By Valarie Stephens 
 What does it mean to be a black woman? Is it the way we walk? Is it the way we talk? Or is it something that comes from within? Or just maybe it's none of those things at all. Maybe it’s simply our melanated skin.

I often wondered if I were ever enough. I, the quiet awkward introvert who never quite fit into the black woman stereotype (labels) but just happened to be a black woman. Would my color ever be enough or did I have to be more than my color? Did I have to be the stereotype of what others envisioned my color to be? Or, could I simply just be? These were some of my insecurities growing up. That we must all fit within some type of category in order to fit in. That color isn't as broad as the spectrum we truly are but that we are only relegated to a category. So the question then becomes are we more than a stereotype?

Growing up I was an introvert who happened to be black. I define introverts as internal souls who live within. Introverts don't necessarily have the need to be social, outgoing or the life of the party. There is that contentedness of being solitary and having that quiet private time. It is a way to regroup and recharge from being in the world. And though there are many different types of introverted personalities the idea of being internal and private still rings true for many.

As a black woman who is an introvert I've faced some unique challenges that my conscious mind has now learned to process. Those challenges included being content with my own identity. From time to time I would get the 'You don't act black enough' or 'You don't talk black enough' comments. I would often wonder what that even meant. Are our minds that narrow that we have to limit ourselves to an accent or mannerism? Is that really all that we are as a race or can we reach beyond the superficial? Of course we can! There was a strong desire for me to fit in growing up because I was opposite of others and too scared to be me. By opposite I mean quiet, shy and unsure of myself while others were more vocal and fearless. And by the way, shy and quiet are two completely separate things. Although there may be introverts that are shy, it’s a personality trait that can be tied to all personality types. At that time, I just happened to be both things.

Well, I didn't want to be the shy, quiet one who stuck out like a sore thumb. I didn't want to be different. I wanted to blend right in. So my subconscious mind looked to the stereotype of what black is as who I should strive to be. This thought process caused a lot of problems for me because I simply covered up my authentic self. Instead of looking within I looked to others on how to be and who to be. I could not accept myself because I felt my differences were a negative. It was a rough time because self-love was not a present factor in my life at that time. I had no clue. But the bigger lesson in all of this is that instead of searching for an acceptable identity, realizing that I already 'am.' I was and I am the person God made me to be. I did not have to look beyond myself or try to be anything other than me. This is more of a universal message for all personality types. Self-acceptance/self-love is the key to embracing your genuine self.

Well, I finally came to realization that I was enough after my spiritual light grew inside and I became closer to God. Although it was later in life when I had this epiphany, my conscious mind began to digest the idea of what the essence of color is and then it all made sense to me. For me color is about culture and the idea of just being and nothing else. Black just is! And that’s it. There are no stereotypes that we should hold ourselves to. Being black is about accepting everything that black embodies and that’s a wide spectrum of who we are. One personality does not define another or an entire race so we must learn to accept everyone for who we are.

As an introverted soul I’ve accepted all facets that make up who I am as a human being. And what I’ve learned is that it is ok to be a black woman who is also an introvert and defy stereotypes associated with what it’s supposed to mean to be black. What’s most important is that we can all learn from one another regardless of race or personality type. We each bring a unique aspect to the table in this journey we call life.

What does being an introvert mean to you?

Valarie Stephens is a self-proclaimed introvert who lives life as a free-spirit and creative soul. Her life's journey of ups and downs, personal pain and setbacks are just some of her topics of discussion from her first book titled ‘The Quiet Thinker.' Through spiritual growth and prayer she's been able to get through dark times in her life and completely transform herself into the positive role model she is today. Whether you consider yourself an internal spirit or an extrovert, she has a universal message for everyone. Healing the world and helping others walk in their best light is her life's purpose.


Erickka Sy Savané
I was on the phone the other day with a receptionist. The woman was having me spell my daughter’s name for what had to be the 100th time. I try to be patient when this happens because I know her first name is a doozy–11 letters–and African. It’s like nothing most of us Americans have ever heard before. So when I begin to detect this woman’s tone changing, I make sure to chill. We’ll get there eventually.

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 And when we do, she lets out an exasperated sigh and says, “Why’d you give that child that name?”

“Excuse me?” I say, not sure if I heard her correctly.

“Why’d you give her a name that she’d be lucky if she can pronounce, let alone spell?”


I put the phone down and start taking off my earrings. Had this woman lost her mind? Of all the rude comments! And to think that she was representing someone’s business. I’m a second away from reaching into the phone to grab her neck when I remind myself that I knew this would happen. In fact, I almost didn’t give my daughter her name because of people like that receptionist.

“You can’t name her that!” said just about everyone when I told them the name I had chosen for my unborn child. Others would just start singing, ‘Mama Say Mama Sa Mama Coosa’ from Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin.’” They said it reminded them of that song. At one point, I stopped telling people because I didn’t want to hear it anymore.

What they failed to see was that I loved the name from the moment I first heard it. Ever fall in love with a sound? For some it’s the sweet cackle of a baby’s giggle, for me it was the rhythm of this name. Like music to my ears. The fact that it was African made it even better. Not just because my husband is African, but because I wanted a name that my child could live in to, a name that whenever spoken would create images of gold lit skies, and blackness, like the continent itself.

Yet, it’s funny how I still had doubts.

“Do you have a name?” asked the doctor who delivered my daughter as she placed her on top of me, still wet and slippery like a fish freshly out of the water. I was tired. Exhausted from a natural birth that had me laboring for 24 hours. Finally, I told her the short version because in that moment, I was no longer sure. Would I dare give her a name with 11 letters and five syllables? Would she be able to get a job? What if she was a gentle soul incapable of handling the teasing and insults that might come her way? Heck, what if she didn’t like it?!

“Okay,” said the doctor, letting the name roll off of her tongue. “What’s the long version?” I spit it out. Every. Last. Syllable. There. Say what you want. “Girl, you betta give that child all that name!”

We both laughed and in that moment I knew that I couldn’t go halfway. Why? To make it easy? To please other people? I’d been doing that my whole life and where had it gotten me? If I couldn’t stand for the name I wanted to give my child when would I ever stand for anything? This name was for both my child and me.

I think about the receptionist on the other end of the phone. Right now she represents all the ignorance and prejudice that will likely be a part of my daughter’s future.
How would I want her or anyone for that matter to respond?
Patience? Tried that.
Maybe I’d meet fire with fire.
I pick up the phone, and this time it is my tone that has changed. “Listen, Ma’am, I’m sorry if this name isn’t convenient for you, but you’re a receptionist not the name police. Mind your business.”
 Click. 

How do you respond to name shaming?

Erickka Sy Savané is managing editor of CurlyNikki.com, a wife, mom, and freelance writer based in Jersey, City, NJ. Her work has appeared in Essence.comEbony.com, Madamenoire.com, xoNecole.com, and more. When she’s not writing...wait, she’s always writing! Follow her on Twitter, Instagram or  

Issa Rae & Ayesha Curry 
Black women spend a lot on beauty products- $7.5 billion annually- to be exact. Yet, we are grossly misrepresented in beauty advertising. In fact, a survey from 2015 found that of all the fashion advertising done for Spring and Summer, 85% of the models were white, and just 5% black. Hold the mascara! However, we can't ignore when certain cosmetic giants get it right. Enter CoverGirl, who has been consistently using black models for years. When news broke of Issa Rae and now Ayesha Curry being added to the prestigious CoverGirl list, we decided to highlight some other CG beauties, past and present, who have represented us well!

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Actress Zendaya


Singer/Actress Janelle Monae

Actress/Singer/Rapper Queen Latifah

Singer Rihanna



Model-preneure Tyra Banks


Singer/Actress Brandy

Model/Actress Eva Marcille 


America's Next Top Model Krista White


Model Sheila Johnson

Who is your favorite CoverGirl?

Erickka Sy Savané is managing editor of CurlyNikki.com, a wife, mom, and freelance writer based in Jersey, City, NJ. Her work has appeared in Essence.comEbony.com, Madamenoire.com, xoNecole.com, and more. When she’s not writing...wait, she’s always writing! Follow her on Twitter, Instagram or  
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Tamika D. Mallory speaking at the Women's March on Washington
There is nothing sexier than impacting positive change. And when we say sexy, we're talking about fearlessly walking in your purpose in such a way that everyone can't help but take notice of and appreciate how truly badass you are. We're talking #humanitygoals, #growuptobelikeyou, #pleaseupdatehistorybooks sexy. And for this reason, it's important to pay homage to women currently living and working among us who are taking social activism to the next level, inspiring the rest of us to ask ourselves,  'What am I doing to bring about change?' While there are countless powerful sistah's out there leading in communities across the country, we decided to highlight seven women giving us #activismgoals!

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Tamika D. Mallory

Chances are, you've seen Tamika D. Mallory, the outspoken champion for social justice who helped organize the Women's March on Washington, attended by over 300,000 here, and sparked duplicate marches across the globe. The 36 yr old New York native has been applauded as an advocate for civil rights issues, equal rights for women, health care, gun violence, and police misconduct. Valerie B. Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama called her “a leader of tomorrow” and she was selected to serve on the transition committee of New York City Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio. 


 
Johnetta Elzie Image via Getty/Jason LaVeris
Moved to action by the death of Michael Brown, Johnetta Elzie made a splash among Ferguson protesters by aiding with volunteer coordination and live tweeting surrounding events effectively becoming a leading citizen journalist on the protests. Later, she went on to co-create the website and database MappingPoliceViolence.org which tracks all people killed by police. Elzie currently leads We The Protesters, an organization which supports nationwide protest groups in combatting police violence and systemic racism through policy change.




Dr. Moya Bailey
If you’ve ever used the word “misogynoir,” you can thank Dr. Moya Bailey for its existence. Her devotion to examining the way Black women are represented in pop culture led her to coin the term as well as pursue Women’s Studies and activism. An assistant professor at Northeastern University, Dr. Bailey co-created Quirky Black Girls (a network that celebrates Black girls who exist outside of social norms) and the Crunk Feminist Collective (a supportive space for queer and straight hip hop gen feminists of color). She also is the digital alchemist for the Octavia E. Butler Legacy Network.





Monica Raye Simpson

Before Monica Raye Simpson relocated to Georgia to work with and eventually lead the Atlanta-based SisterSong, the queer Black North Carolina native rallied against racism, human rights abuses, prison industry and violence against Black women and LGBTQ people. The facilitator/speaker/organizer/singer is also a certified doula. Now the executive director of SisterSong, Simpson created the organization’s Artists United for Reproductive Justice project which supports artistic collaborations on replicable artwork to further SisterSong’s cause of women’s reproductive health rights.




Patrice Cullors
In the wake of Trayvon Martin's tragic death, Los Angeleno organizer, artist and freedom fighter Patrisse Cullors' co-founded hashtag #BlackLivesMatter jumpstarted the civil rights fight of our time. Her activism, however didn't begin or end with the multi-issue global, Black queer femme-led intersectional movement. Before that, Cullors led a crusade against inmate abuse as the executive director of End Sheriff Violence in L.A. Jails and has since confounded prison activist organization Dignity and Power Now. She also serves as board member of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights





Ciara Taylor 
Having built a reputation for taking on the causes of living wages for Florida A&M campus workers and combatting K-20 budgets cuts, Ciara Taylor was in prime activist form to take to the streets following Trayvon Martin's shooting. Her response to the tragic killing was co-founding Dream Defenders which works on human rights issues, ending police brutality and shutting down the school-to-prison pipeline. She currently serves the organization as the director of political consciousness and develops and executes statewide political, educational and leadership development programming.




Tanya Fields
Having experienced the challenges of gaining access to healthy and affordable food in the Bronx, Tanya became active with South Bronx-Mothers on the Move, the Majora Carter Group and Sustainable South Bronx.  The community activist and public speaker founded the BLK ProjeK in 2009 to further combat wealth inequality, the cycle of poverty and institutionalized sexism. The BLK ProjeK creates economic growth opportunities for women and youth of color through education, urban gardening, public space beautification, and community programming. She also created and stars in a web-based cooking and lifestyle show Mama Tanya’s Kitchen where she teaches how to prepare affordable gourmet meals.


Who are your favorite activists right now?

Nikki Igbo is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and political junkie. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Political Science from California State University at Fullerton and a Masters in Fine Arts of Writing at Savannah College of Art and Design. When not staring in disbelief at the antics unfolding on CSPAN, she enjoys philosophical arguments with her husband, 70's era music and any excuse to craft with glitter. Feel free to check out her freelance services at nikigbo.com and stalk her on twitter @nikigbo or Instagram at @nikigbo.
By Kanisha Parks

When I went natural back in 2009, YouTube was the best place to find out how and what to use to maintain my hair. Product reviews were reliable—I wasn’t worried about whether or not I could trust the person’s opinion because brand compensation wasn’t yet a factor. But now it’s 2017 and every time someone suggests a product, the first thing I want to know is, “Were they paid to say this?”


Companies turn to said personalities for various reasons—they’re more relatable than most celebrities, they’re accessible, they post frequently, and they can more actively communicate with the target audience. But let’s face it: social media is already full of false representation. Couple that with compensation, and you have a recipe for skepticism, distrust, and the loss of credibility.

Now I’m sure that brand ambassadors and social media influencers aim to come across as authentic, and don’t want to be seen as though they’re only in it for the money. More often than not, they will attempt to reassure you in the description box that although the video is sponsored, their review is “100% honest.” But is it really, though? When you’re given a product to try for free, it’s easy to say it’s great and it probably is. But would you go out there and pay $50 for it, like the average consumer has to do?

Some YouTubers say, “If I don’t like a product, I’m not going to make a video about it.”
And I’m like, why not? If and why you didn’t like a product can be just as beneficial to a viewer as why you did like a product. If nothing else, it lets your audience know that you don’t like everything. No lie, I am wary of YouTubers who never dislike anything. It makes me feel as though they will accept any deal as long as the money talks.

Many ambassadors and influencers have felt the backlash and are attempting to combat the escalating distrust that’s being presented in the comment sections of their posts. Jasmine Brown, who has over 1.4 million subscribers on YouTube, offered her perspective in this video called 'The Truth About Sponsored Videos:'


One point she makes is that she does this full-time and getting a big sponsor is great for business. “We have to make money somehow,” she says. "Plus a lot of hard work goes into sponsored videos that you don't see."
Don’t get me wrong. On one hand, I love seeing women building their brands, making money, and moving on up. Especially people I’ve been riding with for a long time, it’s like their success is my success. Despite compensation being a factor, they really put their work in and generate some pretty dope videos and images. They work hard and they deserve to be rewarded for that. But when you’re using a certain skincare brand and the next week, you’re using something completely different it makes me wonder if you really use those products at all.

With all of these questions consuming my thoughts, I figured, who better to ask than Nikki herself? She created CurlyNikki.com back in 2008, so as a seasoned blogger she definitely knows a thing or two about marketing and who to trust. She says,

“Marketing is a business enterprise and people should be able to make money from their business. However, your success has a lot to do with the quality of product you produce, and in this case, it’s information. If you can’t find a business model that will pay you and preserve the integrity of your product, you don’t have a business...or you’ll have a short-lived business.”

Good point. If ambassadors endorse sub par products it’s just a matter of time before people catch on and stop following. She continues,

“I’ve been compensated very well thus far, but I’ve also left a lot of money on the table. In 10 years I’ve never endorsed a hair care brand though I’ve been approached countless times. These are specific and contextual decisions that the business owner has to make for themselves, but in my case, my business model has been consumer focused, and the integrity of the information has always been the priority.”
In the end, I believe that most influencers have the best intentions and should be given the benefit of the doubt. But I also think that since their compensation is directly dependent upon their followers, brand ambassadors and influencers should have enough integrity to wisely select brands they actually use and love. So whether you’re a brand ambassador, influencer, or advocate, just keep it 100 percent genuine. After all, your audience is the reason you have a platform in the first place. 

What do you think? Do you trust brand influencers who do sponsored videos?

Kanisha is a Christian writer/author based in Augusta, GA. Other than CurlyNikki.com, she has also written for BlackNaps.organd Devozine, and has authored a book of poetry entitled, "Love Letters from the Master." Kanisha can be contacted for business inquiries at [email protected]