Dealing with any kind of illness or diagnosis is hard, but that doesn’t mean that it is a hindrance. Ms. Derra Howard is the true testament that your diagnosis can be the key to unlocking your destiny.
Howard is the type of friend that will keep you up to date with everything from fashion trends, beauty, natural hair, insta algorithms—and still be able to clown with you!
“I am here to inform and we can all be styish while doing so!,” Howard states.
Ms. Howard’s journey began in September 2017 when she was let go from her job as a ninth grade teacher due to her epilepsy. During that time she needed an outlet, so blogging became that for her and ended up being extremely beneficial.
“I was able to share my epilepsy journey and connect with others along the way!” she explained.
In the past three years, she has been growing her brand in various ways such as through: brand promotions, hosting events, and attending events. Some of the brands that she has had the pleasure of working with include, but are not limited to: PJ’s Coffee, Epilepsy Foundation of America, Blavity, Vaseline, Michael Todd Beauty, Bobbie Howard CPA, YUMMY, Sweat, Zicam, Hello Fresh, Buddy Nutrittion, GNC, CVS Beauty, and much more!
I recently interviewed Derra where she chatted more on her endeavors.
Naosha: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what it is that you do?
Derra: I am an influencer…a social media influencer with Life & Style. I talk about fashion; I talk about epilepsy and I work with various brands. I have epilepsy so that is pretty much why it is one of my niches. I am also from Houma, Louisiana.
Naosha: How is it down there?
Derra: It is different now with us being in the midst of this pandemic. I have been inside…a lot, I do not really go outside, I have a garden…I garden now (laughs).
Naosha: That is a lovely hobby, what have you been growing?
Derra: I have been trying to grow vegetables, but they are not growing (laughter).
Naosha: A little TLC will help the green thumb. I know that you mentioned that you have epilepsy, for those who are not familiar with the condition, can you explain to us what it is?
Derra: I was 9 years old when I had my first seizure. Epilepsy is a neurological disorder, just something with the brain. The way that I would describe it would be like when computer freezes up and you have to press escape and reboot, that is pretty much what a seizure is to me. My brain kind of freezes up and I become confused and then I feel an aura and I will let someone know that I am about to have a seizure and they pretty much know what to do from there, or if they do not I will try to do it before I go into the seizure.
Naosha: Wow, that is scary. So, you have been dealing with this since you were a child, I know that you mentioned that blogging was an outlet for you, can you tell us what it was like to grow up with epilepsy and having seizures, how were you able to balance going out with friends, did you have to explain to your friends, hey I might be having a seizure, here are some things to look out for…how did you cope with it?
Derra: The odd thing about it, my first seizure was in school and so all of my friends knew that I had seizures after that. I had a seizure in the snack line so after that I did not have to prepare them, I never had too many seizures around them outside of school, I always had them in school and I had a lot of really good teachers because whenever I had a seizure, they would take me out of class and protect me. So, my friends would not see what was going on and I never had any instances of being bullied because of the epilepsy but I did go to school with a lot of my family and friends and we all stuck together, they did not look at me like there is the girl that had seizures; they just looked at me like Derra.
Naosha: So when you found out that you were having seizures, did it change the narrative of what you wanted to do in terms of a career? In other words was there something that you thought of doing as a child but then because of the epilepsy, you thought that it might not be a good idea?
Derra: No, it never swayed me. I never wanted to be a pilot or anything (laughs) so I never wanted to do anything that was too dangerous, I wanted to go into entertainment and do something along those lines. I think that my parents are afraid of it more than me, because my dad has this underlying feeling of, you are still sickly because he has not come to terms with the fact that it is a condition that I have but I can cope with it…I can live any life that I want to live. If I wanted it to hold me back, then it would hold me back, but it has not.
Naosha: I know that you started a foundation, I believe that it is called; “Saving Grace Epilepsy,” (Derra nods). Can you tell us more about it and how it got started?
Derra: Yes. The idea came after I was fired from my last job. That happened almost 3 years ago, but I was fired because of my epilepsy, and I was a teacher and I really liked that position. I did not want to go through this again of getting fired and then I had to down-size and move back home, I was like, I am not doing this again. I want to help people understand that if they get fired, there is someone with epilepsy that can help you through this. Because I did not know what to do, I filed with the EOC (Employment Opportunity Commission), but they did not help me through it. They were like, well you did not do your job, but I did do my job. My job did not accommodate me, because of my epilepsy.
Naosha: That must have been hard. I cannot imagine anything like that, but it is amazing how you took a negative experience and turned it around and you are living your best life doing it. I know that you mentioned that you started blogging after you lost your job and everything, can you tell us how that transition was, because we live in a day and a time where a lot of people are changing careers. You may have studied one thing and then you end up doing something else and completely loving it, so can you tell us what that journey was like and what advice would you give to somebody who is thinking about changing careers?
Derra: It was the summer and my parents were telling me to go and get a job. I was like, I cannot go back and teach, I cannot do that…because even though I liked my last job, I knew that it was not my passion. So I decided to go full force with blogging. I wanted to tell my story and I wanted to connect with other bloggers and that is what I did. I started to surround myself with people who were nothing but influencers and epilepsy advocates…and that is pretty much who I am around to this day. Everyday or at least once a week I work with somebody who either has epilepsy or who is a blogger. I just keep going and I keep on telling my story.
Naosha: That is great, and I am so glad that you mentioned networking. There are a lot of people who underestimate the power of networking, especially in entertainment. I think that the saying is, its not what you know, its who you know, so what networking tips would you give to our followers or anyone who is looking to get into the entertainment, blogging or any type of field?
Derra: If you are interested in blogging, I would say that you should make sure that your page looks clean, make sure that you have a certain pattern or niche that you are going for…make sure that you have a niche. As for networking, after you have that down, start reaching out to companies. Companies give stuff away all the time and when you are starting out do not ever turn down free products or free promotion because you can add that to the list of the things that you have done. Always remember to keep in touch with the people that you have worked with especially during this time, you know asking them how they are doing, you know just build a real genuine relationship with people.
Noasha: I know that you said that you are from Louisiana. I have heard that the “Big Easy” is beautiful, I have always wanted to go, and I have always wanted to attend Mardi Gras. Louisiana is also home to the Annual Essence Festival and I know that you also created The Influencer Social, can you tell us a little bit about that, what it was like and how you went about creating such a relevant topic because influencers are very relevant in this day and time. So, how did you go about deciding who you wanted to work with and what you wanted that brand to represent?
Derra: I did not create it all by myself. I am one-third of The Influencer Social, there are 2 other ladies, their names are Alisha Reed and Deveney Marshall. We are all from Louisiana, they are based in New Orleans and I am in Houma and we just got along, and we all wanted to throw an event for creatives and that is pretty much how that event happened. We reached out to different companies to see who would collaborate with us to allow us to have the event there, there were a lot of people that said no, a lot of people were like, you could have it for a X amount of money and then there was one that actually wanted to collaborate with us and that was Launch Pad of New Orleans and we still have this, I guess that you can say friendship with them to this day because of that.
We then reached out to other brands because it was Essence weekend, you have all kinds of people coming from all over, so many people in New Orleans reached out and catered for us and did all kinds of stuff for us or with us. It was a lot of work, but it paid off, because it was a successful event for creatives to network in; we hope to do it again.
Naosha: Hopefully by the next time you do it, the pandemic will be over, and I can use that as my excuse to finally visit New Orleans. Speaking of the pandemic, there is a lot going on, with that and with the protests that are going on with the Black Lives Matter movement, as a someone who is an influencer in the world of entertainment, what are your thoughts on diversity in the industry and as a Black woman, how can you help to make a change?
Derra: I would love to see more people of color get the same pay as the White influencers but I think that it is going to take us a little while longer, but they are actually “outing” the companies right now in showing who has diversity in the companies (Naosha mentions the ‘Pull Up’ challenge), yes the ‘Pull Up” challenge and that is what I do when companies reach out the me, I ask about the diversity within their company, do you have people of color in leadership positions? Some companies will respond and some companies I do not hear back from. So that is the risk that I am talking right now.
Naosha: What are some things that you think others may be able to do to contribute to the narrative in order to change things?
Derra: Non-Black or Black?
Naosha: That is a good question. I feel that as Black people there are a lot of beauty brands that are out there, but they do not get the same resources as White people…so what do you think that non-people of color can do to even things out?
Derra: I would say that Non-Black, if they are influencers, they could “pull up” a chair for us, who are not getting those type of opportunities and as far as the brands, I believe that we can make an extra effort to support them more.
Naosha: I have been discovering Fenty beauty and Beauty Bakerie during quarantine…I am all for it and they can just take all of my money (laughter)…every dime I make. Speaking of quarantine, I was never into makeup before but during the quarantine I decided to get into it, so what are some at-home tips that you can give us?
Derra: I would say to look at the people that are at the top. When I started that is what I did. I started to look at the people who had 10 million followers or even 20,000 and I just started looking at how their pages were set up. I noticed that they had a system going on and that was what I started doing. If you want to get into beauty, just start by doing beauty tutorials. Get you a ring light, that’s all you need. Start putting your makeup on while on camera. That is what I would suggest. You can put it out there, it is a lot about hashtags as well.
Naosha: Tell us all about the hashtags because I always talk about how important it is. I am from New York and hashtags can literally reach someone in L.A., 1000 miles away from you.
Derra: You have to put hashtags that fit your niche. For me, I know that it is hair, it is epilepsy, fashion…I know that I am a Black blogger. So, I put a bunch of those hashtags and I will mix them up. If I do a selfie post, which I do not do a lot of, I would just do it on natural hair, just mix them up.
Naosha: You make so excited for my hair; I cannot wait to be a part of the team.
Derra: There is a huge natural hair community out there.
Naosha: I am so glad that you said that because I went on Instagram and saw pictures of all the women out there that had hair just like me and it was so beautiful. It was amazing to see and it was inspiring. Not only are you reaching businesses, but you are reaching communities. So just to wrap up, I think that this conversation was really great, and I know that you are starting a podcast soon, so can you tell us more about that and where we can tune in to listen to it?
Derra: The podcast is going to help people with insomnia sleep. Basically I will be telling a story, low voice or I will be doing ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response), but it has been coming for a while now because I have had so many projects and I have just putting them all out at a time where I want them to be done right. But as of right now, you can find it on Instagram, it is called Beauty Rest Podcast, and the link to my SoundCloud is up.
Naosha: I want to thank you for joining us today Derra. I love you and I love your lipstick and I definitely love your blonde hair. Thank you for hanging in with us during our technical difficulties…you were great.
Derra: No problem (smiles)
Naosha: Thank you everyone for tuning in.