2 Weeks Left and 2 Tips to Make the Most of Them

November was probably the saddest month of my life but also the most motivating.
My last post was about all of the sudden deaths too close to me. Then yesterday another close acquaintance passed away suddenly. Heart attack, and he was in his early 40’s. A day before his annual birthday party which is a fundraiser for different charities.
For the last two weeks, I have been suffering from a sinus infection that has made me down, but every time I start to feel sorry for myself I think about the growing list of people who I’ve lost. Even with me feeling bad, I feel motivated to get stuff done. Meet my goals. Because I’M STILL HERE.
Which means I still have time. So do you.
But one thing that I have been reminded of in these last two month is that we have no idea how much time we have. So that means we don’t have any time to waste.
With two weeks left in 2017, we can still check things off our lists. Even if I don’t accomplish everything I set out to do this year, it won’t be because I didn’t try or give it my all even in the last two weeks.
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2 Quick Tips to Make the Most of these Last 2 WEEKS
  1. Revisit the goals you set for 2017. Think back to January 1st when you said you were going to lose 20 pounds, go back to school, buy a house, or whatever you said or even just thought you wanted to accomplish.  You’ve maybe been living month to month just doing what you need to do to get by. Take this opportunity to think about what you really wanted to get done this year then….
  2. Focus on 1 of those goals. Which goal was the most important goal? Which one have you made some progress on? Which one constantly hurts you because you haven’t accomplished it, or which one could have the biggest impact on your life? Choose that one and get to work making it happen. Sit down and write out a plan to get as far as you possibly can on that goal before the year is up. Then get back on it on January 1st! But make some progress…now.

You still have time! Your 2018 self will thank you!

And if you need help finding the confidence to make it happen, check out my online Confidence Class which has helped others meet their goals. 2018 is the year to Conquer Your Fears. Follow Your Dreams. Get What You Deserve.

I’d love to help you!

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5 Things to Do or Not Do When Someone You Love Loses a Loved One

The title of my first book is Life After Birth. The course I created for the University of Memphis is Life Skills. The curriculum I created for secondary schools teaches Life Skills. I am a Life coach. I live life, love life and teach life and how to live your best life.

So why was the last month of my life been so full of death?

Earlier this year, I shared that I have lost three young friends in the last three years. One just this past Easter. A close friend lost her 18-year-old daughter last year, and a couple months ago a couple I lost a friend and treasure to our city.        Marnesha

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These sudden deaths were hard and were hitting so close to home. Then in November it got unbelievably hard and did hit home.

For my mother’s 60th birthday, I went with her to Los Angeles to visit my sister and one of my mother’s first cousins who has been trying to get her to LA for most of her life. We had a great nearly two weeks there with one of our last nights spent with my cousin’s friend. My cousin is an LA police officer, and so is his long-time friend. His friend talked about excited he was about retiring and talked even more excitedly about his sons. Before dinner, he scrolled through his phone showing us pictures of his two twenty-something year old sons, my cousin’s Godsons, who both played basketball professionally. He was so proud of his boys.

The next day we left LA and arrived back in Memphis at about 2am on a Saturday morning. My mom, sister, and I slept in then I took them to pick up a rental car and they headed to our hometown of Jackson. After leaving them I met up with my cousin who is more like my sister, and she and another cousin spent the night with me watching movies. My son stopped by, and we all had a chance to talk to him about his life and his choices that need some work. We hugged him, and he left late that night.

The next morning we woke up and were about to leave to go to the Waffle House for breakfast. Before we could leave, my cousin’s daughter called and said two sheriffs were at their house and needed her to come home. The three of us rushed over wondering what her son had gotten into or what else could be wrong.

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Then we got the news no parent ever wants to hear. Her 20-year-old son had died in a car accident; the passenger in a car with his friend who died too.  We knew the friend too. He was my cousin’s ex-husband’s son. Once her stepson. They were both only 20 years old. My heart was broken but especially for my sweet cousin who had lost her baby, the youngest of her three children and her only son.

 

KB and sons

When we were able to compose ourselves, we called family including our cousin in LA. That’s when we learned that the two, young basketball players had died in a car accident the same day. Our family was even more devastated.

 

 

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A few days later, more tragedy. Another cousin. My grandmother’s nephew was driving a motorized wheelchair was hit by a truck. Family from Chicago scrambled to plan a funeral in Tennessee just as we had just finished doing.

We were all hurting on all types of levels yet all comforting each other as best we could.

 

 

In the midst of this, my friend lost her father. This friend lost her mother in college and began calling me mama after I became her camp counselor her freshman year. 20 years later, I’m still “Mama” to a woman a year younger than I am. Then she lost her father who cherished her, and everyone knew it. And she cherished him.

I’ve never experienced so much death so close to me at one time. And I’ve never been a part of planning a funeral. This time it was for my cousin who was more like my nephew helping my cousin who was more like my sister. However, the eulogy that was delivered brought nine of my cousin’s friends to Christ, and began a huge mending process in several key relationships in our family. We lost our baby, but there was purpose that we have to see and believe in. And created purpose in through the Curtis Owens Memorial Scholarship.

This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I was simply supporting someone doing the hardest thing I think a person could ever have to do. What we’ve been through in the past few weeks is something that I hope no one else will have to experience, but I know people inevitably will.

The support our family got from people has been amazing and unbelievable (both good and bad). I know that often people don’t know what to say or do in situations like this, but here are a few things I observed that I think are worth consideration because we all will one day be in the place of comforting someone in the time of loss.

  1. Show up. No, not everyone needs to pop up at the house or necessarily come to the service. However, examine what your relationship is to the person or people suffering. You might be a little uncomfortable but maybe your hug or just your presence can bring comfort to your friend when it is needed most. Your presence simply says, “I am here for you” whether your mouth ever does. And if you don’t feel you were close enough or that you should be there, you can still show up through calls, cards, donations, food…and now I see why food is so important. I used to think it was just for the repast, but the food people brought was a blessing as worked day in and day out on all the stressful details of taking care of our baby. In your own way, in your own time; but let them know you are there.
  2. Avoid the cliches. It’s so hard to know what to say. We all tend to go to, “He’s in a better place,” or “Everything happens for reason,” or, “God knows best.” I even saw saying, “Let me know what I can do,” defeating it’s helpful purpose because at that time the one thing that’s wanted no one can do. If you struggle for words, don’t use them. Presence speaks volumes.
  3. Be present but know when to give space. It’s unbelievably stressful doing or helping someone to the hardest thing they will probably ever have to do…BUT have to hurry up and do it. It can be overwhelming to have people around or calling, but at the same time is needed and welcomed. You have to, again, examine your relationship with the person and act according to what you feel is best. Be there, give space, but not too much or too little. It’s not easy, but you can tell what’s needed.
  4. Allow people to mourn in their own way.  Sometimes people expect people to react a certain way and question their love for the one they loss if they act differently.  Maybe they are not crying enough or too much or too hard. Maybe they aren’t talking about it enough or too much or you just don’t like what they are saying. One cousin laughed a lot at what some would consider awkward times, but I recognized it as nervous laughs. Even laughing to keep from crying. Some people want to go out and some people want to stay in. Practice patience and discernment to avoid judgment at a time that it is needed least.
  5. Don’t criticize the decision-maker for their choices. Maybe you didn’t agree with location for the service or someone being on the program. There are a ton of very difficult decisions that have to be made by the people who are grieving the hardest, and again, the decisions have to be made quickly. Once any of the decisions are made, it only brings more grief to hear complaints and disagreement.

So as I think about death, I am reminded that death is a part of life. At a time of loss, we naturally think about our own mortality. When people we love die, we are left to live until it is our turn. The question is what will you with your life?

How can we make the most of our lives so that when it’s our turn, we won’t have any regrets. Will we have done or at least tried to do what we dreamed of doing? Will we invest in life insurance so that finances aren’t added burden to the grief our families will feel.

If you’re reading this, then that means you still have life and you still have time. The question is just how much and what will you do with it?

So…what’s your answer? None of knows how much time we have, but what will you do to make sure you live your life on purpose and with purpose?

 

 

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38. Feeling Great. It’s Okay to Celebrate!

Earlier this year, I celebrated my 38th birthday.

To some people that’s no big deal, but to me it is. After getting pregnant on my 15th birthday by someone I didn’t know, I didn’t get excited about my birthday for years. It was a reminder of a night that hurt me. Scared me. And impacted my life forever.

But I loved my son, and when I was finally emotionally,  mentally, and spiritually mature enough, I got over what happened. And decided to celebrate the day that I was born. The day the biggest blessing of my life became a part of me. Celebrate the blessing of another year of life.

Most years, I try to take a trip. Even leave the country if I can. This year was a little different, but equally fulfilling.

Because the events and consequences of my 15th birthday are the reason for my businesses, S.O. What! LLC and The S.O. What! Foundation, I kicked off my birthday with a FUN fundraiser for the nonprofit.

It was an old school house party at my home with a deejay, good food, and lots of friends. Kid ‘N Play were in a city nearby, and I REALLY wanted them to come to the party. No luck with that, but we partied hard and with a purpose raising money for the kids in our STEP OUT program and helping to make our first summer camp possible.

On my actual birthday, my cousin/friend and I took a quick road trip to Nashville to visit cousins and to get away even if just down the street.

 

 

 

Nashville crew

 

When we got back to Memphis, the celebration continued at the Omega Psi Phi fraternity’s Sundresses and Linen party.

my girls

 

As the years go by, I sometimes find myself getting down about things I thought that would be different in my life. Like celebrating my birthday with my husband or at least a great boyfriend. However, until then (and after) I will look forward to birthdays and getting older, wiser, and better. And I will celebrate with my girls who will be getting older, wiser, and better right along with me! And I will love on my unexpected 15th birthday present until the day I die.

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20 Years Later. So much more than I ever expected.

When I entered my senior year of high school in 1996, I couldn’t wait for it to be over. Not because I didn’t like school or people there because my school, Jackson Central-Merry, was amazing.

We were award-winners and record-setters both academically and athletically.  From CNN Contributor Van Jones to NFL players Al Wilson and Artis Hicks (who graduated with me) to so many other names that may be lesser known but no less successful and significant, JC-M was THE school.

The childish bullying I had once endured was over, and everyone had gotten over the shock and had stopped the (blatant) judgment of me “already succeeding” (having a baby) as one student said when I was voted Most Likely to Succeed.

I was just ready to go because I, like nearly every teenager who ever lived, was just ready to be grown and on my own.

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Summer Owens  1997 and 2017

To the surprise of many people, since I had become a mother at 15, I graduated #8 in my class, earned a full scholarship to the University of Memphis, and moved away from my hometown of Jackson, TN. That first year of college, I went home nearly every weekend with my two friends who had left Jackson for Memphis too.

As time went by, we visited less and less but still made the short drive to see our families who were still there. We soon started making the drive home even without each other.

Then I looked up, and 10 years had passed. Then 15.  Some awesome classmates took the initiative and planned awesome reunions, and I made sure I was there each time.

 

I was even married at the ten year reunion and took my husband and stepson along with my son who was 12 by then.  Time was definitely going by fast.

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Check out my son with the yearbook (I was the editor of the yearbook staff my senior year).

In my memoir, I talk about walking across the crosswalk from one campus to the other as a pregnant sophomore. The crosswalk connected the “East Campus” which was the former Merry High School (the black school) and the “West Campus” which was the former Jackson High School (the white school). In 1970, nine years before I was born, Jackson Central-Merry  became the first integrated high school in Jackson.

In 2003 when I was just getting into my career and visiting home even less, the West Campus, formerly the white school, became Madison Academic Magnet School. Jackson Central-Merry was limited to just the East Campus, and students would no longer have the college-like experience of walking on the crosswalk. No more greeting friends and hanging out and rushing between classes.

DIGITAL CAMERAWhen we returned to Jackson for our 10 year class reunion, the decline and eventual demise of our once powerhouse school was evident. The beautiful integration our class remembered wasn’t reflected in the stands or on the field. The football team, cheerleaders, band, and color guard (which I was a part of) were less than a quarter of the size they once were.

We were in shock. But then we went on with our lives.

Then I blinked and nearly 20 years had passed. It was almost time for our 20 year reunion. But a year before we would celebrate 20 years of being “grown”, our beloved school was closed.

There were lots of reasons given. Low attendance, maybe poor academic performance. Definitely not the school I had attended. Race, class, and educational inequality were issues once again. I don’t know that those issues ever went away, but our class (in my opinion) didn’t experience it.

There was a fight to keep the school open. Dedicated alumni consistently attended school board meetings speaking out and pleading for our school. A few alumni even created a huge JC-M all class reunion/homecoming which brought together alumni from every year since JC-M was integrated as one school. Before the game, we marched onto the field representing all the awesome years. It was a powerful showing of the love for our school.

But the school board still voted to close it.

As a consolation prize I think, the vocational building which was in between the East and West campuses, was turned into an early college high school. They named it Jackson Central-Merry Early College High School and gave it our school colors and mascot. The team who fought to keep the school opened embraced the new school and worked to support it right away. 20150320_101014

I had only been back to visit my school a few times since I graduated. I had spoken to the large number of teen mothers there the two years prior. Ironically, I was booked to speak on the day my granddaughter was born and her birthday the next year. The year I became a teen mother, there were only two or three others in the whole school of maybe 1500 students. That had changed too. Although the school was less than half that size, the number of teen parents was much higher.  However, I was honored to be able to share my story and encourage young mothers in the place where I started my fight to overcome some of the obstacles they were facing.

So I cried when my school closed. I took it personally. The closing impacted some old classmates who were on staff there. It impacted family who were or would have been students there, and it impacted the entire community.

But our 20 year class reunion brought back all the wonderful memories of our time at JC-M.  Like the previous reunions, it was planned by whomever stepped up to make it happen. This time two classmates, one in New York and the other in Colorado, led the charge and made it happen with the support of a couple of people still in Jackson and a few others.

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This is us plus a few others who showed up after the group picture.  As each person walked in, it was if we were all best friends in high school.

Some us were friends. Some of us were in clubs or on teams together. Some were the “popular” students and some were barely known.  Some us had never even spoken to each other. Some I had followed on Facebook and knew things about their lives, and many I had not seen or honestly even thought about since I was 18 years old.

But that weekend none of that mattered. All I could think about was-

 You sometimes don’t realize how much you miss people until you see them.

I missed these people. And I wanted to see every one of these people, people who shared some of my most precious memories, as much as I could see them all weekend.

 

 

We partied and sang, and we enjoyed catching up and sharing memories. Our kids who had never even seen each played together and loved on each other. Even my “kid”, the first baby of our class, now 22, came to the family picnic.

 

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Original signage located on the East Campus

On the last day those of us who were still in town went to brunch and had the great idea to visit the place that had connected us more than 20 years ago.

 

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West Campus (Now Madison Academic Magnet School)

We took the walk none of us had taken in 20 years along the crosswalk. We posed with the Aspiration sculpture that we passed daily as we went from one campus to the other. On the East Campus, we looked in the windows and were saddened to see boxes and abandoned desks and obvious neglect of our school. We even tried to get inside but decided against in when we saw the police. Just kidding…

 

At the end of our tour of what was left of our school, we stood and talked. We reflected on our collective and individual experiences. The great times we’d had, and the trouble we had gotten into. The things we got away with and the times we were caught.

It was truly bittersweet.

20171015_133417Bitter to see the place that was really once our second home now one campus lifeless and unused and the other not even claiming us. But it was sweet to be reconnected with the awesome people I was blessed to share that home with.

 

 

In 20 years, we had gotten married and divorced. Had kids and even lost kids. Stayed in Jackson and moved far away. Built careers and started companies. Survived diseases and lost some classmates to diseases as well as accidents and violence. Like in school, we had laughed and cried a lot, and now we were all grown up.

And with all the racial tension in our country, it was refreshing to see and to know that for the people who gathered that weekend, still the only colors that really mattered were green and gold.

And I had no idea how much I missed them…until I saw them.

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What Happened When I Told It

When I started writing my first book, Life After Birth: A Memoir of Survival and Success as a Teenage Mother, I just wanted to tell my story. Mainly, I wanted to encourage every teen mother not to give up herself, not to quit high school and show her that she could have everything she could dream of for her life. And for her child.

I also wanted to show girls how easy it is to get pregnant and how to avoid getting into the situation I was in when my son’s father forced himself on me. And moments later, his semen was inside of me even though I never felt penetration. Yeah, that happened, and I became a mother. I did tell that though. Not until I found out I was pregnant. And even then, I didn’t really talk about it. I just went on with my life. I think no one really knew anything other than that to do.

But when I did tell my story, I was scared, much like I felt when “it” happened. Much like I felt when I found out I was pregnant. Much like I felt giving birth and for so many day and years as I raised my son alone.

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I also felt free. My secret was out. I was no longer hiding. My truth and my feelings were exposed and released. I cried as wrote my book. A lot. I laughed a lot too.  As I wrote, I revealed every detail that I could remember. Every experience in my journey and how I overcame many obstacles including teen pregnancy and single motherhood.

 

 

 

But I did it. I told my story. The local news shared my story.

Then national and international networks featured my story.

 

What I heard over and over again was that people, girl and boys, men and women, were learning from my open and honest book and my roller coaster life. I began speaking in schools and colleges.  And it felt AMAZING to be sharing my story to impact theirs.

JCM teen moms

I won some amazing awards.

Then I quit my job. My amazing corporate job.

I had found my purpose. My calling. The reason for the painful lessons I had learned. I started a speaking business and a nonprofit. And my new journey began. The next chapter of my story.

Is it time for you to tell your story too?

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How My Life Became a College Course

When I walked onto the campus of the University of Memphis as a freshman and mother of a two year old in 1997, the last thing I ever imagined was that I would one day be a professor on that same campus. When I chose business as my degree the next year, I never thought I would be a teacher of any kind.

And when I wrote a book about my life as a teen mother, I never imagined that it would be a textbook for a class I was ASKED to create. And that students who had lives very different from mine and some with similar experiences would learn so much from my life.

So how did that happen? How did a former teen mom with a business degree become a professor teaching a class about life…using her life story? MY LIFE STORY

Life Skills class flier

When I graduated from high school, I earned the Emerging Leaders scholarship. I moved to Memphis and was excited to enter my freshman year at the University of Memphis. As a young mother, I balanced my school work, leadership roles in campus activities, and the toughest job of all…motherhood (single motherhood).

But I did it. In 2001 I graduated magna cum laude and was named Miss University of Memphis for my grade point average, campus leadership and community involvement. Soon after, I started my marketing career with the Memphis Grizzlies and later worked for ServiceMaster and FedEx.

While I was at FedEx, I wrote my memoir describing just how I did it. I included my experiences at the University of Memphis and how I balanced my time and my complicated life as a single mother.  I began getting asked to speak at school, colleges, community events and other places sharing my story.

And I found my calling. My purpose. The reason I had been through so much and worked so hard.

CNN HLN asked to interview me and so  did the 700 Club and nearly every local news outlet, but nothing felt better than giving a speech and talking to people afterwards letting me know that I had helped them. I decided at that point that I wanted to dedicate my career and my life to helping and encouraging others and that I would have to eventually leave the job at FedEx that I loved.

For the work that I was doing in the community and with my business, I was honored by the Fogelman College of Business and Economics as the Outstanding Young Alumna. To help with my transition out of my corporate job and to help me have some guaranteed income when I left, I applied for a position as an adjunct professor.  Receiving the Outstanding Young Alumna award had given me exposure to key decision makers including the amazing and innovative Dean of the college, Dr. Rajiv Grover, and I was offered the position.

After three semesters of teaching a marketing course at a satellite campus, I was asked to create my very own course and teach on the main campus. Dean Grover recognized my ability to reach students and respected my knowledge and experience of managing LIFE during and after college.

I was paired with a tenured professor who helped with the approval process. I even heard that some of the people on the board who reviewed the course curriculum laughed and couldn’t believe the course was being presented for approval. I was asked to add other books and increase the academic rigor of the course, and I resisted saying that I didn’t want to teach the course if I couldn’t do it the way I wanted to teach it. The way I felt would be most effective to meet the objectives of the course.

After nearly a year, the course was approved for a pilot. I was given the green light to do it the way I felt was best. However, I was tasked with getting students, and if I didn’t get enough then the pilot would not go forward. Nervous that I wouldn’t get students to sign up for a new, unheard of class, I put my marketing skills to work and got 15 amazing students my first semester. Now in my fourth semester, I don’t have to promote the class at all.

My reviews each semester are incredible, and there are always tears and gratitude throughout the semester and especially at the final presentations.

UofM class

As I stand before my class of amazingly diverse students (It’s so beautiful to see the race, gender, background, and age diversity I have each semester) for three hours once a week, I am full of gratitude myself. My students openly share. I watch them grow and evolve right before my eyes.

Here’s what some of my awesome students say about the class-

 

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And their lives change and so does mine in my Life Skills: Personal Development and Change Management course. Textbook: Life After Birth- A Memoir of Survival and Success as a Teenage Mother by Summer Owens.

Want to teach? Start by learning and keep learning.

  1. Do what you know you need to do
  2. Work hard
  3. Live your best life
  4. Make yourself known
  5. Be open and honest
  6. Position yourself for opportunities…and they WILL come

 

 

 

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Me in Joplin was No Accident and No Coincidence

As with every invitation I receive to speak, I am honored and excited. I love sharing my story because I have been so blessed to see audiences light up when I share it. And it feels amazing to see people line up to talk to me afterwards.

My trip to Joplin was no different, but in a big way it was.

The ASPIRE scholarship program for single mothers asked me to speak at their annual scholarship dinner. They chose my speech, The Power of the Struggle, and I was ready to deliver it to this group of amazing women who I knew that I could relate to so well.

 

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When I saw that the request was from Joplin, I remembered the devastating tornado that had destroyed the city a few years ago. I thought that would be a fitting tie-in to understanding the struggle and dealing with unexpected, life-altering situations.

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As I sat in the Memphis airport reviewing my speech before boarding, I decided to look up the tornado that hit Joplin. My jaw dropped when I saw that the date the storm hit was May 22, 2011.

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I opened my speech, “On May 22, 1979 I was born. On May 22, 1994, I got pregnant by someone I did not know and did not consent to have sex with. On May 22, 2011 this community experienced a storm that still impacts many of you today.

One of the single mothers had lost her fiance in the tornado while she was pregnant. There were countless other stories of tragedy and triumph, just like my story. Overcoming obstacles, surviving the storm, growing stronger in the struggle, and seeing the beauty after the devastation.

I am grateful to Bryan and Leticia Vowels for their love and compassion for others and for starting the ASPIRE scholarship which is changing lives for generations to come.

ASPIRE Joplin Founders

 

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