Since the moment I first heard the name of this program, Girls Today, Leaders Tomorrow, I felt it was not only a very powerful mission, but even more so a very powerful statement. This statement that the United Way of Greater Philadelphia & Southern New Jersey is sending to you is one that boldly declares: you are the leaders of our tomorrow, you are our future, and we are committed to empowering you to become your best self despite whatever challenges may come your way. And so during your time in GTLT, your quote unquote today was packed with intention and potential, and yes probably your fair share of growing pains. But at its core, it was all a means of preparation for an honored title and responsibility that awaited you upon your completion of the program: LEADER.
Girls Today, Leaders Tomorrow.
My beautiful, intelligent, empowered young ladies: Tomorrow is here.
And thanks to your hard work, dedication and commitment to seeing the program through thus far you are equipped to lead NOW. The two month break that you all have before you reconvene is an opportunity to explore and apply all of the lessons that you’ve learned thus far about leadership, community service, accountability, goal setting and academic achievement.
What kind of things will you have accomplished by the time you see the faces of your GTLT peers and mentors again? What will you be able to report back to everyone about how you “flexed’ your leadership muscle?
Every girl in the region didn’t have the opportunity to experience GTLT like you did. That means that your summer should look different from the norm, because GTLT has nurtured the wealth of greatness within you whether you realize it or not. Great leaders don’t achieve their status by following the norm. They don’t achieve their status by thinking as others think and doing as others do. Great leaders achieve their status by remaining relentless in the pursuit of bettering themselves and their communities, and remaining open and understanding to the possibilities of life.
So this summer, when others want to simply play in the park that’s full of litter, will you be the great leader who takes initiative and organizes a clean-up? When others have pushed school so far out of their minds to instead focus on actions that may ultimately lead to a dead end, will you be the leader and visionary that sketches out a game plan for how you all can run a summer business or improve your lives somehow (because it’s not just your parents and guardians job to do that, you know)? When your friends show signs of being content in life and not striving for better or possibly even worse, will you be the leader of group to find ways for you all to positively better yourselves and take steps closer to your respective dreams?
Being a great leader is never easy, but it is most certainly worth it. I am proof of that. Here’s why I say that…
Two years ago today, on June 13th, 2013, I posted a farewell message to United Way on my social media networks. It was my last day working a 9-5pm. In addition to working full time there, I was also working full time to build my dreams through my brand, and now business, #SincerelySyreeta. You see, one year and a little over a month and three days before June 13, 2013, I had just graduated from Temple University where I majored in Journalism with a concentration in magazine. My daughters, Arionna and Gabrielle, sat in the audience cheering me on as I walked across stage. They didn’t know mommy had started a blog called SincerelySyreeta.com and just decided to get serious about it. And later that evening, they didn’t know that I had gotten a call from United Way telling me I had gotten the AmeriCorps job that I interviewed for. I didn’t know just how interesting my life was about to get on all fronts.
I worked hard to learn as much as I possibly could during my time at United Way, including what good leadership looks and function like. I also worked hard to take all that I learned during my year at United Way and use it to better my tomorrow through Sincerely Syreeta. Part of bettering my tomorrow through SS, was freelancing for EBONY Magazine’s online website, EBONY.com and covering events for SincerelySyreeta.com. These two opportunities in particular enabled me to meet, interview and work with my fair share celebrities, like Brandy, Mario, Russell Simmons, Angela & Vanessa Simmons, Lisa Leslie, Soledad O’ Brien, Toni Braxton, Rosario Dawson, and many more. I covered Full Figured Fashion Week and the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, and met some of the industry’s top designers and stylists. I made connections with some highly influential people and acquired some very powerful mentors along the way. The opportunities also enabled me to produce my own events and hosts others, build a strong social media influence, acquire a glam team, develop an expert voice, create empowerment programming for those in need, develop an expert voice, and become a motivational speaker.
When this day rolled around in 2013, I had a decision to make: continue working a 9-5 or go full time with my dream and passion?
Now to first give you some perspective, I became pregnant at the age of 16 years-old. I had my daughter on June 5th, 2005 and three days later, I was walking across stage to receive my high school diploma, one year early. I took that next year to work three jobs, before applying and getting into Temple who, at the time, offered family housing. My daughter and I came to Philly in 2006 and moved on campus right at Broad and Norris where the housing has since been knocked down. During my time at Temple, I was forced to get on welfare, work multiple jobs and survive in a city with no family. I saw all this to say: I understood what sacrifice meant. I understood that when you really want something in life, the process to getting it will either make you or break you. And it’s completely up to you which of those options become your truth.
With any challenges or decisions that I’ve faced in life, I’ve always followed my heart as my goal is to become a better human being and, as a mother, work to ensure the same for my children. That way of thinking helps to keep a healthy perspective on fear and perseverance.
So when that difficult decision, along with a great deal of fear, became present in my life via these two paths a 9-5 or entrepreneurship, I did what I always do: develop a strategic plan that allows me to follow my heart.
I said goodbye to the 9-5 world and became an entrepreneur.
From June 13th, 2013 on, my leadership skills have been tested in ways like never before. I no longer have just a brand–that brand evolved in to a company with four other team members and network of business partners. Sincerely Syreeta & Co., LLC, is now a media production and communications company established in Dec. 31st, 2013 that houses: (1) SincerelySyreeta.com, a lifestyle blog (the very blog that sparked it all); (2) Sincerely Chosen: The Live Interview Series which is a monthly talk show that I hold at Relish restaurant the third Wednesday of every month (we celebrate our one year anniversary this Wednesday); (3) a social impact initiative called SiSy’s Here that has had programming in schools and after-school programs across the city; (4) a public persona (I’m known as Sincerely Syreeta or SS and am way more known than I once was); and (5) consulting services for those in need of strategic planning as it pertains to branding and social media.
Flash forward to today, the very today that was my “tomorrow” two years ago, and I’m delivering the keynote address for the GTLT program created by the very organization that I bid farewell to.
My keynote message is simple: Tomorrow is here…all leaders rise. And rise we shall.
I want to leave you with three pieces of information to carry with you as you begin your tomorrow and then some homework. First the advice: (1) always humble yourself, (2) remain a student to life, as you will never know everything, and (3) the majority of the answer that you’ll need in life will lie within you—life is simply here to draw them out of you for the betterment of yourself and others.
Now the homework: (1) Identify three things that you want to accomplish over the next two months in the following areas: community, your career/academics and your personal life. (2) Develop a timeline for completion for each goal. (3) Find a GTLT accountability partner to be there for you through these next two months to ensure you make progress and achieve your goals. (4) Come back ready to give a full report of how you took the Tomorrow that you’ve worked so hard for and became not just any leader, but a GREAT leader.
So girls, are you ready to lead?[girls shout “YES!”]
Wait, I can’t hear you—your Tomorrow is here. The time is now. It’s time to lead. Are you ready to lead?[girls shout louder, more enthusiastically, “YES!”]
Well let’s lead then.
– Written and delivered by Syreeta Martin for the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey’s GTLT Closing Ceremony at the Doubletree Hotel in Philadelphia on June 13, 2015 at 12:45 pm.