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April 10, 2024 24 mins

Today’s guest Kelli Richardson Lawson, Founder and CEO of JOY Collective joins host Tommi A. Vincent on Radio Row during Super Bowl LVIII to discuss finding your way to joy, the CROWN Act, being a mother versus a mom, removing the shame and loneliness of mental illness, and more.

Kelli Richardson Lawson makes you feel right at home with his cooking. A few of Kelli’s  highlights:

  • Emmy Award-winning creative visionary and purpose-driven business leader with over 30 years of global experience in brand-building.
  • Former EVP of Marketing, BET.
  • Founded the House of JOY marketing agency and works closely with consumer brands.
  • Led the marketing/communications campaign around the CROWN Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair)
  • The SonRise Project - created for families grappling with mental wellness and addiction issues -- spotlighting the crucial conversation of mental health in the Black community.


    Host: Tommi A. Vincent  

    Guests: Kelli Richardson Lawson

    Produced by: Tommi A. Vincent, Dimitri Golden, and Motion Hue Productions

    Music By: Stichiz - Big T. Music / Roj & Twinkie


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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:01):
Joining us at the table, we have Kelly Richardson Lawson,
founder House of Joy, co founder of the Sunrise Project.

Speaker 2 (00:12):
Enjoy our conversation.

Speaker 1 (00:14):
Take a seat, get comfortable because it's time to stay awhile.
I'm your host, Tommy Vincent. Okay, I'm so grateful to
have you at the table.

Speaker 2 (00:25):
Kelly. I'm grateful to be here. I'm honored to be here.
How are you doing today? I'm blessed, I'm blessed. I'm good.
I'm really good.

Speaker 1 (00:34):
So you know that you and I we had an
opportunity to chat before we started reporting, and in this conversation,
I really want to know about you. I know that
you have accomplished many things.

Speaker 2 (00:45):
You have been.

Speaker 1 (00:45):
Responsible for and a catalyst for things like the crown
Neck and all of that stuff benefits a lot of people,
but all of that stuff was fueled by you, and
you want so can you share with us?

Speaker 2 (01:00):
Who is Kelly? Sure?

Speaker 3 (01:03):
First, I'm happy to be here. I'm a little girl
from Cleveland, Ohio named Kelly Joy. I'm a huge Browns fan,
which I'm honor my dad rest in peace. We watch
the Browns fans every Sunday. So I am true true
to my core, but I am not. We grew up
in the middle class family and my dad named me Joy,

Kelly Joy. So I know who I am and my
core and who I aspire to be is to give
joy to the world and a Christmas Eve baby, And
so I believe that's what my purpose in life is,
is to create authentic joy and to help other people
overcome pain. And I've been through a lot myself, and

so of you, and so being able to help people
get to the other side, you know, knowing that there's
always a tomorrow, knowing that there's always hope. But I'm
an eternal optimist. I love sunshine. I always try to
look at the silver lining, and I have hope and faith,
faith over fear.

Speaker 1 (02:08):
So you alluded to your ability to get to the
other side, Yes, of your circumstances to get to that
space of joy. Can you share with us a story
where you were on the other side of joy and
how you were able to make your way to enjoy.

Speaker 2 (02:29):
Yeah, so many stories. I would say.

Speaker 3 (02:32):
The most recent story was a few years ago my
now twenty one year old his name is Kyle, and
he had we had always put him on this path
thinking he was going to do these things.

Speaker 2 (02:45):
And he was going to go to the Olympics and be.

Speaker 3 (02:47):
A first one of the first black swimmers at the Olympics,
and he was going to go to college and do
all these things. And he came back from the Olympic
training center once and said, I don't want to swim anymore.
He was fifteen, he had just started ninth grade, and
my husband and I said, you're not quitting. We forced
him to stay swimming, and against his desire, and fast

forward a lot of defiant behavior. He started using drugs,
and we would punish. The more we'd punish, the more
he'd rebel, The more he'd rebel, the more we punish.
And one night ends up in the emergency room he
tried to end his life. And I looked back now
and I can see so clearly how we got there.

But in that emergency room that night, in the middle
of the night, it was a very low point. There
was this deep pain of being a mother and thinking
I had done all the right things, and my child
was in such prices and such pain that he tried
to end his life and thank god, was not successful

and is still here. So moving through that and having
him go to different treatment center. There was a moment
when I looked up and said, everybody in this room
is white, and I'm a black woman, my husband's a
black man, and my child's black. Our issues are different.
And I felt so much shame, so much guilt because

I was on this career trajectory.

Speaker 2 (04:16):
Was never home.

Speaker 3 (04:17):
So I had guilt, I had shamed, and I couldn't
talk to anybody about it. So in that moment, I
decided to create a nonprofit. It wasn't a nonprofit, it
was simply a safe space, a safe space to have
black parents be able to share. And so getting to
the other side first was revealing what happened, because there's

a jay Z saw it says, we don't heal till
we reveal, and you have to reveal the pain and
you have to feel it like all the cycles and
the emotions and working through that with therapy and with
opening up. The more I opened up and became vulnerable,
the more I realized everybody has something that they've gone through,
and so it was an opportunity to take that pain

and transition it and work through the pain. It's like,
you have to work through the pain to get to
the other side. So every Sunday. I'm on these calls,
crying my eyes out the first year. But now I'm
on the other side and I can look back and
help other parents not make those same mistakes. Not in
a space, not out of a space of guilt or shame,
but out of a space of love and appreciation and

working on a new relationship with both of my sons.
So that's how it was. Working through the pain. It's
not an easy journey. Why did you feel guilt in pain?

Speaker 2 (05:33):
I feel guilt and pain because.

Speaker 1 (05:36):
Well, and not so much the pain guilt shame. Yeah,
Why did you feel guilt in shame?

Speaker 2 (05:42):

Speaker 3 (05:43):
So the guilt was you can become a mother, but
not really be a mom. And I wasn't a mom.
I was we had nanny's pears, my mother in law
took care of the boys, and I was on a
flight to China once trying to fill the preschool paperwork
and couldn't answer any of the questions.

Speaker 2 (06:03):
And they were three and five at the time.

Speaker 3 (06:06):
And that was a huge wake up, Paul, because I
didn't know my children, and so I was guilty. I
had guilt because I did not take time to get
to know my children. I didn't take time to just
sit there and hang out with them. I was always
on the phone, always in the meeting, always going somewhere,
And that's part of the guilt.

Speaker 2 (06:25):
I think I.

Speaker 3 (06:26):
Did not really become a mom until they were seventeen.
Now I'm a mom in a very different way. And
the shame came from the history of being a black
person and the stigma attached with mental health. And in
my family, my mom and dad from the South, and

in the family, we don't talk about mental health. My
grandmother had bipolar. No one talked about it. My aunt
had bipolar. No one talked about it at all. I
have a cousin. I haven't seen them probably thirty years.
No one talks about it. We know something that's not
quite right, but no one talks about it. So there
was a shame because mental illness men crazy or something's wrong,

versus looking at it as if it was cancer.

Speaker 2 (07:14):
You would be rally around me and I'd be telling
everybody to pray for me.

Speaker 3 (07:18):
But mental illness there is a loneliness because of the shame,
because of the guilt. So that's why I think it's
a deep seated, deep seated situation in our black community.

Speaker 1 (07:31):
Yeah, yeah, so I know, and I want to sit
in this space of motherhoods because I have five children
and there are many things hindsight out with it.

Speaker 2 (07:44):
Differently am I parenting?

Speaker 1 (07:47):
I do know at the time when I was faking
decisions that the priority of my family, the well being
of my teamily, it was important to me. Yeah, And
I was making decisions that I thought in the best
interests of the kids, right and in the life that
we were looking to build, different from the light that
I hold now.

Speaker 2 (08:08):
I know in retrospect you're saying that you like you should.

Speaker 1 (08:15):
Have at the time when you were making the decision
to build your career and to establish a lifestyle for
everyone involving your family, did you believe you were doing.

Speaker 2 (08:27):
The right thing? Absolutely? So.

Speaker 3 (08:29):
I always believed I was doing the right thing. And
there's no training book as we know, you know so.
And I remember my mother saying, make sure you can
take care of yourself, and that was in the back
of my mind, always making sure I could take care
of myself. And so I was on this career trajectory
and yes, thought I was doing a good job.

Speaker 2 (08:47):
Thought I had, you know, put them in the right schools.

Speaker 3 (08:50):
But now I know the right schools are where they're
nurtured and loved, not where it's some book right and
they're the only one in the class. No, where are
they going to be loved and nurtured and see teachers
that look like them. That's the right school, and that
could be where Anyway, I'm digressing, but I did that.
I always thought I was doing the right thing. I

thought I was being a good mom, and I thought
that I was parenting like I was parented and so
very strict. Very uh, we were very strict. I was
very strict. My dad was very strict. And so yeah,
I don't think when my child just wanted to be
a kid.

Speaker 2 (09:29):
Yes, and I tend to not.

Speaker 3 (09:30):
I tend to be a workaholic, and so I tend
to expect a lot of other people. And now I
just am like, whatever works for you, your journey is
your journey. I finally have come into that. But yes,
at the time, I thought I was doing a great job.

Speaker 2 (09:45):
There are moments with my kids when.

Speaker 1 (09:49):
I have a very strong work ethic, and so I
can see the season of my older kids where I
was driving them, Yes, and they found success.

Speaker 2 (10:01):
And also they got burnt out yes.

Speaker 1 (10:05):
And then there's the other stage of my kids where
I thought I was too hard on them and the
expectation was too great, and so I pulled back, and
then I'll have the moment when.

Speaker 2 (10:14):
I I should have pushed them hard.

Speaker 1 (10:16):
So it's like you're constantly trying to figure out the journey.
It's a journey. Every kid is different, every time different.
I see myself and my siblings and that life life differently.

Speaker 2 (10:29):
That's right.

Speaker 1 (10:30):
So with your children, Yeah, how did you navigate the
differences where Kyle may need this and then your other
son may need that.

Speaker 3 (10:42):
Yeah, I think I did not do a good job
early on. I figured it out later in life that
they're so different. Kyle needs a lot of attention, and
he likes to be on stage, and he likes to
have a microphone and christ one on the eighteen year old.

Speaker 2 (11:02):
He's not brittle at all.

Speaker 3 (11:05):
He is very quiet, and he you know, could have
all the state records and all this stuff and doesn't
want anybody to know about it, does not want you
to post on social.

Speaker 2 (11:14):
Media about him. He's very shy.

Speaker 3 (11:16):
So I now respect that he didn't want to have
a birthday party one year and somebody said to me, well,
if he doesn't want to have a party, why are
you having a party? And it was a check, like
a little the party because I want to have a
party for him, because for me, but he didn't want
the parties. I canceled the party. So learning to really
respect each individual.

Speaker 2 (11:36):
I didn't always do that.

Speaker 3 (11:38):
I do that now and I'm proud of myself for that.
It's been a journey. We learn, We live and learn, and.

Speaker 2 (11:45):
The pivots and the adjustments, that's the key. That's the key.

Speaker 3 (11:49):
And we'll focus on the relationship versus being right. Yes,
says for so long as black parents, we focus on
being right.

Speaker 2 (11:55):
Do what I say?

Speaker 3 (11:56):
Do this, stay up, no bos us on the relationship
and the rest of it.

Speaker 2 (12:00):
Okay, the rest work itself out.

Speaker 1 (12:02):
Me sometimes I'll when i'm you know, I pray for
my kids all the time.

Speaker 4 (12:06):
So one of the things I pray for is God
that you'll give me their minemach so that when they
hear me talking, they understand it because it's the language
they need to hear.

Speaker 2 (12:18):
That's right.

Speaker 1 (12:19):
Instead of that that just the line of needing to
be right and I want to be I don't need
to be right.

Speaker 2 (12:26):
I need to be effective. That's right, that's right.

Speaker 3 (12:28):
I need you to know that I love you unconditionally, absolutely,
So that's the key. Also because when they're going through
things and might being they're experimenting with drugs or you know,
doing things that we with view as not okay, But
why asking why?

Speaker 2 (12:45):
What's underneath that?

Speaker 3 (12:46):
Because it's always masking the pain for something, So what
is underneath it? So I've learned to ask the questions.
Now I'm much more curious. So being curious with the
why leads to a different type of conversation, and it's
a different type of peace at this stage of my life.

Speaker 1 (13:06):
Absolutely, Now we don't spend all this time talking about
our kids, and here.

Speaker 2 (13:10):
As me and you supposed to be having a conversation.

Speaker 1 (13:13):
I want to know, just like you've taken that time
and attention for your boys and getting to know them
and understanding what they need, what have you done to
ensure that you're that thoughtful, kind and caring for yourself?

Speaker 2 (13:27):
Yes, that's a great question. A few things.

Speaker 3 (13:30):
I work with a woman named Tina Lifford, she played
on by off Wayens Sugar, and she has this thing
called the Inner Fitness Experience, the inner fitness project. I
look forward to that call every week because I read
a book called The Little Book of Big Lives, and
I sol therapy, coaching, journaling, a lot more self care,

a lot more time with myself, learning to love myself.
But really it started with journaling and talking, talking it
out with somebody. So that's probably the biggest thing. I
take time for me, even just being here out here
by myself. It's time for me, and it's a wonderful thing.

Speaker 2 (14:11):
It is. Taking time. It's good. That's the best thing
I think.

Speaker 3 (14:15):
But really I think therapy, having someone to talk with
and being able to forgive myself. I looked in the
mirror once she gave me an exercise. She said, I
want you to look in the mirror and say, I
forgive you for blank. She said, say it seven times
every day. And I did that, and I hadn't thought
about all the things I had not forgiven myself for.

Speaker 2 (14:36):
And when I did that, it was self free.

Speaker 3 (14:38):
And I also realized I have a choice every day
how I want to show up. And so something may
have happened yesterday that rub me the wrong way, but
that today is a new day.

Speaker 2 (14:47):
I can start over.

Speaker 3 (14:49):
A what a powerful thing and then finally we both
you talked about this earlier.

Speaker 2 (14:53):
I have major faith faith over fear.

Speaker 3 (14:56):
So I have really poured myself into my faith with
myself and with my kids.

Speaker 2 (15:01):
So that's that's what I do.

Speaker 1 (15:04):
I'm glad to hear that you know, even in the
process of looking to become a better all the other things,
that you're giving that time and attention to yourself. Yes,
what is something that you would share with the younger
self based off of what you need to play?

Speaker 3 (15:21):
Oh, I would share with my younger self to have
courage and to step out on faith even when it's hard.
That's what I would say. That's the biggest thing. There's
the serenity prayer. Now justcept the things we cannot change,
have courage to change the things we can, and the

wisdom to know the difference. There were times I did
not step out with courage because of a fear or
because I didn't want to do that.

Speaker 2 (15:52):
Take that on the extra extra hard work.

Speaker 3 (15:55):
I would say, have the courage step out on fear,
fall on faith, I should say over fear.

Speaker 2 (16:02):
Yeah, that's what I would say.

Speaker 1 (16:05):
So I know that you were instrumental with the work
with the Crown at Why is that.

Speaker 2 (16:13):
Important to you? Yeah, so I'm one of the people.

Speaker 3 (16:16):
So this is such a village, right, Yes, absolutely, But
I would say when our little girls go to school
and they are told they can't come into school because
of their hair and their beautifully freshly freighted hair, that's unacceptable.
And eighty six percent of girls have faced hair discrimination
in school.

Speaker 2 (16:37):
It's not okay.

Speaker 3 (16:38):
When we want to go to work and wear hair
natural or embrace or whatever it is, we shouldn't have
the right to do that. So it was important to me.
It is important to me that black women and men
have the freedom to wear their hair however they choose
to wear. And for my first fifty years i'm life,
I didn't feel comfortable wearing my hair natural.

Speaker 2 (16:59):
It was all is blown out.

Speaker 3 (17:01):
So being able to have the freedom to express ourselves
however we choose to from a natural hair perspective, natural
hair protective styles, that was important to me to change
the narrative for our children, for our people, and that's
I'm really proud to be one of the people. They
are poor co creators of the Crown Act and it's been.

Speaker 2 (17:22):
Behind the whole thing.

Speaker 3 (17:23):
And a sister named Acagleson Fracie. Yes, a dear friend
of mine. I smiled thinking of her. I met her
at P and G thirty five years ago, but she
came in from Dartmouth. And so it's important that we
have the right to express ourselves and have beauty, confidence
and all the breath and depth that we are as
black women.

Speaker 1 (17:42):
You know, I can recall so many times where I
had an opportunity. I know that I'm going into this
space or it may not even just be an opportunity,
but I'm going to be around a specific group of people. Yes,
And one of the things that I would process is
how am I goatun not hair? Yes, that all style fits.

It's like I had, Yes, what's professional. I can't imagine
that other groups of people, yeah, process that way. Now,
I could be very wrong.

Speaker 2 (18:16):
I don't think they do.

Speaker 1 (18:18):
No, But for me just thinking about that as where
as you were talking, I was thinking about those moments
and I'm like, that is really sad. Yes, that that
even has to be. We have to give a nanosecond.

Speaker 2 (18:32):
Of our time, absolutely, and it's more than nano second.

Speaker 1 (18:35):
We have to on our hair, like can we I
want to be prepared for the moment right, not prepared,
but prepared to show up how I need to show
up for the opportunity.

Speaker 3 (18:46):
Or based on your qualification, not based on what's on
your head or how you're wear your hair.

Speaker 2 (18:52):
I had a woman that propped them down.

Speaker 3 (18:54):
When I first started, I was twenty three maybe and
I was one of the first undergrads from Howard and
I used to were these big hats to work in
Cincinnati because I thought.

Speaker 2 (19:03):
I want to be like Zaya Carrol.

Speaker 1 (19:05):
And so she was glamorous, NA come straighten on the
hall with these massive hats, the white hat with the
white suit.

Speaker 3 (19:13):
Pink can't piks, I mean crazy. But this woman named
Elenni sangos well me in her office.

Speaker 2 (19:20):
She's my brand magic. She said, can I give you
some coaching?

Speaker 3 (19:23):
I remember it like it was yesterday, and I said, yes,
I have one of my like I don't.

Speaker 2 (19:27):
Know, pik can't. And so my church lady hat.

Speaker 3 (19:30):
It had Procter and gamble. Very few black people, let
alone Okay hat. And so she said, you are so smart.
I want people to know what's in your head. It
was a much longer preapple what's in your head and
not what's on your head? And so it's okay to
be authentic, but I want you to be appropriate for
this environment. And it stuck with me thirty years, thirty

plus years later. There's the opportunity to be authentic and appropriate.
But our hair, our natural hair, is authentic and appropriate
in the fact.

Speaker 2 (20:02):
That's it.

Speaker 3 (20:03):
That's it, and so that's why the Crown movement is
so important to show that we can be authentic and
wear our natural hair, our beautiful hair. However we choose
whether it's straight and blown out, whether it's braids, locks, twists, not,
whether it's a wig, whatever it is, do you be
authentic and appropriate. So that's yeah, hats hats, a P

and G. I mean, just unacceptable. No one taught me
any better.

Speaker 2 (20:32):
So crazy.

Speaker 5 (20:34):
I got pictures yes and thinking I was that, thinking
I looked so good, you know the men other people
will come looking around, and I'm thinking that's a good thing.

Speaker 2 (20:48):
No, not a good thing.

Speaker 1 (20:51):
I could picture Okay, dying Carol, think you know.

Speaker 2 (20:58):
I still got the big shape, had them all yesterday.
But yeah, something.

Speaker 3 (21:02):
Yeah, I'm grateful to a Lady Sangos for telling me
that's not appropriate on this environment and these ivory towers
and C'shio. So anyway, Yeah, but the Crown movement has
been a blessing. It takes a c you know, making
the call, and then it takes Osua leading the legislative work,
and it takes Orlena who built the strategy. Like it's everybody.

I'm afraidive a heart, but all everybody. And then the
village of people that have supported us is not one person.
But it's an honor to be a part of that
movement to help our people. I want to do it
with the NFL. All these black men out here with
their braids and you know, lots wire.

Speaker 2 (21:43):
Don't we have Crown.

Speaker 3 (21:44):
Let's do something with that NFL, you know, Crown movement
with the players. And I don't know what that looks like.

Speaker 1 (21:51):
I just but it gives it gives a nice perspective
from a from the perspective of it's not just women,
it's it's.

Speaker 2 (22:01):
Everyone that is. However you're choosing to wear your hair
is appropriate?

Speaker 1 (22:06):
Now, I do you know, there's uh and and we
were a gorig rest a little bit.

Speaker 2 (22:12):
But when you're when you're there are certain things that.

Speaker 1 (22:14):
We talk about appropriate. We want everybody to be safe
when you're playing your sports.

Speaker 2 (22:19):
Absolutely. So while you may like all the long hair
is as safe, is it safe as long as you
say as long as you say. But I think I
think it's a visual, uh if.

Speaker 1 (22:31):
I think it's a wonderful visual for young men to
see older men saying it's okay to be you.

Speaker 2 (22:38):
Yeah, it's okay to be you. That's it. It's okay.

Speaker 3 (22:41):
That's the point. Yes, it's better than okay. And it's
also not okay to be okay. We were talking about
this earlier from a mental health perspective, say it.

Speaker 2 (22:49):
If you're not okay, you say it, speak about talk
about it. Especially with our men, no black men.

Speaker 3 (22:55):
We have a huge challenge to my children earlier, huge child,
older man, and so you know, I really want to
do something.

Speaker 2 (23:04):
I hope in that space as well. Well.

Speaker 1 (23:07):
I appreciate you know, the work that you're doing and
the commitment utilizing the platform, the power and the ATM
section pals, and I believe that when we are in
that space where everyone recognizes power and influence, they have
the platforms.

Speaker 2 (23:24):
And you use it for the good, that's right of humanity.
That's right that we can chew make some change.

Speaker 3 (23:30):
Absolutely, absolutely, that's what it's about it's about impact. It's
about impact and making a difference. That's what you're doing.
So I appreciate what you're doing. It's amazing. It's amazing.
However I can support. I'm here for it. Thank you
for the opportunity. Yes, absolutely so.

Speaker 1 (23:47):
I really want to thank you for taking time out
of your schedule here to really come and sit with
me and to talk.

Speaker 2 (23:55):
And I want you. He knows you're welcome anytime. Thank you.
I appreciate you.

Speaker 1 (24:00):
Tell me me go one, stay awell.

Speaker 4 (24:03):
Tell me me
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