In this edition of Awakened Convos, our partner Leslie Ramirez with House of Ramirez interviewed Nefertiti Jaquez. Ms. Jaquez is phenomenal and has been empowering women through her various community efforts and organizations. Check out the interview below:
H.O.R. You are doing it big, you are empowering yourself and others around you, you are specifically empowering women…we have something going for ourselves and you are a prime example that if you can do something great with yourself, then we can do it too. I really enjoy seeing your growth, you are out there poppin’ and doing your thing.
So, for a lot of our readers and our viewers if they are not familiar with Nefertiti then let us know who are you and where you are from?
Nefertiti Jaquez: So, I am originally from Providence, R.I., and most people may not even know where that is, it is that little state that is connected to Connecticut. I am the youngest of four, my older siblings were all born in New York, and I was the only one that was born in Rhode Island, everyone always wonders how did your parents end up there (she laughs). So, I am a Northeast gal who moved to Atlanta 4 years ago. A lot of the folks in Atlanta know me from my work at Channel 2 WSB, I was their lead reporter on the 11:00 news.
I specialize in criminal investigations and honestly, I think that I have been a little more vocal about it in the last, I want to say…year, I was actually a victim of crime when I was a young girl, I was emotionally, physically and sexually abused and so I thought that I wanted to be an attorney, my mind was dead set. I knew that I was going to go to Harvard and go to law school and then I decided to quit law school after starting and focused on journalism.
I felt that my purpose was about helping people because I knew that I could not be a good criminal defense attorney because unfortunately, there are some criminal defense attorneys that take on cases where they know that they are defending the bad guy. So, I knew that was not what I wanted, I knew that my purpose, with everything that I had endured as a child and as a young adult was really to give back to my community. It just kind of came naturally and so my mission has always been to help create a platform to give those who do not have a voice an arena to tell their story.
H.O.R. Exactly, and it is very clear that you are doing that. You are making sure that everyone is heard and that everyone has an opportunity and nowadays, we do not get that opportunity and it is 2020, the time of opportunity because “we live in the land of opportunity” but the way that everything is set up we do not have that outlet to speak freely. There is always someone watching over us, discouraging us from saying this or not wanting us to do that, who cares if you feel this, you need to say this and focus on the script.
The fact that you are empowering us through the freedom of speech, is why we are all here. We want to be able to be heard and to say something to effect change. As a young female Latina, I can definitely say that I understand you 100%. It has taken years for me as well to accept the things that have happened to me and to be okay with going through that pain to actually be able to speak about it, you never know who is listening or who you are going to help.
When you are a victim of sexual assault and when you are a victim of such a crime, it is important that you go through the phases but that you also talk about it. So I definitely feel you on that and it takes time because when you are younger, you do not understand it and you do not know how to turn into something positive, like you just mentioned. You are turning it into something positive…it was something that was negative, but you are turning it around and that is just great.
Nefertiti Jaquez: My friends and my family tell me all the time…they ask, do you think that you do what you do because in some way, shape, or form, it is therapeutic to you to help other people because I felt so alone and isolated while going through the abuse and I never really felt like I had somebody there.
I have never walked away from a story where I do not have a closeness with the families that I interview or that I do stories on, they know that they are always allowed to call me whether it is 2, 3…4:00 in the morning because I sleep with my phone by my side, every journalist does. So, I have been asked that by my friends, do you think (and this was even before I admitted that I was a victim) I had to go back and think about it because everything is easier in hindsight, 20/20…and then I realized that, yeah maybe I did.
There was this clear calling where I thought that this is where God wanted to place me and if not, I would have just continued on, becoming a lawyer. But then I realized looking back that the way that I approach people and stories and families is the same way that I would want my family to be approached if God forbid, something bad happened within the family. So, I do take everyone’s pain into consideration and as an empath (a person with the paranormal ability to apprehend the mental or emotional state of another individual) that can be a little bit difficult because we are like sponges, we tend to take other people’s feelings in and then we feel them too.
So, we can get to be too emotional at times, but I would not have changed the course of my life. Do I wish that I had not been victimized? Of course. At the same time though, I feel that it lends itself to the type of compassion that I now give to other people.
H.O.R. That is understood, and you can definitely feel that you are passionate about that, about every family that you come in contact with and that is very important, especially when you have families trusting you, I really appreciate that from you. (Nefertiti gives a warm thanks for the compliment).
How difficult has it been, as a woman of color, to break into journalism and into the media field?
Nefertiti Jaquez: Now that we can talk about it more openly that we have ever been able to talk about it, given what has been happening since the deaths of: Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, it was quite difficult. I started in a very large market, I started in Miami, which is kind of unheard of in our business…it was kind of this mediocre rise and I got a lot of crap for it. People were like, she was not hired because she was good, she was only hired because she is pretty. I do not read blogs now but back then, it used to really get to me. I was being compared to a porn star, they were trying to say that I inject my lips and it was just this degrading thing.
In fact, when I started in the business, they asked me if I would be willing to change my name, they thought that Nefertiti Jaquez was just too ethnic. I just was not able to do it. So when I actually started in the business, when I decided to start in Miami, I will give credit to my boss at that time, who also had naturally curly hair and I asked if she was going to want me to straighten my hair like “every other reporter” does, and she was like, no, it’s Miami…wear it curly!
This is right after I graduated from Brown and my hair was down to my butt. It was as you know, a lot of gel, a lot of mousse to keep it from “fro-ing” up in the middle of the Miami heat and so there were a lot of attacks on me because I…people do not know this, I had never taken a journalism course, I have never taken a communications course, I had never taken a writing course. So, everything that I learned about being a journalist, I learned out on the streets of Miami with the help of other seasoned reporters who became my mentors and who now are my friends. It was very difficult because I was being judged for pretty much everything, the makeup that I wore (I did not know how to wear makeup) because I had never worn it before, to how my hair was styled, to my name.
It is hard when you have been through so much in your past to then feel like you were bullied as a child and then being bullied as an adult, when all that I wanted to do was to help people and it really hurt back then because I could not understand why people could not see that all I wanted to do was to help families. Everybody was so fixated on my name, hair and looks and I was like, how dare you compare me to a porn star when you do not have any idea about my life before I decided to take this job.
When you are victimized in that way, you feel such shame and guilt and there is even a self-hatred that you have for yourself. Even though it started when I was 5 years old, there is still this blame that you have that continues on and it is very numbing, that I think happens more frequently in Black and Latino families then people are willing to say, because no body wants to come out and say…hey I was sexually assaulted or raped. It is interesting how people view your life versus what your life really was and is at the time.
H.O.R. Yes, that is true, and you know, the fact that you are actually giving back to all of us after you went through something that was impactful in your life, you used that as fuel to do something great and you are doing it and it is appreciated. It is not easy, it is a journey, and it takes a lot of trust between family members, I have 2 brothers, so I know. My mom is my best friend and so my mom knows everything…I tell her everything, even when people tell me that I should not.
Nefertiti Jaquez: I am the same way with my brother, Irving. People almost think…they do not know what to think. Usually, when you have an older brother, he is very typical, very protective, he wants to know who is in my life and why they are in my life, is it because I am on tv, no boyfriend has had it easy when it comes to my older brother Irving, I have always felt really bad for all of them. But it is really weird, talking about shout outs, he definitely gets the number one shout out because I think that outside of being my brother he was my protector when we were being abused and we are not just talking about spankings, we are talking about to the point where bones were broken and I was being knocked out, unconscious…there were times when Irving would jump in front of me to take the hits.
So, I love him in a way that I cannot really even explain in words and he knows that. I have made it very clear to him and it is very interesting because as tough as he is about me and the people in my life, we have never had an argument, my entire life.
H.O.R. That is wonderful and that is how it needs to be because you all understand each other so why is there a need to argue?
Touching on that same topic when you are in the industry, and this happens everywhere, has there ever been any advances made towards you? You are beautiful and people do not understand that you have been through things, like you mentioned earlier someone made a negative reference to you they have no idea what you have been through. So, has there been instances where advances have been made towards you?
Nefertiti Jaquez: There have definitely been instances of sexual harassment in the workplace. There have been instances where my looks have come up, even from females in the newsroom. There have been those issues with my hair being too ethnic. My boss once texted me, I had just gotten back from vacation and I always had 2 stylists and so my main stylist was sick and the other one was out of town, so I had to wear my hair naturally. I literally got a text from a female boss telling me that she did not like that look because it was too ethnic. So, there has been harassment on a racial level, a sexual level, a toxic work environment because as I grew in the business and I grew into my purpose, understanding what my purpose was, I became very vocal about what I was not willing to accept and when I became vocal, that harassment got worse.
It was like, when a man speaks his mind then he is heard but if a Latina or a Black woman speaks their minds, it’s they are emotional, they are too sensitive…angry, and I just was not about that life. It has taken me a long time to get here but I am finally in a space and you can see that a lot, especially through my social media that I will say what I want and I will say exactly how I feel and I do not hide elements of myself, my life, my identity…the fact that I am God fearing. So yes, I have endured that and what I noticed is that the more that I stuck up for myself, the worst the harassment got.
H.O.R. This society is not set up for us to be able to speak up and say, hey that is not appropriate, I feel uncomfortable. It is about the “good old boys” club and you are an object that we get to toy around with and talk about and poke at and you are supposed to sit there and be quiet, especially as a female. Now add to that… that you are Black or Hispanic or from the “other side” of town and it is a complete disaster and an opportunity for them to get angry. It is not set up for us to even give our opinion.
Thank you for standing up because that sets an example for everyone…females that are out there in the Black and Brown community, if there is something that you are not digging at your job, you have to speak up about it and sometimes, you have to get up and walk away from that job, there is always going to be jobs out there for you.
Nefertiti Jaquez: I did not go into becoming a crime journalist or an investigator, covering such serious topics and chasing down bad guys to then be minimized to being a female and how I looked…like that was not going to happen.
H.O.R. Exactly, and that is a prime example as to what you should be doing, standing up for yourself, so thank you for that.
Nefertiti Jaquez: I think that it is really important, especially when you are Latino or Black…there is a weight that you carry and it is a weight that I carry, I am not just doing this for myself, I am not just doing this for my parents, for my brother, for my family…I am doing this for all Blacks and Latinos. There was a time once when I started a job and there was a white journalist who at the… you usually see the reporter at the top of the story and then at the end, it is kind of like intro/body/conclusion to a written essay and they came out to me and said, yeah, police are looking for a Black suspect who is 6’2 and I was like (scrunching up her face)umm…no. I was on the job for like maybe a week and a half, when I walked into the boss’s office and I said, “We can’t do that because that is half of the city.” Now if you tell me that the suspect was 6’2, Black and had a red birth mark over his eye and he had a scar on his neck too, THEN I would understand that.
But not when we are just going to throw out these generalizations and pretend that it is okay.
H.O.R. I agree. But again, we are breaking barriers and Covid-19 has changed a lot of the “norms” that we have had to live in. As you have mentioned, there are a lot of reporters out there…you do not want that contact because you do not understand that you do not know…there is no look for Covid-19. So, in order for our reporters to stay safe and to keep everybody in the station safe, you are going to have to exclude yourself from certain things like doing your hair and getting your nails done and you know the fact that we now see that more and more on tv the proper representation of our community and like you mentioned, it should have been that way all along.
Nefertiti Jaquez: Yes, I do agree with you, I think this is the time for Blacks and Latinos to unite. My mom is as fair as you are and so I have had (H.O.R., responds by saying, that is a nice way to put it) well colonizers are what they are so, I am not going to go there.
I also think that when you talk about empowerment and how Blacks and Latinos need to unite, I always go back to…because I talk about this a lot with Charlamagne (tha god) who is a close friend of mine, your purpose in life is not just to serve yourself…your purpose in life empowers you to help those who come behind you (H.O.R. also adds that it includes those that are next to you that have not found their power yet) It is interesting so when we talk about having a united front it requires us to empower each other, not just women but everyone…empowering our children and making sure that we are doing our best to give back to our communities and so I would hope that people would take this year as bad as it has been and really kind of internalize within themselves, what it is that they can do to heal. If people would just focus on their healing and invited people into their lives that deserve a seat in their arena, there would be more good than harm.
I think that a lot of times Latinos and Blacks sometimes because we were taught to be so strong, we did not deal with our problems, it stagnates our ability to soar as high as we can go, to fulfill all of our dreams and I want every little boy and girl who watches this, who is either Black or Latino to feel that they have more than ever before, that they have all the access that they need and that starts with knowing who they are.
H.O.R. That is how it needs to be…getting that opportunity not just by word but by action. With our actions we can inspire others to be great. The way that we were raised, the way that we were put into certain situations as young people. we were not…of course we were loved in a sense, but I also come from a very physically abusive family. I forgave my father; I love my father…he is the only father that I have. I have a stepfather, and I love him dearly. But it is not easy when you are going through these emotions as a young child and you think that your word does not count or I cannot do that, I will get in trouble.
For young successful entrepreneurs like us, we can show the children in this world that they can be anything that they want to be regardless of where you come from and regardless of what your situation is in life…that is empowering, that is motivational and inspirational to them and we must continue the fight, continue to be trailblazers because that is what you are Nefertiti. You are a trailblazer.
Nefertiti Jaquez: Thank you. I mean… I do not know if I have ever thought of myself in that sense. I always think that it is really sweet and humbling when people feel that. All I ever wanted to do was to make sure that one of my victims or the families of my victims never felt as alone as I did as a child.
H.O.R. You are a woman of many words; you are a renaissance woman. Are there are any pointers or some words of advice that you would like to impart to our youth and our audience?
Nefertiti Jaquez: That is a very good question and a difficult question. I think that I am always going to… and I talk a lot about vulnerability. I think that you have to accept yourself completely as you are in order to live a fulfilled life. Fronting like you are happy when you are not…not allowing your body to feel its natural feelings whether that is crying or blowing off steam, that is only going to hinder you and it is only going to lead you to a place of complete unhappiness.
When it comes to generational curses, do not wait for the next generation, you start…break the bonds, break the chains, anything that you feel has been holding you or your family back. Fix yourself, work on yourself but also understand that it is a process. Like I said, you do not just wake up healed one day. It is this ever-growing evolution in order to get to a place of happiness. But also accepting yourself for who you really are, especially for people of color, especially for women and men.
I would hope that when they look in the mirror that they are happy with what they see and who they are, not aesthetically but with what is happening inside, to not only show grace to themselves but to other people because it is very easy to look at other people and judge them for their outward appearance and what you think they have…never knowing the life they have led or are currently leading. Between vulnerability, acceptance, loving thyself and loving thy neighbor, we were put on this earth to love and to be loved. It does not take anything away from you or your success to empower another woman, to empower another man, to mentor a child. I think that there is room on the stage for everyone.
H.O.R. Thank you for that. Are there any shout outs that you would like to give out?
Nefertiti Jaquez: I would like to shout you out. I would definitely like to shout out my brother Irving. I did not expect this to be a cry session at any point but whatever #goodtrouble
H.O.R. Thank you, Nefertiti, it was an honor, so thank you!