Itika Oldwine of Oldvine Florals 

By Sharee Silerio

In 2011, after working on “The Oprah Show” for eight seasons as an intern then employee, Itika Oldwine took a big leap of faith and traded in Chicago for Los Angeles to start a career in marketing. Soon after arriving, she started a marketing position at L.A. Live, an entertainment and sports complex adjacent to the Staples Center Downtown. There, she was immersed in one of the largest event spaces in the nation, which hosts the Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers, the Grammys, MTV Awards and BET Experience.

After learning as much as she could about marketing, she started securing her own clients, and one of them ended up being Eric Buterbaugh Design, a florist out of the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills. Eventually, Oldwine left LA Live to become Buterbaugh’s general manager and a new passion began to bloom.

"I've always loved beautiful things, and I appreciate a certain aesthetic, but I wasn't sure that flowers was something I was passionate about until I started working with Eric Buterbaugh," says Oldwine. "Flowers live and breathe, and they have this texture when you touch them. They change the mood of a room. They change the mood of a human being.”

Although it was refreshing to be able to work with beautiful flowers every day, Oldwine soon wanted more.
“When it came to the way we designed flowers, I grew. I wanted to be bolder, use different colors, work with different clients. I developed a point of view that I couldn't really express because it wasn’t my business,’ she explains.

So Oldwine gave herself the blessing to do something different. After two years of hands-on training, she took another leap of faith. This past June she left Eric Buterbaugh's company to start her own floral business.

Itika Oldwine

“I left the job before I had a location, before I had a name for it, or anything. I just had a feeling that I could do this for myself,” she says.

When choosing a name for her business, Oldwine wanted to find something that would resonate with her and clients. After brainstorming, she chose Oldvine Florals, a mix of her last name and vines, which are reminiscent of flowers. She purchased a domain with the same name as the business, then registered a “Doing Business As” with the city of Los Angeles. After that, she chose a location for the boutique, which is a convenient two blocks from the flower market.

Though everything seemed to fall in place easily, she says that securing angel investors and coming up with the marketing and business plan, as well as figuring out how much money she needed to actually launch, was the biggest challenge.

Still, in just a short time, Oldwine has made a name for herself in the industry, working with clients such as Martini & Rossi, E! Entertainment, “The Voice” television show, the Oprah Winfrey Network, and more. So what's the secret to her success?

“Every single thing that I did in my professional career, and even things throughout my young life, led me to this point," she says. "Sometimes, when we’re working, figuring things out or looking at our past decisions, we don’t see how it will all come together. I pull from all of my experiences in order to excel where I am.”

As a woman who bravely chose and created her own path, she has a nugget of advice for all who want to pursue their passion.

“Absolutely follow it because it's not going to go away. It might be a huge, burning fire or it might go down to a flickering flame, but it's going to be there. You're doing yourself a disservice by trying to snuff out that flame. Light it up!”

To keep up with Itika, follow her on Instagram, and Oldvine Florals on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Do you have a business you'd like to start?

Sharee Silerio is a St. Louis-based freelance writer, Film and TV writer-producer, and blogger. When she isn’t creating content for The Root or The St. Louis American, she enjoys watching drama/sci-fi/comedy movies and TV shows, writing faith and self-love posts for, relaxing with a cup of chai tea, crafting chic DIY event décor, and traveling. Review her freelance portfolio at ShareeSilerio.comthen connect with her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

The Awakenings Project by Marissa Southards
By Sharee Silerio

When Marissa Southards picked up a camera three years ago, she was simply trying something new. One day, her husband Brian, a pencil artist, brought a professional-level camera home so he could work in a different medium.

Active in St. Louis protests and the Black Lives Matter movement, she took the camera into the streets to capture what was going on.

“You see an image, and it angers you, or it makes you mad. Or it inspires you. We are now equipped with the ability to tell our own story, because we have cameras now. One of the best quotes that I have ever heard was ‘The revolution will not be televised.’ And it won't be. We're telling our own story and we're doing it through pictures.”


After reviewing her protest photos, Southards’ husband noticed that she captured some unforgettable moments. Though her work was beautiful, she rejected the part of her that was an artist.

“I felt like, I'm a mom. I'm a career professional. I'm a wife. I'm an activist. These are the most important things,” she said. “Yes, I have this creativity, but I'm not going to do anything about it.”

After flipping through Instagram, she came upon a photo of her friend Ashley, covered but topless, fully without shame.

“Her attitude was, ‘If you don't like it, look away, but I love who I am.’ There was something about this woman owning everything about who she is that sparked something in me. I call it Revelation X because it was that true moment that I realized I am really stuck in my own way."

With her husband’s help, she took a photo of the word “empowered” on her bare back, put it in black and white, and then posted it on social media. She received a lot of positive feedback, and her friend Julie proposed using her space, the botanical beauty store Blissoma, for a shoot. After planning and promoting, they expected 10, maybe 12 women to show up.

Marissa Southards 
“There was a line. I ended up getting 52 women, girls and Trans women who were ready to reclaim themselves. Every woman chose a word that best reflected them, and it was not the label that society gave them,” says Southhards.

Thus, on October 29, 2016, The Awakenings Project was born in St. Louis, Missouri. The series was so powerful that Southards did it again. This past summer, she shot Awakenings II in Mattoon, IL, St. Louis, and Chicago, which included 101 participants. Awakenings III, which kicked off in Chicago this past weekend, has a wait list and will span multiple cities such as Louisville, Kentucky; Mobile, AL; St. Louis; Mattoon; and more.


Kujichagulia (Self-determination)
Using the body as a form of empowerment, protest, healing and reclamation has become a passion for Southards. This January, she planned an action during the St. Louis Women’s March when its leaders decided to silence women of color by disregarding their point of view, feelings and experiences.

“For generations, white women's bodies have been put on a pedestal. They have been used to shame women of color. Specifically, if you don't fit this idea, if you don't look like me, we're going to shame you. We decided to take back the messaging of our own bodies,” Southhards explains.

During the march, seven women walked down Market Street with little to no clothing on, and messages written on them such as: 53% of white women voted for Trump; Black Women Matter; Black Trans Women Matter; Resist; and No Justice, No Peace. By the end of the march, the group had grown to about 42 women.

Women's March 2017
Kelly Morrison, one of the models for Awakenings II, also participated in Southards’ Women’s March action says,

“There is something really beautiful and empowering about stripping away the context of everyone's opinion of you and focusing on how you see yourself, and putting that word on your body for all to see."
When using the female body as a form of protest, Southards feels that it's important to focus on issues that impact all women.

“Body as canvas is not a form of protest utilized very often. There's a very human element to it, and it’s very risky," says Marissa. "You have to be very cautious about it. But because it is so visual, the impact is bold. There is no way to ignore it."

To keep up with activist and photographer Marissa Southards, follow her on Facebook  & Instagram

Do you think bodies used as canvas is a viable form of protest?
 Sharee Silerio is a St. Louis-based freelance writer, Film and TV writer-producer, and blogger. When she isn’t creating content for The Root or The St. Louis American, she enjoys watching drama/sci-fi/comedy movies and TV shows, writing faith and self-love posts, relaxing with a cup of chai tea, crafting chic DIY event décor, and traveling. Review her freelance portfolio at then connect with her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
By Sharee Silerio

We often count the days, weeks and months since we lost the ones we love, but it always feels like it just happened yesterday.

Have you ever been through a storm and could feel the sun, just for the clouds and rain to swiftly cover its glory? Have you ever felt like you were just starting to “feel normal," then another crush to your heart brings you deeper into despair?

This is what it felt like on May 3, 2016, when my Uncle Nell passed. He wasn’t the first family member to go, but he was the one I was closest to. On a Tuesday evening, my mom and I were walking back to her house after exercising when my grandma called. I can still feel the moment she told me that Nell passed; the angst that rushed out of my throat as I yelled “No!” The river of pain that flowed from my eyes; the morning after that felt like it was all a dream.

Nell was one of my best friends. I could be myself and talk to him on the phone for hours without being bored. I could share my doubts, fears, and insecurities. He never judged me, but loved and uplifted me.

Between February and June of 2016, a member of my family died each month – five people. My husband’s grandmother lost her battle with cancer, our nephew passed due to complications from an asthma attack, and my uncle died due to blocked arteries.

Each of these losses – individually and collectively – were a reality check, revealing the healing I needed from a lifetime of pain.

I hadn’t spoken to my uncle in several months, maybe a year, before he died. To be honest, I don’t even know exactly how long it was, but the wedge between us began as his mental illness got worse. He became paranoid, verbally aggressive and erratic. One evening, when my husband and I were at the grocery store, he called me. As I was having a conversation with him, my husband and I laughed about something going on in the store. He thought that my husband was talking about him, so he threatened to beat him up. The moment before this was the last time I felt safe around him.

As his casket was being lowered into the grave during the burial, I became trapped in a net of guilt and regret. I felt awful that I let Nell’s mental illness separate us instead of forgiving his episodes for the sake of our relationship.

For weeks, I struggled to get “back on track," although I had no idea how to get there. I worked as a business manager at a counseling center and couldn’t focus on my tasks. It was also difficult for me to do the things I wanted and planned to do before Nell died. I was depressed, lost and anxious. A few days later, I started weekly counseling sessions.

During therapy, we started with the grief from my losses and worked backwards. It was easier than I thought, and I began to believe that it was okay for me to release the guilt I felt about disconnecting from Nell, in addition to the hurt and disappointment from the way he treated me and the love of my life.

Eventually, I found that forgiveness is possible without receiving an apology from the person or people who hurt me. It is a decision to release what someone did to me and focus on how I can use the hurt to grow. We never know when someone will take their last breath, so it’s best to let things go. Most times, what people do to us has everything to do with them and little to do with us.

The next thing to work through was being molested when I was around 10, and groped during school and walking home from school in junior high. So many times, I felt like I betrayed myself because I didn’t yell for help when I was being abused or tell my family what happened. I wondered how someone could love me when I didn’t love myself enough to speak up. I felt weak, and like I deserved everything that happened to me.

Each time I spoke of my pain though, healing filled my wounds. I felt strength rise from within me, my voice becoming a tool for me to heal myself.

Journaling was another way I found healing. Every day, I wrote to God, being honest about my emotions and thoughts, just like the scriptures in the book of Psalms. The more open I was, the more comfort, peace and love I felt wash over me. God quickly became more real and accessible to me, and now I know what it feels like to have a relationship with the One who created me.

Since then, I’ve been blogging, sharing my journey to wholeness, of self-love, faith and growth. Through the pain, I discovered one of my purposes.

Loss has taught me a lot about life. The main things are that God is a healer; life isn’t promised and every moment we breathe is a gift; don’t live life passively, but intentionally; forgiveness frees the heart, soul and mind to love; pain can open the door to freedom from what holds us back; and I have a choice regarding what I do with my pain. I can either let it destroy me or use it to restore me.

 How have you dealt with the grief of losing a loved one?

Sharee Silerio is a St. Louis-based freelance writer, Film and TV writer-producer, and blogger. When she isn’t creating content for The Root or The St. Louis American, she enjoys watching drama/sci-fi/comedy movies and TV shows, writing faith and self-love posts for, relaxing with a cup of chai tea, crafting chic DIY event décor, and traveling. Review her freelance portfolio at then connect with her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

 By Sharee Silerio

Two years ago, I was sitting at my desk, trying to wrap my head around all of the work I had to complete, with very little time or support from my colleagues. I felt trapped, undervalued and overwhelmed. For several months, I had been trying to perform with the same enthusiasm and detail as I did when I started the job, but with the workload of two regional representatives, it was too much. On a Friday, my supervisor sent an email about my inability to catch up on my tasks, and I had had enough.

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The toxic environment, refusal to offer assistance and disregard of common sense broke my last straw. I didn’t have another job lined up, but I needed to get away from there as quickly as possible. I took a leap of faith, and the following Monday, I put my notice in. Since then, I have been freelancing as a writer, editor and media professional. Although it’s often a stressful hustle to pay bills and maintain my finances as a business owner, I’d choose working for myself any day. In a matter of days, I was free from the job that stifled my creativity; took all of my energy; left me with nothing to give to myself, family or friends; and made me feel like I was dying inside, to total freedom. I’ve faced so many challenges on this self-employed journey, and I have learned so many valuable lessons. Here are a few nuggets of truth and wisdom that life taught me after I quit my 9-to-5.

1. Freedom can be debilitating.
This is the most peculiar dynamic I’ve ever experienced. Now I know that it might not make sense that freedom can hold you back or keep you from doing something, but it can, if you don't realize its purpose. In other words, having the freedom to do what you want, when you want and how you want means that there are so many choices. Sometimes there are too many decisions to make, and you don't have time to process or figure out what to do. This is especially true if you need to make sure you “adult”, aka pay your bills while being your own boss.

 2. What I can, can’t, will or won’t accomplish is up to me.
Quitting my full-time job opened a world of opportunity for me. I could literally go in a thousand directions, and my ability to choose and be successful at anything that I tried was up to me. If I didn’t believe that I could do it, then I was the one holding myself back. Everything begins and ends with the mind when it comes to turning visions into reality, or nothing into something.

3. Intuition is everything. 
It’s so easy to get caught up in what you need to do versus what you are called to do. It’s so easy to get sidetracked, and end up doing things for money versus passion. The same goes for what other people see you doing as opposed to what you feel your gut is telling you to do. It’s important to tune in to what it is you really need and desire, and take a hard look at what will truly make you happy.

4. When things don’t work out, choose a different route.
Sometimes I feel like I need to do more to make up the income I lost when I left my 9-to-5. However, everything I have tried – applying for jobs on my own, with creative talent agencies, etc. has not worked out. These doors have been closed to me repeatedly, so I believe that this is a sign that I need to stop trying and focus on finding and doing more of the work I love. The money will come.

 5. Being well is essential. 
Working for yourself immediately rips the mask off of you and your life. Life becomes a mirror. When everything is on you; when you've broken out of the box; you realize that the life you live is a reflection of your spiritual, mental, physical, financial and emotional health. Choosing the freelance life revealed unresolved pain, issues and insecurities. I couldn’t hide behind my cubicle, position, or working 40 plus hours a week. It’s also difficult to ignore yourself, your emotions and how life is affecting you, when everything you desire is linked to your overall well-being. You must be healthy – emotionally, spiritually, physically and mentally to make your new life work for you.

 Did you leave your corporate job? How did it impact your life? Are you thinking about leaving your 9-to-5?

 Sharee Silerio is a St. Louis-based freelance writer, Film and TV writer-producer, and blogger. When she isn’t creating content for The Root or The St. Louis American, she enjoys watching drama/sci-fi/comedy movies and TV shows, writing faith and self-love posts for, relaxing with a cup of chai tea, crafting chic DIY event décor, and traveling. Review her freelance portfolio at then connect with her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.