THE OPINIONATED: FEATURES | Smashing Stigmas & Stereotypes With Syreeta
I first met my friend Syreeta Martin while we were both students, attending Temple University. I immediately was in awe of her and her ambition to pursue her goals, by any means necessary. We were in a media production class together, and as I got to know her, I found out that she was actually a mother of two young daughters -- all while pursuing her degree.
One of our assignments for the semester was to produce a mini-documentary. Between her magnetic personality, persistent attitude and unwavering drive, Syreeta was (and still is) a force to be reckoned with, and I felt compelled to document it.
Below is the result -- the mini-documentary I produced during that production class in 2009. I've since caught up with Syreeta, and wanted to continue to share her success story. Syreeta's journey will dispel whatever preconceived notions you had about "teen moms," as she had already done for me.
Danielle: We have both come so far since our college days! Let's pick up where the mini-doc left off. Catch us up to speed on what you've been up to since we filmed in 2009.
Syreeta: I graduated from Temple with a Bachelor of Arts degree, got serious about my blog [Sincerely Syreeta], then embarked on a winding road over the course of a year or so. I decided to launch Sincerely Syreeta & Co, LLC, after an uber successful crowdfunding campaign. Immediately thereafter, I continued to build the business and brand, while continuing on that road. Another fork in the road presented itself, and I decided to start a live talk show series, which ran for three seasons, and is now in the process of becoming a podcast.
All along the journey, I wrestled with losses and gains, faith and fury, hope and helplessness, and baggage -- just straight up baggage. I was determined to unpack the hell out of that, though -- literally and figuratively speaking.
D: As a teen and a young mother, you did everything that society would assume you couldn't do. Did you intentionally seek to break the teen/young mom stereotype? Or did it just happen out of necessity and drive?
S: A little of both, honestly. My drive and ambition were instilled in me from birth; those things are in my DNA. Make no mistake: I've been about my business since I can remember. I sold frozen Kool-Aid as a kid (AKA "water ice"), started working at the age of 11, and my entrepreneurial spirit only grew from there.
By the time I was pregnant, I was clear on what society thought of young women like me. But truth be told, I was only willing to give the amount of damns necessary to understand their perspective enough, so that I could one day become the master teller of my own story. Those statistics weren't going to tell my story for me. Those hypocrites weren't going to, either, and those naysayers certainly weren't.
D: When you look back at the mini-doc, how do you feel? What goes through your mind?
S: So many things! Seriously: that young woman [in the documentary] sacrificed everything for me to be where I am today. She took risks. She fought hard. She rose to the occasion of the call. She stood firm. She empowered others when she was struggling to stay afloat. She carried strollers and bags and disappointment and hope up and down subway stairs, with two children in tow, as she went from a full time college schedule to various part time jobs, appointments and whatever else life required.
She submitted to the grind that produced the inner glow I so humbly and proudly wear. She's the roughness of my edges that I'll never denounce or judge. She did what needed to be done for the call on a life that she had yet to really live.
That girl gave me my life. She cried out to God and tussled within herself to ensure the best version emerged in the long run.
I'm forever indebted to her. I will always honor her. And I drop tears as I write this, because I never told her this. Not in this way. Not so clearly. She was, so that I am and my dreams could be.
D: Have you watched it with your daughters?
S: Of course! We should probably watch it again now that they're older.
D: Women, especially mothers, always get asked how they "balance" it all. Does this question annoy you? Why do you think there's this notion in our society that women can't have it all?
S: It doesn't annoy me because I understand the core of what motivates the question. The truth is, you can experience it all-- and you deserve to -- you just can't have everything at once. The minute you think you have becomes the very minute that you've played yourself. Everything is a work in progress. Everything is a variable. That's not a bad thing or something to be feared, but it is a truth that is worthy of being respected.
I don't balance it all. I have an army of a mighty few who believe in and love me -- who truly want to see me live my best and most desired life. They co-orchestrate the soundtrack to my life and dreams.
D: How do you feel like you are combating this age-old way of thinking?
S: Transparency. I don't have the time or energy for anything less than or other than that. As a writer, "influencer", and whatever other labels are coming down the pipeline, my stance is clear: you'll get what I give, when I give it and I will have tasted my content, my truth, my work, before I feed it to your soul.
Always have, always will.
D: What inspired you to start your own website and business, Sincerely Syreeta?
S: Life. A yearning to truly connect with other human beings who really had no choice in being here and yet, here we are, and believing that there's purpose in that. The deep stuff aside though, my mother is a businesswoman and strategist. My grandmother was a strategist and non-profit founder, and so on and so forth.
I don't think that it was me being inspired, as much as it was that the gravel of this entrepreneurial path is ingrained in my blood. I am the culmination of every woman in my family who came before me, and [prayerfully] the spark of inspiration for those who have and will come after.
D: What is the biggest lesson you've learned that you've passed along to your daughters?
S: The truth is, I'm still learning. What I hope they'll learn from me more than anything is: your life can become your heart's greatest truth, or your mind's greatest lie. It's all a matter of what you choose to believe, and what you find the courage to do.
D: What is the toughest part of raising two beautiful young black girls, in today's world full of social media and societal pressures?
S: The battle started long before social media and societal pressures. Before I had to confront the world (in order to raise my daughters), I had to confront myself. That was the toughest part. How do I feel about myself, as a woman, a human being, and one who was anointed in melanin? Before they ever get a glimpse of social media, or step foot outside our home, they encounter their mother.
I wake my babies up in the morning. I guide them in getting ready for school and/or the day. They watch what I wear. They watch how I speak. They watch how I live my life and speak my truth. The world, and social media, will do precisely what it's designed to do; as for me, I'll do and continue to do, more than what I ever imagined as a mother. I try to show my daughters that a woman, especially a black woman, is everything; there are so many facets of that, that society has tried to chain into one dimension.
D: What do you want other young mothers to know?
S: Explore every facet of yourself -- truly challenge yourself with questions that make you uncomfortable (because trust me, the world will). Ask yourself questions that outsiders would ask if they knew everything about anything that you ever did in your life (I got asked on a popular Philadelphia morning show how I still managed to get pregnant at 16, after my mother was diligent in having "the talk" with me -- so trust me, that moment definitely came for me).
I answered it without flinching, because I had invested the time in doing a very important act of service to self: Get comfortable in telling your truth.
Know and love yourself...to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part... with yourself. If you can find it within yourself, say and live those vows for you, before any decision to do it for someone or something else.
The universe starts with you. Everything you believe and do not believe about yourself is true. You're the one who ultimately decides that truth based on your actions, focus, faith, and will power.
And for teen mothers in particular, I offer this: statistics are numbers, and your life is always worthy of being the exception -- the outlier. Make sure that when it's all said in done, you and your children (and your children's children) can lie out in the basking rays of your own beautiful light. Be empowered today and everyday, loves!
Follow Syreeta on Instagram here and share your comments on her story below!
For more of The Opinionated: Features, check out Amber's story here.
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