Jackie Aina Learned from the Best

    As black women, we’re sometimes put into this box. We wear something or pioneer a look, and it’s considered “ghetto.” Then a little later, people decide that’s a new cool thing, and we don’t get the credit. It doesn’t come from nowhere. I love the fact that Pat does what she does and no one can tell her whether that’s “allowed” or “appropriate.” She has this power where it’s like, “Oh, well if Pat did it, then it’s cool.” People admire her because of who she is, as an authentic leader and creative person. To me, that’s the goal. And when I look at other black women who are so creative and expressive, that’s what I want for them.

    What women—and black women, in particular, have shown me—is that if we lift each other up, we all benefit. There are instances where I’m like, “I can do this, but I’m going to bring other people in because I can.” Every single time, I realize again that collaboration improves the work. It can be better and more magical with others than I could make it alone.

    So just think of how incredible and how fierce it would be if women collaborated with each other more; if we saw each other as allies and not as competition. I have never regretted sharing opportunities with other women, and in those times that I’ve hesitated, it’s forced me to think about the misogyny that I’ve internalized. When people say women aren’t “cool” or that women are passive aggressive—those messages feed this idea that only a handful of women deserve to succeed. And who benefits when women see each other as a threat? And don’t work together? The status quo. And men.

    Working with other women has also reinforced for me how important it is to tell someone what their work means and to encourage them. There are tons of women whose names I want people to know: Sharon Chuter from UOMA Beauty, is one example. She is a fellow Nigerian and her brand is just killing it. I tell her all the time, “Girl, you’re out here killing it.” Naomi Campbell is an icon. And Karen Civil, who knows all about music and hip hop—that woman is a big deal!

    But supporting other women isn’t just about business or mentorship because there are the women that I know most people will never hear about who matter just as much to me as those bigger names. I think all the time about a woman I served with when I was in the U.S. Army. I was going through a divorce and I was at work; I had started the YouTube channel, but I wasn’t on social media full-time and I just remember feeling like I was going to crash and burn. A lieutenant found me in the bathroom at March Air Reserve Base, crying my eyes out, mascara running. I was the only girl who wore makeup on base in the whole company. She was obviously superior to me, but she saw me crying and could tell that I was just having a breakdown, just going through it.

    I had never met this woman before, but she was also black and there weren’t a lot of us. Plus, she was so far above me in terms of rank. But she saw me just weeping and gave me the words that forever changed my life. She said, “Whatever you’re going through right now, this is not your final destination. You are more than this. You can make it through this.” It was a turning point for me, that this stranger would look at me and know that I was destined for something better than what I was dealing with at the time. It motivated me.

    For every major moment in my life, a woman has been there, rooting for me. Even if we didn’t know each other that well or I felt like I didn’t deserve it, someone has seen me and said to me, “You can do this.” When I think about celebrating other women, that’s what I remember—how each of us can be that person for another woman. It’s a responsibility, but it’s also a privilege.

    March 8 is International Women’s Day. To celebrate, we asked women like Jackie Aina, Cecile Richards, Andrea Mitchell, and more to reflect on how other women have lifted them up—mentored them, advised them, represented them, and above all showed them what was possible. We’ll be sharing their stories here all week.

    Previous ArticleNext Article

    Send this to a friend