Choosing to Breathing

February 6th, 2014  |  by Veralyn Williams |  Published in Blog, Personal Essays

I always knew, I wanted to be doing, exactly what I wanted to do. I’ve always been stubborn or as my parents always put it, “fussy,” that way.

In elementary school I wanted to be a singer, more specifically I wanted to be Brandy. At 11 years old I remember sitting on my parents bed (the only room I got to watch TV in during the school week) and watching the “I want to be down” video, and being mesmerized by Brandy. She was a black girl, with braids like mine. And she was sitting on a swing, singing as good as I thought I could sing. She embodied everything I dreamed about. And from that moment when anyone would ask, I proclaimed that Brandy was my favorite singer.

My love for Brandy stood firm even during the release of “The Boy is Mine,” a duet between her and another favorite, Monica. However, at that time, choosing between them was as contentious-a-debate as identifying with being conservative or liberal today. But every time the song came on (which was often) you were forced to make a choice. Brandy or Monica? Till this day, I only sing along with Brandy.

The desire to be Brandy, lead me to join my school choir in 7th grade. Form a singing group in 8th grade called, DVJ (Dominique, Vera, and Josephine). And apply to all music H.S. programs. I ended up choosing the school that allowed me to go outside for lunch, Dewitt Clinton, but I joined their choir freshman year.

I say all this to show that even though what I want to do with my life career-wise has changed, I’ve ALWAYS known I’d be doing something I love. I went on to want to be a writer, then a journalist, then an activists and every step of the way I became all those things… do what I want to do. (Making money notwithstanding.)

Confession: There were those years during college I was working in finance part-time, making $12, then $14, eventually $20/hour. This was great money for a college-student, and every time I switched positions I asked for more money. (An important lesson I’m happy I learned then.)

Although my no-rent-paying bank account was very happy at the time, there were literally moments working as an Accounts Payable Associate I couldn’t breathe. I could do the work. I was good at it. But my mind rejected the thought of reconciling excel sheets and entering invoices forever. It took being offered a full-time job for me to write (what I still think is) the bravest email of my life.

I wrote my would-be-boss to tell him I’m going to take a Freelance Producer position at BronxNet Television instead. A job that only”existed” because I pitched the Executive Producer of BronxNet a few stories, and got him to agree on a rate if $350 per news package. A rate that was unheard of at that time, especially for someone that barely knew how to edit and never shot video in her life.

I didn’t get offered a full-time job offered to me again until 5 years later. And though living as a freelancer had its own challenges I’ve never regretted “choosing life” and deciding I should be “breathing” even when making money.

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    My new essay explores how Beyonce’s feminist stance in pop culture helped frame my own feminist awakening:

    “I am in my 30s and was emboldened by Beyonce’s feminist stance on that stage, and can’t help but believe that that image will be equally as powerful to young people who witness that moment, whose first engagement with feminism will be that moment. Maybe, just maybe, Beyonce will serve as the bridgebetween pop culture and feminists like bell and Barbara and Audre, maybe some young woman bobbing her head to ‘Blow’ or ‘Partition’ or ‘Flawless’ will do so while reading Ain’t I A Woman? or Homegirls or Sister Outsider.”

    —FROM my new essay: My Feminist Awakening & the Influence of Beyonce’s Pop Culture Declaration