through authoritative and compelling storytelling
By speaking clearly and forcefully to empower all those who are so personally invested in health
by creating an environment where people can express themselves freely and truly be heard
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It was a bit random. I moved to Paris in 2003 and met my first friends through an expat family network called MESSAGE. I’ve always loved to bake and would bring treats to playgroups. Then, someone asked if they could order cupcakes from me for a party. At that time, French moms had no idea what cupcakes were, and mine were a hit. Little by little, through word of mouth, people started to call me for cupcakes. It got to the point that I outgrew my small home kitchen, and in 2008, started my business, Sugar Daze.
This was when cupcakes took off in the US, and the same thing happened in Paris. It was a case of right place, right time, right product—and thankfully, I was there. My store got a lot of press, and it was an overnight success. I made cupcakes for everyone from Apple to Yahoo, did all kinds of events, movies, pop-ups. And I had a bunch of celebrity orders. One time, Tom Cruise’s assistant called me to make cupcakes for Victoria and David Beckham’s son. She wanted them sent to their hotel, and all I could think was— Can I make this delivery myself? —imagining David Beckham himself greeting me at the door!
I have always been into storytelling. In my 20s, I met a friend who had just sold her novel, and it was motivating to see someone I knew succeeding in the publishing world. She invited me into her writing group, where I was encouraged to chase a story I submitted. For about two years, I woke up at 5:30 every morning to write before work. At some point, I realized that what I was writing was a novel. After a laborious process, I sold my first book, Where Earth Meets Water, and two years later, my second novel, The Faces of Strangers, was published.
What I love about fiction writing is how it satisfies me. Even if the pages I write don’t get published, I feel invigorated. I can handle whatever life throws at me, because I did something for myself that day that no one can take away. Part of it, too, is the challenge. I would hear people say that they’ve always wanted to write a book. My first thought is, So do it. You can do this. That’s not to say that I haven’t faced lots of challenges along the way; there have been plenty. But when you have a passion, just because you have children or a day job doesn’t mean you shouldn’t follow your dreams.
In 2016, I went to Coney Island for the annual Gotham Girls roller derby double header. During the bouts, I watched these women playing this very regimented full-contact sport and performing incredible moves on their skates. I was inspired by seeing women doing something so different and decided to give it a try.
I didn’t anticipate the changes derby would have on my life. When I go to the gym now, it’s to get stronger, to take hits—not just to “look good.” It’s a challenging sport and has been a hard road. But through it all I realized that if I keep working at something, eventually I’ll get good at it—or at least won’t suck. And that realization made me ask myself: what else can I do? Where else am I holding back? Roller derby motivated me to commit to everything I love, to stretch the limits of my potential—and that’s an exciting, liberating feeling.
I grew up in the late ‘60s when activism was not uncommon. I remember being 11 years old, marching around our public school when Martin Luther King died. It was a culture I was attracted to—I don’t like to see suffering or injustice, and I like to help people, to try improving their lives. There’s also an inquisitive side to it, finding out the causes to problems.
Sometimes, obvious things can be addressed but aren’t because of barriers from culture and society. But people should feel free to speak up if something isn’t quite right in their neighborhood or community. If you have the urge to help, go with it. Think about the skills that you have and where they could be helpful to people. It’s good to volunteer where it’s needed the most. Everybody could do it, even in a little way.
Over the past 6 years, I've worked with various nonprofit organizations here and overseas. My parents are immigrants; they came from East Africa. So they know what it’s like to have nothing. Growing up, they always stressed, “if you have something, you should always give back. You’ll feel better giving than receiving.” And that’s really what it is. When I went to Lebanon, when I went to Haiti, there was no better feeling than being able to provide for someone else who had no hope of giving back to you. That’s what drives me to want to keep being part of organizations, and helping out, and doing everything and anything I can. I haven’t found anything in life that feels better than giving, even knowing I won’t get anything back.