Here at Alexis Small Productions, we focus on giving real stories about navigating real life. We’re so lucky to have had a chance to catch up with Evette Dionne, a millennial black feminist writer who is truly black girl magic personified. Check out the gems she dropped during a recent conversation with our publisher, Alexis Small.
AS: Tell me about your journey to Bennett College, finding your purpose, becoming the Editor-in-Chief of BELLE Magazine, to graduating at the top of your class.
ED: I think I have to go back further than that to really give context for my journey. I was diagnosed with Agoraphobia, a mental illness that combines social anxiety with depression, when I was 14.
For a long time, Agoraphobia really upended my life. From November through March or April, I was unable to leave the house. I would have severe panic attacks whenever I attempted to leave the house to go to school. Up until that point, I was an honors and AP student, so being unable to attend school was really difficult for my parents, my brother, and my extended family.
I went to therapy weekly, and began learning my Agoraphobic triggers, but nothing seemed to ease the disorder. After attending an alternative school and realizing it wasn’t for me, I decided to drop out and get my GED. I was 17 at the time, working full time at McDonald's, and coming out of my final Agoraphobic episode. I don’t know why Agoraphobia no longer impacts me. It just stopped. When I decided I wanted to go to college, nothing could stop me. I’d been watching a lot of A Different World, so I decided that I wanted to attend a historically black college or university.
I applied to Virginia Union University, Edward Waters College, and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and I was accepted into all three. I decided to attend UMES because the other schools were too expensive.
I found my purpose very early on in college. It has manifested in a multitude of different ways.
I majored in English because it was the subject I’d always excelled in. I didn’t want to teach, so I wasn’t sure what I’d do with the degree. I took a career aptitude test in UMES’ career services office that said I should pursue media. The career services adviser then gave me information for the school’s radio station and newspaper. I ended up joining the radio station, and I really loved it.
I transferred to Bennett in January 2010 after taking a semester off to work and save money. I learned about Bennett while watching Dr. Julianne Malveaux speak about the school on CNN. Her passion really translated through the screen. I decided to major in journalism, since that’s where the broadcast was housed and I still thought I would pursue a career in radio. From the moment I met Professor Tamara Jeffries, literally within the first hour I arrived at Bennett, she encouraged me to get involved with BELLE [Magazine]. At first, I was resistant. Then, I slowly got more involved in the magazine until Ms. Jeffries and Briana Barner offered me the editor-in-chief position.
Graduating at the top of my class was just the icing on the top of the cake.
AS: How has your HBCU Experience changed your life? Did your love for feminism begin at Bennett?
ED: I wouldn’t be such a passionate lover of and warrior for Black women without Bennett. Bennett taught me the value and importance of treating sisterhood as a verb. Sisterhood is offering opportunities to fellow Black women, lifting them as I climb, and working to dismantle obstacles that block their paths. I learned all of that at Bennett, but I didn’t identify as a feminist while I attended Bennett. I had all of these misconceptions about feminism, and that colored my relationship with the term. I began embracing feminism when I took an honors course with Mrs. Penny Speas that focused on Alice Walker. I then started reading more feminist texts, like, “When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost,” and, “For Colored Girls Who Consider Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf,” and developing my feminist identity. I went to grad school after graduating from Bennett, and that’s where I learned feminist language and really sharpened my feminist lens.
AS: How did you land your jobs from tweeting?
ED: Twitter has been integral to my career. I use it like a sounding board to flesh out ideas that need more development. For whatever reason, editors have gravitated toward that. I’ve been assigned stories for Harper’s Bazaar, SELF, The Guardian, Bustle, the New York Times, Teen Vogue, and other places based on tweets I’ve sent. I see Twitter as an extension of who I am as a writer and editor. It shows my positioning on a number of issues, and allows me to present my ideas in a public forum.
AS: What was your first reaction when you realized your twitter account was verified?
ED: I remember feeling grateful and happy. While having a verified Twitter account doesn’t put extra money in my pocket, it does give me easier access to opportunities.
AS: How was your transition moving to Brooklyn?
ED: I moved to Brooklyn because Denver didn’t have creative spaces designed to empower and support Black women. Brooklyn has that and then some. I actually just spoke on a panel at the Well Read Black Girl festival, an output of the book club I’m a part of. It was incredible to be in a room full of Black women writers and readers who just wanted to create community with other Black women. Those are the experiences I moved to Brooklyn to have. It’s a writer’s haven right now, and I’m so grateful I’m getting to experience it.
AS: How do you maintain your carefree black girl spirit in Corporate America?
ED: I’m grateful that I work at a feminist media organization that really is committed to doing the same work that I am. I won’t lie: I’ve worked at other companies that are supposedly feminist, but only as far as it benefits them. I left those places because they didn’t align with who I am.
I come in the door being exactly who I am: a warrior for Black women and an ally to other marginalized communities. So far, it’s worked for me, and I hope it continues to.
AS: Your Twitter bio is, “The Fat Black Feminist who ruins the fun.” How did you come up with that?
ED: It just looked cute in my Twitter bio. [laughs] No, fat, Black, and feminist are three of my identities. The rest is just tongue-in-cheek. Feminists are often called killjoys. I’m just playing with that phrase.
AS: Aside from tweeting and writing I notice your knack for self-love, what are your tips on loving yourself?
ED: Self-care looks differently for everyone. I see it as a system of purposeful and intentional habits prioritize your mental, emotional, and physical health, but what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for others. Some of my habits include spending at least an hour reading every day, going to therapy, walking a mile every day, soaking in the bath, and most importantly, saying no. For such a long time, I had a problem telling people no or declining opportunities, even when I knew I didn’t have the capacity to take it on. Learning to say no and not feeling the need to explain it has been the greatest gift I’ve ever given myself.
AS: How do you maintain a loving, trusting relationship when the current culture seems to be obsessed with the idea of side chicks? How do you balance self-love and a healthy romantic relationship?
ED: Well, I trust my partner. I don’t just listen to him. I hear him. If he says something, I hear what he’s saying. I think effective communication has been the key to having a loving and trusting relationship. I also don’t say anything I’ll regret saying. Sometimes anger can get the best of anyone, including me, but in those moments, I only say things I know I can stand on later.
Learning to balance my own needs with my relationship took a long time for me to learn. In the beginning of our relationship, I was so devoted to George that I’d lost myself. I stopped hanging out with my friends, and spending all of my time with him. Moving to New York without him helped me regain that balance. Living alone has helped me to prioritize my needs and desires, and that definitely improved my relationship.
AS: How do you continue to create when you’re unmotivated or experience writer’s block?
ED: I often get unmotivated. Writing is my passion, but it’s also my career, so it’s easy to lose sight of its purpose when I’m doing it every day. When I’m feeling unmotivated, I find comfort in the work of others. I read—a lot. I also analyze as I read. I ask:
What do I love about this writer’s style? Would I have written this differently? What can I learn from this book and this writer?
Reading the work of great writers, like Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Pearl Cleage, Audre Lorde, and Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah gives me the push to keep creating.
I don’t believe in writer’s block. If I were a surgeon, I couldn’t say I have “surgeon’s block.” I’m a writer. Writing is how I make a living. I have to write. A blank page can be intimidating, but even if I have to write the same sentence over and over again, I do that until I have a mental breakthrough. No matter what, I write every day, even if it’s journaling or writing the same sentence over and over.
AS: How do you deal with your anxiety and still maintain life?
ED: Anxiety is always present in my life, but I no longer allow it to dominate my life. I’ve learned my triggers, such as stress and going into new social environments, and I proactively work to keep my anxiety from flaring up. Again, anxiety is always in the car, but I no longer let it drive. I also strongly believe in therapy. Over the years, my therapists have given me the tools to cope with anxiety, Agoraphobia, and depression. I also meditate regularly, which keeps me balanced and focused.
AS: What advice can you give other millennials about things like finding their purpose, trying to land careers, finding love and moving to a new state?
ED: Surrender to the process. Your purpose will manifest. It’s not something that can be forced into being. You must speak what you want, write it down, and then do the work to manifest it. It will come to fruition exactly when it’s supposed to, not a minute sooner. In the process, you must stay committed to your vision.
For instance, from the moment I graduated from Bennett, I said I wanted to live in a brownstone in Harlem or Brooklyn on Malcolm X Boulevard. It took four years, but my first apartment in Brooklyn was in a brownstone. After my first weekend there, I realized my brownstone was a block away from Malcolm X Boulevard. Nothing happens when we want to, but it will manifest in its proper time.
AS: If you can do anything differently in life what would you do?
ED: If I wasn’t a writer, I would probably be an attorney or forensic scientist. I am obsessed with procedural dramas, like Law & Order, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Criminal Minds.
In terms of doing anything differently, I wouldn’t change a single step of my journey. Everything in my life has manifested as it was supposed to.
Keep up with Evette by following her on Twitter @freeblackgirl and be sure to check out and support Bitch Media, where she’s currently the Senior Editor.