I am a born storyteller. If you ask me a simple question, I am likely to give the answer plus many more extraneous details that you probably didn’t ask to hear. But I will tell you anyway because just about anything can be made into a story when that is your gift from God. And while that is true, there are stories. And there are stories that must be told because in their telling they have the capacity to bring joy, inspire change and unshackle chains. The best stories have these qualities.
Years ago, through some mutual friends, I met Dr. Bonita J. Gay-Senior, and as we became friends, as friends do, we shared various details from our lives. As she would share a snippet here or there, I began to realize that this woman had been through some situations that would have caused many people to collapse into themselves, sentencing their souls to be among the walking dead. Have you ever met a person who was so beaten up by life, they seem to operate on autopilot? I have, and it is startling. Others would have retreated to a maze of deadening behaviors to distract themselves from the pain. And some would have taken what was never theirs to take: their very lives. She shared about being mercilessly teased by not only by her classmates but by her brothers as well. The teasing was so toxic, she was later diagnosed as having Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Her first boyfriend punched her face so hard that he broke part of one of her front teeth. On one occasion, he pointed a loaded gun at her face and threatened to shoot her. Despite the abuse, she dropped a warrant she had against him and had to go to jail for perjury (although she was telling the truth initially.)! When she was in her freshman year in college, she was raped by two men. Sometime later, while still in college, she got pregnant by another man. She watched a brother commit suicide by cop. Her only sister disappeared and has not been found to date.
And yet, the woman I met was a decorated teacher on the way to earning her doctorate in education at Clark Atlanta University. Laughter punctuated nearly all of her sentences. Her optimism rekindled that wonder that all children experience before the duties of adulthood and appropriateness take over. She had a trove of wisdom that she freely shared. ‘How did this woman come to be,’ I asked myself before I eventually found the courage to say the words aloud to her. She was surprised that I was surprised. She thought that many had suffered through similar challenges. I agreed that all of us suffer through challenges but not many people start from so low to ascend to so high. I know a good story when I hear one.
I kept telling her this until she decided to tell the whole story in a book “From DOOMED to DOCTOR 280 Chestnut Street: Born in the Crack but Didn’t FALL Through.” (In fact, she shouted me out in the acknowledgements!) On the very street, Chestnut Street (which has since been changed to to James P. Brawley Drive), where she experienced most of her childhood abuse is the very street where she received her doctorate degree years later at 48 years old (I was there cheering her on 🙂 )! It’s amazing how God can use the details of our lives to demonstrate that He has brought us from a mighty long way. And she says God is who redeemed her tests into a testimony. She is using her story to mentor other women who have experienced similar challenges.
If you would like to meet her and get a copy of her book, join her at the One Love Spiritual Center, 180 Lakepoint Lane, Fayetteville, Georgia 30215 (Lakemont Subdivision) TODAY at 3 p.m. She is the featured Women’s History Month Speaker!
In honor of mothers on Mother’s Day, I want to introduce you to 12-year-old Alena Pitts and her mother Wynter Pitts who co-wrote the new book Hello Stars, the first book in the Lena in the Spotlight series from Faithgirlz! Below is the synopsis of the book.
Young Lena Daniels never thought she’d get the chance star in a movie. Headstrong and determined, she has her life planned out to the minute. But when her best friends, Savannah and Emma, tell her about an audition for a part co-starring her favorite singer, she knows there’s nothing else in the world she’d rather do. And now that she’s gotten her wish, Lena finds that being in the spotlight is harder than it sounds. She got everything she never wanted! Her face turns up everywhere she goes, and everything in her life is flipped upside down. Lena wonders if this is a dream come true or a horrible nightmare. Even a visit from her best friends during filming turns into a disaster. With her little sisters—Ansley, Ashton, and Amber—and her mischievous pup, Austin, constantly at her side, Lena must face the challenges of everyday life while chasing her dreams of being a model and actress on the big screen. Lena tackles tough choices, learns the value of perseverance, and keeps her hopes high. She knows her faith and family will keep her feet on the ground and her eyes on the stars.
As an author for Faithgirlz, which is offered through Zonderkidz, the children’s division of Zondervan, Alena is the youngest, African-American female author with a major book publisher! You may already be familiar with Alena, who portrayed Danielle Jordan in the 2015 hit film War Room! Below is my interview with Alena & her mother Wynter…
1. How does it feel to be the youngest, African- American female author to be represented by a major book publisher?
Alena: Kind of surreal still. Like it hasn’t really hit me. So it’s crazy. I’m just grateful that it happened to me! And then I’m like, ‘Thank you God!’
And how did you get a book deal for Hello Stars?
Alena: So, my mom was like, ‘Hey Alena, do you want to write a book together?’ I was like, ‘Sure.’ My mom was like, ‘That would be so fun!’ I really didn’t think that was going to happen, but she was like, ‘Let’s just pray about it.’ So I prayed about it not really expecting anything to happen. So like two weeks later, we got an e-mail from Zondervan asking if we wanted to write a book for them. So I was like, ‘Wow, this must be God’s plan!’ (Laughter)
Wynter: It literally happened just like that! It was just this random thought I had one day, and I just looked at her and said, ‘It would be so fun if we wrote a book together.’ And that was it. And then, a few weeks later, we got an e-mail from Faithgirlz saying they wanted to talk to us about the project. It was so bizarre. Because of my ministry with girls, I had done some Faithgirlz product giveaways and helped them promote some things so I had a relationship with the publicist there. Since then, I found out the publicist mentioned our names to their team over the last year or so, but I didn’t know anyone else on the team!
2. I understand that Lena’s story is based on what has happened in your life as you starred in War Room.
Alena: Well, the book is about Lena Daniels, and my nickname is Lena. That was where I got her name from. And the book was about how she wanted to be in control, and she had her whole life planned out until God was like, ‘No, you’re going to be in a movie and then, you’re going to do this for me. And none of this stuff you have planned for yourself is going to happen.’ And she was like, ‘Wow, I can’t be in control.’ But she found out over time that going with God’s plan is way better than anything she ever dreamed of and that’s kind of like my life.
I had my whole life planned out, my job and what I wanted to do when I grow up. But then I got an audition for a movie. And I was like, ‘Wow, this is crazy!’ And I had to learn to give it all to God! And let Him be in control. So the story line is based on my entire life. And a lot of the funny things that happen in the story are actually real.
So you had your whole life planned out already at 12 years old?
Alena: Yes. My original plan was to do a couple of things. One of my plans was to go to law school and become a lawyer because I love to debate and stuff. But then I figured out how long law school was! Then I was like, ‘Nah!’ Then, I was like, I guess I will be a singer and learn to play some instruments. I still kind of pursue that. But another part of me was like I want to be a professional volleyball player which I still want to do. But based on my life, anything is possible, and you don’t have to stick with one thing your entire life. That’s really boring.
3. So Hello Stars is just the first book in the Lena in the Spotlight series. What can your readers expect in the future books in the series?
Alena: Expect more surprises, more plot twists.
Wynter: Lena continues to grow in her faith and in learning to let go of her plans.
Alena: Yeah because she doesn’t fully learn to let go in the first book! So she goes along on that journey in all three books.
4. You portrayed Danielle Jordan in War Room? How did you get to audition for that role?
Alena: My aunt [Priscilla C. Shirer] was one of the main characters in the movie, and she asked me if if I wanted to audition because they were looking for a little girl to play the part of Danielle. I was like, ‘Sure, I would love to do that.’ But I really didn’t think I would get it. But I kept auditioning and auditioning, and it came down to me and this other little girl. I was like, ‘Wow, this could actually be real. This could actually be what I do in the future.’ I just kept praying about it, and I got a call and I was asked to be in the movie. I was like, ‘Goodness. Sure!’
5. What was it like being on set every day with the Kendrick Brothers, a the Christian brothers who produced the film?
Alena: I like to say it was like church. In the morning, we had prayers. It was different than a normal movie set. And it was a lot better than a normal movie set. And then throughout the day, we would stop and pray if something went wrong. And it was really fun because there were a lot of kids there who were a part of the movie like the double-dutchers.
(Check out behind-the-scenes footage of the double-dutch scenes from “War Room” below)
Where was War Room filmed?
Alena: It was filmed in Charlotte, North Carolina.
And now you want to be an actress?
Alena: I wouldn’t say that. But like I was saying before, if another opportunity comes up, I would definitely say yes to something I felt had God had for me. But I wouldn’t say I would be an actress for the rest of my life.
Wynter: I just encourage her and tell her that when God lays things on her heart or brings things to her just like auditioning for “War Room” to just say yes to it. Even in writing the book. I want her to say yes to the opportunities that God brings her way.
6. As a co-writer for Hello Stars, how did you contribute to the book?
Wynter: Well, Alena would write the outline and the plot, and she would sent it to me. And then I would help to stretch it out. I would add words and make the story longer.
7. Other than the book Hello Stars, is there something from the War Room experience that the both of you took away that stays with you today.
Wynter: For me, just the whole point of the movie is that prayer works. And not just saying, ‘Lord, give me this, give me that.’ But when we have a heart that really wants to serve God and wants to see Him glorified in our lives, when we commit that to prayer, He is able to do amazing things!
Alena: Yes, prayer works and prayer is possible. When I was younger, before the movie, I really didn’t think prayer was something for me. I thought it was for older people because they always had testimonies about everything that happened. But I never heard a little kid talk about the power of prayer so I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s not for me yet.’ I will wait until I get older. But then during the movie, I started to pray, and I was like, ‘Wow, this is something that happens for everyone.’ God doesn’t just listen to older people. I like to say that God’s favorite people are little kids! And I will keep saying that until I get older. (Laughter)
Below is a video of Wynter and her daughter Alena talking about Hello Stars.
About the Author: Alena Pitts is a young actress and model from Dallas, Texas. As the oldest of four girls, Alena first cut her teeth in acting through making home videos and dramas with her sisters, using their entire home as their recording studio. She has a natural love for all things creative which falls right in line with her gifts and talents. The Kendrick Brothers’ War Room marks Alena’s professional acting debut. With only school theater on her young resume, Alena jumped at a chance to audition for the role of Danielle Jordan. In addition to school and acting, Alena models and is a frequent contributor for the magazine For Girls Like You.
About the Co-Author: Wynter Pitts is the founder of For Girls Like You magazine and the author of For Girls Like You: A Devotional for Tweens and You’re God’s Girl. The mother of four girls, Wynter’s mission is to empower and equip girls to walk boldly into becoming who God has created them to be and to provide parents with the resources and support needed to raise strong Christ followers. In addition to publishing the quarterly magazine, Wynter is a frequent blogger, a contributor for LifeWay’s ParentLifeMagazine, and a public speaker. She is also the niece of Dr. Tony Evans. Wynter, her husband, Jonathan, and their four daughters (ages 6-12), reside in Dallas, Texas.
Thanks to Alena and Wynter, I’m giving away a free copy of Hello Stars to the first person who emails the answers to these questions: What star from a ’80s to ’90s sitcom starred in a Kendrick Brothers film? What was the name of the sitcom? And what was the name of the film? Email your answer to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have yet to visit Canada, but it is definitely one of my list of countries to visit in the not-so-distant future! But in the mean time, in between time, I’m taking us to Canada today via my interview with Tamar Huggins, a Canadian-based and award-winning serial entrepreneur who has been featured exclusively in media outlets around the world including Black Entertainment Television, Canadian Living, and The Huffington Post! Tamar is also the author of “Bossed Up: 100 Truths to Becoming Your Own Boss God’s Way,”which is available TODAY! Check out my interview with Tamar about “Bossed Up.”
Seven years ago, my spiritual mother prophesied to me that God wanted me to write a book about business to help other women achieve success. I wrote “BossedUp”as a guide for entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs alike – to help them navigate the challenges and successes they would encounter on their journey.
2. Your book incorporates biblical stories and how they relate to modern day entrepreneurship. What is your favorite biblical story in your book and how does it relate to modern day entrepreneurship?
In the God chapter, I referenced 2 Kings 3 – the story of King Jehoshaphat and his army digging ditches in the desert. As they marched for seven days to get to Moab, they became tired and thirsty. King Jehoshaphat went to the Prophet Elisha to ask for guidance. The Lord spoke and said ‘Make this valley full of ditches.’ For thus says the Lord: ‘You shall not see wind, nor shall you see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water, so that you, your cattle, and your animals may drink. And this is a simple matter in the sight of the Lord; He will also deliver the Moabites into your hand.’
As entrepreneurs, we must prepare ourselves to receive God’s blessings before they arrive, even if the blessing doesn’t make sense to us. In the case of 2 Kings 3, it didn’t make sense for the men to see rain in the desert – but it’s what they needed – and it was easy for God to do. If you ask God to increase your finances, for example, you need to take the necessary steps to prepare yourself to receive the blessing, otherwise you may risk losing your opportunity.
3. Your book addresses business challenges that entrepreneurs may face such as family time management. How do you address this challenge in your book and in your own life?
In the Balance chapter, I provide several references for work-life balance. My favorite is Boss Truth #85 – Prioritize Your Family. 1 Timothy 5:8 tells us that if we don’t provide for our families, we are worse than an unbeliever. Our #1 ministry as entrepreneurs isn’t our business – it’s our families. It is with that mindset that I prioritize spending time and pouring into my husband and my daughter because at the end of the day, I am building my legacy for them. I tell myself I am not an ER doctor, I am an entrepreneur, so I can afford to take time away from work to be with my family.
4. Tell me about the writing process for“BossedUp.”How long did it take for you to write the book? Was it easy or difficult to write the book? Did you learn anything from writing the book?
God planted the seed to write “BossedUp”within me 7 years ago, but it only took me 9 months to complete the manuscript in 2016. Spiritually, I grew a lot and my perseverance definitely increased. I truly experienced how creative the Holy Spirit really is when we allow Him to work through us.
5. Many adult entrepreneurs show an interest in business as children. Tell me about your interest in business as a child and how it led to officially becoming an entrepreneur at 23 years old.
I always loved the idea of being a boss and that’s probably why I was a bossy child! My teachers always told my parents that I was a natural leader, independent, and charismatic. God built me this way because He knew what He wanted me to become. As a result, I naturally gravitated to opportunities that allowed me to operate in my gifts. It wasn’t until I lost my advertising job during the recession of 2009 that I accepted my calling as an entrepreneur. I was fearful of the unknown, yet optimistic about the freedom and possibilities that entrepreneurship was able to provide, especially during such a chaotic time.
6. You live in Canada. Tell me a little about living life in Canada as a black woman and how it may differ from living in the United States as a black woman.
There is something to admire about the black business community in the United States – something that we just don’t have here in Canada. The level of support that black female entrepreneurs have in the States, whether financial or community-based, is much stronger than it is here. I believe this is due to a difference in our cultural mindsets. I always admired the black business communities in Atlanta and desperately wish people in Toronto had the same collaborative and supportive mindset.
7. Finally, how and when did you become a Christian and how has it impacted your life?
I was christened as a Catholic and went to Catholic school, so Christianity was always a part of my life. It wasn’t until about 15 or 16 years old that I gave my life to the Lord, and I was baptized in the Pentecostal church in my early 20s. I wouldn’t be where I am today without God as an active part of my life. I cannot take credit for any of my ideas or accomplishments because they all came from Him. God is truly the CEO of my business and my life. When you have the Creator in control, you can expect nothing but success and happiness.
For more information about Tamar, go to her website, tamarhuggins.com, and to buy “Bossed Up: 100 Truths to Becoming Your Own Boss God’s Way,” go to Amazon.com.