In honor of Women’s History Month, we are continuing to recognize and celebrate women through our Top Ten Most Inspiring Women Series. We’ve interviewed many amazing women and we’re excited to introduce you to Monique Williams-Johns, CEO of A Helping Hand.
Trigger warning: sexual abuse mentioned in this interview.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
I’m Monique Williams-Johns, a mother of four. My daughter, Gabriella graduated from Hofstra University and worked for Vice President Joe Biden for a year and a half. She’s now getting her master’s degree, and I’m excited about that. I have a son who is a freshman at Temple University, and I have a daughter, who’s a freshman also, at University of New Haven. And I have my baby, she’s not my baby anymore, but I still call her my baby, she’s 17 and attends MOT Charter. I’m a minister’s wife, a minister’s daughter, and I’m an advocate for women, for our community, our seniors, our youth, and I’m just a servant. I’m just an individual who loves to serve people.
“I’ve been serving my entire life.”
let’s talk about goals.
As women, we have to continue to empower each other. And knowing that I like to solve problems that have been ignored, I’m a problem solver. I can look at something and say ‘this is what you need to do.’ As women, sometimes we’ve been robbed of that, our voice has not been heard. So I like to speak my mind. My husband gives me the leeway to say whatever I want to say, even if I don’t agree with him. A lot of women don’t have that voice, so I want to be the voice for the people.
We just had an event for seniors last week, and I brought personal items. People are giving out food everywhere, but they need diapers, they need Fixodent, things of their personal because they’re using their money that they’re receiving to buy those things, and they don’t have enough money. They use all their money for medication, how much money is left for those personal items? For them to feel good to have confidence in themselves?
My ultimate goal is to speak around the world, to empower women to follow their heart, to follow what’s in them, to follow their purpose. Not to look at your circumstance, your situation, your bank account, but look at what you’ve been created to do in life. So I’ve been doing that everywhere I go.
Tell us about a moment that you’re most proud of in your life or career.
I remember years ago when I was running for Miss Delaware, and I was the only African American woman. Some people would tell me, you’re never gonna win because of who you are. Not because of a lack of talent, because my talent was singing. Not because your interview wasn’t good, but because of the color of your skin. My trainer told me this, one of my mentors, I was working at a workout facility in Claymont and she would come in all the time and say “you know, you should do the pageant.” Now I was doing some modeling prior to that, and I didn’t pay any attention. Then she kept saying it, so she started training me. What I found out is, I was going to be the Trailblazer. Although I did not win, I won so much because two years later an African American girl came with a different state and won. So being the only African American all the time, even as a kid growing up in Claymont, as the only African American, it prepared me to handle and to be more diverse.
I’m proud of the Shirley Chisholm award that I received, probably about three years ago. It’s just things that just keep happening, it reminds me that the sacrifices that I made, that they were good sacrifices.
“As women, sometimes we’ve been robbed of that. Our voice has not been heard. So I want to be the voice for the people.”
Tell us about how you work with the youth and children.
I have a Dream Leadership institute, which is for young children. We teach classes such as: think beyond your environment, confidence 101, strategic planning, building strong relationships, how to be successful 101, and how to deal with crazy parents. You know, my kids think I’m crazy. They really do. Because I refuse to settle.
Monique wants you to know…
I want us to continue to speak out and follow your heart. Don’t focus on what you don’t have. Focus on what you have. Now think about it in this day and time, if you are even living in poverty, but you have a cell phone, you can record. You can record anything now. So you know, okay, if you have just white socks, you don’t need black socks, you use the white socks. Use whatever you’ve been given, whatever you have right now to move your vision forward. And what you don’t have, ask people for it. I am not ashamed to ask. Don’t be so prideful that you’re not willing to ask for help. No one has been successful in life without someone else. You have to ask for help. So just follow your heart and always stay true to who you are.
“Use whatever you’ve been given. Whatever you have right now, to move your vision forward. And what you don’t have, ask people for it. I am not ashamed to ask.”
Let’s talk about how your mission started and how it led to becoming a helping hand.
I’ve been doing community service since I was a child. Being a minister’s daughter, our church was community outreach. So you know, we had homeless people come to live in our house. We had people that lived in my room, and I used to get upset and say “why do you have to stay in my room?” We had a four bedroom house, but they came in and stayed in my room sometimes, so I had to give up my room. So I remember those times. It’s always been in me to serve the community, so I’m just a servant. I serve the people that need help, or they need something that perhaps I had.
I had a call today, of a woman, out of nowhere. And I said “how did you get my phone number?” She said “when you ran for office, you left your card for me, and I kept it on my refrigerator, not knowing that I would need it six months later. So I need your help.” On the other end, I was going, wow, and that happens to me every day. I work hard to be a help to wherever people need help in any area. Even when I was competing for the Miss America Pageant, we had to have a platform. My platform was teenage pregnancy. So I was serving, even in Planned Parenthood, talking to young girls that would come in.
When it hit me, is when I couldn’t get into my front door. At Christmas time, I did adopt a family. This was my first time doing adopt a family because we do it as a church. So, I put a request out, and I have over 150 families. They were receiving iPods, iPads, I couldn’t believe that people were bringing these items to me, bringing me money. I was in shock. When it was time to deliver, it took us about four and half days to deliver everything. My husband looked at me and said, “this is bigger than you ever thought.” So that’s when it hime, Christmas time, when we had to rent a big u-haul, not a small one, a huge one. We had to make several trips; we were delivering to families of four or five. I had someone bring another gift the other day, they said “this just came in for Christmas.” We’re in March.
So you know, when I see the look on their faces, people that are not just looking for a sandwich…I cook or we have chefs that cook. Baked chicken, you know, things that I eat. I serve salmon, if I have extra, I’ll take that to them. I’m not just giving out cookies, and I’m not giving out things that I personally don’t want. So it started years ago, and I keep trying to just say, “okay, I’m going to spend time in this area.” And then I get a phone call; I get an email. So that’s just it, I’m just A Helping Hand.
“People would tell me ‘you’re never gonna win.’ Not because of a lack of talent, but because of the color of [my] skin.”
How do you define Success?
I think success is different for everyone. For me, I’m hard on myself. I’m a think out of the box kind of person. So for me, discovering my purpose will link me and lead me to success. So anything I do outside of what I’m not created to do, I won’t be successful. For example, the Miss America or the politics arena, I think of that as a success because I developed so many different relationships along the way. I’ve learned a lot that’s going to help me for my next level in life, or my next thing that I participate in, and I won’t settle. I’m not one of those people that will just compromise. I don’t compromise my belief. I refuse to settle for an average husband. I refuse to settle for an average bank account. I refuse to settle when I’m talking to seniors, or homeless, or the youth.
You can’t expect to be successful if you’re not moving towards successful principles; you have to write everything down. I write to-do lists everyday. Regardless, if I don’t complete everything on my list, and I move it to the next day. When you hear and talk to successful people, they tell you that they have visions, and goals, they write down their strategic plan. If you don’t have a plan, you’re planning to fail. You have to have a plan to succeed. Without a plan, you’re planning to fail; you’re planning to be confused. If not, you’re just gonna end up at home, and you’ll just end up going to work any job, and you’ll be complaining because you never had a plan.
I really work hard with the youth, and young people, and even young adults to find their area of passion. Don’t worry about the money. When you find your area of passion, money will follow you. Money will follow the passion. If you just have a vision and a dream, but you never pursue it, it remains a dream.
Let’s talk about overcoming obstacles.
This section of the interview discusses sexual assault and abuse. If you wish to continue, please hover over the section below.
Knowing who you are has been my fallback, or my thing, that I’ve been standing on my entire life. I was one of the young ladies or children that had a rough time. I was bullied. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t like me. I remember trying out for the cheerleading squad my freshman year in high school. And I was great. And I made it. They looked at me funny. I mean, they were just so mean to me. One girl pulled me aside and taught me all the cheers because they refused to. I was like, even from middle school, you know, I was sexually violated as a child. I say violated; I was sexually abused by some relatives. I didn’t know that that would hurt me later in life. I didn’t realize, I just really thought that it was something that was supposed to happen to me to make me stronger. When I got married, my husband said “no, that was not acceptable. That’s something that shouldn’t happen.” I never thought about it. I never told my grandparents; I never told my parents at all. I thought really, it was something that was supposed to make me stronger. I don’t know why I bought that, so I didn’t share. Years down the line, I began to share what happened to me, and how I was seven years old. When I looked at my daughter, and she was seven, I said she was so small. That’s how small I was when they were doing those things to me. Why didn’t I stop them? Was it something that I said? When I started sharing my story, I could look at people right now and say, “it happened to them.” It’s okay to talk about it; it’s going to be okay. You have to talk about it.
My goal is to empower women to never back down. Never give up what’s in your heart. Be friendly to everybody, of course, but never allow money, the lack of money, what people say and think of you to take you off track of what you’re supposed to do. Many women have closed their mouths to speak out about homelessness, about being sexually violated, about not not having a voice, and not standing up for your children. I trained my children to speak up. If you don’t agree with something, speak up. Just speak out. Speak what you believe. And you know, now things are changing a little, but we still have a lot of work to do.
So knowing who you are is critical. If you know who you are, no one will be able to hurt your self-esteem, to bring you down to their level. You have to continue to build your self-esteem each season that you go in.
“Never give up. Be friendly to everybody, of course, but never allow money, the lack of money, what people say and think of you to take you off track of what you’re supposed to do.”
Give a shout out to the woman or women you consider to be mentors.
It’s important for me to acknowledge the women that came before me. You know, my ancestors, my grandma is 91. I knew my great grandmother for a small period of time. I remember my great grandfather having a farm and how he farmed, and he had houses that he purchased. He used to take me in his truck, my great grandfather, he and I would go around and collect his rent money. So I give honor to the folks that came before me. My ancestors who were, you know, beaten, of course, and who were slaves, and who marched.
But I give credit to the women who are single mothers who raise their children by themselves, women who have been violated, who have been abused physically and mentally, women who have had found their voices, women who are now entrepreneurs, women who are mentors, women who are motivational speakers, women who have just made a difference in the world by following their heart. I have mentors in every area of my life. I have mentors for my relationship with my spouse, mentors for my career, mentors for my nonprofits. I have mentors for my weight. So there’s not specific people because I have different women in my life who’ve made a difference. My mother, my grandmother, my aunts, but in particular women who have overcome obstacles that tried to keep them from experiencing their best life, those women who are still having challenges. Those are the women that have inspired me, who have radio shows and talk shows, and women like you who have blogs, and women who want to have their best life now, and nothing’s going to stop them. Those are the women that are great mentors, those are the women that keep moving, in spite of things that have happened along the way. But they still say, nothing’s going to stop me. I’m going to keep jumping. And just because you’re motivated, if you have no self-discipline, it’s not going to happen. You’ve got to have self-discipline, you’ve got to know who you are, you have to know your purpose in life.
So I’ve picked up many mentors along the way, and I deliberately choose mentors for every area of my life, because I don’t know everything. So why not ask an expert, who’s an expert in that particular field or area of expertise?
Why Monique Williams-Johns is On this List
“Every word that comes from Monique’s mouth inspires us to not only be better, but do better for others. Being so vulnerable takes great strength. The passion and mentoring she provides to women, youth, and young adults, is unwavering and so very crucial to building their confidence and self-worth. She helps them claim their power so they can become trailblazers of their own life and purpose, regardless of their current circumstances. Monique, your award was well-deserved, and we’re honored to have you here in the Top 10.”
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