Javacia Harris Bowser: Life Lessons From A Younger Generation
It’s not uncommon to seek words of wisdom and advice from those who older and more experienced. But what about turning to a younger generation for new ideas and inspiration? Our guest blogger Javacica Harris Bowser believes that just because someone is younger than you, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek out their ideas and opinions. She writes about this in her monthly post for WBHM.
There was a time when I thought that growing up, that being a woman, meant becoming less and less like my teenage self.
But I think I got that wrong.
Even though I am 33 years old, the women I admire most are 21 or younger.
For example, right here in Birmingham, Maacah Davis teamed up with several other college students to launch Belladonna — her own art and style magazine. She was only 19 when she started the magazine this summer.
To my surprise, Maacah views me as one of her inspirations.
I had the privilege of being Maacah’s English teacher when she was a 10th grader at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, Now a student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, she left ASFA at the start of her junior year and we lost touch. Unbeknownst to me, Maacah followed my writing endeavors online, watching as I grew my blog and freelance writing career and started See Jane Write, a networking group and online magazine for women writers.
Maacah says she looks up to me, not realizing how much I admire her.
This is perhaps one of the unexpected perks of teaching — being inspired by your students to be a better version of yourself. And ironically, my students have helped me grow and helped me move closer toward becoming the woman I’m meant to be by reminding me of the girl I once was.
Sure, I was full of the insecurities that many teen girls battle. I didn’t feel pretty enough or smart enough and I no idea what to do with my hair. But I was also full of dreams and dogged determination. When I was Maacah’s age I believed every “No” could be turned into a “Yes.”
When I ask Maacah why she started Belladonna, her answer was simple: as an avid magazine reader, Maacah was tired of flipping through her favorite periodicals and seeing so few images of young women of color.
Maacah Davis. Photo courtesy of Belladonna.
“I wanted a whimsical high-fashion spread that didn’t just feature one brown girl in the corner or only feature all brown girls because it’s fill-in-the-blank history month. I want to show people that you can have a diverse magazine that isn’t culturally insensitive, but still has content that is truly universal,” Maacah says. “If I can pick up Vogue or Marie Claire or Elle and relate to their content despite the fact that I rarely see girls who look like me in them, then anyone should be able to pick up Belladonna and relate to it.”
Listening to Maacah is like listening to my teenage self — the girl who also had a dream of launching her own women’s lifestyle magazine for very similar reasons. For years this was a dream deferred as I looked at the struggling world of print journalism and decided it would be ridiculous to start a magazine. Last year, I started an online magazine as a project of See Jane Write, but my dreams of a print lifestyle magazine still linger.
Several other dreams linger too — such as publishing a feminist manifesto and running a highly successful business. But I convince myself I’m not qualified to do these things because I don’t have a degree in women’s studies or in business.
Growing a business takes money that I don’t have, I say to myself. I can’t afford this costly pursuit on a teacher’s salary.
Then I think of Maacah who taught herself how to use Photoshop and InDesign and put together the magazine using software that was part of a 30-day free trial.
And for Maacah, Belladonna is just the beginning.
“We want to take over the world,” she says of her group of creative comrades who helped her with the magazine. Belladonna is part of a larger initiative called Project Veracity, through which Maacah and her friends plan to pursue a number of other projects including a web-based talk show.
Listening to Maacah, it becomes clear to me why teenagers often accomplish things we adults only dream about: they’re fearless. They’re not worried about saving for a down payment on a house or putting away money in a 401K.
“We figured we’d do this just for fun and what happens, happens,” Maacah says. “We figured, we’re young. We can mess up. This is the time.”
This is the time. Those words stuck with me long after my chat with Maacah and I realized that this is the time, regardless of age. The realities of adulthood don’t allow me to be AS fearless as Maacah and her friends, but I’ve decided to face the fear and pursue my goals anyway.
I once heard a motivational speaker say, that when it comes to pursuing dreams, we must consider our last days. If there’s regret, it mostly likely won’t be wishing you’d paid your Alabama Power bill on time — rather, that item on your bucket list you never checked off.
I have a laundry list of other goals: seeing my byline in my favorite publications, being a blogging superstar, traveling the world. For years I’ve been rattling off excuses as to why I can’t go after them full-throttle. Not realizing that the perfect time is right now.
Maacah has simple advice for girls her age and for grown-up girls like me: “Don’t consider the limitations,” she says. “Just write out what you want to see. Look around you and find people who have the time and are willing to help and then make it happen.”
Javacia Harris Bowser is an educator and freelance writer in Birmingham. Javacia is the founder of See Jane Write, an organization for local women writers, and she blogs about her life as a “southern fried feminist” at The Writeous Babe Project.