Never underestimate the power of a woman. Thanks to a group of tenacious, determined ladies from the National Women’s History Project, they petitioned to change Women’s History Week to Women’s History Month. In 1987 congress passed Pub. L. 100-9, which designated March as a celebratory month of all things powerfully female.
Thirty six years later, we’ve watched women dominate in sports, music, acting, comedy, fashion and more. As they lead and inspire us to stretch and discover our greatest potential, we also know that women, specifically Black women, have inconceivable hurdles to jump over, simply because of the color of their skin.
Sandra Lajoie learned about the strength and resilience of Black women at a very young age. After an unfortunate incident left her blind in one eye, she worked twice as hard to overcome the stigmas created against her. Years later, Lajoie is the Vice President of Communications at NBCUniversal: NBC and Bravo by day, working on her memoir by night and inspiring the rest of the world 24/7.
Parents go above and beyond to create an enriched, seamless lifestyle for their children. For some immigrant parents, traveling to the US for work to provide for their families is common practice. One of Lajoie’s first examples of a strong Black woman came from her mother, who spent time working in the US to help her family in Haiti. But when an unexpected incident happened to Lajoie in her mom’s absence, her life shifted in a way that would change how she saw the world, literally and figuratively.
“As a child, I was a dreamer and had a feeling that there was so much more out there than just my native land of Haiti. But I never expected that a personal tragedy would serve as the impetus to send my family fleeing Port-Au-Prince. At seven, I found myself on the receiving end of a leather belt from a frustrated family friend who was assigned to watch over me. In the midst of a spanking, I suffered a life-altering injury and lost vision in my right eye,” Lajoie said.
“The next few years would prove challenging for me and my family. Riddled with guilt for leaving me with the sitter, my mother relentlessly sought a miracle. By the time my family made it to America—the place I had always dreamed of living—my battles were far from over. I had to learn to navigate life in an unfamiliar world and endure ostracization and merciless bullying throughout my school years. I faced the darkness of depression, the harsh reality of higher education existing as a privilege instead of a right, and the professional challenges of a Black woman in corporate America; and yet I always knew that I had but two options – stay down or get up. This spirit of perseverance delivered me from my humble beginnings in Haiti and has carried me throughout my rise as a publicist in Hollywood,” she continued.
Lajoie’s injury didn’t stop her story, but it could have. To appease her mom, she refrained from explaining to her peers what had happened to her eye. Sadly, that silence had a residual effect that would hinder her ability to heal.
“As a young girl, my mother made me promise to stop telling my classmates—or anyone for that matter—about the devastating childhood injury that happened to me back home in Haiti. I obliged out of a sense of fear that I would alienate my friends or that people would treat me differently,” Lajoie said.
“I didn’t know it then, but my silence was emotionally and mentally crippling me. It was the beginning stage of not allowing myself to become the person I was meant to be. It wasn’t until after I’d bloomed into adulthood that a moment arose when I started to understand my purpose. I was called on to be a keynote speaker at the culmination ceremony for a specialized school community that supports children with learning and emotional challenges, and as I shared my life experience with others who were struggling with theirs, I realized I’d given them the bit of hope that I wish I’d had in the most difficult intervals of my life. All that I had lost, all of the pain and hurt, was not in vain. Sharing my story could help others, so I could no longer remain silent,” she continued.
Never underestimate the power of grit
A mutual friend, Danielle James, put Sandra Lajoie on my radar. She raved about the woman with an inspirational story I had to meet. As a result, I researched Lajoie to learn more about her background. I was impressed by her career trajectory, and at the time, I had no idea about her childhood injury. The media maven has over 20 years under her belt in entertainment PR. Her career began with Warner Bros. Television, but she eventually landed at NBCUniversal in 2010 as a Senior Press Manager. Thirteen years and two promotions later, she became the Vice President of Communications for NBC and Bravo. As someone eager to grow in their career, I was inspired and itching to know her secret to success because, despite her disability, she positioned herself as an influential Black woman in the business world.
“Black women are tired of having to fight for everything we want, and this ideal of perseverance and strength that we have to uphold can be exhausting, but without that “fight” in me, I would not be here right now. People will try to tell you who you are. Naysayers will even try to project their fears onto you. Do not allow them to have that kind of power over you. Whatever God has for you belongs to you and you alone. As long as you believe in yourself and you keep pushing for your dreams, no one can stop you. Never underestimate the power of grit!”
Lajoie has accomplished a lot, overcoming battles that could’ve destroyed her spirit. Looking back, she has sound advice for her younger self.
“Baby girl, it doesn’t matter what they say about you or what they call you, you are divinely made in His image and you’re beautiful. What makes you different also makes you special. The road ahead will be hard, but God has got you even when you can’t see or feel Him. He shares your burdens and your dreams. He has plans for you and they are bigger than anything you can imagine,” she said.
Lajoie will tell her story in her memoir, Through My Eyes: Defying the Odds of Adversity. The title is an understatement. The author shows the power of writing your own story and highlights the strength, resilience, and power of Black women. We are skilled at making a way out of no way, and the proof is in Lajoie’s story.
“Through My Eyes: Defying the Odds of Adversity is about faith, family, and nurturing one’s hope for a better future while harnessing adversity as a springboard to accomplish one’s dreams. This book is about far more than my ascent to become one of the country’s top entertainment public relations executives; it also illuminates how I found strength from within and the determination to realize my aspirations through the tenets of faith. This book is for those who have had to go through life with a part of themselves missing. It is for all the people who were brave enough to leave their homelands in pursuit of a better future. It is for women, particularly women of color, in search of mentorship or guidance. And for anyone who has lost conviction, this book is an example of what is possible when a person believes that her dreams are greater than the limitations of her immediate circumstances,” she said.
You can follow Sandra Lajoie’s journey via her Instagram page.
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