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I'm often the only Black woman in the room. Why it's OK to take up space.

Minda Harts chats with Know Your Value about her new book, “You Are More Than Magic,” which is aimed at young women of color who want to find confidence and advocate for themselves and their careers.
Minda Harts is an author and the founder of The Memo LLC, a career development company for women of color.
Minda Harts is an author and the founder of The Memo LLC, a career development company for women of color.Courtesy of Penguin Random House.

At the age of 11, Minda Harts moved from her diverse neighborhood in California to a town in rural Illinois. The move changed her life forever. Growing up in a majority white town as a young Black girl she faced the ugly truths and hard lessons that come with constantly feeling like “the only one.”

That feeling continued when Harts grew up and went to work in corporate America for 15 years. During that time, she often felt like she was the only Black woman in a professional setting.

It’s part of the reason why Harts wrote her new book, “You Are More Than Magic: The Black and Brown Girls' Guide to Finding Your Voice,” where she talks about her own stories of success and missteps that helped her grow. It’s the advice she wishes she had as a young woman of color.

“What did 15-year-old Minda need to hear? … Because maybe, had there been some tools in my tool kit, I wouldn’t need so much healing down the line,” said Harts, who also founded The Memo LLC, a career development company for women of color.

Courtesy of Penguin Random House.

In her book, Harts gives actionable advice to young women of color and provides the tools they need to help gain confidence and let their voices be heard.

Know Your Value recently spoke with Harts to discuss her first-ever, young adult book. Below is the conversation, which has been edited for brevity and clarity:

Know Your Value: When people are in bookstores, and they see the title “You Are More Than Magic,” what do you want them to understand about that phrase?

Minda Harts: I want them to know that they have everything that they need right inside of them. And that there are people … rooting for their success…As a young, brown girl in a predominantly white space in school, I didn’t always feel like I belonged, and I felt like I had to be like somebody else and I want our girls to know they are fine just the way they are.

KYV: You say self-advocacy is tied to self-esteem and that a part of self-advocacy is negotiating your salary, even if it’s your first job. In the book, you write, “if we never advocate for ourselves, we hurt not only ourselves but the future generations of women of color that would benefit from our courage.” Tell us more about that.

Harts: Sometimes, when we’re young, we feel like we have to be just grateful for what we get. And [we take that mindset] into our adulthood. You want to start establishing that, ‘I know my worth’ from [the beginning], even if it is an hourly job at a chain.

I want young girls to know, we may not be able to control what someone’s response is to us, but we can control … our research (our homework) around the matter and then we present our case. And we can’t be mad at ourselves for trying. You know that old saying, ‘A for effort.’ We can give ourselves the A because we gave the effort and then people know where our boundaries are.

KYV: You say you can choose to react to rejection with an “empire state of mind” or an “enemy state of mind.” What’s the difference?

Harts: Shoutout to Jay Z and Alicia Keys! I thought about all of the stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves. And sometimes, when you are in environments where you don’t see yourself, you start to then shrink. And you start to think ‘I should try to be like somebody else.’ Or ‘maybe I’m not enough.’ We don’t want to participate in our oppression. We want to fill ourselves up with the right affirmations. And so, we have to move from this, ‘I don’t belong. People only chose me because I’m brown or Black.’ Or any of these types of things. And say, ‘wait a second, I’m good at what I do. Why wouldn’t they choose me?’ Having this ‘empire state of mind,’ that I can make it anywhere, and I don’t have to shrink myself. That being Black and brown is an asset. It’s a privilege. Regardless of if somebody sees that as an asset or not. We can see it in ourselves, and that’s enough.”

KYV: Hearing a continuous ‘no’ when you're young can be discouraging. In your book, you share the importance of not letting others define you. You moved past many no’s and eventually were greeted with better opportunities.

Harts: [Hearing] ‘no’ is inevitable. We’re all going to get them. And I always say, what’s for you, won’t miss you. In the book, I talk about [how] I tried out for the basketball team, I tried out for the cheerleading team. Both met with the same no. I cried both times. And then that third time, I said, 'you know what?' I want to try out for student council, and I didn't know if I could do it. I was already a little jaded from my no’s in the past, but I said you know what? What’s for me, won’t miss me. And I can’t tie my worth or what I’m interested in - to what somebody said yes or no to because I don’t know what their reasons were, but it had nothing to do with me.

KYV: When we’re young, we put a lot of emphasis on friends and being a part of the ‘cool’ club. In the book, you provide tools to help girls figure out if they are surrounding themselves with the right people. Tell us about that.

Harts: As young girls, the need to be liked is at a 10. We’re willing to almost do anything to get invited to that party. Or for somebody to like our photos …And [sometimes we may ask ourselves], ‘Do they like me for me?” or “Do they like me because of what I have access to?” or “Are they using me?” And it never feels good when you feel used, no matter if you're 13 or 33 ... [It’s important to create] those boundaries and saying, ‘Does this person align with me?’ and ‘Do they treat me good six out of seven days of the week?’ Or do you always have to prove that you’re ‘cool enough’ to be a friend to someone else? If we start to talk about what healthy friendships look like, we’ll find healthy friendships, and we can also be a healthy friend.

KYV: Which one of the stories you share in the book do you think will be most impactful?

Harts: [The story about] difficult conversations. I talk about visiting some family in the summer where I ended up seeing a relative that had been displaced from the family .. And then I had to tell my parents when I came back that summer. I didn’t know how to bring that conversation up. I think as young girls, sometimes we don’t feel like we have the tools to be able to have difficult conversations with our families, friends, teachers, or coaches. You can say what you mean without saying it mean. Let’s look at is now the right time to have that conversation. Do we need to practice before we say it? I know as adults, sometimes it's hard for us to have difficult conversations, and I want to make sure our young girls are supported when they have them.