Hola! I’m taking my first real stab about this blog thing. I want this to blog to be a part of what changes the dialogue about economic independence, generational wealth and entrepreneurial identity in communities of color. Even more specifically, communities that look like where I live and grew up: Black communities. Who am I? Funny you should ask….
Allow to me reintroduce myself…to myself!
When I am introduced, I refer to myself as “Prof. LaTanya, author, entrepreneur and educator and I help aspiring minority entrepreneurs develop a growth mindset so they can get over their fears, get over their assumptions about business and get their ideas launched.” I have never said anything about being a leader. That is in large part due to the fact that I question ‘who am I to be a leader?’. To answer this, I would first have to come to terms with who I am. But who am I truly? As a leader, I exist in a tumultuous dichotomy: I don’t identify myself as a leader but most everyone around me does. This is evident in my extended family, in my household, in my businesses and in my career. I do not self-identify as a leader but I am sure that I struggle with self-identity.
Not even one year ago, I learned (or as my aunt and mother say, I was reminded) that the man whose last name I have had all of my life is not my biological father. They say they told me when I was somewhere around the age of 14 or 15. I do recall a ‘friend of the family’ randomly popping up at my grandmother’s house, where I was raised the majority of my childhood telling me that he was my father but I do not recall my mother reinforcing that any point in my life, nor the man I have called by his first name, Howard, for as long as I can remember. What reason was there for me to take this other man seriously?
Every ending of one thing is the beginning of another
It was the end of summer and my daughter and I rode down to South Florida with my aunt and grandmother to take my cousin back home to West Palm Beach and spend a couple of days in Miami. On the ride back, my grandmother asked me how Howard was doing and I shared that he still writes me, Sparrow and Maurice from prison but I have to get better about responding to him. I didn’t want him to think I wasn’t thinking about him. Not one breath later, my aunt, the true matriarch of the family asked me how my dad was doing. Grandma and I said at the same time “I just asked her that and she said he’s doing fine Veronica!” and I said, “Grandma just asked me that!” Auntie paused and without even knowing what it was, my Systems 1 thinking kicked in gear: She knows something that she isn’t telling me.
We had a long ride back and I didn’t want to get myself worked up in a confined space where I wouldn’t be able to hide my tears from Sparrow. She’s so intuitive. She’s very much like me in that way. I distracted myself and let it turn over in my head only briefly before I shared with my older cousin the incident via text. I let Maurice know that something was awry once Sparrow and I got settled in at home but I couldn’t let the evening go by without getting confirmation from my mother. I couldn’t bear to talk to her but this deserved much more than a text message so I gave her a call. She was on her way to bed it seemed like from the sound of her voice so when I recounted the situation and all she could say was ‘He’s the real one’, referring to the other gentleman who had taken me just once for a ride on the city’s public transportation system to tell me I needed to change my last name.
The phone line was solemn, eerily quiet. She asked, “Are you there?” I nodded, choking back the tears before I realized that she couldn’t see me. I eked out a positive response before she replied, “I thought I told you?” Daniel Kahneman, in his book Thinking Fast and Slow, writes about his theory of System 1 vs. System 2 thinking. This is often where my Systems 2 thinking comes into to play. Perhaps the average person would have been enraged at that question. I could only turn into myself, physically and emotionally even more. I don’t remember how the call ended but I know that before we hung up, I learned that the man who was really my father had died a couple of months prior.
At some Maurice and I spoke about it again that night, about the idea that I might have sisters and brothers in the world that I have never met. I decided that I didn’t want to meet them. I didn’t have the energy to build that kind of relationship at this point in my life. I remember saying to him then that I didn’t know who I really was. He replied with something like ‘This doesn’t change who you are. This doesn’t take away the fact that you done some many wonderful things to get to you to where you are. This doesn’t change the fact that you are a beautiful mother to our Sparrow. None of that changes!” None of that changes but as luck would have it, I didn’t know who I was before any of that happened.
The next day my aunt called me and assured me that I already knew that Howard wasn’t my father. She said she had made it her personal business to ensure that neither he (John Smith) nor my mom would keep something like that from me. Later that day my mom called to ask me if I was upset with her. I honestly wasn’t. She had told me the night before that she fell in love with someone who didn’t love her. She happened to be married but Howard had been stationed in several places and the distance between them- and his habit of physically abusing her- must have made it easy for her to love someone who doted on you and gave you the attention that you never received from an abusive, absentee father as the middle child in a family of 9 children.
Point of Reflection
As I reflect upon on my role in my familial unit, I remember being so angry with Howard (almost up until the time my daughter was born when I was 35) that he never chose me. He spent the majority of my life in and out of prison and I always felt that he chose the streets and drugs over me, when in actuality, he chose me long before I knew that he even had a choice. You see, as my mother shared with me that night when Howard returned from deployment, she was already 5 months pregnant with me. He still writes me to this day and has not said a word about this to me yet. As devastating as this news was, I had processed it, having convinced myself that who I was, that my identity- no matter how murky it was- hadn’t been compromised. This was when I realized I was in the middle of an identity crisis.
I shared the beginning of my story, of how my childhood experiences molded me into being an introvert but the path of totality, when I would not be moved from a deep sense of knowing that I deserved to be unseen, was at the end of a failed marriage. The first time that I would share this story in its entirety was when I independently published my first book, Becoming FEARLESS. In short,
- I met him when I was 19
- Engaged at 25
- Married at 26
- By the age of 27, the divorce was final.
In one statement that stands out to me from the book, I write “slowly, his indiscretions and infidelities were revealed by family, friends, and people who just didn’t like how he treated me, but had no personal ties to us.” The idea that people close to me had known he was being unfaithful but didn’t tell me was more detrimental to my sense of self-worth than the fact that he actually had betrayed our wedding vows. There is beauty from the ashes in this story, however, because, were it not for that tragedy, I might not have ever started my bartending business, 71 Proof Hospitality Group.
Since then, I have experienced, curated and created several exercises to help others navigate through the identity crises they may be experiencing. The Becoming FEARLESS Leadership and Identity Institute (B-FLII) houses this mentoring program and has been tested with more than 100 people between the ages of 20 and 48. Check out the B-FLII page to see what people are saying about it. It may be what you need to get our of your own identity crisis and get back to growing your business and creating generational wealth!