Walker’s Legacy Profiles recognize unique women of color in business who embody the legacy of Madam C.J. Walker, the first female self-made millionaire. In this installment, meet Jessica Smith, Creative Director of Jessica Smith Media.
It’s not often that you find someone who equally loves being both in front of and behind the camera. Enter Jessica Smith, creative director of Jessica Smith Media. This talented media maven loves expressing herself through creative storytelling and found her passion for advocacy at the nexus of leadership and journalism. As a writer and photographer, Smith loves to shine the light into dark places and so inspires her audience to pursue what gives them peace and joy.
Walker’s Legacy caught up with Smith to learn more about her current career and how her unique experiences have impacted her success.
You found a passion for advocacy at the intersection of journalism and leadership, which is simply fascinating. Can you share your experience and how it has paved the way for success in your current career?
As an undergraduate student at a PWI [predominantly white institution], I consistently sought out diverse opportunities to develop my leadership skills. I plugged into the Black Student Alliance and other organizations related to minority/women’s empowerment. For instance, I joined Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. because I believe in its mission to “study and help alleviate problems concerning girls and women in order to improve their social stature.” I was also a communications/journalism major, so I became a staff writer for the university newspaper and covered topics related to minority students’ needs.
This led me to discover that advocacy is a powerful tool for amplifying muted voices, capturing untold stories, and creating lasting change. Whomever I’m working with, whether it be youth or adults, I prefer to serve as an “advocate.” Currently, I am a business counselor at the Women’s Business Center of Northern Virginia, where I help socially and economically disadvantaged women gain the footing they need to become successful entrepreneurs.
What has been your greatest leadership challenge and how did you overcome it?
Honestly, my greatest leadership challenge has been defending my expertise based on my age. Because I’m advising clients that are oftentimes decades older than I am, I tend to be greatly underestimated, even if it’s never mentioned verbally. Sometimes it has even made me doubt entering this field. I’d be being disingenuous if I said I had completely overcome this challenge; however, I let my work speak for itself. Moreover, my clients leave feeling empowered and better equipped to excel in their businesses. This motivates me to continue working in my gifts and be an inspiration for other young women leaders on the rise.
Do you find that women experience unique challenges when navigating leadership and entrepreneurship? Explain.
I’d say yes, simply because entrepreneurs are all starting at ground zero, in a sense. They don’t have years of experience (in a solo operation) to lean on, so they have to trust their own process and know that the right relationships and resources will materialize. Entrepreneurship itself is all about risk-taking. I think that once women leaders really tap into the boldness that comes from taking those risks, they develop a thicker skin and the opinions of others won’t faze them nearly as much as they did in the beginning.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Storytelling is a powerful means of capturing hearts and bridging cultural and economic divides. Five years from now, I will have expanded my platform www.JessicaSmithMedia.com to include more international development opportunities and provide resources for women and children across the globe. Most recently, I crowdfunded a missions trip to Cameroon, Africa, to carry out a leadership development conference, Beautiful You, with Raising a Generation of Esthers Foundation. I have seen sisterhood enacted transcontinentally and it is an incredible sight!
What is your best advice for women intent on discovering their passion and creating a career they love?
Get plugged into a like-minded community that allows you to be authentic. From there, you will discover your passion and find places to serve in that space. Continue to pursue projects and opportunities that build on this cause and you’ll end up exactly where you need to be. Have an open heart and be willing to be uncomfortable in order to grow. Don’t make money an idol. Relationships will prove to be more of an asset than money every time.
Image: Jessica Smith. Image: CCP Photos