The importance of networking and building relationships. We would not be where we are today without the support of our community. I had no idea that so much of owning/operating a business comes down to our network. With Redefining Normal, we are leveraging the foster care community and our relationships with our university to push our mission forward.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexis Black, a proud foster care alumni, recent graduate, bestselling author, speaker as well as a serial entrepreneur. In 2016, she founded The Scholarship Expert business to assist students in graduating from college debt-free. With her husband, she founded Redefining Normal and the ROSE Empowerment group to encourage people to heal while breaking generational patterns.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I’ve been in the foster care system since the age of 13 years old. My mother committed suicide when I was six and my father was sent to prison when I was 12. At 17 years old, I met my amazing foster parents where I was officially adopted at 26. Eight months later, I married my best friend, business partner and fiance of four years during the pandemic this August.
In everything that I do, I try to use my shortcomings as an opportunity to learn and grow. I use my experiences in the foster care system as a tool and outlet to make a difference and teach others the steps of overcoming trauma and failure. In undergrad, I completed eight study abroad programs and co-developed two new study abroad programs while traveling to over 30 countries. This goes to show that no matter your experiences, when provided the right resources, the sky’s the limit! Knowing this, I co-founded three companies that are social impact-oriented and intended to provide the necessary resources for individuals and communities to grow.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You are the average of the five people you surround yourself with.”
Transitioning from an abusive relationship that I was in from the age of 13 to 22, I noticed that when my surroundings changed my mindset changed as well. Originally from Flint, Michigan, my identity was a reflection of my friend group as well as the environment I grew up in. My actions and behaviors did me no justice and I had to make a change. It was difficult to make that shift in mindset when I lived in the same environment. My peers would ridicule me if I dared to question their unhealthy habits. After my honest remarks were taken as bitter, I knew I needed a new circle of friends and supporters.
It was time to turn a new page in order for me to make needed adjustments in my life. My foster parents moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan and during my second year of college I transferred to Western Michigan University where I was exposed to what felt like a whole new world of possibilities. Moving locations allowed my adoptive parents to have a greater influence in my life. I changed my social circle and my group of friends reflected my future and not my past. After making that decision, my life changed drastically.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. It is a story of shame and redemption that reaches across racial and religious gaps. That no matter your environment, even in war, you can find joy.
I can see this reflected in my own life that no matter what I go through and what my environment looks like, I have the power to choose joy in any situation. This reminds me of the power of our mind and our words and how we can reframe our situations so that we can learn and be empowered from it.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
After graduating from college in 2019, I began an internship in Washington D.C. Shortly after, I decided to relaunch my company during my keynote speech at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California. The experience was amazing to say the least. The organization flew out Justin (my now husband) for an incredible weekend filled with networking, laughter, and fun. The company is The Scholarship Expert, a scholarship coaching business that helps students find and apply for scholarships. Through workshops, presentations, and seminars, we’ve helped to serve over 400 students with numerous strategies and techniques of how to locate scholarships and as methods of earning those opportunities.
We’ve gone on to produce our Scholarship Blueprint course and workbook along with the Perfect College Student Planner!
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
A month after presenting in California, we traveled to Cape Town, South Africa for a few months. I went to volunteer and further develop The Scholarship Expert remotely alongside Justin as he studied abroad for the semester. It didn’t take much for me to want to revisit one of my favorite countries in the world! Unfortunately, we were only able to stay in Cape Town for a month and a half before the global pandemic impacted South Africa. After being emergency evacuated in March, we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to write our book that we had started brainstorming ideas for a few months prior. The world was shut down and we were trapped in my parent’s RV outside of their house for two weeks. We had nothing but time to start the writing process.
As you know, there was nothing easy about this process. We felt trapped, isolated, and separated from the world. Everything was happening so quickly and we didn’t know what our next move would be. We fought through depression and anxiety in order to produce our most powerful life changing project yet.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
We had been wanting to write a book since the Fall of 2019. Seeing that we discuss healthy relationships and the absence of them in our childhood every other day, we felt the need to express these ideas. We knew we weren’t experts but we thought our lived experience could help individuals form an identity based on their truth. An identity from outside of the family, community, and societal expectations placed on us. Given that my husband and I have experienced extreme trauma throughout our childhood, we felt that we must resolve the damage that was done together. This book was the outlet to do so!
This also gave me the idea to write a memoir where we had alternating accounts on multiple different perspectives. We have two different individual stories that describe how we both overcame our trauma to become who we are today.
How are things going with this new initiative?
It’s amazing, to say the least! We’ve turned our Redefining Normal book into a business and have done presentations to numerous foster care agencies and schools hoping to learn how to interact with trauma-induced students. We are hoping that couples (dating, married, tangled) can read our book together to uncover the trauma they’ve experienced and how it still impacts them. Even if you’re single, this is an identity book! It challenges each individual to reflect on the family and community that shaped their identity in order to realize the bad habits that they’ve been practicing. My husband and I write in alternating accounts where you can hear his perspective and experience as well as mine. Though we discuss parts of our relationship, we discuss our personal journey of overcoming trauma and abuse
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Yes! I would like to recognize my pastor and mentor who planted the seed of being a business owner and author several years ago. I don’t think I would’ve had the courage or even the thought of being either if she hadn’t suggested it during our mentoring sessions.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
We wanted to launch our book after we got married in August but decided to push the launch date back until November for National Adoption Month as we can attach this book to something much greater than ourselves. Since doing that, our book was named as a #1 Amazon bestseller in three categories!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- It is completely different to manage tasks and projects than it is to manage a team of people. It was just my husband and I since we started but now we have a team of 9 and I am learning how to manage people with their own needs, wants, and motivations within the position.
- The importance of networking and building relationships. We would not be where we are today without the support of our community. I had no idea that so much of owning/operating a business comes down to our network. With Redefining Normal, we are leveraging the foster care community and our relationships with our university to push our mission forward.
- The importance of digital marketing and analysis. With 3 almost entirely online businesses, I didn’t realize just how much I didn’t know about marketing and data analytics before beginning. When I look at Google analytics, I would get overwhelmed and do not know what to do or move forward.
- How few women own and lead businesses and how empowering it would be to join groups that connect us. Over the summer, I had the opportunity to join a competitive entrepreneurial program for women and it was exceptional the way that we encouraged each other and shared information.
- The various platforms used to simply operate a business. After countless hours of research and YouTube videos, I figured out the optimal platforms we need to run each of our businesses. Now that I’ve figured out which cost-effective and rewarding platforms to use, I share them far and wide to support other entrepreneurs.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
I take mental breaks from social media, only popping on to check on our launch team and on family members during this time. I also have to be intentional about getting off my phone at a certain time of day with apps and settings that limit my screen time so that I don’t fall into this cycle. Also, make sure you get some sleep as well. There is no better way to relieve stress than to rest.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Our purpose is about reshaping people’s image of themselves. There is so much unresolved trauma within families and communities that is passed down from generation to generation, Individuals begin to internalize and express those ideas in toxic ways. I would challenge each individual to reflect on the culture of their family and community and analyze if it has set them on the path of success or failure based upon the greater good of themselves and others. This is exactly what people will get from our book, Redefining Normal. This is our movement, #RedefiningNormal
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I would select Malala Yousafzai without a doubt. Her fearless fight towards education for girls has been an inspiration for me since I heard her story. She has redefined what was normal for her and thousands of girls around the world. I hope to one day be a point of inspiration for others, especially current and former foster youth.
How can our readers follow you online?
Readers are more than welcome to follow our journey for Redefining Normal at:
Our book is also available at Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08MDHZ5KZ
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!