Published by: RallyUp Magazine
Founder & CEO of Sistah Sistah Entrepreneurs Network, a worldwide movement to connect young girls and women together by providing a safe space to transform their lives through self-empowerment, mental wellness, entrepreneurship, advocacy, and technology. Within two years, she has impacted the lives of over 400 girls and women. This platform creates unity amongst minority women.
She is also the Founder and Executive Director of H.Y.P.E-Helping Young People Evolve. The mission is to serve youth in the most vulnerable communities by providing mentoring, leadership development, self-empowerment, and career and college readiness opportunities to prepare youth on a road to success. In June 2016, she received the “Youth Leadership and Advocacy Community Impact” award from the ``In Her Honor Of: Celebrating Community Service in Pleasant Plains and Parkview” annual gala. She also received the “best mini grant recipient” award for HYPE from Far Southeast Collaborative in April 2018. She is very passionate about making a difference in low-income communities and teaching youth how to become change agents. She went to South Africa in summer 2019 for Study Abroad. She has two other businesses which are ImanT Clothing and Cooper Consulting. She currently works at a mental health organization as a Human Resource Manager in Washington, DC. She recently became an author with the Fearless StoryTellers to share her story and featured in VoyageLA Magazine.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.” ~Proverbs 3:5-6
RUM: Thank you for allowing us to interview you. Please take us on your mental health and wellness journey, starting from the beginning…
Tanzania: I grew up in a single-family home. My father got killed at the age of 22 years old. I was only 8 months old. I have three brothers and I’m the only girl. Growing up in Detroit was rough but my mom made it seem easy. I had experienced trauma at the age of 3 years old. My innocence was taken away from me. As I grew up, my voice became silenced. I had no way to verbally express how I was feeling on the inside. By the age of 10 years old, I wanted to be a dancer. I could dance so well. My passion was to dance on TV for famous people and at concerts. When I used to watch B.E.T videos, I never saw a dark skin girl that looked like me. It made me feel like I had to change my appearance to be accepted in the dance world. My self-esteem got shattered by the music videos, media, and magazines. It got shattered by family members treating light skin family members better than the darker skin family members. It got shattered by me being abandoned. I got shattered by not hearing “your beautiful” enough. It got shattered by me feeling invisible when I was around my family. It got shattered by high school boys who didn’t even know the effect that it had on me.
In 10th grade, I remember being in language arts class. It was the 2nd period. Someone made a sheet that graded all the girls who I hung out with. The boys rated the girls how they think they look through grades like “A, B, C, D, F”. These were the same guys that never did work in class and copied other people's work. So, I saw grades like all C’s and maybe a D that was by my name. I wasn’t the only one who got those grades. It was targeted more towards dark skin girls. All the light skin girls had all A’s or even A+’s. When I had seen that it just did something to my confidence level and seemed that all the popular youth was the one going around looking at it and rating the paper. The ratings made me feel as though that was confirmation that I needed to be lighter. The next day, I started sneaking my mime makeup and my mom is lighter than me. The students would say your face looks lighter and that used to make me feel good like okay cool they like that. I started thinking “dang I want to be light skinned because people would like me more. I would get more guys. I would be able to pursue dance and get on T.V. I started thinking like “dang okay let me find a way to make my skin lighter”. I was already having thoughts due to the media so this gave me the green light to bleach my skin. I lied to my mom about me needing some cream to even my skin tones out and she let me get it. I saved up my $25.00 from shampooing hair at my momma salon to make the purchase. One of my brothers was like I need it so I can even my tone. I was happy about that because it was the perfect way to hide what I was trying to do to myself. My brother's skin never changed colors, but mines did. I joke a lot with my brothers and one of them used to say I had Michael Jackson disease. He would be like “ugh, get away from me” while pointing at my arms. I really started to feel like I did.
I started thinking bad thoughts all the time. I started to slowly sink into depression. It really messed with my self-esteem. The light spots started to spread all over my face, arms, chest, legs, stomach, and back. I told myself that no one could see my skin like this. I started to cover up my body every single day even during the hot summer days. It would be hot outside and I would have some jeans or legs on with a half Jacket or long sleeve shirt and some shoes on. You would NEVER catch me showing my skin because I knew in my head that my skin wasn’t like that. I remember when my aunt took me to my appointment at the dermatologist for the first time when I was 16 years old. I just knew that the doctors were going to give me something to get rid of the light spots. They said that they couldn’t find anything that was wrong, and it was not a cure. I bawled my eyes out so bad. I knew it was the end of the world for me. I knew that my life was over. My self-esteem got crushed even more. I just kept thinking why you did this to yourself. You did this to yourself. I was self-blaming myself every single day. I just used to hit myself in the head and just grab my head and talk down on myself. Somehow, I managed to get through the last two years of high school.
When I got to college at Michigan State University, it got much worse. I started isolating myself from my friends and people on campus. I didn’t know who I was. I started feeling like it’s no point for me to live because of what I did to myself. I thought about changing my religion and becoming a “nun”. I felt like my whole body would be covered up and I would fit in perfectly to hide the light spots. My freshman year in college I was literally contemplating on killing myself in my dorm room but a voice from God came over me and stopped me from doing it. I just knew that there was no point for me to live anymore. I had already messed my life up and it was no way I could change it. There was no way I could go back and look “normal”. The negative voices inside my head kept me feeling sad, depressed, isolated, and even having suicidal thoughts. I didn’t know that what I was going through back then was actually depression until now. I wrote a letter to someone about what I was going through and until this day they never said anything about receiving the letter. I felt stupid for even opening up to someone and it made me close up even more. I made a promise to myself that I wasn’t going to tell anyone about it. I was sinking. I was insecure in myself and the way I looked. I had no clue about who I was. I didn’t fully get to enjoy college because of my depression. I was mentally gone. I was just like “man if I took myself out”, the world would be a better place”. I wouldn’t have to worry about my skin issue. I felt like I did this to myself, and I can’t change what happened to my skin.
I isolated myself on campus. There were plenty of times I wanted to go try out for other dance teams and I didn’t because I was scared to show my skin in front of others. I wanted to hit some pool parties up, but I was insecure because of my skin. I knew that if someone had made a remark or said anything about my skin, I would end up in jail. So, the best thing was for me to stay away from other people. I wanted to walk outside with shorts, but I couldn’t. I would spend 2-4 hours literally trying to find something to wear. I had told myself that I couldn’t go outside with shorts, short sleeves, skirts, or even wearing sandals in the summer. I covered myself with long sleeves, half jackets, and shoes. No one could see any of my skin showing, especially in the summertime. I tried to use skin sprays to spray my skin one even color and it didn’t work. The spray was always lighter than my skin. I never could find a color that fit my tone and it made me even more mad. I knew in my mind that my skin never had light spots. This is why it was messing with my mind even more. When it happened, my world flipped upside down. The spots started to spread all over my body, and I don’t know what it is. All I knew was that I used Fairview cream to bleach my skin, and the doctors gave me cortisone for it and my skin was changing from my face to my hands, to my feet, to my legs and arms, to my chest, to my back, to my stomach. I went crazy mentally. I started to cover my body up. I was ashamed of my skin which made me self-hate myself. It was so deep that I would dream that I was another person. I could never look myself in the mirror because I blamed myself for what was happening to me. I would cry for days, weeks, months, years because of me not loving myself unconditionally.
I didn’t have a safe space to share my shame and mental bondage. I never looked at myself in the mirror. When I did, I was disgusted and hated seeing those light spots. I finally got the courage to go back to a dermatologist in 2018. I went to a black dermatologist. They told me that it was a skin condition called Tinea Versicolor. The skin bleaching cream and the cortisone triggered it. I was going crazy mentally, I knew that my skin wasn’t like that before.
I wore shorts for the first time when I was 26 years old (2014). I wore a skirt for the first time when I was 27 years old (2015). I had worked with some youth during the summer of 2015, and we had to choose five people to give a compliment to. This one boy said “Ms. Tanzania I love the different colors on your skin. It’s nice”. He was in the 6th grade. I still have that paper. I got so emotional reading it and it really made me start thinking differently about myself. I had to self-talk to myself all the time to fight through being mentally in bondage.
I prayed to God many times, why me? … God, please make these light spots go away? ... God, make my skin go back to “normal''? Once I changed the voices inside my head into positive self-talk, everything else started to change within me and around me. It was what I said about myself that was killing me mentally. It took me many years to get through it, but now I’m mentally free! Those voices have tried to come back but I catch that thought before it forms in my subconscious mind. The positive things that I said to myself, and God healed me. If it had not been for God getting me through, I wouldn’t be here today. I had to tell myself that I am normal. Those light spots are your ‘beauty marks.’ Embrace those varied colors! Embrace your color patterns! Whoever doesn't like it, can kick rocks! I’ve learned that I don’t have to live my life according to how others feel about me, what they think about me, what they say about me. It doesn’t MATTER. They don’t contribute anything to my life. I had to love the raw me. I had to love myself unconditionally which is something that I am still working on.
Recently, I shared my story for the first time to high school students about how I self-hated myself, experienced depression, attempted to bleach my skin, and wanted to commit suicide when I was in college. I got so emotional sharing with my first group because I was reliving my past and that made me feel vulnerable. After sharing, the young ladies talked so much about how they were going to love themselves more, not let people change them, find self-care techniques, get rid of toxic relationships, embracing being “different”, and more. I felt so proud. I know that my story is changing lives and that’s all that matters to me. I have to always remind myself that I am not alone. There were many times when I was battling depression and had no one to confide in because I was ashamed. I felt like I deserved what was happening to me. I started to do affirmations in the mirror every day. I told myself I was beautiful even when I didn’t feel like I was. I used journaling and poetry as an escape to get those crazy thoughts and feelings out of my mind. I had to really break the mental bondage that I was in. The voices in my head held me back from being my authentic self. I also used dance as my outlet to escape the pain and the depression that I was battling.
Through it all I still grind towards my goals because I didn’t want to become a statistic. Growing up in the hood of Detroit, gave me motivation to keep striving because I wanted a better life for my family and future kids. Now, I love my skin and the person that I am becoming! I started a women’s organization called Sistah Sistah Entrepreneurs Network. This platform is to bring sistah’s together to have these in-depth conversations. It also provides women with the resources that they need to get help. It is a safe space for women to grow, network, learn, and heal together. If I could have only been myself and expressed how I was feeling to my sistah circle it would’ve helped me sooner.
RUM: Tell us, what does "The Road to Liberation" exactly mean?
Tanzania: The Road to Liberation means to truly be free from anything that has been holding you back. Many times, people endure traumas from our childhood, relationships, life situations and more. When people carry those battles, it affects every part of their lives. It then requires us to analyze internally and externally which can uncover some hard truths. It is at the point when you can hurt your own feelings to really deal with those things put in the back of your mind. If you cannot be honest with yourself, you are living in bondage. My thoughts literally almost crippled me for over 15 years. I had to really break free mentally, standing in my truth, forgiving myself, and building myself back up.
It is a process to start that road to liberation, but it is the most freeing feeling ever. It is at the point where you stop caring about what others think and needing validation to live your life. Too many times people try to help other people when they should be finding their own liberation. Be free for YOU. Show up for YOU.
RUM: What ways are you contributing to ending colorism within your community?
Tanzania: I contribute to ending colorism in varies ways. I actually speak all around the world to middle school and high school girls to talk about self-love and the false beauty standards in the U.S. I have helped those young girls to realize that they are enough just the way that they are. I also provided affirmations and different ways for them to build their self-esteem. I share my story to help shed light on colorism and for other girls and women to know that they are not alone. We also provide safe spaces to have these in-depth and sometimes uncomfortable conversations. I make sure that they feel seen, heard, and understood, which is all the things that I dealt with dealing with colorism. My goal is to collaborate with schools to develop “Self-Love'' workshops for boys and girls in elementary school, middle school, high school, and on college campuses.
I isolated myself on campus. There were plenty of times I wanted to go try out for other dance teams and I didn’t because I was scared to show my skin in front of others. I wanted to hit some pool parties up, but I was insecure because of my skin. I knew that if someone had made a remark or said anything about my skin, I would end up in jail. So, the best thing was for me to stay away from other people. I wanted to walk outside with shorts, but I couldn’t. I would spend 2-4 hours literally trying to find something to wear. I had told myself that I couldn’t go outside with shorts, short sleeves, skirts, or even wearing sandals in the summer. I covered myself with long sleeves, half jackets, and shoes. No one could see any of my skin showing, especially in the summertime. I tried to use skin sprays to spray my skin one even color and it didn’t work. The spray was always lighter than my skin. I never could find a color that fit my tone and it made me even more mad. I knew in my mind that my skin never had light spots. This is why it was messing with my mind even more. So, when it happened, my world flipped upside down. The spots started to spread all over my body, and I don’t know what it is. All I knew was that I used Fairview cream to bleach my skin, and the doctors gave me cortisone for it and my skin was changing from my face to my hands, to my feet, to my legs and arms, to my chest, to my back, to my stomach. I went crazy mentally. I started to cover my body up. I was ashamed of my skin which made me self-hate myself. It was so deep that I would dream that I was another person. I could never look myself in the mirror because I blamed myself for what was happening to me. I would cry for days, weeks, months, years because of me not loving myself unconditionally.
RUM: If there's a reader who is struggling with their self-esteem and body image what would you say to them?
Tanzania: I would tell them to love yourself right where you are. The standard of beauty in the U.S is flawed. You are beautiful just the way you are. Sometimes people who want to change something about themselves should dig deeper to make sure that it is not stemming from underlying issues such as self-hate or etc. I would encourage you to look in the mirror every day and say ‘I Love You” to yourself 10 times. Take some time to oil your body, touch on your beautiful skin, and give yourself a hug. That is how you start to truly embrace and love on yourself. People will treat you according to how you feel about yourself. I had to tell myself I was beautiful in the mirror with tears in my eyes because I did not believe it. However, the more I said it the more it become a part of who I was. Get rid of all negative talk and replace it with positive statements. Your words are powerful.
RUM: What's next for Tanzania?
Tanzania: My organization “Sistah Sistah Entrepreneurs Network” hosts annual retreats for young girls and women all around the world to help them find their liberation. My goal is to set free as many people as I can. I do not want people to have to suffer as I did. I want to give them the tools and resources to truly live and thrive in this world. I started this “Unlock’ N Your Freedom” movement and we will be hosting a series for women to be transparent with themselves to unlock whatever it is that may be holding them back. It will take place each Wednesday in September (1, 8, 15, 22, and 29) from 8:00pm-9:00pm EST. Please email email@example.com if you would like to join us. I am also launching my mental health clothing brand as well called ImanT’s. It is where mental health and fashion meets. Through my clothing brand, we will offer mental health workshops within the schools. My goal is to host a mental health/business conference to really dismantle the stigma around mental health issues as well as helping others build their businesses. I also have a consulting business called “Cooper Consulting” which is geared towards helping small businesses build their business and generate revenue.
RUM: What final words do you have for our readers?
Tanzania: I want you to know that you are enough! Do not let anyone make you feel less than. You have everything within you to move forward in life. At every level in your life, you will endure the “process” which can be uncomfortable but just know that it always has an end date, and you will get through it. Keep God first in everything that you do! Always know that it is okay not to be okay. If you are feeling depressed or having suicidal thoughts, please seek help. Your life matters!