere.  However in the case of Judy and Donna Alescio, they don’t have to wait until family reunions to sing it.  ‘I grew up in Colonie, New York and moved to Schenectady, says Judy.”  Donna grew up in Schenectady, NewnYork. The women are sisters in law, women who married brothers and live not far from their mother in law.


“It’s a wonderful thing, it’s one of those Italian families, says Judy.”  The sisters in law get along so well that after Judy started a jewelry business last year, Donna came to work for her. “I want her to succeed. I think what she started is a wonderful business. I knew she could open this store and be successful, says Donna.”



SisterIn-Law Act

The jewelry shop is called ‘The Silver Shop’ and is located in Schenectady. Judy says she knew she wanted her own business after having worked as a cosmetologist for a salon and in her own home for 11 years.   The jewelry business kind of fell in her lap after she worked for six years at a jewelry shop called Simply Sterling. That store closed its brick and mortar store, leaving a void.  “There is nothing, no little boutique in this area, she said.”


So, one of the first people she called to share her plansto open a jewelry store was Donna.  “She called and said I have exciting news and I said yes, Donna says.”  The two say they work well together because they both like working with people and helping them find what they want.  “I was first apprehensive about retail. But her place it’s tiny, it’s cute, I enjoy people and I have a good time, says Donna.”

 “ I love talking to people-hair dressing developed that talent and it transferred to jewelry, “ says Judy.  


But, Judy’s passion to help people extends beyond the store. Once a month, she gives a portion of her profits to the Schenectady City Mission to help the mission in its efforts to help the community.  “They fill backpacks with food for families for the weekend.  They have a family life center, a women’s shelter, I never knew about all these programs, so now I give back to them, she says.”




Her brain was falling into her spinal column. It’s hard enough to read those words... 

so just imagine what Jacqueline Rowe was going through living those words. “I was distraught about my condition, she said.”  The condition is called Chiari Malformations. The Albany, NY woman says the nightmare began in 2009 when she was living in Baltimore and heading to work at Johns Hopkins. 



“I had a car accident, someone missed their exit and was trying to reverse (to get back into the exit lane) and hit me, totaling my car and hitting me, I had a lot of back and neck injuries, she said.”


At first her doctor thought her symptoms were the result of whiplash.  However, she quickly knew there was something else going on when she couldn’t raise her neck up.   She was also losing her balance and at times would fall over.  “They had to hospitalize me because they couldn’t figure out what was happening, "she said.


 A year later she was still experiencing unimaginable symptoms and one day a television fell on her after she fell into it while stumbling in her bedroom. These symptoms would continue for more than five years.


By now she’d moved back to Albany and was in and out of the hospital. Her doctors were still unsure what was going on. Did she have a neurological problem, they just weren’t sure. Then, her symptoms dissipated and she was back to work as a nurse. “I had no other episodes and I thought I was fine. I was working and had no loss of balance or dizziness and then last year, I fell down the steps, as I was getting ready for work," she said.


Chiari malformations are structural defects in the cerebellum, which is the part of the brain that controls balance. It affects approximately 300-000 people in the U.S.  It happens usually at birth but Rowe says it doesn’t always manifest then and that she never had any symptoms as a child. After being properly diagnosed she says her doctors believed the car accident triggered the illness.  And, now she had a choice, even though one wasn’t easier than the other, continue living with a poor quality of life or allow doctors to operate on her brain.  She chose the latter.



“So, I had surgery, brain surgery, they have to remove part of the brain which is pushing done into my spinal column, they had to remove part of my skull. They sewed and glued in a patch made from a cow’s heart, "she said.


That was in May of 2016 and today, she has her life back. But, it’s a life improved.


 “The nurses would say to me, I have never had a patient like you, even the doctors would say they’d heard of this while in school but they’d never had a case like this, she said.'  She says it makes her want to do more.  From a nursing perspective it makes her want to seek out patients.  “I want to be able to identify this for patients and support them.  It’s not just debilitating it interrupts your life," she says.



On September 17, 2016 she also did something she once had trouble doing, walking without falling down. She joined others on that day in the national Chiari Walk to raise awareness about the disorder.



“Chiari did not conquer me. It has increased my strength and my faith in God, she said.”



My Family, My Body, My Self Esteem


A personal story

by Emily Sarita




So I had the talk with my mami.  Yep, the talk about when I wwoman. She told me about her experience and how she didn’t reach puberty until the age of fifteen. And, I started to realize that everyone’s body is different. Shsaid the process can be slow but slow is okay.


Latina women have always been criticized. They’ve been criticized by people who are not brown skinned and know nothing about our culture; calling us “hot-tempered, bodacious, and bossy.” They associate our physicality with our character.


 Many women in my family are curvaceous; hips, big breasts.  But, I also have female relatives that don’t resemble the desired Latina body-curvaceous and such. They have as much attitude as my curvier tias and hermana, and plenty of attitude to go along with it.


However, not all of the talk came from outside.  Growing up as a young Latina, I struggled with my appearance. I did not have the desired Latina body. I am skinny and always was. Kids in middle school said I had chicken legs because my legs were so thin. Others thought I had an eating disorder. All the while, I ate pretty well and loved food to the core. I always wanted to have those curves and pretty much compared myself to other girls my age.


 At eleven years old, most the of the girls in my elementary school were eleven years old going on twenty. Many of these girls were fully developed and I was completely shocked.

I thought something was wrong with me. I was quite angry with myself. In our culture, curves are glorified. A curvaceous body is desired, praised and considered beautiful. I wanted to be curvaceous, yet I felt awkward. I was envious of the bodies of the other girls not understanding why my body wasn’t up to speed.

 So I had the talk with my mami.  Yep, the talk about when I would become a woman. She told me about her experience and how she didn’t reach puberty until the age of fifteen. And, I started to realize that everyone’s body is different. She said the process can be slow but slow is okay.

 It helped, but I was still impatient. I looked at myself in the mirror daily and I didn’t see a change. Going to school didn’t help, since boys loved comparing girls to one another. The criticism at home wasn’t helpful either.

Unwittingly they were helping me stay in my shell, remain an introvert. Sometimes families don’t realize that the criticism of a young woman’s body can affect her in the long run. Most families think that it is okay to talk about a daughter or sister’s weight. They don’t see it as a negative. In fact, some might not see it as a criticism. For example, when someone in my family talked about me they just looked at it as a statement of fact, not a criticism.


While I don’t have statistics, I know anecdotally that in some Hispanic households family members tend to criticize the body of girls as young as 10.  Sometimes, it doesn’t even matter if you're slim or curvy.  If the girl is too skinny, there is more criticism about her appetite, the clothes she wears, and how the clothes fit. If the girl is too fat, there is criticism about how she should eat less, work out, and how her clothes don’t fit.  Take the case of my friend, Josephine.  When she was around 8th grade she says she realized she was fat.


e should eat less, work out, and how her clothes don’t fit.  Take the case of my friend, JosephinWhen she The realization came into focus when she says her mom started making statements like this. ‘Look at me, I’m an old lady and I’m skinny’. Little did her mom know that remarks like this would later cause Josephine to start throwing up after eating.     While a mom may not think her words have an impact, their opinions really affect their young daughters. Young women look for the approval and guidance of their moms. We are always taught that our moms are supposed to be our best friends, our confidantes. However, our confidantes can have the power to destroy the ounce of confidence we have within ourselves.








As a young girl, I have struggled with my mother criticizing me about what I wore and my figure, which is something that I cannot control. I have had a skinny figure, since I was a young girl. It was very difficult for me to put on weight. I looked at all other girls in my school and compared myself. I wished really badly that I weighed more.  In middle school while kids taunted me about my skinny legs, or said I was anorexic, I in turn, would wish that I looked normal.


I don’t think any girl realizes how that these words will impact her self-esteem way into the future. But it does; the constant criticism and comparisons to another young woman really affects how we, women, feel about ourselves. As young girls grow up, they tend to compare themselves to other girls. Those words stick in your mind and affect how you see yourself in the mirror and in the media.  If your turn on the television, the images you see are as bad as we heard at home. Those images basically say if you don’t look like these young women, who are selling everything from burgers to bras, to fashion, then something is wrong with your body.  Some companies who sell clothes and jewelry emphasize skinny as the “right look.”


 Despite campaigns that promote all bodies being beautiful, there are many advertisements that promote thinness. This makes it hard for young girls to focus on their lives and not their weight. In fact, I would suggest weight issues are following some Latinas well into their young adulthood. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, in 2015, Hispanics underwent 1.7 million cosmetic surgeries, which is up 3 percent from 2014.  The most popular surgery for Latinas was abdominoplasty followed by breast augmentation, rhinoplasty and liposuction.


 I am not a medical doctor or psychologist but I have to wonder if at least some of the surgeries are the result of words spoken to Latinas by family and friends; words that were meant to tease young girls but ended up tormenting them.



For more on Josephine’s story, go to my blog

 It helped, but I was still impatient. I looked at myself in the mirror daily and I d

ad the talk with my mami.  Yep, the talk about when I would become a woman. She told me about her experience and how she didn’t reach puberty until the age of fifteen. And, I started to realizcess can be slow but slow is okay.

 It hism about her appetite, the clothes s





By Elaine Houston

By her own admission Judith Joseph grew up a tomboy.  “I always wore jeans and sneakers, she said.”   But, when she went to college, the office management major also got an education in fashion sense too. "When I was going to college I started to see how girls were dressed in nice shoes and jeans, she says.” This introduction to dressier footwear was all she needed, she was hooked. “My first pair was a pair of booties by Charles David, they made me look so girly, she said.”  


 She still wore jeans but it was all about the shoes. “From that point I was addicted to shoes, she said.”   Judith would go on to graduate from the Borough of Manhattan College in New York City and worked as an administrative assistance for several attorneys. But, her mind was on shoes, she sure was buying enough of them. “I window shopped shoes, I saw what young women were wearing, she said.” Her husband suggested she open up a shoe store. “I didn’t go with it but had it in the back of my mind, she said.”  One reason she didn’t move forward with an online store was because of some bad business advise she got. “They said to me it is not a lucrative business to get into, she said.”  


She went on and had a family but after her second child, something started to happen.

“You get into being a wife, a mother and sometimes you don’t see yourself as a woman, she says.”  She was going through what so many women go through. They love their families but they need something for themselves. ‘I was so into my family, I said, I used to be a woman who put on lipstick and put on heels, she said.” That’s when the idea that she had kept on the back burner came front and center.  


She opened her online shoe store called ‘Shoe’  in 2014.   "I wanted women to know you can still be a woman, I know there are women who feel like me, so I did this to show women that you can do this, don’t take away what brings joy to you, that was my push, she said.”  


But, Judith discovered owning her own business required more than just a passion for shoes, in the two years since she went online she’s had to go back to the drawing board four times. “There was traffic but no sales. I launched again in the summer of 2015, then put everything on hold and hired a business coach, she said.”  She relaunched in June of 2016 with a new passion. She sells high fashion shoes at affordable prices. She also makes it her goal to connect with her customers; like a girlfriend in a way that women connect with one another over shoes.  Plus, she hopes she's just a step away from showing other women they too can live their dreams.  “My goal is to target women like me, my age, I wanted them to still know you can be fabulous, she says."








By Elaine Houston



Stephanie Crawford was raised by religious grandparents who had high expectations for her. So when she became pregnant at 22, she refused to tell them for three months.  No doubt they would have remembered back to when her 16-year old mother had her. Telling them would mean they would now  be disappointed again. “I was almost due when my grandfather came around, she said.”


Her father took it hard too, the two had been estranged and were trying to rebuild their relationship and Stephanie believes he felt guilty that he couldn’t have provided her with more guidance. “He cried, she says.” There was one other person deeply disappointed, Stephanie herself.  She and the baby’s father were not getting along –breaking up and now she’d discovered she was pregnant and would be a single mom.  “I came around but was still not sure what to do and I chose not to know the sex, so I hadn’t chosen a name.”


She says her pregnancy was normal and she never had any complications.  Friends threw her a baby shower and with her parents living separate lives she had two more showers and gifts from them. The baby loved ice cream and would move around in delight whenever she ate some. A week before she was due she was staying at her dad’s home and that morning he touched her belly and playfully greeted his grandchild soon to come. However, there was no movement. But the soon to be grandpa jovially shrugged it off.  That night at a friend’s house she ate some ice cream and there was no reaction from the baby. She went to the bathroom over and over, and over again. She didn’t want it to seem like she was alarmed but if the truth be told, she was nervous, very. She went to the bathroom so much that her friend’s mom joked she better not have the baby that night.


Stephanie went on home and ate some more ice cream, the baby did not respond, scared she called her father crying. He came and took her to the hospital-his grandchild, her first child that she’d decided to raise and love on her own was gone-there was no heartbeat.  Stephanie, who’d gone to all her prenatal appointments and therefore knew all the sounds of all the machines that monitored the baby's heartbeat,  already knew. The machines made no sounds.  In a daze, she sat there. The nurse left and the doctor came in.  Stephanie remembers the doctor’s words. “She said, I’m sorry but the baby has no heartbeat.''


Her father and stepmother were crying. Stephanie was given a drug to start the contractions. She was going to have a baby and all her family was there but no one was smiling, no one was talking, no one was excited.  She didn’t want an epidural because early on she had decided to have the baby the natural way.  But, the doctor recommended against it carefully explaining that there are so many emotions tied to having a natural birth, experiencing the pain then seeing your reward: the life you’ve carried for nine months come into the world screaming, alert  full of wonderment, and moving. She would have the pain but none of the reward. She suggested the epidural and Stephanie agreed.   With her mom and step mom on either side and her dad behind her offering support she delivered Simeon.  “They cleaned him up, dressed him, and did what they did for a live birth , Stephanie said.” 


They put Simeon in the bassinet and pulled it next to the bed but Stephanie couldn’t look at him. “I was afraid of him, death, cemeteries, funerals, a dead body scared me, she says.” But, she did pick him up and held onto him until they prodded her to give him up. “I kept him as long as I could until they said he was starting to lose his color, she said.”  She says the nurses took pictures of him and took his footprint. The blanket he was wrapped in fell to the floor and a friend threw it in a hamper but Stephanie screamed out, panicked she needed someone to find it. They did and she held it close to her. It smelled like Simeon. ‘It was my comfort for a month, she said.”



At 23, she should have been celebrating her first real job or first apartment or planning a fun getaway with girlfriends. Or at the very least taking home a healthy baby boy, bonding with him, watching him sleep, showing him off to friends, celebrating his birthday, February 7th, 2011.  But instead, suffering from zero moments of clarity she was leaving without him and was told she had little over a week to decide what to do with his body.    


Before she left she signed a baby book, moms left thoughtful messages in it, she wasn’t sure where it was kept or what the hospital did with it.  She wrote, “I miss you, but I understand why you had to go. If God lets you when I’m ready, maybe you could come back to me.’’


 She went home and lay on the couch mourning Simeon and thinking that life was not fair. She agonized over what to do with his body. She called funeral homes, unsure where else to turn for help. She did not have the thousands of dollars it cost to bury him and time was running out.  She decided then if the light ever came back in her eyes she would become a friend to other mothers who found themselves in this undesirable position.   


She went on and cremated Simeon. It cost 150 dollars. The Boston native found a new job and became a kindergarten teacher.  And, in 2014 Simeon came back to her through an outreach program she created.   The program gave her the courage to talk about the very things that once frightened her, funerals and babies like Simeon. It is not a support group but is based on a mother’s need.  If in the midst of her mourning she needs help, Stephanie is there with guidance. It’s called Propa City Community Outreach. She working to make it a non profit group.

HELP her by going to: or





According to the March of Dimes, ...Stillbirth affects 23, 600 babies a year in the U.S. ...Black women have a higher risk for stillbirth compared to other women.  .........Count the Kicks is a program to help expectant parents track their babies daily movements.Visit

Angel Gowns

A Texas Group,  provides gowns for stillborn and miscarried babies to be buried in.  Like 

Stephanie, parents who lose a baby are often so filled with grief the last thing they can think about is finding something to bury their child in. Angel Wings Memory Gowns was created to help families during this delicate time. They are made from donated wedding gowns and given to parents complimentary.  Fore more information go to



By Elaine Houston


Make-up changed her life....



but not in ways you would imagine. Sometimes we are going down one road when we run into a detour.  For Rebekah Brisbane that detour led her to lipsticks, blush, and eyeshadows and a great new life that she never imagined as a Marykay consultant.


By Elaine Houston


Ashley Schafer of Schafer Image Consulting has offered fashion advice to friends and family for years but her parents said get a degree in something practical. So, she got a degree in Accounting.


However, fashion was always in her heart. So in 2013 she decided to make a living doing it. Her goal- make women look and feel their best.  She works primarily in New Jersey and New York City but never liimits herself and  says when it comes to fashion women shouldn't either.


 She says before starting your own business you have to do your homework.

to LOOK BOOKS- personalized books showing you how to create the best looks for you.

She offers a variety of services from personal shopping for clients.... 

Ashley on Confidence: You have to recognize that you have what it takes. For more info go to her website

Dark & Lovely


By Elaine Houston


It's a conversation that is tough to start.


What do you do when not only those outside your race see you as inferior but so do those within your race. The conversation we're talking about is the light versus dark comparison that has been going on since the days of slavery and is still perpetuated by some blacks against other blacks. Some women say in 2015 they are still being judged by whites and blacks because their skin color is on the darker end of the color spectrum.



Below are the stories of several women who share how painful this form of discrimination has been for them and how they triumphed over it.  Listen to their very candid stories below.




Poet Danielle Charlestin uses poetry to engage conversations on women, culture, and race.

Born to be WILD!

Hiker 'Manique Talaia' lives her dream


By Elaine Houston


Manique Talaia has had lots of ups and downs in her life—and she’s loved every one of them. You see Manique is a hiker. The Cooperstown, NY resident has hiked the Adirondacks in New York, a 273 mile trail in the Green Mountains in Vermont and just recently, the PCT or Pacific Crest Trail. It is one of the grandaddies of hiking trails now making news because it is the backdrop for the new movie ‘WILD’ with actress Reese Witherspoon.  It is daunting-more than 2,600 miles spanning California, Oregon and Washington until you finally reach Canada. 


 Manique started hiking around age ten or eleven when she went on long walks with her mom and sister in the Adirondacks.   In college she joined outing clubs, guiding fellow students on hiking trips, white water kayaking, and all things outdoors.  It helped her develop leadership and team building skills. It also made her fearless. “The adrenaline rush you get from going up against everything mother nature has to offer is addictive,'' she said. 


   When her male friends bragged about hiking the Appalachian Trail-she became jealous. “ I did all the East coast things, I said what if I go to the West coast and do this thing,” she said.  The ‘thing”  was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.  She wanted the challenge but she also knew if she completed the trek she would be earning ‘bragging’ rights for women. “ I had never met a woman who did long distance hiking it was only males,” she said. So, it was on!


 She had spoken to a college friend who said she would join Manique but over the summer the two went their separate ways.  One day she got a call from that friend who was still interested. Manique moved to California, started purchasing her gear and while most of us would have been experiencing a little trepidation as the deadline for the trek approached, Manique on the other hand was getting pumped.  “ I was nervous about how my body would act-but I don’t remember being scared, I was excited, but I was never really nervous,” she said. Manique and her friend McKenna started the trek and desert life was a surprise. “ I was nervous about the desert. The first 700 miles are desert and I was concerned about water," said Manique.  In the spring of 2014 she and McKenna begain their trek and finished in September-hiking 2400 miles of the 2600 mile trip. She had done it! 


Manique is excited about how the movie ‘WiLD” will introduce the PCT to others. She’s not happy with some of the blow back the film is getting from some in the trail community.  “ I’m a proud feminist, her story is so inspiring yet all the  A-holes say she was a prostitute  and drug addict and it bothers me, “ she says.  In the movie "WILD"  Witherspoon's character has done drugs and had many relationships with various men. She's also dealing with the death of her mother and walking the trail serves as a way for her to find herself or as Witherspoon says in the movie 'become the woman my mother raised.'  Manique says some in the trail community are possessive of the trail and don’t like that the real life hiker, Cheryl Strayed who the movie 'WILD'  is based on publicized and commercialized the trail through her writings about her trek along the trail in her book and now with the movie. She also says the trail community feels that the movie might cause neophytes to flood the PCT . Her take on all the controversy. “That’s just bullshit, it’s an unbelievable accomplishment.” says Manique.  Manique hates the gender bias towards women hikers “Women are constantly questioned about being independent, about doing things by yourself, I got questions like this.'' She says.  "There’s just this great attitude Cheryl Strayed has,” she says. And, Manique has it too. That attitude is that women can do anything.





Manique's tent near a Joshua tree

Manique's Tips for your hiking event:


.....Read Peoples NARRATIVES About the trail.

.....Get the BEST Gear: A tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad and cooking system.

......Do your research. Manique initially had a four pound sleeping bag

       but realized she needed to trade

       it for a 1 and a half pound one. 


Designing Woman

Move over Martha Stewart, Nate Berkus, and all those celebrities with houseware lines- MARY BETH GOODWIN is fast becoming the designer to watch!

Emma after surgery


By Elaine Houston



Mary Beth Goodwin has been drawing since she was 4 years old. In fact, it was her 2nd grade  teacher -so impressed with her detailed drawing of a flower -- who told her she had a future as a designer.  ''She said, I hope you know this is what you should be doing," said Mary Beth.   That teacher was right. After college and majoring in Textile Design she worked at Target and JCPenny.  


She later  got married and had a baby-Emma. However, Emma wasn't making the sounds and doing the baby babel that Mary Beth and husband Bill thought she should .  "I kept saying something is not right and went back and forth to the doctor,' she said.   Emma was tested and doctors saw no brain wave movement  in the part of the brain were sound is detected. It was later determined that Mary Beth and Bill were both receptive carriers of a disorder that causes deafness.  "The chances of being carriers are 1 and 1 hundred million or some crazy number for this disorder," Beth says.  So Emma had cochlear implant surgery and at 3 was finally making the sounds that babies do.  Even rarer-their second child, a little boy was also born with the disorder and he too was deaf. Mary Beth quit her job in corporate America to stay home with the kids and Harrison underwent cochlear implant surgery.   


But, remember designing is in her blood, so this stay at home mom decided to fulfill that desire to create and be home with her children. She started an in home business-Mary Beth Goodwin DESIGN.   "I think more commerical and my goal is to license the artwork on a variety of products. In 2012 she sold her first pattern and her designs can be found on cases for cell-phones, acrylic jewelry and monographed necklaces, pillows, and stationary.  The North Carolina designer also created patterns for HGTV designer and host, Sarah Richardson of Toronto, Canada.   But, her goal is to design a line of  patterns representing the cochlear implant world."As a mom I want to use my artwork on a product like that," she said. 

Harrison after surgery

No 'REST' for HER as she lives her dreams on "YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS'

By Elaine Houston



Kate Linder can remember the day she started working on the Young & the Restless  like it was yesterday. It was actuallly 1982. She was suppose to be working on the soap for just one day but over 30 years later she is still there playing the role of the quirky maid Esther Valentine.  


Before becoming an actress- to pay the bills she worked as a flight attendant for United Airlines and still does today.   In 2008 Linder received an honor of a lifetime- a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. "Can you imagine what it's like to have a star,?" she said. Sounding as if it was happening all over again, she said, "I couldn't catch my breath".  She's also been fortunate to grace the big screen with movies like Erased,  Hysteria, and her latest movie, the suspenseful, nail biting  'Miss Meadows'  with Katie Holmes is now out in select theatres and on Video on Demand.


  Equally as important as her career is her volunteer work. She is the celebrity spokesperson for the ALS Association.  She became aware of the disease through her brother in law. "It is a horrific disease. He couldn't move anything for seven years and could only blink his eyes," she said.  She says the Bucket Challenge has been phenomonal in raising awareness about the disease and says there's an explanation behind the ice water.  "The ice for one second shocks your system and you can't move or breathe and it's what an ALS patient feels like all the time," she said.  


Straight out of Compton

She's the Mayor



 By Elaine Houston




Mention Compton, California and many people immediately think of 'Gansta Rappers' and while it's true that Compton is arguably the birthplace of the raw, edgy real life storytelling music genre-Aja Brown  saw so much more when she came back to Compton. "It's diverse, great climate, it has community pride, all the ingrediants for success," she said.


But, Compton wasn't succeeding. There were lots of socio-economic problems,  political corruption, and yes there were gangs. But the even bigger issue as Brown saw it was the lack of leadership. "I was sick and tired of being sick and tired," she said. Long story short-she ran for office and in 2013 at age 31 became the youngest mayor in that city.  


This non traditional politician knew that the residents of Compton felt disenfranchised-never told they were it's biggest asset-so she invited them to have a stake in their city.  She took that same message of ownership to the gangs and sat down with 40 of the biggest, scarriest gang members-hated rivals sat down at the table with her this past summer. "Who will be the last man standing," she asked them.  Remarkably they hammered out a peace treaty. If it last to the end of 2014  the city will be the safest its been in more than 20 years. 


Her sister's Keeper

By Elaine Houston SAVING MY SISTER

By Elaine Houston



In her native country of Liberia people with mental disabilities are thought to be victims of witchcraft, bad karma, or evil spirits.   But when Lovetie Major saw pictures of kids in the U.S. who looked exactly like her sister, she realized her sister suffered from Down Syndrome. She was excited-now she had a diagnosis. She brought her sister to the U.S. and she learned to read and earned a vocational education. Lovetie then started a non-profit called “My Heart’s Appeal.” She also set up the Down Syndrome Association of Liberia in 2013. 100 students utilize the programs so far. She also wrote a book about how her sister inspired her to help others. It’s called, “A Sibling’s Vow.”   

 For more information on My Hearts Appeal, go to

Jene' on TV




She's gone from a magazine writer to the 'TODAY SHOW'  As a contributor, she shares the latest on gifts and gadgets. She's also a favorite on Hoda and Kathie Lee. However before fame there were some dark days. Jene Lupoli suffered with Tubular Breast Syndrome-a defect where breasts have a tubular shape. So, one breast was always going to be lop sided without surgery. The disorder caused her self esteem to hit rock bottom. To Jene' your breasts are like your hair-they help define you. Determined not to let it ruin her life-she embraced it and did her homework.  Her research resulted in a  book to help women find the perfect bra no matter what shape their breasts are.  "The Bra Book," became a best seller.  It is now in it's 2nd printing and Jene' is working on her next goal. Stay tuned.   

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GLAM BOWS: Make your shoes dazzle!!!

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