Today is a special edition of Introduce Yourself. Please help me to welcome Ashton Smith to The PBS Blog!
Ashton is an amazing young woman from Fort Worth, Texas, with a powerful story. She’s a world-medal award-winning swimmer, author, and corporate speaker. She is legally blind in one eye and has difficulty seeing out of the other, but she has not let this stop her from pursuing her athletic endeavors. Smith does not only swim but has been involved in bocce, track and field, basketball, and flag football. She has won gold medals and traveled the world.
However, Ashton’s journey has not been without trial.
According to the rules of the Special Olympics, they ban their athletes from making income. This left Ashton struggling to find a way to support herself even as she was competing. While headed to the World Games in Dubai, Smith struggled financially and fell into homelessness.
“I think it becomes unfair and harsh when members are prevented from earning a livelihood off of their own efforts. I think it’s unfair that a team member should have to be reduced to begging for money on the side of the road, which I had to do while being an athlete in the organization. I was required to raise money for the organization, yet when I started a GoFundMe, I was told to take it down. I was asked to stop asking the public for money.”
Without a home, Smith bounced around from place to place and depended on friends for help. When her grandmother died, she lost her only form of support.
“It was very hard, very difficult, and very tough because you didn’t know where your next meal would come from or certain things you wouldn’t know.”
Today, Ashton is committed to sharing her story to raise awareness about the unfair treatment she received as a disabled person.
“I find it odd that television networks aired my story about being homeless and nearly destitute, yet I couldn’t benefit from the content. They used it to make money, yet I was never given a dime. I’ve never gotten paid by ESPN or the organization but they used my story to make millions.”
Ashton’s grandmother and sister helped her financially. However, both have passed on, making getting around as a visually impaired person even more challenging.
Smith’s fight continues as she seeks to spread the word about her newfound purpose of being a voice for the voiceless. She achieves this through public speaking and her motivational memoir, which delves deep into her story and journey.
“I have decided to speak up and be an advocate for the disadvantaged.”
Please help me extend a warm welcome to Monique Johnson.
Welcome to the PBS Blog!
What is your name and where are you from?
I am Monique R Johnson, Los Angeles, CA born and raised, but moved to Fort Worth, Texas in 2019.
Nice. Cali to Texas is a big transition. What inspired the move?
I considered Texas several years prior. A couple of people I grew up with made the move over 15 years ago. It was when I started dating a guy I worked with who, later took a job in Texas, that I reconsidered.
What would your perfect writing / reading room look like?
My perfect writing and reading room would look like a university library.
Nicee! I’m loving it already.
I’d have a writing desk with the perfect desk lamp for late-night writing. I’d have a bookcase with books from various genres: motivation, Christian spiritual, financial, self-help, poetry, and a few children’s books for my grands. I would have a leather recliner and a tall, full bird of paradise plant in the corner near the window.
What is the most annoying habit that you have?
Correcting grammar. It gets on everyone’s nerves.
So YOU the grammar police!
If you could do anything else, what job do you think you’d be really good at?
Lawyer. I love to make my point.
Lol. Any siblings Monique?
Three biological brothers, one step-brother, and three step-sisters.
If you had unlimited funds to build a house that you would live in for the rest of your life, what would the finished house be like?
Mansion, with an east and west wing, two kitchens, game room, media room, living room, enclosed patio, herb and vegetable garden on one side of the back yard, a dog run in the other, and an in-ground swimming pool in the center. The house would have a balcony with an amazing view. The bathroom would have a walk-in shower, with a waterfall feature and a sitting area.
Let’s get into writing a bit. What genre do you write in and why?
Mixed Genre of non-fiction with a dramatic approach and a sprinkle of poetry to end each chapter. I love writing this way because it makes it more engaging and easier to explain how people can get unstuck.
Why is writing important to you?
I write for my family and generations to come so that they will know how I made it through the toughest times in my life. I want readers of my work, be it my poetry, my magazine articles, or my novel, to know that an everyday person like themselves can get through whatever they are dealing with if they decide to believe that they can.
When did you publish your first book?
My first Anthology was published December 2021. My first memoir was published June 30, 2022. It was exciting and challenging for me. I learned that publishing is not the hard part, it’s the promotion and marketing that’s hard for me.
I get it. So what takes up too much of your time?
Figuring out systems for my business and now my book journey.
In your book, you talked a lot about how your faith got you through a lot of the pain. Do you consider yourself a religious person?
I am not religious in that I do not believe in all of the rules and traditions that mark religions. I do follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. I believe Christ was a spiritual teacher and healer, but the world was not ready to receive such a reality. Religion nailed him to the cross.
If you had one superpower that could change the world, what would it be?
To make everyone love each other with a Godly love.
What does a Godly love look like?
A Godly love looks like a man and woman who puts God first, demonstrates unconditional love, sacrifices for one another, and goes to God in prayer over situations the couple cannot handle in their own strength.
What are your thoughts on race?
We should embrace our differences, and not be opinionated on who is the better of the races. The conflict is in the ignorance of one or the other and the fear.
What do you think of police brutality in the black community?
I am mixed on it. I am a mother of black sons and they express to me that they know how to do the psychological game with the police so, thank God, they’ve not been a victim of it. They have been stopped, even arrested, but never mishandled. How can we do better? I think all of our people who have been victimized, profiled, or targeted by law enforcement should learn to use psychology, or better yet wisdom instead of responding with emotions. That is not helping during intense situations.
How would one use the study of the mind to avoid police brutality? Can you give some examples of how getting overly emotional could worsen already intense situations?
For example, if an officer is approaching a black man on a routine traffic stop, or suspicious activity, the black man should not react in a defensive, or in any way that can be taken as uncooperative, or threatening. Instead, he should be compliant, ask what the stop is for, ask if he is being put under arrest, and get the officers names. A calm, unemotional state of mind will put the officer a little more at ease, thus de-escalating the situation.
You KNOW I got more questions, chile. But, let’s move on.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Life is not always pretty. We all experience hardship every now and again.
What is your best advice for reducing stress?
Get enough word in you to have something to meditate on when you are getting overwhelmed. Walk, bike ride, or spend time doing dedicated workouts. Eat healthy.
In your own words, what is humility?
Maintaining a grateful attitude, not thinking you deserve all the accolades, but are willing to share the spotlight. Gracious in your acceptance of gifts, complements, and is not easily offended.
What is love?
God. It is receiving others right where they are without judgement. Accepting the good and the bad. Tolerance. Caring about your fellow human. Forgiving.
Thank you, Monique, for spending this time with us.We enjoyed you!
Monique Johnson is a native Californian who relocated to Texas in pursuit of new opportunities just before the world-wide pandemic and social unrest. She is the former founder and president of a nonprofit after school program she created to help keep teens off of the streets. She brought awareness to the Prison Industrial Complex and how it’s growth was planned based on statistics pulled from the minority population. These stats have been improperly used to build more prisons, thus keeping this population incarcerated. She mentored youth to keep them from making bad choices that could land them in the unforgiving criminal justice system.
Johnson motivates single mothers, women in general, as well as young men to push through the hard parts of life. She is an experienced trainer, speaker, project manager, and has a gift of leadership as displayed in her professional career and community. Her books and her upcoming workshops are geared toward her goal to help women and men in their business, personal and spiritual development.
Title: Relentlessly Resilient: Overcoming the Resistance Author: Monique Johnson Publisher: Monique Johnson Published: July 4, 2022 Pages: 193
In Relentlessly Resilient, the author gives us an unflinching look at her life as a young woman enduring trial after trial and her resolve to overcome all the hurdles thrown her way. Seduced by the cute, play-boy, roughneck types, Monique learns the hard way that looks can deceive when a boy she falls for forces himself on her.
From the trauma of sexual assault, becoming a young mother, battling diabetes, and much more, this book kicks into gear quickly, starting with a series of tumultuous relationships, including dating a guy who had become addicted to drugs. I grew up around many addicts in the projects, including my parents, so I know their ways and could empathize with how she felt about the disappearing acts and stolen TV.
When she went to get the stolen bike back from the dealer, I was yelling at the book at this point. Girl, what are you doing? But nothing happened, to which the author credits her faith. The dealer actually gave her the bike back. Whew. That was close.
I enjoyed the author’s candor when discussing her thought patterns during these challenging times and talking us through the lessons she learned. One of the most important ones involved her son, Tyrell. Although she was working hard and providing for her son’s needs physically, she projected the stress she took on onto him every time she yelled at him to get ready or couldn’t spend time with him because of her busy schedule.
Relentlessly Resilient is a story I believe we can all relate to on some level. At the end of each chapter, the author shares a reflection as a final touch.
Monique’s story is a reminder of the strength of the human spirit. Constantly thrown through life’s curveballs, the author always recovers quickly and regains her strength.
Title: Living in the Land of I am: Your Life Journey Reveals Your Purpose Author: Tiffany James Publisher: Encourage Touch Enterprise ASIN: B07SB68C1F Publication date: May 22, 2019 Print length: 158 pages
Living in the Land of I am: Your Life Journey Reveals Your Purpose is a hopeful read about the importance of embracing your authentic self and operating in that truth. According to the author, losing our identity also means relinquishing the authority given to us to fulfill our purpose. (p. 67)
I enjoyed the author’s testimony, examples, and analogies to expand on her point further. We are invited into her world and we learn the many things she overcame and how we too can live in that land of I am, that is our truest self. We learn there is beauty in acknowledging and accepting one’s set-apartness.
My favorite example is the one of Simba from Disney’s 1994 animated feature film, The Lion King. The story of how he was born into royalty and stood proud and strong in that purpose until the death of his father Mufasa made him lose his voice was very nicely recounted.
When Simba meets Pumbaa and Timon and starts basking in what looks like a carefree life, the author reminds us that while he seems happy, he forgets that he was born to be a King. Now a grown lion, Simba has been reduced to a confused, scared, angry, and hurt little cub (p.37). When he returns to fulfill his purpose, he becomes the strong and mighty lion he was born to be. I thought this laid a strong foundation for the rest of the book.
I was not a big fan of the author’s Christian views because I’m not a Christian. Still, overall, I found the book to be a great reminder of the importance of standing in our truth and being authentically and unapologetically ourselves.
Title: Immersed in West Africa
Author: Terry Lister
Print Length: 159 Pages
Publisher: Book Power Publishing
Publication Date: August 29, 2019
Immersed in West Africa is the exciting journey of one man’s travels across Senegal, Mauritania, Gambia, Guinea, and Guinea Bissau. Anyone who knows me or has followed this blog for any significant time knows how much I love traveling. The pandemic put a stop to our travels, so it was refreshing to at least be able to read about some lesser-explored parts of West Africa from the author’s perspective.
We learn about Goree, the infamous island in Senegal with roots in the history of the slave trade. The island had twenty-eight slave houses and transported nearly two million people. We learn that the Maison des Esclaves (The House of Slaves) and its Door of No Return are museums and memorial to the Atlantic slave trade on the Gorée Island that they renovated in 1990.
I enjoyed the author’s authenticity when recounting his experiences as he moved from one place to the next. I found his accounts to be thorough, honest, and thought-provoking. Lister doesn’t gloss over parts that did not serve him well, such as the indigenous village on Lake Retba in Senegal’s Pink Lake (the people kept asking him for money) and the trouble he faced journeying into Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania. The harassment Terry endured from the police is an all-too-familiar narrative between black men and law enforcement. Forcing him to the station, asking him about his money, making him wait, and all of that was completely unnecessary.
I learned from this that it is an excellent idea to guard against those who see you as a new face and try to take advantage of you. I commend the author’s courage because I would not want to travel from country to country alone, precisely because of situations like this.
Also, about the Pink Lake, the author explains it is pink because of its high salinity, second only to the Dead Sea.
We discover few people visit Mauritania because of its strict policy against alcohol and how Mauritanians love mint tea. I loved reading about making it as performed by a woman in Chinguetti. We learn desert homes use propane gas units that they carry from room to room. In Mauritania, we also discover that they use the sun to power their street lights and have installed solar panels to light up the streets.
If you are already intrigued, you will love this book as I have only scratched the surface of the author’s adventures. There is a lot to learn from someone’s personal experience that adds a seasoning that far outweighs looking it up on Google.
I love learning about how things are different in other countries, like the communal way of eating meals, sitting around a table or on the floor in a circle, and eating with your right hand, no utensils. I also did not know polygamy was legal in Senegal.
I cannot wait until it is safe again, and we can do some international travel. I might consider some places this author visited. I would love to taste the cold water he got to drink from The Terjit Oasis, where the water fell from the rocks!
Please help me extend a warm welcome to Victoriyah Smith. Welcome to the PBS Blog!
What is your name and where are you from?
My name is Victoria Smith (Victoriyah Israyl) and I am from Gulfport, Mississippi.
What was your childhood dream?
My childhood dream was to be able to travel to different countries around the world. I have been blessed to travel to the Bahamas, Jamaica, Belize, Progresso, Montego Bay, Cozumel, Key West, to name a few places. I enjoy learning new cultures and trying fresh foods as long as it is not pork or shellfish.
I feel you. I love traveling myself. Got a travel buddy? Married?
I am married to my wonderful, loving, supportive husband, Willie. We have shared this life together for 21 years.
Beautiful. Let’s talk about writing a bit. When did you publish your first book? What was that like?
I published my first book on June 15, 2020, and it was a wonderful feeling.
Oh okayy. You new, new. Congratulations!
Thank you. It took a lot of work, time, and learning technical things to get it in the correct format for publishing; it was definitely a learning experience. I am now working on promoting my book as I work on writing my next book. I know the process will be more straightforward because of my first experience.
What do you love about yourself?
I love that I am a giver. I enjoy helping others and being a blessing to others who are not as fortunate as myself.
In your own words, what is humility?
Humility is being humble in my heart and my actions. Humility is the opposite of being puffed up and high minded. To walk in humility means to open yourself to understand the pain and disappointment of others. It is a welcoming approach to solving violence, anger, and aggression in relationships and society. Humility is being of no form or fashion, but existing in love and understanding as you seek to understand others when there is no peace. Humility is being as a little child.
I love that part about opening yourself up to understand the pain of others. Victoriyah, what is the best advice you’ve ever been given? What made it special?
My father gave me some wisdom as a young adult after I built my home. He was laying a new driveway for me, and I tried to pay him before he had finished the work. My father looked at me and asked, “Have you seen the finished product?” My answer was “No sir,” and then he said,” Never pay for a service in full until you’ve seen the finished product. Even if it’s your daddy.” Those simple words have been special in my life because it gave me the courage I needed to hold people accountable in business transactions as a young woman.
That’s awesome. Why is writing important to you?
Writing has always been an escape for me. When I became a Sunday school-teacher years ago, writing became a huge part of my life as I would write stories of the bible that would help my students to understand the scripture in a greater way. As I have continued my relationship with the Most High, writing has been a central focus of my meditations as I am being guided by my creator to unfold many truths about the bible. I hope that the truths that are written in my books will help others increase their belief in our creator Yah.
Life is not always pretty, as we all experience hardship now and again and this is magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic. What is your best advice for reducing stress?
My advice for anyone experiencing hardship is to understand that there is a purpose for everything we experience. To find the meaning of life is to gain a relationship with our creator Yah and the Messiah Yahoshuah. I believe that by doing that, the Most High gives us understanding and direction in the path we should take in our lives. Pray to our creator Yah, cast all your burdens and troubles on him, and he will lift every burden (stress) and give you peace that surpasses all human understanding.
From the natural perspective, start a hobby, exercise, eat healthily, write more, and evaluate the decisions you are making and set goals to remove anything out of your life that may be causing stress. Our creator will give you the strength to remove those things through prayer.
Beautifully articulated. Outside of writing, what are some of your passions?
I enjoy gardening. I grow my own cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, and peppers. I also have a passion for helping women become their own bosses by giving them the tools they need to succeed. In 2014, I established an organization to work toward that end. It is called “Network of Women Business Owners.” I also enjoy helping the less fortunate individuals in the community with clothes, food, and resources to help them overcome life’s challenges.
Thank you Victoriyah for spending this time with us. We enjoyed you!
Born in Gulfport, Mississippi, Victoriyah received her master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Alabama and her bachelor’s degree in Social Work from the University of Southern Mississippi. Also, she obtained an associate’s degree in Business Management from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. With a passion for helping every inspiring woman become her own boss, Victoriyah shares her proven insights with diverse audiences through training, consulting services, workshops, seminars, and online platforms.
Mrs. Smith is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Network of Women Business Owners, a professional business network established in 2014 in Gulfport, Mississippi. Victoriyah resides in Gulfport, Mississippi, with her husband, Willie, and her (4) children and grandchildren live in Texas. She is available to conduct speeches and facilitate professional development training for professional women groups, organizations, and empowerment business events.
“Today I finished reading Keep Yourself Full, and I am beyond in awe of this book! There were so many amazing points made in this work – even tips that I was not fully aware of. That says so much to me, as someone who thought they were aware of how to care for myself. While reading about self-abuse and indicators of it really opened my eyes to how much I don’t know! I look forward to buying a few copies to send my close friends.”
– K. McCoy
“I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book/devotional (It was like a devotional for me). I had been looking for a book such as this that was more of encouragement/devotional type… the topics that you chose were fitting for any individual. I even caught myself reading points that were real and true out loud to my husband (Balance and Value). I am so glad that you decided to write this type of book. I know this will encourage people because it encouraged me as I was reading it.”
– Natashia Crawford
“This was a wonderful, inspiring read. I felt the book flowed well overall and the various parts seemed to go in a nice order. The writing style was poetic in a way and I felt as though it mimicked the way the verses were told, which I thought was a nice touch. It wasn’t “preachy” at all and it was just a general bout of information to remind everyone we should take better care of ourselves.”
– Rachel Poli
“Oh wow, Yecheilyah, I loved it. I’m following some of the advice you gave and finding such a difference in how I think about things. This is a wonderful book.
Keep Yourself Full is a spiritual handbook that focuses on our return to self-love. It is a reminder that self-care nourishes the quality of our lives and makes us fit to be of service to others. Through my testimony, I give examples of how we self-abuse and how that differs from self-love, why it is essential not to take things so personally, why we must establish and enforce healthy boundaries, and how assumptions kill relationships. We learn that by investing in our well-being spiritually, physically, mentally, and professionally, we can be of service fully to others. It cannot be ignored that we treat others how we feel about ourselves. When we realize that what we do to others, we are equally doing to ourselves, we can use this awareness to heal. By treating ourselves better, we treat others better. Keep Yourself Full is about keeping ourselves filled with love and all that is good so that we are overflowing with enough to share with everyone else.