When Spring Doesn’t Get the Memo

This morning, I woke up to a snow-covered balcony and plenty of flurries falling from the sky. *checks calendar* Yep, it’s March 23rd, but it’s also March 23rd in Chicago. As such, spring’s true arrival seems to be a bit fluid and totally up to Mother Nature. So, while I’ve been shifting my wardrobe to brighter colors and neutral heels, winter has not-so-politely asked me to pump my brakes.

Sigh.

In an effort to not be so bummed (or pissed) about this, I’ve decided to think about five things that I can do to keep my sanity during this transition period between winter and spring.

1. Load up on hot cocoa. Ever trying to wean myself from coffee, hot chocolate has become my go-to drink when I need to warm up and treat myself at the same time. The Spicy Aztec Hot Chocolate Mix ($10.50) from Lake Champlain Chocolates is sure to make you feel warm on the inside while also supporting fair trade. Anyone else a fan of spicy chocolate treats? I’ll talk about my obsession with cocoa chili powder another day.

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Warmer days (and drinks) in Miami

2. Invest in an incredible throw. Curling up on the couch with a cozy throw is one of my favorite things to do. In fact, it’s basically a must-do on Sundays. While perusing Instagram the other day, I stumbled across some beautiful alpaca wool throws made by Sackcloth & Ashes ($99-$109). For each blanket that you purchase, they will provide one to your local homeless shelter.

3. Brighten my space with some beautiful blooms. I’ve been on a hunt for tulips and peonies to brighten the mood in my apartment. I’ve also been lusting after this bouquet from Flowers for Dreams, a Chicago company that makes a donation to local charity with each order. Pretty, right?

Medium Spring Bouquet, $55

Medium Spring Bouquet, $55

4. Flip off the frigid temps with a brightly-colored mani. After a season of “Lincoln Park After Dark” and similar shades, my digits are ready for lighter colors. I chose a stone gray polish over the weekend, but I’m eyeing something a little more fun like this yellow from Pear Nova for my next trip. If the sun won’t come to me, I’ll create my own sunshine.

"Heavy Meadow" by Pear Nova, $11.50

“Heavy Meadow” by Pear Nova, $11.50

5. Spread some warmth with cold weather supplies. If you still need to break out your gloves, hats, and thick socks, then you know that those without homes/living on the streets still need those items as well. Reach out to your local shelter or community housing group to donate any cold weather items that you can.

What’s it like in your neck of the woods today? If it’s still cold and snowy, how are you coping with this transition period? Any additional tips to share?

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With These Red Shoes

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Today is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and will mark the sixth year that I have rocked red pumps for the occasion.

With these red shoes, I have encouraged women to start important conversations about their health and making informed choices.

With these red shoes, I have welcomed hundreds of women to events designed to inspire and educate them about HIV.

With these red shoes, I have presented at national conferences about the role of online communities in mobilizing people around HIV.

With these red shoes, I will remind my sisters that one in five new HIV infections will be women.

With these red shoes, I will advocate for women of color who are disproportionately impacted by HIV.

With these red shoes, I will continue to educate myself on related issues that put women and girls at risk for HIV, including partner violence, lowered self-esteem, and mental health.

With these red shoes, I will stand alongside thousands of women across the country to #RocktheRedPump today, tomorrow, and moving forward.

Rock the Red Pump

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Multiple Sclerosis & HIV: An Unlikely Connection

This week, I’ve been thinking about my mother a lot. Mainly, I’ve been thinking about how proud she would be to see how far I’ve come with my career, my personal life, and with Red Pump. We started Red Pump a year after she passed away and I can’t help but to wish that she was here today to gush over my photo in Essence or to reassure me when I’m too exhausted from juggling so many hats.

For me, my mother was the prototype for fabulous giving. As a teen, she volunteered with different groups and also taught a Sunday school class at her church. When she moved to Chicago, she continued her season of service and found groups to devote her time and attention. I’ll never forget how she would take us with her on Monday nights when she tutored foster children at the Harold Washington Library. Her commitment to that role landed her a Volunteer of the Year award from Volunteers of America. I still display that award proudly in my home as a reminder of how far doing good can take you.

Living with multiple sclerosis inserted many challenges in her (and our) day-to-day life. I’ve shared before about my experience as a youth caregiver but that is only part of the memories. For every challenge, there were plenty of happy moments. I just wish that her MS wouldn’t have gotten in the way of us creating so many more.

 

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This week is MS Awareness Week, a time where we are asked to take action to help others learn more about MS and what they can do to make a difference. One of the asks of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society is that we spend this time “creating connections stronger than the ones that MS destroys.” For me, the connection that I have to health education and activism is far greater than anything that this disease could EVER destroy.

The fight against multiple sclerosis was the first cause that I’ve ever rallied behind. In high school, I volunteered at the annual MS Walk, did multiple presentations on MS, and racked up service hours after school in their office. I continued that commitment in college and in the years right after my graduation. At this point in my life, I don’t have as much time to physically devote to MS and it would seem that HIV has “stolen the show” so to speak. That’s not the case. I will never forget (or forgive) how multiple sclerosis has impacted my life, or the role that the disease played in my mother’s passing.

Without a life impacted by multiple sclerosis, I don’t know if I would be as passionate about causes or service. I don’t know if I would have the tools or desire to be an advocate. I don’t know if I would have ever started The Red Pump Project. So, as I recognize MS Awareness Week, I will make a donation to my local chapter of the MS Society, but I will also raise my voice louder for anyone who needs a champion. From MS to HIV, it is my sincere prayer that my efforts make an impact.

More importantly, I pray that I continue to make my do-gooder mother turned angel proud.

To learn more about multiple sclerosis, a debilitating neurological condition, check out this helpful section on the National MS Society’s webpage.

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Red Pump Rocking with Essence Magazine

“This is incredible! It’s like a Black girl’s dream.”

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When I told my best friend that The Red Pump Project was featured in the March issue of ESSENCE Magazine, those were the words that she shared. Well, that was after a lot of “OMGs,” “I’m so proud,” and “I’m not going to cry.” I totally knew what she meant though. Essence is such an incredible magazine for Black women and to be included for my passion project is incredibly empowering.

When Luvvie and I first started Red Pump in 2009, we just wanted to make a difference and BOOM. Here we are. It hasn’t been an easy road, but it’s been a worthwhile one. I am over the moon about this article and have not stopped swooning over the red heels/red ribbon image. Dear Essence fashion team, y’all did that. So fabulous!

Next Tuesday, on National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, Red Pump will head to New York City for our first event in the Big Apple. In partnership with Essence, we will host Red Power Conversations, a free evening of powerful dialogue about the issues that affect HIV & Black women.

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Our lineup of panelists is incredible:

  • Hydeia Broadbent – renowned AIDS activist
  • Deborah Levine – Executive Director of Love Heals and the President of the National Black Women HIV/AIDS Network
  • Dr. Rowena Johnston – Vice President of Research at AmfAR
  • Charreah Jackson – Lifestyle & Relationship Editor at ESSENCE and our new Red Pump NYC ambassador (whoop whoop)

If you are in NYC, I would love to meet you at this event! You can find all of the details and RSVP information here.

Also, if you would like to stay in the loop on Red Pump happenings and our #RocktheRedPump campaign, check us out on Facebook and/or sign up for our newsletter.

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#TFGDoesWCW: Nancy Mahon

Ah, #WCW (Woman Crush Wednesday). It’s an Instagram holiday that I’ve never really celebrated, but I think that has something to do with the fact that I’ve never been anyone’s WCW. However, I can appreciate the spirit of the idea, especially when smart and beautiful women are being featured. Given that March is National Women’s History Month, I decided that I would show some love to four role models this month.

You should know that these women will not just be beautiful but also brilliant and have a big heart (duh). They come from different walks of life but each currently is inspiring me to dream bigger, work harder, and give more. Let me introduce the first woman of the month.

Nancy Mahon MAC AIDS Fund

I first learned about across Nancy Mahon several months ago while researching the team behind the MAC AIDS Fund. Nancy is a Senior Vice President at The Estee Lauder Companies and the Global Director of the Fund (#GirlBoss). If you check out her bio, you will learn about all of her accomplishments which include graduating from Yale and NYU Law, publishing numerous articles, and leading God’s Love We Deliver before joining MAC. Impressive? Absolutely. However, it’s her work now that caught my attention. Through sales from the MAC Viva Glam product line, the company is able to raise money for the MAC AIDS Fund. Currently, the company gives away $35 million across the world and Nancy is at the helm of this incredible work.

She inspires my nonprofit side as well as my business side. I don’t believe that corporate success and doing good has to be mutual. In fact, I’ve spent the past 21 months in a position that allows me to effectively do both. There are a lot of lessons to be learned by MAC. I’m glad that they give us the blueprint for how to do both, and I love Nancy at the helm.

If you’re not familiar with the work of the MAC AIDS Fund, please check out the video below. She is awesome and you will know so much more after watching.

 

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UPDATE: My husband actually made me his #WCW today. I’m not sure if he read the opening paragraph of my blog this AM or was just feeling rather affectionate, but I’ll take it! *insert googly eyes*

Being “On Purpose” with Kate Spade

I’m not sure when it happened but I am slowly morphing into a Kate Spade accessory junkie. From the wedding shoes that I never wore to the my favorite leather sneakers or the office supplies slowly taking over my desk, I am a little gaga for KS accessories.

That’s why I was pretty excited to find out about the “On Purpose” line of items from Kate Spade and Saturday. Before you roll your eyes, I know that these products have been available for months. I just don’t get around to blogging that much, in case you haven’t noticed! Anyways, I was reintroduced to the collection last month when this adorable clutch was being shelled for Valentine’s Day.

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While I could have planned a couple of outfits around this cute clutch, my February budget wasn’t set up for such a treat. However, I couldn’t let that stop me from grabbing something from the collection. Aside from giving me a dose of cuteness, I really like the fact that these pieces promote trade and entrepreneurship in Rwanda. Did you know that the 150 people who make these pieces are helping to support their local community of 20,000? That’s good in action.

So, which piece am I going to purchase? Well, at this moment, Saturday is taking 40% off of everything (yes, everything) so I’ve decided to buy the yellow beauty below.

kate spade saturday on purpose

On Purpose Beaded Bracelet, $25

 

I think that it will be perfect for curing my winter blues. Okay, I take that back. I don’t want to put too much pressure on my new bracelet. Let’s just say that it will be a great addition to my wardrobe.

To check out some BTS photos, check out Saturday Pinterest page.
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Being My Sister’s Keeper

One in 32 Black women will be diagnosed in her lifetime.

 

That is a statistic that you hear once and have a hard time letting go of. Saturday was National Black HIV/Awareness Day (NBHAAD) and it inspired lots of conversations about the impact of HIV on the Black community and also discuss how we move forward in the fight against a disease that has impacted our community in such a devastating way.

A few years ago, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly three in five Black people know someone living with HIV or who has passed away from AIDS. This is certainly my experience. Before starting The Red Pump Project, I knew someone living with HIV and I have met many others over the past six years – especially women of all ages.

On Saturday night at fundraiser dinner hosted by our Red Pump Atlanta team, spoken word artist Keisha Pooler performed an incredible piece focused on being our sister’s keeper. In the spirit of her performance and NBHAAD, here are three ways to help all of us fight this epidemic while supporting the women who we love.

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Oldie but goodie shot with Deedz (The Sassy Peach) || Photo: Chuckstr Photography

1. Leave the judgment at the door. I realize that this is easier said than done, but it is incredibly important. When we have open and honest dialogue about sexual health and behaviors, we create an environment that allows the women in our lives to ask questions and have deeper conversations about this important topic.

2. Get the facts about HIV – and share with your loved ones. There is so much wrong information floating around about HIV and other STIs. Having the right facts is a big step in the right direction. Start here for some facts about HIV and women.

3. Build up your sister’s self-esteem. Women are at higher risk for emotional and physical abuse and this can put many of us in situations that increase our risk of contracting HIV. Surround yourself with positive networks and look for opportunities to provide this support to other women in your community – especially to girls and young women.

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Have any other tips to share?

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When Instagram Makes You Cry

I have a lot of favorite Instagram accounts that I follow. However, over the past week or so, I have been glued to the Humans of New York IG account all thanks to one young man named Vidal. A week ago, he was featured on the HONY account and shared how his principal, Ms. Lopez, had influenced his life.

 

Upon reading his post, it was like the entire internet got a case of the feels. “Who is Ms. Lopez?” “I love this story!” “We need more educators like Ms. Lopez!” “What a brilliant young man!” You get the drift. Well, apparently the genius mind behind HONY thought the same thing because he sought out Ms. Lopez and interviewed her. The rest is history…

Brandon (HONY) partnered with Vidal’s school, Mott Hall Bridges Academy, to raise money to send each sixth grade class to Harvard and funds to help support summer programs for students. Within days, over $600,000 was donated via an online fundraiser. As of today, that number is over $1 million – all motivated by Vidal’s story and Ms. Lopez’ passion.

God works in mysterious ways…

A couple days back, I posted the portrait of a young man who described an influential principal in his life by the name of Ms. Lopez. Yesterday I was fortunate to meet Ms. Lopez at her school, Mott Hall Bridges Academy. “This is a neighborhood that doesn’t necessarily expect much from our children, so at Mott Hall Bridges Academy we set our expectations very high. We don’t call the children ‘students,’ we call them ‘scholars.’ Our color is purple. Our scholars wear purple and so do our staff. Because purple is the color of royalty. I want my scholars to know that even if they live in a housing project, they are part of a royal lineage going back to great African kings and queens. They belong to a group of individuals who invented astronomy and math. And they belong to a group of individuals who have endured so much history and still overcome. When you tell people you’re from Brownsville, their face cringes up. But there are children here that need to know that they are expected to succeed.”

A photo posted by Humans of New York (@humansofny) on

 

“…There are children here that need to know that they are expected to succeed.”

*insert more feelings*

If you haven’t been following this series on the Humans of New York page, then you have to check it out. Almost every post has made me teary-eyed, especially the teachers’ stories. Public school teachers often get a bad rap, but we also don’t acknowledge what they go through every day. These posts have opened my eyes to both the challenges and the beauty that accompanies the role of educator. Ms. Lopez and her staff have inspired me in ways that I can not express. In fact, sometimes all I can do is cry. With all of the craziness that our children face, it is a blessing for the scholars at Mont Hall Bridges Academy to have these adults on their side… and in their corner.

However, now their support system has grown exponentially and hundreds of thousands of people are rooting for their success. This is how you truly break the internet.

Brandon, thank you for your always incredible photos.

Ms. Lopez, thank you for inspiring your students and the world.

Vidal, thank you for reminding outsiders that kids from our communities can love school, be motivated by their educators, and, most importantly, make a difference.

 

To make a donation to this school, you can check out the fundraising page here.

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Pink Kisses from MAC and Miley Cyrus

If it were up to me, there would never be another MAC Viva Glam spokesperson beside Rihanna. I have a thing for Rih that blew up once it was announced that she was joining this legendary campaign. However, life must go on, right?

It was recently announced that Miley Cyrus is taking over the throne as the newest ambassador for this charitable line of lipsticks. To be honest, I’m not that big on Miley but I appreciate anyone who lends their brand and support to help raise dollars for the MAC AIDS Fund. Since 1994, the company has raised upwards of $300 million dollars to support those living with HIV/AIDS – exclusively through the sale of these lipsticks. It’s incredible.

Now, about the newest product… It is a bright pink but not as much of a strange pink as Nicki Minaj’s Viva Glam lipstick.

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I stopped by my local MAC counter to check out the colors on brown skin, and it wasn’t that bad!

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However, I already have Girl About Town and think that’s all the bright pink that I need for now. So, I left the tube at the counter, but picked up a tube of Viva Glam III so that my trip was not in vain.

Both the party-perfect lipstick and lip glass are  in stores and online now. To learn more about the amazing work and organizations supported by the MAC AIDS Fund, check out their website. Trust me… You will be impressed.

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Views from Miami

Over the past two months, I’ve had the pleasure to travel to Miami twice for work. Escaping the Chicago winter for sun and sand is always a good idea however, my trips to Miami provided me with much more than bronzed skin. For over a year, I have been working on putting together a plan for my company to celebrate and connect with those over the age of 50 who are living with HIV. Why this age group? Well, half of people living with HIV will be over the age of 50 in 2015.

My trips to Miami were essentially the culmination of all of that work. In December, I met the lovely ladies behind the incredible Graying of AIDS oral histories project. I joined them as they spent two days photographing and interviewing Miami residents who made the decision to join our campaign and tell their stories. When I returned last weekend, I had a chance to view the exhibit that our entire team worked to bring to life. Against the most gorgeous blue sky, we unveiled the beautiful and powerful Well Beyond HIV photo installation on a beautiful terrace facing the ocean.

Well Beyond HIV Exhibit at Miami Beach EDITION

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For the participants, it was an incredible day. A day filled with triumph, celebration, and reflection for all those who have been living with HIV/AIDS for many years. For me, the day served as a reminder of my purpose and of what can happen when you follow your instinct.

I did a lot of reflection during both trips. I thought about how I could continue to influence my company, even as we undergo a significant transformation. I thought about how I strengthen my legacy with The Red Pump Project and our work around women and girls HIV/AIDS awareness. Most importantly, I just thought about balance. There is so much that I want to accomplish in this life, but I’m only one person. Balance is something that I struggle with (because Libra), so I always feel like my life needs to be recalibrated.

Photo Jan 18, 1 33 22 PMDuring last weekend’s trip, it was important for me to not only be focused on work, but to also take some time to smell the roses (or taste the mojito). What good is it to be the best and the brightest if you’re stressed and burned out? That’s not how I want my life to play out. I want my efforts to be significant, meaningful, and effective. I don’t need to be the star but I do plan to make big things happen.

I’m ready.

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P.S. This campaign launch was #5 on my January to-do list. CHECK!

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