Tywanda Howie of Newark, Delaware: Writer, Poet, Motivational Speaker
Thirty Seconds ... with Tywanda Howie
photograph by Geneva Fonda
Howie, 29, of Newark, is a self-described “writer, motivational speaker and source of inspiration.” She recently published a collection of her poetry called “Between Proverbs and Poetry.” Howie is also a founder of the Delaware Naturalistas.
DT: What would you like people to know about you?
TH: I’ve been a writer for some time. I’m a writer through personal choice, not by professional trade. I earned a bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Delaware. When I graduated, I couldn’t initially find a job in journalism, so my life took a different turn and I started working for Wilmington Trust as a corporate trainer.
So I put the writing on the back burner and focused on my job. But I started writing again personally. I’ve been writing all my life from a very young age. I started with diaries and journals. And then every so often I would write a song. Some of them I still remember, but I won’t sing them for you. (laughs)
DT: When were you first published?
TH: We had a literary magazine at Glasgow High School and that was the very first time my writing was exposed to the rest of the world. I remember writing poetry and submitting it. It placed first or second place and it was published in the literary magazine with all of the poetry from all of the students at the high school.
DT:How did you get into the motivational/inspirational side of things?
TH: During senior year, I started writing for the school paper and I was one of the editors. I liked writing my observations, opinions and advice about things more than I liked reporting. I wrote a blog that was more like that. It was inspirational and motivational. I’ve always liked to be able to encourage people. I’m extremely and overly optimistic, so I’ve always had a problem not having an understanding of people who I guess life had handed lemons. I always see the best in things, so when I would have conversations with people and they would have a more pessimistic look on life or they were just going through some hard times, I always loved to be able to inspire people.
DT: Tell me about your first blog.
TH: In my head, everyone has the ability to be the best person in the world. But they don’t always see the potential that they have inside of them. So that’s what my blog kind of started with. It was called “Cup of Tea” and it was a play on words because “Tee” is my nickname. But I also love tea—any kind of tea. So the blog was supposed to be a comforting, warm thing that you read occasionally and inspire your day or help you with whatever obstacle you were going through—to help propel you to the next thing.
I started writing it when I was 24 or 25. Whenever a thought would come to me, I would write it and publish it. It was sent out to a group of close friends and I began to pick up some people along the way—my colleagues from my jobs and other activities I was in. There were 200 or 300 people who would get it.
DT:How did your interest in spoken word performances come about?
TH: I went back to school to get my MBA in marketing degree. So the “Cup of Tea” thing faded a little, but then I started writing poetry more actively and this time I started performing it. So there’s poetry that you write, then there’s spoken word, which is a cultural trend to go to open mics in your area or other urban areas and perform the poetry that you write. It’s more theatrical because it’s meant to be received, not just literarily, but vocally. People started asking me to perform at local events. So I performed at the opening of an art studio in New Jersey and at a women’s expo that was held at Clayton Hall. And then another person asked me to perform at the launch of their new makeup line. People would have more intimate gatherings, like with their closest women friends, and they asked me to perform at those types of events. That’s how I got into that niche.
DT: What made you decide to publish a book?
TH: When I started going to the open mics, people asked me, “When are you going to publish a book or when are you going to have a CD that we can buy?” At the beginning of 2011, I began to compile all of the poetry that I’ve been writing through my mid-20s. I’m getting older now. (laughs)
I compiled them into categories. There are some that are specific to topics about love and some more specific to things about life, or developing your life. When you’re in your 20s you are trying to understand who you are as a person and who you are in regard to your purpose in life. There’s a lot of poetry about that.
I always run into people that I’m drawn to or they’re drawn to me and we begin to network and they end up playing a role. I had performed at a women’s empowerment event in New Jersey for a friend who I went to high school with. I ran into a lady who was a published author. Then, one day when I was at lunch in Wilmington, I ran into the lady again and she put me in touch with the person who had published her work.
The person who helped me publish my book had a small publishing company. So my goal was to bring all of the poems together, which is more than 80 poems, arrange them and then go through the process of editing it, formatting it, the graphic design and all that stuff.
The book came out last November. It’s called “Between Proverbs and Poetry.” A lot of people think it’s Christian-based, which is not necessarily true. But there’s an undertone of that because that’s just who I am. Basically it’s about self-discovery of a woman and developing from a young adult into a full-blown woman and how she sees the world through love, through society and through expectations that people place on others’ lives. If you read it from beginning to end, it kind of reads like a story.
DT: As if you’re not busy enough, you also publish an e-newsletter?
TH: Now I have this master’s in marketing and I’m really into social media with Facebook and Twitter. So I mainly focused on that and branding the book. And then I realized that I missed the “Cup of Tea” blog feel. So I started a newsletter that comes out at the beginning of each month. It serves a dual purpose. It’s a way for me to write because I just love to write. And it’s a way for me share my love for community and community involvement.
I also work for a nonprofit: United Way of Delaware. I also have volunteered for the YWCA and I am a grand trustee for The Grand Opera House. So, because I’m involved with these nonprofit agencies, multiple times there are responsibilities for us to get the word out about events and activities so that we can get the community to understand what is going on. So the newsletter was supposed to serve as a catalyst for me to checkmark my responsibilities in terms of getting events and news out, too.
I kind of liked it because there’s so much going on in our state, but everyone doesn’t know what’s going on or how to be involved. So it was to further that, too. I think the newsletter goes out to about 1,400 people. It’s a mixture of family members, friends, associates, people that I’ve engaged with over the past few years—people who I think would enjoy it.
The little girl in me has always wanted to have her own magazine. She’s always wanted to be able to write and talk about the things that are of interest to her. So that’s really what it is. Each month I try to tailor it to that, so I don’t necessarily know what it will shape into. I know that it will always have basic journalism to it because I like to write. It will always be an in-the-know thing where it’s going to talk about things happening in the state of Delaware that I think are beneficial. And it’s always going to have some fun stuff.
My last issue was specifically geared toward breast cancer awareness because I’m the media and public relations chair for this year’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk. And that’s probably my biggest volunteer initiative. I’ve been doing the walk for about five or six years and this year is my first year in taking a role in terms of organizing the walk. Because I’m the media and P.R. chair, I want people to know about the walk. A close family friend passed away from breast cancer a few weeks ago, so I decided to make the newsletter this month specifically about that.
DT: Tell me about Delaware Naturalistas.
TH: In 2007, I decided to cut all my hair off. That’s like a new thing, as far as women of color, African-American women, going natural. Society has said that as women of color, it is most appropriate for you to wear your hair straight and kept. And so, since I was a child, I had never seen what my hair looked like without having chemical perm to straighten it and relax it. Sometimes the chemical perms can be very harsh on your hair and it will cause it to fall out and break off and have some damaging effects that are irreversible.
So I decided to do that. I had read up about it. It began to make waves through social media. There was a movie about it that Chris Rock did. So I cut all my hair off. It was shoulder-length and I started growing it out natural. Then, whenever I learned how to do a new hairstyle, or not knowing what products to put in it and things like that, I would post a picture on Facebook and talk about it. Eventually, a lot of people started reaching out to me about how to maintain their hair because they had recently gone natural or wanted to.
So in September 2011, a college friend of mine, her name is Latoya Watson, had gone natural the year before and was following my thing and she was doing the same thing with a blog. We decided to create a bona fide business, which is registered in the state of Delaware, where we plan events where the natural hair women come together and talk about their hair and have fun. We saw these things were happening in larger cities. In New York, they would have what we call natural hair meet-ups and they were doing it in Philadelphia and Chicago and Atlanta.
When you live in a more suburban, rural area like Delaware, when it comes to the rest of the world, you don’t have access to a lot of trendy things like natural hair products that are really beneficial to your hair. A lot of women purchase these things online or they go to the Newark Co-op or random places to find these Holy Grail products that are supposed to be more beneficial to your hair because of the ingredients that they have in them.
So we decided to plan an event last September and about 80 people came. The reason they knew about it was because we created a Facebook group called Delaware Naturalistas and we just sent it out to people we knew that were natural who are from Delaware.
When we started, we probably had about 20 people. Today, there are at least 2,000 people in the group. It’s social media. I don’t even know the people in the group. That’s from Florida and Texas, or they used to live in Delaware. So it’s like a big deal now. I had to change the notifications on my phone because every five minutes all day, even three or four in the morning, someone is posting a picture of their head or “Help, I just went natural yesterday and I don’t know what to do,” or, “What shampoo should I buy?”
Our first event was successful. Now we’ve begun to solicit sponsorships from national hair companies and local businesses. We’ve worked with Newark Co-op and had an event there where we taught women how to make their own natural hair products.
In April, we planned Naturally Redefined, it was Delaware’s first natural hair meet-up, and we had it at the Executive Banquet Conference Center in Newark. About 400 people came out and it was an all-day event with live entertainment, refreshments, workshops, about 35 vendors with hair products, jewelry and makeup. The Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition was there. It was really successful.
DT: You may be one of the most positive people I’ve ever spoken with. Do you know anyone else out there like you?
TH: My mom always used to say, “Birds of a feather flock together.” I feel like my circle of friends are very much like me. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, but a lot of them work for nonprofits or they work for the government and they’re about doing things that are for the greater good of the community. So, I try to keep those types of people around me.
I know that I have an extra positive, optimistic gene. I really feel like at the end of the day, if people were given a choice to do good or bad, if the environment allowed for it, they would choose good. I always see the good in people. I know we only have one life to live. I just don’t believe that when you were born you thought that you were destined to be a cleaner, or a supermarket clerk—not that there’s anything wrong with any of those positions—but I just feel like, at our core, inside of us, in our hearts, we have a passion, we have something that we really want to do, but no one has taught us the right steps on how to get there.
I’m the first person to graduate from college in my family and my mom went to college for a few years, but she was unable to complete it. So it was really important to her to drill into me to make sure I completed it. Now I just want to see that in other people.
I went to the hair salon last night and I was talking to one of my stylist’s assistants. I was asking her what she wanted to do with her life and whether she was in college. When it comes to African-American people and African-American women especially, because I can identify with them, I just want them to be their best selves. Sometimes you just feel like you can’t achieve certain things because you had never seen it achieved by someone who looks like you or by someone in your family. If you never knew that you could go to the moon, then you would never see it as something you would want to achieve. But if someone told you, “Hey, I’ve been to the moon and it’s not too hard to get there,” and showed you the way to get there, then you’d begin to look at it differently.