Updated: Sep 11, 2020
Jackie Capers-Brown is the third of "Four Badass Black Women.” Jackie has endured unimaginable grief yet she has found a way to take that grief and transform it into something great. You can reach her at her website.
You're broken down and tired
Of living life on the merry-go-round
And you can't find the fighter
But I see it in you, so we gonna walk it out
And move mountains
We gonna walk it out
And move mountains
And I'll rise up
I'll rise like the day
I'll rise up
I'll rise unafraid
I'll rise up
And I'll do it a thousand times again
I met Jackie in June when she interviewed me for her “Level Up Your Life” podcast. (Her interview of me will air on Friday, September 4.) When she asked me about my theme song, I answered without pausing, “Rise Up” by Andra Day. Jackie excitedly told me it was her theme song too. In addition, I listened to her podcast episode with Elizabeth Crawford the other day, and Elizabeth also said it was her song. When I commented on this to Jackie, she told me that "Rise Up" is the theme song of several of the women she interviewed in Season 2. "It's a message and energy that listeners of the Level Up Your Life Podcast apparently need to hear at this moment," said Jackie. "Faith comes by hearing, again, and again, and again..."
If anyone has risen up “in spite of the ache” to “move mountains,” it’s Jackie Capers-Brown. Learning of Jackie’s incredible story of grit and resilience and discussing this song with her planted the seed in me to start the Finding Fertile Ground podcast.
As a leader of women, Jackie started the Level Up Your Life Podcast to help her coaching clients advance their vision, voice, and value in the workplace and empower others, especially women of color.
Jackie was born in famously hot Columbia, SC, to working-class parents Willie Mae and William. Her parents demonstrated a sense of excellence in their work and inspired her to believe that any work she does should represent her best.
When Jackie was just 13 years old, she heard a thump upstairs. She ran up to investigate and found her mom collapsed. Willie Mae Capers insisted that Jackie call her sister to take her to the hospital, and tragically, Jackie never saw her again.
After her mom died, Jackie began to experience anger, sadness, and depression, as if the rug had been pulled from underneath her. She felt like she was no longer standing on solid ground. Fortunately, her father had purchased a diary for her when she was nine years old, and her habit of writing helped her recognize she was becoming an angry teen. Instead of focusing on the loss of her mother, she realized that she needed to focus on what her mom had provided her.
“She was strong, she was tenacious, she spoke her truth to power even when Black women were not heard much or respected, and she had faith in God,” said Jackie. “I realized that my mom was strong, so I am strong because I have her DNA in me.”
Even though she was sad and mad at God, the process of writing down her thoughts and becoming self-aware placed her on a lifelong journey of self-discovery and leadership.
Six years later her beloved father died from cancer when Jackie was 19. Losing both her parents while still in her teens tore her up. By that time Jackie was a single mom in college, working in the evenings, and she realized she couldn’t keep up with it all. Then six months after her dad died, Jackie found out she was pregnant with her second child, son Blease. At that point she felt she could no longer work without having anyone to take care of her children.
She decided to go on government assistance and move into Section 8 housing. The next year and a half she felt defeated that she had let her parents down. After she got pregnant with her daughter Dee, her dad had encouraged her to still go to college. Once he passed away, the reality of not having any parental support hit her like a brick. She did her best, but it was hard.
Then she had a spiritual awakening and she began to see herself the way God sees her. The love, mercy, and grace from God, combined with the spirit of strength she called on from her mom, dad, and ancestors, helped her to keep going. She was able to start a minimum wage job at Marriott Hotels, and within 10 years she had become an executive leader. Six months after that, Jackie was back on the roller coaster of grief once again, when her son Blease died at age 14 from a cardiac arrest.
This time she numbed her emotions, suffering in silence, while building a successful and award-winning team. She became a workaholic, working 60 hours/week, and finally she tried therapy but that didn’t help. Finally, she prayed a simple prayer: “God help me to help myself.”
Through this constant experience of grief, grit, and resilience, Jackie became committed to helping others actually realize the power of the stories they tell themselves, “because it was the fear-based story I was telling myself about not being strong enough to handle my grief that caused me to suffer needlessly,” Jackie said. “So that’s a big piece of the work I do today, helping people transform the narrative, redefine what’s possible in their life, and step into their greatness.”
Jackie credits her father for teaching her about perspective, which helped her to survive so many challenges in her life. When Jackie was in the fourth grade, schools in South Carolina started to become desegregated. She had to attend a predominantly white school after attending an all-Black school where her smarts had been affirmed by teachers. She sat in the front and often raised her hand to answer questions. When she did this at the white school, she didn’t get the same response.
Over the course of that school year, her dad talked to her every day to encourage her, teaching her about perspective at age nine. He said,
“Though this is a challenge, you will grow up to be a leader who will help our people. We need you to get through this.”
Her father allowed her to express what she was feeling, but he also showed her how to look at situations with perspective. He reminded her of the bigger purpose of her life. This fatherly wisdom has allowed her to get through difficult experiences over and over again.
I asked Jackie what wisdom she has for other people who are experiencing great griefs, and she took us to church. Here’s a brief glimpse of the wisdom she dropped:
“It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to acknowledge the truth of what you’re feeling. Don’t allow anyone to tell you not to feel the way you’re feeling...
Because we feel something doesn’t mean it’s the entire story, because our brains are meaning-making machines. And that meaning is often attached to emotional interpretations of our experiences...
Look at your experience and begin to identify ‘what is the meaning I have attached to this? Is the meaning attached to this experience empowering me for my greater good? Is it helping me to feel better about myself?...Is it causing me to feel stronger?’
You have the capacity within you to rise up, tap into the seeds of greatness within your potential, and be a testimony to the fire and power of the human spirit for others around you.”
I asked Jackie how she was feeling about the latest activity in the Black Lives Matter movement, and she said when she witnessed George Floyd dying, she was angry as hell and couldn’t believe what she was seeing. But she turned her anger into action. She contacted people in Columbia to see what she could do to help her city transform the injustices.
As a result, she began a “Black Men on Justice in America” podcast series to hear the voices and perspectives of Black men from different backgrounds. She wanted to expand her own understanding of Black men, and she was schooled. She learned that many things she assumed about Black men were wrong, and she began to appreciate them so much more. (I highly recommend this series...it's powerful! And it features my friend Charles Jackson II, who I interviewed a few episodes ago!)
Because Jackie was fortunate to go to an all-Black school through third grade, she learned from her teachers (and her parents, too) what Black people would be able to do as a result of the civil rights movement. This gave her a solid foundation in her Blackness—it made her and other students feel proud to be Black, with the brains and power to do whatever they aspired to do. She said,
“We were the generation that would get out and march and create change. We’d get opportunities our parents didn’t have...we were to lift up those behind us, not just focus on our own success...be lifters of our people...”
Jackie continued, “My parents were not people who looked at themselves as victims. They realized our ancestors were slaves but were able to raise themselves up without education...we definitely had a strong sense of our Blackness and our power.”
We talked about the lessons she learned in her corporate life, where she experienced sexism more clearly than racism. Reading The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table by Minda Harts, Jackie is learning more about the experiences of other women of color in the corporate world. The book has opened Jackie’s eyes to the challenges her coaching clients have been telling her about, being Black women in the workplace.
The book has made her realize that dealing with the intertwined challenges of sexism and racism in the workplace is more than just changing your perspective. Similar to racism in America,
“You can change your perspective, but it doesn’t mean that it’s going to go away...unless you institute policies and laws that hold people accountable.”
Jackie considers herself fortunate to live in a city where Black people have a lot of power. She realized how much she likes being around powerful Black people. Her first executive leadership role required her to transfer to Wilmington, NC, a city with a history of running out Black people. The white employees were not used to working for a Black leader, and everyone found it challenging at first, including Jackie. But she turned it around and built an award-winning team. Jackie said, “If you build a winning team, you will maintain your cream of the crop because people like to win.”
Jackie left the corporate world to start Slay Your Greatness Academy, a personal growth and leadership development company. She hosts the Level Up Your Success masterclass, sharing all the break-through ideas that have helped her accomplish a lot of goals very fast. New weekend virtual experiences will take place in October and January. In this masterclass, she’s excited about helping women, men, and youth achieve their goals by tapping into their seeds of greatness. Jackie has also written three books: Lead to Succeed, an emerging leadership book; Get Unstuck Now, part memoir/self-help; and Find Your Brave, about recognizing how to face your fears and teaching people how to "Rise Up."
When I asked Jackie how someone can increase their resilience, she said,
“You’ve got to have a compelling 'why' to take an action. My desire to give my children a better life required me to be better...my parents and teachers told me you are to be a lifter. I haven’t forgotten that...Resilience is making a decision and committing the full force of your being behind it.”
Jackie remembers being deeply inspired when she heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. In fact, she believed he was talking directly to her, telling her to be a leader for her people. When she shared this with her father, he got 100 percent behind this idea.
“I’m a student of MLK Jr., and I will be until I die....besides my parents, he has always been my #1 inspiration.”
Jackie is determined to use this time of COVID-19 to trust the spirit will lead her to her next steps. She continues to help people tap into their own power and help them rescript their lives.
Next week I interview Raina Casey, who has experienced a ton of trauma as an army veteran who worked the 9/11 site and survived Hurricane Katrina, in addition to dealing with some seriously scary medical issues and a financially abusive ex. She also has a superstar athlete son who is living with autism. She is a budtender and a death doula who focuses on quality-of-life care. You won't want to miss it!
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