MAKERS 2021 Kickoff Event - Luvvie Ajayi Jones & Bozoma Saint John

MAKERS 2021 Kickoff Event - Luvvie Ajayi Jones & Bozoma Saint John

Video Transcript

LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Hey MAKERS community. It is good to be here. I'm Luvvie Ajayi Jones. And I am here with my bestie and friend and mentor and my West African sister, Bozoma Saint John.

BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: Yay. And it's a party.

LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: It's always a party. It is always a party. So how are you doing today?

BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: Oh girl, it's been a day. Well, it's been-- well, we all know it's been a year. It's been quite some time. But, you know, we keep going, right?

LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: We're making it. We're making it. You know, we made it past January. So February is here.

BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: True, those are factual facts. We made it [INAUDIBLE] and we are here, still going, still making it through and still thriving. Can we talk about that?



LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: I call February Fearless February, Fearless February, OK, because we got to do some scary things. So question for you, what is the scariest thing you've done recently?

BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: Mm, recently?


BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: I kind of feel like I do scary stuff all the time.


BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: You know, I don't live in comfortability. I feel like it makes me dull. You know, not just in terms of like achieving or being able to do the next thing. But I always feel like if I'm ever too comfortable, if I wake up and I'm like, hm, this is another humdrum day, I feel like I'm not doing the thing that like I'm pushing myself to do and therefore I'm not sharp. You know, I constantly want to sharpen my skills, sharpen the tools. And I would say that, you know, right now, I'm in a pretty big job. It has a big spotlight and a lot of pressure. So I feel like every day, I get up. And it's a little bit scary, to be honest. Every day, it's like, OK, let's get to this big meeting, let's make some big decisions. And people are expecting me to deliver. And so right now, I would say simply being is a little bit scary.

LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: I like it. So then what is your way, what is the armor that you put on to face the day, the scary day?

BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: You mean besides this lipstick that I have on?

LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: OK, because I'm here for it.

BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: Listen, all right, because sometimes I feel like I just need to outline my own mouth so that the bold things that come through it, I'm like, girl, yes, come on, that bright lipstick, go ahead and say that whole thing.


BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: Yeah, it is part of it. I feel like if I present a certain way, then all of that energy is allowed to come out. And you know what? I think that sometimes we think that what we put on is superficial, you know as if that's what matters. And it does matter. It matters to me. You know, it's like if I look good, oh, you can't tell me nothing, OK, nothing.


BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: And so I wake up. I am dressed to kill, OK?


BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: I am going to say the things that sometimes are scary to say in rooms in which sometimes it feels like my voice is not supposed to be as loud as it is. And I do that in my way that I appear and I do that in my spirit because that's what allows for me to fully show through, you know, for me to fully be in the room.

And by the way, I'm not afraid of my difference. I'm not afraid of looking different. And so--


BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: --it kind of gives me the freedom to even lean into that, to get even further into that. Because, listen, I'm not going to be a white man. It's not happening. This is not happening.


BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: [INAUDIBLE] and it won't happen.

LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: No, Jesus doesn't want it for you.

BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: So might as well, I might as well do all of this. You know then let me show up with the tiger, listen, zebra print outfits [INAUDIBLE] and lipstick popping and my hoops and say what I want to say.

LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: I still remember-- this is probably three or four, this is three or four years ago. I sent you a red sweatshirt with Africa on it. Because I have it in yellow. A couple of weeks later, I go on Instagram. You are wearing the red sweatshirt with red pants, gold heels, big hair--


LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: --and that's how you show up to an all company meeting.

BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: That's correct.

LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: And I remember watching and being like, I enjoy it, I enjoy it. Show off in the full regalia, the brightness, all of-- the full self.

BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: The whole thing, and I'll tell you another little secret, I showed up a few minutes late just so that everybody is sitting down. Now I strolled through there in my all-red outfit with Africa boldly on my shirt. That's correct. You know what? I'm like, yes, y'all are going to have to sit here and look at me as I walk through. , Listen let me tell you--

LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: It was such a vibe.

BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: [INAUDIBLE] my big afro. That's when I was wearing my huge afro.



LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: It was such a vibe. I was like, this lady here- in fact, they were probably upset and they couldn't even say nothing.

BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: But you know what? I feel like that's what we have to do. You know, I'm tired of the shrinking. I'm not shrinking.


BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: I don't want any of us to shrink in these spaces. You know, it's like, listen, if we're not supposed to be here. And I am here, oh, then you're going to see all of this. And so that's what I intended that day. It was like, yes, I will wear the red head to toe with my big afro. And I will show up a few minutes late so that you're forced to look at me as I walk in.

LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: And you have to deal because I'm excellent at what I do.

BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: Listen, that part though.


BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: It is backed up. The red outfit is backed up by some red hot heat that I have in my brain and on the page. So let's not get that twisted. It's not just out here shining for no reason. There is also a lot of steel behind the shine.

LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Let's actually dig into that. Because I think what-- what happens a lot now is so people have learned to look good, but not necessarily do good work. People have learned how to say good things, but they don't back it up with anything. And you're like, I am going to show up full red. And the reason why y'all can't say nothing to me is because my work is excellent.

BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: Listen, you better tell that. Tell that.

LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: I just find it wild.

BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: Yeah, yeah, but that's the thing is that I have learned over time that it's not just about the look, right? I learned that very early on because what happened to me and what happens to a lot of women who are in the corporate spaces is that you are told to look a certain way, right?


BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: And maybe even not directly, but certainly indirectly, you know what the look is. You know what you're supposed to be when you're in these spaces. And I recognize that being that superficially did not help me in those spaces. You know, it just-- it didn't matter. Like my ideas were the same, the inside was the same. The external was trying to fit into and trying to assimilate into a culture that was not mine. And the image that was built was not created with me in mind. And so I had to focus on what was inside. And I know that sounds like, duh, well, of course, you had to focus on what's inside.

But no, that's not what happens to us. We're so distracted by trying to fit in superficially, right, by trying to slick down the hair so it doesn't stick up, trying to sit on our hands so that we don't gesture, try to control the timbre of our voice so that it doesn't go too high and you sound angry or you sound too passionate. We do that so much that it distracts us from actually the real work.

Because how can you do both? You know, how can you be expected to be excellent if you're concentrating on all these other things. That's where your energy goes. And so as soon as I let go of that stuff, as soon as I let go of those expectations and trying to be this thing that other people want me to be, I was actually able to then let the work shine. So I was able to put all the energy into my work so that I could actually come up with the best damn ideas.


BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: Correct, that's right.


BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: That's what I'm able to do. And so it's actually real freedom, in fact, to be out and do what I want to do in the way I want to do it.

LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Because you in the gray suit ain't going to stop you from being this six foot--

BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: Girl, tell them.

LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: This. OK, it's not. And I think a lot of times, people think that if they dress like they're expected to dress, act like they're expected to act, they would be accepted more. And then they find out that they wanted you to turn yourself down to a five. You did, and it still wasn't enough.

BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: And it still wasn't enough. And you know what's even more painful is that sometimes it's not about the external gray suit. It's the internal gray suit as well. You know, the quieting of the voice, as we were saying, you know, the ways that the expectations are set up. Because it's not as if I got to the c-suite and all of a sudden, people were like, oh, yes, now have your freedom. No, people still tell me, well, you know, a c-suite executive really shouldn't, fill in the blank.

And I'm like, who said? I recognize the fact that there aren't a lot of people like me and that's why you're surprised when you see it. And so what I really want is, obviously, for more of us to be the way that we are in the spaces that we're in. Because as we ascend and as we continue to push through these doors and crash these ceilings, that then there'll be more of us. And, therefore, it won't be such a shock. It won't be such a surprise when you show up.

LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Yes, yes. That's why people have to get used to excellence coming in different packages.

BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: Correct, yes, let's normalize the excellence.

LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Come on. The different-looking excellence, it must be normalized. Because then people, then the intern who shows up to her next job as herself stops being so jarring.

BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: That's exactly right. That's exactly right. And also, then she doesn't have to worry about spending so much energy focused on really what is the wrong thing. You know, she can spend her energy honing her craft and exploring, you know, the different parts of herself and actually going for the thing that's scary, right, to go back to the beginning of what you asked.

You know, like taking those big risks, how can you expect to fly or to take the big risk if you're so worried about being tethered to the shore, or worried about being the thing that is impossible for you to be? You have no room. There's no more rope to do the thing that is going to actually expand you. Because you're so tied to this thing that is impossible to hold on to. It is where we spent so much energy. So cut that, cut that cord.



LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: What do you tell to-- because I'm sure you get all these questions of like, oh my god, can you be my mentor? I just need your advice. You have the Bad Ass Workshop, which anybody who wants to get your mentorship, just go to the But what is the key thing that you tell people who are just starting the workforce, the 25-year-old Black girl who wants to aspire to be-- who was aspiring to be in the c-suite?

BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: Oh gosh, it's such a hard question. You know, when I get it, it is really, really difficult. Because what I want to say is a very simple thing. And they're looking for so much more. They're looking for a complex answer. But the real truth of it is that you have to be. You just have to be. It's like trying to be this thing, like filling in the after that is actually what then ruins you.

You know, it is what stops you. It's like just stop at that. You just have to be. That's it. It's like, don't try to be him. Don't try to be her. Don't try to be shiny. Don't try to be quiet. Don't try to be exciting. Don't try to be risk taking. Don't do those things. Just be. Just be.

LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Just be yourself.

BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: That's it. And it's like, that to me is the greatest freedom. And it's also the most complex. And it's the hardest thing. It really is. It sounds very simple, but it's a very difficult thing to do. And I wish, again, that more of us heard that early on, you know, and understood the power in it. And I'm thankful that I learned my lessons early, but it didn't come easily for sure. And--

LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Learned by fire.

BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: Oh yeah, yeah, for sure learned by fire.

LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: What do you want people to say about you when you're not in the room?

BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: Mm. They probably say a lot of stuff right now when I'm not in the room, you know what I mean? Some of the things, woo, girl, I'm sure there's a whole lot of things that-- but if I were to write this script or if I were to write the thing, gosh, you know what's funny is that in thinking of that, it actually makes me think of some of the words that people say now where they say, well, she can do that because she's Boz.

I'll take it. I'll take it. Because, yes, I'm a unique individual. And I don't want the other labels. I want to be seen as just uniquely me, that all the other labels that define me are just that. They're labels. You know, so when I'm not in the [INAUDIBLE]. I want them to say that's Boz.

LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Come on and drop the mic. That's the way. That's the way you close something. Drop that extra spice, yes. I'm endlessly proud of you, boo. And you are one of the professional troublemakers I look to. You are one of the fear fighters I look to. And, you know, you are living this audacious life that a lot of people don't know how you got there. They're probably wondering how you even keep it. But you are also inspiring. So many other people to seek what theirs will look like. So I love you.

BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: I love you, Luvvie. And you know what? We have to also say because we're besties, the fact is that you've got to keep good people around you too. [INAUDIBLE] you are trying to achieve, the ones who keep you inspired, the ones that you can vent to also because you know we have those moments, you know? The ones who you can be light with too because not everything is heavy, you know? I want the jokes. I want the silliness.

And I want the like, girl, did you see this? I want that too. You know, and you are that for me. So I appreciate you. And I love you endlessly, and I'm so proud of you. I'm so proud of everything that you achieved and the fact that we got a book coming, did you see


BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: We got a book coming, you know? It's right here. So I am, I'm so proud of you. I can't wait to talk about "Professional Troublemaker" because that's who we are. We're professional [INAUDIBLE].

LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Yes, yes, yes.

BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: I feel like that's just my book too. And that's why I love it because I think that many of us have probably felt that. We just didn't articulate it. And so you are going to say the thing that many of us feel. So thank you for your bravery and your courage in writing down those words.

LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Love you, boo. The world is better for you by being in it. Like you are goals. So--

BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: This is all love. Look at this. [INAUDIBLE] love that we got here.

LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Can't help it. Can't help it. And the lipstick is popping too, OK? OK, the lipstick.

BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: And we know that your lipstick is always popping. That red, it always looks so good. So come on, let's use it as the armor.

LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Yes. MAKERS armor, red lipstick or pink lipstick, whatever your power lipstick is.

BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: Correct, let's do it.

LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: More to come, more to come.

BOZOMA SAINT JOHN: Thank you so much. Bye.