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The Journey of a Thousand Miles

By: Rashida Ashley

Photo Credit: Isha Gaines/CreateHerStock

Although Women’s History Month recently passed, it was a small point in time for celebration, remembrance, and reflection. We gathered together in our communities to discuss how far we’ve come as women. We talked about the women who’ve cleared the  path before us despite the dangers they encountered. We remembered Maya Angelou; a woman who dealt with life’s injustices bravely and made an extreme impact in our literary world. We reflected on Michelle Obama, the kind of woman who took her position to the next level by making an immense impact on our nation. We celebrated Gabby Douglas, a young woman who trained hard and proved her abilities in the Olympics.

What of the voices we have yet to hear? What of the women who are making progress in their journeys and are consistently aiming for their targets with good results?

Indeed, Women’s History Month may be a time for celebration, remembrance, and reflection. However, beyond this historical month there is always continuous self-evaluation for the women who are still paving a path for themselves and their families today despite such a short celebration in time. Whenever I learn more about these amazing women who have made a difference, I have this inner voice in my head saying “That could be you. Why aren’t you doing enough? You’re not doing anything important. Get a move on!”

It is so easy to put pressure on yourself in instances such as this, but it’s also just as easy to remember that you’re still on your path only if you immerse yourself in that perspective. Going down the road of comparison only distracts you from your path by focusing on what someone else is doing. You end up forgetting what path you’re on and feel as if you’ve lost your way. We respect and celebrate these female figures to recognize their achievements and the impact they’ve made on our lives and keep us inspired to consistently push forward.

Recently, I had the pleasure of chatting with three powerful female figures who are making moves and putting forth efforts to see a different world. Nanichi Oliva is a progressive photographer, freelance videographer and owner of Nenna Productions. Erica Nicole is a powerful faith-based blogger and entrepreneur. Her blog My Journey to Refresh, helps millennial women discover God’s purpose for their life and fulfill their destiny through the Word of God! And Maria Manson is a passionate educator, mentor, relationship coach and founder of Grace Haven Inc., a nonprofit that provides hope and healing to abused women and their children. These women are motivated and resilient, and despite the obstacles they’ve faced on a daily basis, they continue to move forward.

Tell me what it is you do and why do you do it?

Nanichi: I am a creative. I am a photographer and a freelance videographer. I am also an art teacher. And I do all these things because it is very fulfilling for me to help people source joy. You don’t always capture people in their most joyful moments, but the goal is to do that. You know, when I’m taking portraits or just any photo shoot and someone comes to me with a creative idea, it’s 60% their idea and concept, then 40% is my helping to bring it home and have them feel it and be inspired; that’s why I do what I do. As a woman of color and as an Afro Latina specifically, I didn’t see a lot of myself in mainstream media. I also didn’t see a lot of myself in photography, so to be able to take photos of people and potentially offer more representation or just more visibility to people who look like me or people who just look different, is very rewarding and fulfilling. To sum all that up, I’m in the business of really uplifting black and brown folks, you know, and just giving us the platform and space to feel and heal and be creative because I think in so many other spaces, systemically we aren’t afforded that. That’s what I do. It’s beautiful.

What does Women’s History Month mean to you?

Nanichi: Women’s History Month means so much to me. My two other siblings and I were raised by a single mother. Women’s History Month is just a way for me to just be reminded of the word resilience. I’ve had an issue with that word lately with the fact that I don’t just want women to be seen as resilient, because we are not resilient. We hurt, we struggle, we are not always at 100% and that’s okay. Even when we’re not at 100%, we still get it done, and we still impact and touch so many lives and I think that Women’s History Month is just a way for us to identify that and identify the women. This is not just cis-gendered women, transgendered women, [or] non-binary women this is anybody who associates with some traits of femininity, this is your month because I think that we’re kind of reclaiming that space and we’re reclaiming those ideas and those mindsets to know that being feminine and being a woman is bad, as an asset, you know, and is just a superpower.

Who is an important female figure in your life and why?

Erica: An important female figure in my life is my mom. For a long time, I’ve seen her just move forward and be more optimistic. Even now she’s still moving even though she’s older she’s still doing it and moving forward.

How has your mom impacted your drive for achievement, both negatively and positively, to fulfill your goals?

Erica: First and foremost, I am a millennial. I feel my generation wants what we want and we are going to go out to get it. My mother’s generation is a part of the baby boomers. They’re going to work hard to get what they want but they feel as if they have to work hardcore for someone to get that. I feel slightly different. You have to work but my mindset has shifted. For example, I see myself as a full-time entrepreneur. I want to make my own money and set my schedule and be my own boss. My mom works for someone, she has to wake up early to get to work. She never stops. That helps me remember that even though I’m trying to reach a role, I still have to serve someone else to get there. Growing up, I saw that and I didn’t want to be under anyone’s schedule. I began to share those feelings with my mom. Communication is key. Sometimes she may not understand and think that I’m putting too much pressure on myself but she’s agreeing now and pushing me to move forward.

What is your ultimate goal for your work?

Maria: The ultimate goal for my work is to acquire an apartment complex for Grace Haven. We will have a daycare and services for people. We will start with having 12 families. I want it to be that everyone who partners with us will understand that we have supportive housing and their transformations. I want them to understand that these transformations take time and are spiritual and the importance of having relationships, job readiness programs, women’s retreats, everything we’re doing for them we want to do it in the communities as well. I’ve struggled with a lot of different things with my sons and daughters but we survived so I want these families to be a part of this. I want people to see that we just didn’t arrive; we went through some things too. We had to deal with so many obstacles and I want them to know and understand this. They can have some peace and it’s important my family joins me in this journey and I would love that when I pull away from the school system I still do the work. It’s a moment to grow and be confident life-learners. I want to be online as well as face to face. Another goal is my book. I am so excited, it will be released in May. I decided to fight for my marriage but some things are unhealthy and you have to fight for them. When my husband had an affair it was the best thing in my life to happen to me. Sometimes when you are being refined it feels like you’re in hell but things are happening to you so you won’t be in those situations anymore.

What are some of the obstacles you’ve faced in your work? How have these obstacles impacted your overall objective and motivation to continue what you do?

Maria: My biggest obstacle since childhood is my hearing loss. I don’t want to wear the hearing aid all of the time. I have my glasses and my hearing aid. All of these things are on my ear. At first, I thought that people would think something was wrong with me. You still receive people who treat you differently and a lot of times I tell people that they have to speak up. If you see the hearing aid on you don’t have to yell. I feel that when I give my input on things people don’t take me seriously.

These women are a force to be reckoned with, be it in their social or professional lives. After conducting these interviews, each woman offered a gift of some sort to the interviewer, which solidified Women’s History Month’s overall meaning. One extended her knowledge and taught some of the most valuable lessons she learned in her life. Another prayed in thanks for a lovely session. And another pushed further with grounded intelligence proclaiming her ability to achieve despite the obstacles thrown her way. These takeaways reinforce the essence of a woman and the impact she has on others that extends past the celebration of one designated month every year. Her spirituality, intelligence, and talent are gifts not only for herself but also for others to learn and grow with.

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