There are many paths to success and Black women have permission to pursue them all.
Artist, activist and Founder of RootedSol, Brittany Harris has proven that a dedication and commitment to purpose can guide your pursuit. We spoke with Brittany about her journey to success, reclaiming our voices as women, and making an impact through multi-faceted passion.
It's always interesting to know why we choose the paths that we do. Why did you choose art and illustration to be your initial path to create impact?
Art and illustration is something new to me. My background is in education and public policy.
I went to undergrad at Howard University and studied communications, but around that time, I really didn't know what I wanted to do. My roommates were fashion students so it sparked this creative bug in me and we started working on all of these business ideas. I had been at Howard for three years at that point but I wasn't doing the best. I was kind of in a rut, so I decided to do something new. I moved to Los Angeles, went to fashion school and studied Apparel Management - that's how I got my first introduction to graphic design.
I created logos and little designs for my friends to make extra money but I started feeling like I wasn't impacting people in the capacity that I wanted to. I decided that education was something I wanted to pursue after working at the school programs, teaching youth art and doing other activities with young people. In 2016 during Black History Month, I did a design called Afro Girl and it blew up. People bought shirts and prints, but then I went away to grad school and didn't really take my art seriously. I moved to New York to attend NYU and studied Educational Leadership, Politics, and Advocacy.
I had a really passionate policy teacher who encouraged me to pursue policy, and that's what I did. The summer before I graduated, I interned in South Africa to learn more about post- apartheid education reform. I created a documentary for my thesis project on how the arts are impacting communities and individuals in South Africa. I went to the main cities, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, and then to some rural parts, to compare the impact of art and living conditions for both. It was an amazing experience.
My documentary was nominated to be in the NYU Bobst Film Festival in 2018. After graduation, I moved back to Chicago and worked in public policy that was focused on criminal justice reform and youth homelessness. I had the opportunity to create an online toolkit for youth experiencing housing instability called Day 2 Day. The goal of this toolkit is to provide youth who are transitioning into independence from foster care or juvenile justice tools they need to apply for housing, jobs, and to have life skills every teenager needs to know.
So I’ve been around art for years, on and off. Three years after my initial Afro Girl design, I wanted to do a campaign with multiple designs. I created a series of designs for Black History Month, and it blew up. That’s when I knew that I had to keep doing this. I had never considered art to be a career path or something that would allow me to leave my 9-5 job. It just kind of happened.
In November my job contract was ending and I ended up not finding another job opportunity so I was forced to take the leap and do art full time. I have been doing it ever since then and I went from doing designs that look good to really trying to make my art have a purpose.
Describe your dream campaign.
My dream would be to have an event that embodies all of my different experiences. I would like to oversee the entire development and creative aspects of the event with a partner that has resources. The event would embody the artistic and creative sides of me, with different artists, freelancers, and youth artists, featuring pitch competitions and business workshops. It would be a space where everything I'm passionate about from education and policy to art to business can be in one place as a cohesive event. I think it's important to have spaces for Black women.
In our communities, a lot of us grew up with guardians who did not necessarily believe in or understand the non-traditional work that we do. They mean well, but their expectations and approval, or lack thereof, can be overwhelming. When you decided to pursue your passions, how did your family respond?
I’ve been blessed to have family and friends who are very supportive. They always told me I could do anything. When you’re grown with responsibilities however, I had to tell myself, okay Brittany, you have to get a job. In my grandmother’s generation, you got a job, stayed there for 30 years and then got your pension - but this is a new day. We aren't putting up with crap from employers. People get bored easily and feel like they’re not challenged, or people are just way more entrepreneurial and want to go out and do their own thing.
When I told my family about my idea to leave my job and start my own business, my grandmother and mother were like okay, but be wise about it. There was support, but hesitation, and even when my art started to do well last year, it was always, okay when your contract ends with your job, are you looking for jobs? I was forced to work for myself when my contract ended. That was my moment of proving to them and proving to myself that I can do this and I don't have to depend on a 9-5 job. It takes having something solid before people, especially parents and grandparents, are sold on the idea. Honestly, I think if I found a job after my other job, I would still be working because that’s what society has ingrained in us. I’m thankful that I didn't go back to a traditional job because I see the lifestyle and I realize that I enjoy the freedom and the flexibility. I get to do things on my own terms. I had a lot of difficult experiences with race and gender in the corporate world. Being able to decide who I connect with now, on my own terms, puts me in control. I feel more aware of my needs now.
It takes a Tribe to raise Queens. How has your Tribe impacted you and your work?
I have been blessed to have lived in different cities so I have a few friends who I have been friends with since college. I don't talk to everyone frequently, but I can say they have been supportive of me. Anytime I've made a move, whether it be transferring schools or trying to raise money to go to South Africa, I know that my community is going to support me. Honestly that's the reason I'm here now. Even with the art, my community hyped me up every time I put something new out and it attracted so many new people to my work. So I am blessed to have a community of supporters who are down for me and believe in me. I think it also has a lot to do with me pouring into them too. I feel like when you put that out there it will come back to you.
My partner is my number one supporter and fan. He's the one that guided me into visual illustration. I was working at Apple at the time and said that it would be cool to learn how to draw and he bought me an iPad. He’s always pouring into my dreams. He’s my best friend and the person who is in my corner through the ups and the downs you know. There are moments of frustration and moments when you feel defeated, so having these people, especially him, during the past year who are just solid and don't need anything in return is everything. I try to be that to other people and hope that it comes back to me.
Oftentimes, when we get ready to share our gifts with the world, fear presents itself. What do you do to overcome fear?
I believe in God, so having a connection and belief on a spiritual basis is important to me.
In a general sense, I literally take a leap. Having an understanding of what your purpose is on a deeper spiritual level, makes it easier to take leaps because you know why you're here. You're here to make an impact. In my mind, if I get caught up in how I feel, then life just kind of passes me by and I don't want to be filled with regret. We all have things we wish we could have done differently. I think I spent my early adult years kind of living in regret and not living to my full potential, and then I look around and see people doing all of these amazing things and just feel like ‘Brittany you should be doing this, why are you not doing it’? So I think people really need to dig deep and figure out who they are and what they want from life and just be so committed to achieving it that fear won’t be an issue.
I’m currently making a shift in my business and I'm afraid every single day; but I'm more dedicated to my purpose than I am to my emotions and how I feel, so I just do it. I Nike it.
You decided to become a voice for women. Why do you think that our voices are ignored with issues that matter the most to us?
I think women's voices are ignored for several reasons. First, I believe a lot of people are intimidated by our power, especially that of Black women. I also think some people genuinely don’t honor who we are and in some senses feel we are not competent enough to be at the table.
For example when it comes to our reproductive health, a lot of people believe we don't know what's best for our bodies. People shouldn't be able to make decisions for us about us. I think that when we do speak up, we are bold and powerful, and a lot of people can't take that. They like to take that control and that power from us. So now I am grateful that a lot of Black women are stepping out and doing their own thing.
I'm reading Revolutionizing Women’s Healthcare: The Feminist Self-Help Movement in America, it's about how women started taking control of their reproductive health doing their own exams and abortions. That's the great thing about women in general, especially Black women, we take things into our own hands and when people don't listen to us and people don't value us, we do it ourselves. If we look at Madame C.J. Walker, she was someone who took her passion, beliefs, what she wanted to accomplish and her voice into her own hands. Even when it comes to raising business capital, Black women receive less than 1% of the funding. There are so many barriers for us, but we always find a way to make it happen anyway.
Many women don’t find out there’s something wrong with their bodies until something is wrong. While we appreciate healthcare professionals, healthcare for Black women in general can be tough, as they do not often take our voices seriously. Tell us about RootedSol and what you hope to accomplish with this platform.
RootedSol began from my own personal experiences regarding my reproductive wellness. Since I was 18 I've been dealing with debilitating menstrual cycles to the point where I would have to go to the emergency room. I expressed the pain to my doctor, but when you're that young, you kind of just go with the flow, and you don't really know about what to research or the type of treatment you’re supposed to have. Unfortunately, my pain grew worse overtime. I knew something was wrong but I didn’t know what was wrong or how to get someone to listen to me. So about a year and a half ago I started expressing to my doctor what was happening and her response was that I should get on birth control and the pain would stop when I start having children. I was never satisfied with the answer because I knew when something was wrong.
Last year I started searching for other options to deal with pain because over the counter medicine, heating pads, and teas stopped working for me. I found this CBD store in Chicago and they had these CBD bath bombs that I thought might work, but the problem was that they contained glitter or all these crazy scents and colors. It contradicted everything that it was designed to do. It was supposed to help me not have cramps, but now I have glitter in my vagina. So I started making my own products.
I researched ingredients and how to create aides then started using my own products. That's where the idea of RootedSol came. In November I was finally diagnosed with endometriosis and fibroids. Once I found out how long I had been living with these conditions, I was like okay I need to speak to other women about this. A lot of women I know don't know what fibroids are, they especially don't know what endometriosis is. Oftentimes I hear friends mention how painful cramps or sex is, but they just roll with it. That’s something that Black women do, we just roll with it. We are just so used to going with the flow or not trying to cause a fuss, but I’m like no, this is not normal and we really need to start being vocal about our needs and things that we are dealing with.
RootedSol is different from other CBD companies that sell products for women because we are committed to educating and empowering women. There are other people who sell similar products, but they don't provide the education or the empowerment. I will be selling products that help with the pain, but also educates you. Talking about our vaginal health, when to speak to your doctor, how to know when things are not normal, questions to ask and informing people about what's going on and giving them solutions to it, is the purpose.
What do you do to protect your mental health?
I am really into meditation. Mindfulness meditation changed my life. It changed my entire mental health journey. I’m naturally a worrisome person and have the tendency to be anxious and to overthink a lot so I started meditating about 3 years ago. While I was in grad school, I took a transformational leadership class. The purpose of it was to teach leaders how to be mindful so that they don't experience burnout and essentially it was a group therapy session where we talked about mindfulness and our experiences in the workplace. It was a class but it forced me to meditate consistently because we had to track our meditation. At that point I realized how much it changed my whole mental space. It helped me keep myself calm and focused and keep things in perspective.
In addition to that, I would say affirmations have helped. I believe what you speak into the atmosphere, comes back to you. So while meditation clears my mind, affirmations tell me what to focus on. I listen to affirmations on YouTube, as I sleep, and on walks. I'm also a firm believer in vision boards and just really speaking and putting out what I want to happen.
What do you believe is the most beautiful thing about being a Black woman?
Our ability to keep going. We, Black women, face so many barriers on a daily basis. We’re the most unappreciated group and even with that we still keep going. We make waves for ourselves and we don't ask for praise or recognition, even though we desire it, we just do, we still get things done, we are not defeated. We are still strong and independent and still creators and just changing and influencing the world as we know it, every single day. We hardly have time to just rest and focus on us and just relax, but we don't complain. We just do what we have to do.
That's what I'm most proud of as far as the Black women in my life and just in general why I'm proud to be a black woman.
How do you define success as a creative? Entrepreneur? As a woman?
I would define success by the number of people who are inspired by me to do something positive in their life. Don't get me wrong, I like money, but when I get to a place where my account matches my impact, that would be great. In everything that I do, beit education, or policy or business, I aspire to get people to take action in their own lives. I want to inspire people to believe in themselves and their own worth and to try new things and to think outside of the box. When I have women tell me how my art inspires them or when women told me about their struggles with ovarian cancer after the announcement of RootedSol, those are the things that keep me going and let me know that I am on the right path.
Your work has become a voice to uplift Black women. When you create, what do you want women and your audience to take away from your art?
You don’t have to stay in a box. One of my first businesses I started was called Eclectic. it was a fashion-focus business, but once I got to LA, I connected different LA art mediums. It became a group of artists getting together, trying to create. Like ByBlkWomen, it was a voice for artists or people who explore different passions. That has been my motto ever since - be eclectic.
Be someone who is okay with stepping out of the box. Just because you went to nursing school doesn't mean you have to be a nurse forever. If you’re a teacher, you can explore other passions. That’s how I strive to live my life. I feel like I’m kind of going through another layer of making sure I don’t step in a box right now. Most of my new followers and supporters know me by my art, so my goal is to let people know that I'm a multifaceted person.
A lot of times, Black women are silent, especially when we get into corporate spaces. We feel like we have to act a certain way and we can’t be our authentic selves. So I just want Black women to know that it’s okay to be strong and independent, but it's also okay to be frustrated and feel weak and burdened with everything we have to go through. I strive to express all of those sides of myself so other people know that what they are going through is valid.
What book, quote, television show or song inspires you at the moment and why?
I love business books, so I'm always reading a book about strategy. I’m focused on RootedSol right now, so I’ve been reading a lot of books on reproductive justice and the history of women's health. This has been a difficult time with COVID and there’s a lot of loss and devastation. People are losing their jobs and their homes and their family members. My mum is a nurse and my dad is a police officer, so both of my parents are at risk and I’ve been in a space where it’s just difficult. There's a lot of anxiety and I've been trying to think positive. To maintain my mental health I've been reading books on positive thinking and the power of your thoughts and how everything that we think we attract to us.
A quote from a book that I am reading on positive thinking and the power of our thoughts is “if anything can go right it will, nothing is as difficult as it appears, everything is more rewarding than it appears. If anything good will happen to anyone it will happen to me.” This is an example of an affirmation of something I would read everyday to keep myself inspired and on a positive note.
New projects and designs in the pipeline?
A couple of things are in the works for RootedSol and will be revealed soon, but in the meantime, I completed a design for NPR. They are doing a podcast series about Blackness as it pertains to reparations.
I am also doing a handful of designs for a company called Kimbritive. Kimbertive is founded by two women, Kimberly and Brittany who educate women on all things sexual health. It's really cool because it’s related to RootedSol and the concept of Black women and our health and our reproductive health and sexual health - it’s all connected.
The Leap Series, featuring trailblazing Black women around the world, is designed to spark ideas, inspiration and motivation in Black women globally. Through honesty, courage and transparency, The Leap ByBlkWomen will explore the life-changing decisions we make under pressure, the many facets of who we are as Black women and the other side of the glamorized picturesque world of social media where there’s no fluff, just real life. We’re hoping our community can relate and learn from the stories and thoughts of women just like them.
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