Early Years Development of my Leadership Skills
Self-reflection of Me, Myself and I
Cultural, Personal & Academic Background
DAD: “Whatever you do, be the boss.”
GINA: “Okay, Dad. Why do you always say that?”
DAD: “Cause you’re mine and I know you best.”
I was born in Brooklyn, New York and grew up in a New York City housing complex called Tompkins Project. I was eight years old when my family and I moved in. For the first four years, people of diverse nationalities lived among us. Within five years, all of the Caucasian people moved away. My mother, the person who wore the pants in the family, took control of our lives ensuring that we continued being exposed to diverse cultures. Mom was headstrong with a lot of determination. And if you made her angry, she wouldn’t hesitate to set you straight. Her closest friends were Caucasian. She always made sure we were especially well behaved when around these friends. She spoke differently…using her nasal tone and proper speech. She never spoke that way at home or when we were around our Hispanic and African American friends. What’s this about, I use to wonder? In grade school, all of my teachers were Caucasian. I wouldn’t raise my hand or speak in class in fear of saying the wrong thing or looking like a fool. I couldn’t care less what my classmates thought of me, but the opinion of my Caucasian teacher was another story and met everything…or so I thought. For a long time, I didn’t feel comfortable in the presence of Caucasians because embedded in my mind was this feeling of inferiority because I thought there was some preconceived expectation I had to live up to, although I wasn’t sure what that expectation was. This inferiority complex stayed with me until I graduated from high school.
Ironically, my Godmother is Italian. I remember being baptized to her when I was five years old. I grew up Catholic and the baptism took place in the Rectory of a Catholic Church called Saint Ambrose. I distinctly remember the Priest mumbling and then picking me up, as he hovered me over a concreate bowl of water. Everything surrounding me was huge and strange including the people. I had never seen my Godmother until the day of the baptism. I couldn’t help but wonder what this strange woman wanted with me. I kept thinking, “Where’s my dad and how could he allow this?” I kicked and screamed like I was being murdered. I actually through the priest was going to drown me. Many years later, as I reflect upon that day, I realized that the cereal size bowl was too small for a small adult to fit a fist in, yet alone drown a child. Silly me! However, as a child, the mind comprehends situation as best it can when one lacks experience, age and certain knowledge. I never saw my Godmother again after the baptism. Maybe I scared the heck out her! Suffice it to say, when I attended junior college and was on my own interacting with people of all nationalities, I realized Mom was experiencing some kind of personal complex and I, subconsciously must have picked up on it and carried it for years. Finally, I was free after working in group projects and being elected Vice President of the Marketing Club by Caucasians and other students of diverse cultures. What a wonderful awakening! I was heeled of my inferiority complex. When Mom became physically ill, due to a thyroid condition many years later, I took charge of her care. I came to realize she was mentally ill. Suddenly, many things made sense. What a rude awakening!
When I was eleven, I was left figuring out things on my own when my mother announced she was leaving home for good. I say for good because up until the time she moved out, she would leave to play bingo and sometimes we wouldn’t see her for days. This was something that occurred often. Although there were nine children, eight of us lived at home. I was the second eldest at home. There are six girls and three boys. It was difficult as an adolescent trying to figure out things on my own and with the help of my sister Arlene who’s only two years older than I. Today, I oversee Arlene’s care because she’s ill. It is the least I can do. After all, she sacrificed her life for her siblings. My father lived with us and did the best he could to take care of us. He was illiterate and could barely write his name with his seventh grade education. He worked as a chef 6 days a week and would leave the house at 7:30 a.m. and would return home at 11:00 p.m. tired and worn. Despite his condition, he would mop the floors and prepare our breakfast and dinner before retired at night. There were times when I’d look at my father, and although I was only eleven years of age, I would ask him why he worked so hard and why we were poor. He would simply remind me that it didn’t have to be that way, “Whatever you do, be the boss.” At eleven, I wasn’t quite sure how that would happen; however, I fully understood what he meant by being a boss…or my interpretation of being a boss considering the number of times I witness him borrowing money from his boss to buy clothing for school, toys for Christmas, school supplies for the eight if us who lived at home. By the way, the interest rate that my Dad paid on the money he borrowed was so high it was usury. I forgot to mention that his boss was a loan shark, in addition to a restaurant owner. My father worked in this restaurant establishment for 25 years prior to retiring. When he finally retired, I realized he worked so long because these loans were the bounty over his head by way of an obligation that my father felt he owed his boss. After all, his boss was the only person he could rely upon when he was in a bind…and that was at least 3 times a year. In hindsight, his boss took advantage of him…but of course, we live in an U. S. society free from slavery; therefore, my Dad’s boss couldn’t do any more to him than my Dad allowed. REALLY! My sister Arlene would oversee our breakfast, and then take us to school before going to class herself and would pick us up at the end of the day, warm dinner and feed us, assist us with homework and then put us to bed. Deceased now, I loved the ground my father walked on. He was my best friend and a true father. He didn’t have much and I only remember him owning a raggedy suit that he proudly kept pieced together. But he had some things that you can’t put a price on. He was loyal, wise, self- reliant, patience, and a hard worker…all qualities that I learned from him. He could have given us to the Department of Children services. Instead, he always reminded us that we were his children and how much he loved us. It was all he had to give and for me, it was worth more than gold. I learned from my dad, strength, loyalty and empathy and I carry it with me in every aspect of my life. …And yes, even with Mom I acquired traits that impacted my life. From her I learned how to raise hell when necessary…and there are times when it is necessary. But I also learned how to adapt to all kinds of situations. Not because she taught me directly, but because I found myself faced with situations where I had to make adult decisions as a child because of her absence. My Father allowed her to visit as often as she wanted because there were six girls. It still didn’t compensate for her absence at home.
School was difficult for many years. After struggling through high school, I had absolutely no interest or thought about attending college. What? Be my own boss. I don’t know how that’s going to happen. However, one afternoon while strolling down Jay Street, I was walking in front of this large gray building and I saw young people like myself going in and out of this structure. I looked up and saw that it was New York City Technical College. Something led me into the door. A security officer asked if I was looking for admissions. I hesitated and then answered yes. I enrolled that day and, two years later, graduated with a degree in Marketing, Management & Sales…with honors I might add. My family was so proud, not just because I completed my degree, but I did so with honors as the first generation college student. At that time, I was residing in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn. Saint Joseph’s College was located one block away. Three days later, I walked into Saint Joseph’s College and enrolled. I also made the dean’s list at Saint Joseph’s College and finally begin to realize, I could be the boss. However, my educational accomplishments did not come easy or without sacrifice. I spent lots of time in libraries throughout my high school and college years. I would find study groups with seniors who had gone through courses that I needed to take in order to complete my majors. In reflecting upon those years, I realized those years prepared me for working in teams because those study groups consisted of students who assisted one another in getting through school successfully. We shared books, study techniques, course information and examination strategies. And by this time, I was married and had my own family so the assistance was more than appreciated. That experience successfully got me through my years in academia successfully.
As I now embark upon midlife, which I am finding new and exciting, I realize that throughout my life, there were individuals who were role models. They planted the seeds that molded my professional abilities in management. From each of these individuals, I took something away that cultivated my success as a manager today.
ARLENE BERNADETTE BRAGGS: Because she became the surrogate mother of eight children when she was thirteen years of age inheriting the role of team leader, organizer, teacher and task master. Oh, she was nothing to play with. When she gave you a directive, you performed and in a hurry. She was also our protector. In my eyes, she’s an angel in human form. Yet, she had flaws just like the rest of us. But you had better think twice before messing with any of us. I remember when I was fourteen years of age, the age when boys become interested in girls and vice versa. There was a young lady who was sixteen years of age who took interest in me, unbeknownst to me. She was a very stocky young lady around 5 feet 6 with mannish ways, which I found intimidating. I’m only 4 feet 11 inches and truly a lady. This young lady and her friends would go around the neighborhood looking for young girls they could “turnout” to coin the phrase used at that time. My sister found out about this plot and, I later learned, she approached this young lady outraged at her nerve. Well, a physical altercation ensued and I was later informed by a friend that Arlene whipping her butt. I didn’t have any prior knowledge of this young lady’s intention nor the altercation between her and Arlene. Needless to say, I never encountered the likes of that young lady. Go sister go, is all that I can say for Arlene! So, from Arlene, I learned the importance of planning, goal attainment and setting priorities. Procrastination and distractions weren’t allowed.
MAE MILLER: I met Mae Miller the year my family moved into the Tompkins Project. Running in the grass one day, my attention was drawn by a lady who I realized was yelling at me. She demandingly called me over and I complied. She barked, “What’s your name and where is your mother?” At that time, I never had anyone yell at me other than my mother. Well, Mae Miller ended up giving me a $2.00 fine for walking on the grass which was prohibited. I learned that she was the president of the Tompkins Project. She was a bold, fearless innovator. I swore I wasn’t going to like Mae Miller and would avoid her no matter what. Let’s fast forward to the age of fourteen when it was legal to work a minimum amount of hours per week. I obtained my working permit and was assigned to the Tompkins Project Youth Camp which was located in the community center. It was also the headquarters for Mae Miller. She assigned me a position as counselor. There were sixteen of us pared in teams of two. Each team was assigned twelve children to oversee throughout their tenure in summer camp. We would accompany Mae Miller as she took busloads of children on trips within and outside of the State of New York. Well, Ms. Miller’s presence on trips was short lived. Economically challenged communities in New York City were faced with drastic budget cuts and, Ms. Miller, being politically connected and somewhat of a neighborhood icon, was in demand. No longer was she able to attend daily trips and because arrangements were made months in advance and fees were paid, the trips continued as scheduled.
I was appointed head counselor to lead the counselors and children on outings. On the very first outing, I left a child at Bear Mountain and had no knowledge of it until our busses returned to the community center. The police, the child’s parents and Mae Miller greeted me with a welcome that I will never forget. Some Ranger at Bear Mountain saw the child wandering alone. He was five years old. Because he was wearing a tee shirt that displayed the name of the camp, he was safely brought back to the community center before we arrived. I knew I was fired. Ms. Miller gave me a tongue lashing that I never forgot. When I arrived home, my mother had come to pay us a visit. She could see the redness and puffiness in my eyes and inquired about what occurred. Upon informing her, she took me with her to have a discussion with Mae Miller. Mom said she had to be out of her mind to give that type of responsibility to a fourteen year-old. That meeting was anything but a discussion. Here were two headstrong women cussing, pointing fingers and hurling insults. Eventually, Mom and I left the community center. The next morning, I didn’t think about going to work. I knew that was the end of my short tenure and Mom went home. At around 10:30 am, I hear my name being called from a bull horn. It was Mae Miller summing me to work. Hesitantly, I arrived at the community center around fifteen minutes later. She sat me down and talked with me for two hours. At the end of that time, she informed me that there was an upcoming trip to Washington DC and she needed me to lead the pack. There were two counselors who were directly responsible for the child who was left behind. They were sent to work at another center. That sent a message to the other counselors. Mae Miller met with all of us and made the rules clear. One week later, three chartered buses, sixteen counselors and approximately 120 children under the age of eleven. We went on our journey to Washington DC lead by me. Before the summer ended, I took the pack to Hershey Park and Great Adventures. Mom had no knowledge. The manager in me was born. If Mae Miller were to assign such a task to a fourteen year-old today, she would be underneath a jail. How fortunate I was that she saw something in me that I had no idea existed. From Mae Miller I learned leadership, team building, organizing, strength and how to be fearless. Kudos to Mae Miller for recognizing and cultivating quality and talent. Thanks for believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself.
CLAUDIA FLEMINGS: I met Claudia Flemings when I was twelve years old. It was a crucial, confusing and difficult time in my life because my home base was in disarray. My sister Arlene enrolled me in the 303 Vernon Summer Camp. Claudia became my counselor. We didn’t go on many trips, but there were plenty of arts and crafts, music, singing and dancing. Claudia was a gorgeous young lady with long flowing hair and green eyes. I would attend the camp every day and sit in a corner watching the other children play. One day she approached me and asked why I wouldn’t participate? She attempted to engage me in a drawing exercise with cray pods. I reluctantly informed her that I couldn’t even draw a straight line. She proceeded to show me how to draw a flower that was perfect every time. I drew so many pictures of that flower over the years and I even taught my children and step daughter how to draw it. Claudia and I became best friends and that friendship endures today. She would tell me how beautiful I was and how all human beings have something special in them that is unique. From Claudia Flemings, I learned confidence, dignity, empathy and creativity. My BFF forever!
My Personal Summation
Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs theory surmises that, “We must satisfy lower level needs before we seek to satisfy higher-level needs. Once we’ve satisfied a need, it no longer motivates us; the next higher need takes its place.”
There are times when I feel my life has moved unusually fast. Because of my childhood issues and the need to focus on a productive career, I’ve had very little time to enjoy the kinds of things I love like writing screenplays, reading and traveling. Now that my children are grown productive adults, it’s time to focus on me. My long time passion has been the desire to produce screenplays. It is difficult because the field is elite and getting your product in the hands of distributors is challenging. However, with the advent of digital media, I created my own internet video website called Applause Network TV, Inc. I incorporated it in 2010 and now I can produce and distribute my screenplays and other shows all over the world through the internet. I also assist other struggling talented artist by providing Applause as a platform where they can display their products and talents. I can display live shows, sporting events, concerts, reality shows and full length features of all genres. My ultimate goal is to go public with Applause Network TV, Inc. with an IPO. This is where self-reflection for me, myself, and I begins. And now Dad, I am the boss. Yes, this little girl who grew up poor with an absentee mother has created and continues to build upon something tangible that I can leave to my creative artistic children. I refuse to leave this earth without my children inheriting something that will set them free financially.
After years of working as Director, Executive Director and Chairperson, I realize that working for other people wasn’t for me. Despite how well the positions paid, having lots of decision making power and titles of leadership, I felt displaced…like I didn’t belong. I was never satisfied. The epiphany for me is that my father knew all along that being the boss would be my self-actualization as described in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (SEE FIGURE 1).
My father, Mae Miller, Claudia Flemings and my sister Arlene Braggs saw something in me as a child that I couldn’t possibly see in myself. With Dad’s limited education, he tried to tell me in the best way he knew how what he knew I was capable of and what my destiny would be. Wow Dad, I finally got it. I AM NOW MY OWN BOSS!