Leeza Jonee



L+A: Describe your experiences and how it lead to where you are now.

It's funny because I tell my friends I’ve had every job under the sun, which when you think about it in hindsight, it’s definitely built me into the person I am today, because you take something from each job. My very first job was in a pet supply store, but then I was also working in a restaurant. So for me it was great because I got to work with so many different people. I must say you also learn a lot about yourself as a person being in these situations with different personalities. So I say all that to say this - I’m creating a space for myself.

L+A: Tell us about Breathing space.

Breathing Space is a series where people come together and have a conversation about a specific topic. So far we've talked about social media and its influence, what women want in collaboration with Chauna Michole who is a photographer, black hair and the advantages and disadvantages it has, and then our last one on sex, which was our most popular one.

I’ve always had this idea of bringing people together, especially people from different walks of life, and for me I have so many different friends within different fields like art; music; writing; film; , etc. I wanted us to have a conversation and see what people do and don’t agree on to see where people's minds are at. Early 2016 this dj, Freispeech came to me because he wanted to create “Cocktails and Conversation”. We had known each other for a short period of time but I knew I could trust him, because of the type of business ventures I wanted to get into and he currently had a project going on that he created for himself called EyeSpy Brooklyn. So I really just ran with it because it took off for us and people really loved the idea.

However, three gatherings in he reached out to me telling me he wanted to step back, but would always be there for me if I ever needed. We had already built this relationship with Ode to Babel , so once he left, luckily, everything still worked out smoothly. Thiss wasn’t the original concept of Breathing Space, but like other things on this journey, you learn more and expand your idea to not limit yourself so much as a space curator.

“I just wanted to bring everyone together and just share knowledge because knowledge is power honestly”.

L+A: How was the idea inspired?

So “Love Jones’ is one of my favorite movies, it's the ultimate love story for people of color. It's very relatable, because it’s not some exaggerated idea of who people of color are; it’s very much real like we all have jobs and we all come to a place like [Ode to Babel] to unwind and enjoy each other’s company with laid-back music, all while having real conversations. So for me it was like why not create a larger space. 

L+A: What’s the best part of what you do?

Bringing people together. For example at the last event I told people to take out their phone and follow someone next to you and in the room. I feel like we get so caught up in ourselves and in social media and its like why not follow someone in this space, who possibly gave a perspective you may not have thought of, in regards to the particular topic?

L+A: What was the hardest decision you’ve made and did it benefit you in the end?

Losing my job right in March - I had to decide on whether I should be looking for a job or taking this time to pursue Breathing Space, amongst other things. I lost my job not only right after my birthday but before a big event I was planning for months. For me, that drove me to build my networking relationships and really sell myself. Within these past months I’m truly blessed to say I’ve accomplished a lot more than I would have, had I gotten another job right away.

L+A: Would you say poetry is your release? How did you get into that?

I’ve been writing since I was very young. I wrote my first poem when I was in 6th grade, coming home riding the 6 train, at the time when Def Poetry was out. But, public speaking wasn’t my thing, however, I attended one meeting and I enjoyed watching how people expressed emotion and feelings through words — and for me it was an epiphany.

Writing came so easy to me and above all it’s the one thing that constantly motivates me and allows me to be free and creative with my thoughts. I now have publishers that are interested in me, which make it all worth it. 

Although I don’t do things for the approval of anyone other than myself, just to have someone reach out to you is amazing. Sometimes you need that validation even when you're not seeking it, because if people are moved by your words then it makes you want to produce more.

I’m also in the middle of publishing my first book. I’ve been putting out snippets of a piece I’ve been working on called “A Woman I Know”

L+A: Has there been a specific situation as a woman of color that you’ve had to deal with?

There was this one company I’ve always wanted to work for, and I had the chance to work with them at an event a couple of years ago. Fast forward to August of this year - I saw this company was hiring so I jumped at the opportunity of course for an assistant position. This company was owned by a black woman and it was a black owned business period. I personally felt as though she saw me as a threat because her first question to me was “how can you be my personal assistant when you have you own thing going?” and I honestly felt if I were a white woman, she would have looked at it as ‘oh wow she’s well connected and accomplished’. I feel at the end of the day I still have high regards for her and her company but I just didn’t see myself working there as someone's personal assistant.

“So as a black woman putting yourself out there as an entrepreneur is very difficult”.

When this woman asked me about Breathing Space my face lit up, because I was excited to share with her [another black woman from the South like myself] something I’ve created, thinking she’d appreciate that — but her response was very bland. I feel with black people they’re very much inspired by you in a sense where its like oh what you're doing is nice, but I’m going to do it better, which is very frustrating because like, we should be building together not against one another.

L+A: When’s the last time you felt vulnerable?

Honestly every day! Me being vulnerable is making sure I’m able to articulate my intellectual views the way I want to articulate them. I feel like I’m allowing myself to be vulnerable day to day and I think that’s important because when you think about it, vulnerability is letting your guard down and letting a piece of you out that may or may not be accepted by the person on the receiving end. When you’re letting yourself go in a way that’s not always accepted by everyone, to me that is vulnerability, because you’re being more of who you are as a person, unapologetically; which people are so afraid to live in their truth daily.

L+A: Who would you like to collaborate with and why?

People who are like me, who are starting from the bottom. Even you guys with Collective Shades, I support the movement and would love to help anyway I can because at the end of the day we’re all in this struggle together, creating platforms for ourselves. Very similar to what Issa rai said in an interview “You want to build with people on your level, they’re important too because you never know who knows who”.

L+A:  What’s the best advice you’ve received from a woman?

This woman, she was a major influence with pushing myself more within all the things I wanted to do. For me it wasn’t necessarily advice but it was critique. She told me you’re surrounded by dope individuals for a reason, because you yourself have that dopeness to you. 

You have projects that you’ve been working on or procrastinating with? Go for it, do them. You have to realize your worth and believe in yourself and never sell your self short!.

Photo Credit: William Adoasi