Being relentless in my research for resources. The various platforms used to simply operate a business can be challenging yet rewarding. 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. I would advise change-makers to find people and platforms to assist them with creating an impact. Though I could learn each skill needed for my business, I’d be insane to attempt to do it all myself.
As part of our series about young people who are making an important social impact, 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 dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us about how you grew up?
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.
Is there a particular book or organization 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 them.
You are currently leading an organization that is helping to make a positive social impact. Can you tell us a little about what you and your organization are trying to create in our world today?
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.
We’ve turned our Redefining Normal book into a business and have done presentations to numerous foster care agencies, schools, and others in leadership positions who regularly interact with trauma-induced youth. 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, realizing 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 journey of overcoming trauma and abuse
Can you tell us the backstory about what originally inspired you to feel passionate about this cause and to do something about it?
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 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 on my life.
Whether toxic or healthy, numerous people have grown accustomed to their “normal”. This shapes their perspective of life and blinds them from other possibilities. I hope that authoring this book and producing the Redefining Normal business would allow others to challenge this reality.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
A friend of my adopted mother reached out to me regarding a company of mine. She noticed the work we had been doing as my mom described our mission and vision. Amazed by what we had accomplished with little resources, she asked to be our intern and I was shocked, to say the least! I informed her that we wouldn’t have the finance to pay her and she said that she was simply interested in learning from us. I was blown away again! After only working with us for about three to four months, she became our greatest asset. She organized our businesses, worked on projects and product development, and eventually helped us hire eight more interns. Without her, we definitely would be where we are today!
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
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 do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Making a difference would mean allowing others the opportunity to improve their life for themselves. My goal is to create avenues for individuals and communities to express their ideas and generate solutions to their issues. The reason this isn’t currently possible is due to the disconnect of basic life resources. Neighborhoods are suffering in despair without a vision. But how can you see beyond your circumstances when you’re barely making ends meet?
Many young people would not know what steps to take to start to create the change they want to see. But you did. What are some of the steps you took to get your project started? Can you share the top 5 things you need to know to become a changemaker? Please tell us 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 nine and I am learning how to manage people with their own needs, wants, and motivations within the position. The methods of doing so are listening, asking, and being intentional.
- 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 three 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 would not know what to do or how to move forward. Asking around and seeing how to utilize other’s abilities and learn from them. YouTube University also helps!
- Be willing and able to adjust and alter your method of executing. Studying others and how they approach particular situations will allow you to figure out your problem. A friend of mine reached out to me to learn how to operate a particular application and save money by switching to another. Ultimately, I saved her nearly $450 a month and taught her how to operate a far more effective program that cost far less than what she used before.
- Being relentless in my research for resources. The various platforms used to simply operate a business can be challenging yet rewarding. 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. I would advise change-makers to find people and platforms to assist them with creating an impact. Though I could learn each skill needed for my business, I’d be insane to attempt to do it all myself.
What are the values that drive your work?
Integrity, vulnerability and intentionality drives me to do the work that I do. I’ve found a way to use my experiences, both personally and professionally as a resource for good. I feel that our downfalls, failures, setbacks, and disadvantages position us to create a true impact. Helping others overcome and understand their purpose drives me to continue working and inspiring others. I’ve seen people go through their entire life helpless and pessimistic about their future. I’m encouraged that a word that I have spoken or an achievement I have earned can inspire them to do the same and even greater. I just hope that I have the opportunity to teach them to do it and assist them in uncovering their purpose.
Many people struggle to find what their purpose is and how to stay true to what they believe in. What are some tools or daily practices that have helped you to stay grounded and centred in who you are, your purpose, and focused on achieving your vision?
Developing habits and routines contribute to daily progress and following purpose. Oftentimes, I’d write my visions on a wall for me to see. This helps with continuous encouragement! Overall, stabilizing my mental health and building the strength mentally to preserve grant me the opportunity to maintain my vision. Without the daily practices of rest and patience, I’m sure I would completely fall apart.
In my work, I aim to challenge us all right now to take back our human story and co-create a vision for a world that works for all. I believe youth should have agency over their own future. Can you please share your vision for a world you want to see? I’d love to have you describe what it looks like and feels like. As you know, the more we can imagine it, the better we can manifest it!
Given my lived experiences in the child welfare system, I desire for every man and woman to establish a healthy community that is conducive for children to properly develop. This entails parents being active and intentional about using words of affirmation, helping youth understand the value of failure and the importance of interdependence. I would hope for every family to be strategic in structuring the foundation of their household along with community members that are positive examples of leadership and understanding how to express their emotions in healthy ways.
I’d also envision a world where humans can understand the struggle of others. Not only do we live in a world where people are ignorant to the hardships of others but oftentimes are the very reason for their struggles. This may be nearly impossible, but I desire to live amongst humans willing to take the shirt off of their back to keep another person warm.
We are powerful co-creators and our minds and intentions create our reality. If you had limitless resources at your disposal, what specific steps would take to bring your vision to fruition?
If I had limitless resources at my disposal, I would be intentional about connecting impoverished youth and adults to individuals capable of providing them with the knowledge to bring about a new reality for their life. The information gap is one of the primary reasons why there is a disconnect between the wealthy and the impoverished. Only if those without the physical resources were provided the informational resources would their circumstances change?
I see a world driven by the power of love, not fear. Where human beings treat each other with humanity. Where compassion, kindness and generosity of spirit are characteristics we teach in schools and strive to embody in all we do. What changes would you like to see in the educational system? Can you explain or give an example?
I would prefer to see each education system adapt to the students and neighborhood in which they are located. This would allow students to be conscious and aware of the issue in their local community and learn how to solve the problems they face daily. Most students aren’t allowed access to the tools that can improve their circumstances until their junior or senior year of college, given that they’ve chosen the correct major. Basic resources such as business development, financial literacy, and how to process mental and emotional issues are needed in a multitude of neighborhoods, especially those suffering in poverty. The educational system is in desperate need of relevant, impactful, and creative methods of reaching students and having the material translatable to their everyday experiences.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
There are billions of people on this earth. To think that our actions won’t impact others is nonsense. Utilizing and collaborating with others will ultimately uplift both individuals and improve the quality of life for everyone. The reason why creating a positive impact is so important is because humans will only receive as much as they are willing to give.
Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
As previously mentioned, Malala Yousafzai is my hero! Her pursuit of education created a pathway to prosper through violence and destruction. I used similar methods to overcome the suicide of my mother and the imprisonment of my father. Education granted me access and freedoms that others would only hope to have. It has served as my security blanket for my entire life. I love to sit with Malala to understand more of her vision and goals for her nation and how she plans to bring about change. I would love to implement similar strategies in local communities in the United States.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You all are more than welcome to visit re-definingnormal.com
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!