The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.
After serving time in federal prison, the world that awaits you outside is one of uncertainty and instability in most cases. The odds are that you’ll find difficulty in locating a job, finding a decent place to stay, and to up the ante, why not throw the challenges of single motherhood into the mix? Such were odds that Sabrina Peterson faced, odds that the now-entrepreneur willingly took on and knocked down, creating a blueprint for marginalized women in the process.
The CEO of the GirlPower Holdings umbrella, Peterson leads a group of companies that includes the flagship Glam University, an online destination for women to learn the ins and outs of business without the complicated corporate jargon that often doubles as a barrier to entry across industries for hopeful entrepreneurs. “I can teach business to a 5-year-old,” Peterson often boasts.
Other businesses under her watch include Credit Gang, a financial coaching service; Pretty High, a cannabis accessory line tailored for women; Get Focused, a line of natural supplements for women; and her most recent non-profit endeavor Girls For Girls, catalyzed by her role in bringing forth an indictment against the man accused of raping Jasmine Eiland, who was sexually assaulted in an Atlanta nightclub while on Facebook Live earlier this year.
While managing all of this, Peterson notably does so with her phone in hand at all times. Not for the sole purposes of fielding boardroom calls or answering emails, but rather to give a clear view into how she does business and how she lives her life all before her community of over 140,000 and counting on Instagram, affectionately referred to as the “Girl Gang.” As I sit down to speak with her, she has even propped up her phone for her followers to join in on the moment during an Instagram Live session. The power of effective sharing certainly wasn’t created by Peterson. But, it’s an art perfected by the maven and in our conversation, we discuss why she built a business model on the back of social media, how she continues to defy restrictions and why she’s adding social justice for women to her agenda.
Let’s begin with your time in prison. During your time, what was your primary goal upon release?
To come up. My primary goal was to come up and defy the odds, to prove all the naysayers wrong, and to beat the blogs. My biggest thing was that I had to rewrite my history before my son could read.
When you were released, what were specific steps that you took to make these goals a reality?
I wrote a book about it. I used the same thing that I used in the streets, which was “the flip,” the premise of buying one thing for one price and selling it for double. I started off with T-shirts. From there, I went to just teaching women basic survival skills on how to multiply their money and gain financial independence, and really stressed the importance of reading.
Although I lost my freedom, and at one point I lost my reputation, I never lost my mind. When you don’t lose your mind, they can take everything from you physically, but they can’t take what you know. Once you know things, and you read things, you take courses and classes, you go to school, you get different degrees, all those things are valuable. My whole thing has been about making sure women understand that every single thing that you want to know lies in a book. In our community, it’s so sad that most women don’t get past two chapter. There would be no need for social media or content creators if people would just read. I wouldn’t have a business if people would read. That’s facts.
What was the definitive moment when you realized you were passionate about working toward facilitating environments where women can flourish?
It’s always been my passion because women have been the same thing that tore me down. I couldn’t understand it coming up when I was a young girl, 18 and 19 years old. I couldn’t figure out how to get $10,000 in the same place at the same time. There was no Google, there was only like Encyclopedia Brown. There was no Internet, there was no social media, there was no Twitter. So, when I started off in business, I literally had to figure it out. I had to find out by digging and prying and putting little pieces of information together in business. Everyone keeps acting like it was a big secret.
Even when it came to getting into publications before the Internet, if someone was in a magazine, it was like, ‘Dang, how’d that happen?’ Diddy was doing it, Jermaine Dupri was doing it, all of those people were able to do it. But, it was like an insider secret as to how they were able to go to New York and know exactly where to go to get this big deals. If you weren’t in the circle or you weren’t in the fold, then you wouldn’t know. I just made sure that whenever God opened a way for me, that I opened the door up for women that looked like me.
And your main approach to accomplishing that is having a very active social presence. You’re on IG Live now. How did you harness the power of being so candid and translate that into a business model?
When you’re candid and you give it to the people straight, they can’t throw nothing back at you. It’s always best in your business to be you. At least if they don’t like you, then they don’t like YOU. At some point, people will complain about who you are as a businesswoman, complain about how you got to where you are. The worst feeling in the world is getting to where you want to be and you don’t get to be yourself. People will build out this whole persona and build out this character. I’m a little older and from being in prison and being somewhere I never wanted to be, I will never be someone I don’t want to be. Prison will give you a no-nonsense attitude, ‘I’m not doing this, I’m not taking that.’ The greatest thing about falling and seeing people talk shit about you is realizing that they’re not going to like you anyway. So, I might as well be me.
On the same subject of social, your Grind Diary motivational videos have been going viral, supplying followers with your work as a public speaker, along with everything that you already do. Why has it been important for you to maintain your role as a motivational speaker?
This day in time, there are a lot of people who are speaking. There’s a lot of people who do what I do, but with the wrong motive, the wrong intentions. Oprah said, ‘The power of your outcome lies in your intentions.’ So, I like doing Grind Diaries, I like giving information. I like speaking to women. I like going Live. I like being an asset to my community. I like showing real life skills. I like showing real life ups and downs. I don’t live in a fake bubble because I don’t have anything fake to sell.
In life, you’re not rewarded for where you’re at. You’re rewarded for how many people are where they’re at because you lived. I have a son. Let’s say I motivate 100,000 or 200,000 people. They can tell their child, ‘His momma motivated me to get my stuff together,’ ‘His momma motivated me to get my credit together,’ ‘His momma motivated me to open a business.’ He’ll have a level of protection around him. Most of my motivation may actually have a selfish reason to it. But, that selfish reason is motherhood.
In addition to using your platform to teach women how to secure financial freedom, you’ve also used it to take on a central role in the Jasmine Eiland case. What about that particular moment catalyzed you to take action?
This young lady came to a city that is the biggest post for black female entrepreneurs, for black women who make money off of other black women. For me, it was so heartbreaking to see a video that was so plain and clear — and to see how whether it is Jasmine Eiland, Sabrina Peterson, or Cyntoia Brown — in no position is a black woman ever allowed to be the victim. At some point, we all end being both the victim and the suspect. Stepping up for her was stepping up for every woman that has not wanted to come forward, and talk about rape without receiving the ridicule and backlash that [Jasmine] received.
No one is going to willingly participate in being sexually assaulted on Facebook Live. That wasn’t her intention, but that’s how social media was treating her — bringing up her past and saying she shouldn’t have been twerking. I would like for your readers to go into the club and watch what women do when their favorite song comes on. They’re not doing the hammer time, they’re not doing the running man, they’re not doing the cabbage patch. They’re going to twerk. I don’t understand how her doing the dance that is the norm and within this culture can lead to her being a suspect versus a victim in rape. So, that really hit near and dear to my heart. There is no black woman that can come within the circumference of me, whether it’s in [Atlanta] or my general consciousness, and for me to block out what’s going on with them.
Since then, you’ve launched your Girls For Girls initiative. What is the ultimate purpose of that organization?
Girls For Girls is to allow women to realize that they are not the suspect. A lot of women are victims. ‘Yes, you were domestically abused, sis. You were sexually assaulted, sister. This did happen to you and it’s not your fault.’
A lot of women are survivors of child molestation and domestic violence, and people want to say, ‘Well, you stayed with him,’ ‘You let them do it,’ ‘Why you always dressing so grown?’ Even as children, we’re blamed for the things that happen to us. So, a lot of times, we don’t even own what happens to us because of our community. The thing about our community is that it’s not even the men. It’s the women that are bashing each other.
Are you planning to take an initiative toward reform for people who are incarcerated or have been incarcerated?
I just think that once someone comes home from prison, the system is set up for you to go back in. You have to think about this. If you’re a convicted felon and you have a kid, you can’t even rent a place. Ninety percent of the places that you would want to live in or want to raise a family, you can’t live there. As a convicted felon, you have to figure out how you’re going to grind your money up and how you’re not going to go back to your old ways. I am now speaking with the City of Atlanta because there needs to be something put into place because even the places that would allow you to live there are places with other convicted felons; increasing the chances of you getting back into that vicious cycle of the people, places and things that you need to separate from in order for you not to go back to prison.
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